Friday, October 21, 2005

Fasting: Part 2

Picking up again with the subject of fasting . . .

As I mentioned in my previous post, fasting has always been a perplexing facet of Christian piety for me. In short—what was it supposed to accomplish? I used to think that fasting was the means by which one developed a hunger for God. I’ve since come the conclusion that fasting is actually the means of protecting one’s hunger for God. Unlike scripture reading or prayer which has the potential to produce something positive in us, fasting itself offers nothing. It is merely the removal of a barrier (food) that would stand in the way of a unique and necessary encounter with God. Just as the sacrament of communion follows after, and preserves, the sacrament of baptism, so too fasting follows after, and preserves our hunger for God.

In light of this, I have come to view fasting as a form of preparation, part of an intentional cleansing of all distractions that would come between the believer and the God whom he desperately seeks to lay hold of. It is David laying aside Saul’s armor in preparation for the giant, Elijah girding his loins before his desert flight. It is the man who rushes into a room with the long sought treasure map and, with the sweep of his arm, clears the table in order that he might make undistracted use of the map. We fast because we want nothing—not even food—to distract us from our desire to encounter God. We fast because there is burning within our hearts a hunger for God that must not be quenched until we find him. Like Jacob and the angel, our only desire is to be blessed. We fast because we must lay hold of God. Here. Now. For this time, in this matter.

In this sense fasting is a form of mourning, a refusal to go on with “life as normal.” Like the bereaved lover who does not desire to be comforted, so too we fast because we do not want our earnest desire to hear from God lessened by a numbing slide back into normalcy. Fasting sanctifies our desire and serves as a constant reminder that things are not right—that we must hear from God. When we have arrived in this state of mind, eating becomes a sacrilege, a profaning of a holy moment. It is like boisterous laughing at a funeral. To eat is to squelch the soul hunger and desecrate our profound sense of holy dissatisfaction. We fast because we have arrived at that particular place of pain where nothing but a fresh encounter with God will suffice; a place where must see the hand of God move. We fast because the status quo is no longer acceptable.

The tragic thing is not that we fast so little. It’s that we see so little need to fast.

2 comments:

Ramadan-Blessings said...

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the forester said...

HA! I thought your first comment was a joke from someone else, but it wasn't -- all that talk about fasting triggered a Ramadan spammer. That's hilarious!

Very strong imagery -- I especially like the line about the adventurer sweeping off the table to use the map. A very useful image to help understand fasting.

My question is this: if fasting is necessary when we are in such desperation -- and, by your last sentence, we would rightly fast more if we better understood our dire straits -- then how does all of this fit in with rejoicing always, having a thankful heart, etc?

The profound sense of dissatisfaction at the status quo that you bewail -- is this the only motivation for fasting? Should this be a believer's regular mode? Your post suggests an Oswald Chambersian cultivation of an attitude you termed "holy dissatisfaction," which is strange, because I so often find myself striving to live in a regular state of "holy satisfaction" -- the contentment that Paul describes in Philippians 4, that the Psalmist describes in Psalm 16: "The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places." Could fasting not be of use in this attitude as well?