Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer during Lent, and today a few thoughts about fasting. Why fast?
First of all, let’s put to rest that ridiculous, girly idea that Lent is all about “taking something up” not “giving something up”. I’ve always considered that to be a soft option. By all means take something up, but you should give something up as well.
Why give something up? Not because it is bad in itself. We’re not Manicheans. We don’t believe that physical pleasures and physical things are bad in themselves. Instead we give something up not because it is bad, but because we are seeking a greater good. We’re seeking self mastery and self discipline and self control.
All of that is good, and also the idea that by giving something up we are focusing more on Christ the King and the Kingdom that is not of this world.
Here’s another idea–something more radical: by giving something up we are countering the pleasure obsessed culture in which we live. We are standing the whole thing on its head. We live in a society that is not embarrassed to call itself “consumerist”. We live in a culture which considers “more” to always be better and “economic growth” to be a good that cannot be questioned. We live in a society in which “self indulgence” is called “self esteem”, where unlimited acquisition is considered a sign of success and where uninhibited pleasure is called “self expression.”
So fasting cuts right across all of that. Fasting and abstinence calls it all into question–first for ourselves and then for others. Fasting says to the gluttonous, lustful, greedy society in which we live, “Fuhgeddaboudit”
Fasting is therefore a sign of contradiction. It is being counter cultural. It is being subversive.
I’m for it. At the beginning of Lent I feel like I want to be a hermit–to live a shack in the woods and grow a long beard and be silent and be a sign of contradiction. Suddenly I admire St Simeon Stylites who lived on top of a pillar in the desert for thirty nine years.
Why fast? To be a voice of one crying in the wilderness.