Fasting: Can it be Relevant for Us?

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Once again, Rev. Lou reviews and retools a spiritual discipline through the lenses of Eastern Christianity.  This week, fasting.  As a good spiritual guide and companion, he invites us to take another look at something we might have missed or disregarded. 

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If you’re new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

Once again, Rev. Lou reviews and retools a spiritual discipline through the lenses of Eastern Christianity.  This week, fasting.  As a good spiritual guide and companion, he invites us to take another look at something we might have missed or disregarded. 

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Of the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, I suspect that fasting is the practice with which most mainline Protestants are comfortable.  Some years ago, when I served as pastor to what had once been a German Reformed congregation, I was surprised to learn that a group of older women observed meatless Fridays, fasted before service on communion Sundays, and maintained a Lenten fast.   Having grown-up in that congregation, they remembered Reformed pastors from their youth stressing the importance of fasting.  They explained to me that fasting was a reminder of how much they needed God.  The association was made for them that the presence of God in their lives was as important as their need for food and water.

These women, who were then past the age of 65, held a rather contemporary concept of fasting as a spiritual practice.  A more traditional understanding of fasting has to do with self-discipline and penitence:  not giving into the human passions rooted in original sin or depravity but bridling those passions to be godlier.

Yet another understanding of fasting is rooted in the Eastern Christian tradition.  The fundamental understanding of spiritual growth or development in Eastern Christianity is that each of us is on a journey along the inner way (also called the Royal Road) of deification to become one with the Divine essence at the heart of who we are.  It is along this spiritual pilgrimage inward that we encounter roadblocks or debris that prevent our progress.  The journey along the inner way requires that we remove anything that blocks or prevents our ability to travel further and become one with that Divine essence. Within this larger understanding of spiritual growth and spiritual development, fasting becomes a practice that serves as a reminder that we each must remove or set-aside those things that prevent us from traveling along the inner way in the process of divinization.

It would be incorrect to view the Eastern Christian approach to fasting as somehow soft in comparison to the Western concepts of self-discipline.  The traditional fast for Lent is referred to as the Black Fast:  no-meat, no-dairy, and no more than one full meal per day.  On the other hand, it should be noted that no one is required to follow this regimen.  Instead, Eastern Christians are asked to prayerfully consider what the proper fast would be.  The fast is not meant to be a struggle but a disciplined training to support one’s inner journey.

Perhaps the spirit of the fast is best encapsulated in the Easter Homily by St. John Chrysostom.  It is tradition that this sermon, written c. 400, is the only sermon given on Easter Sunday morning.  Toward the beginning of the sermon, Chrysostom speaks of fasting:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?  Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!Are there any weary from fasting? Let them now receive their due!  If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their reward.  If any have come after the third hour, let them with gratitude join in the feast!  Those who arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.  Those who have tarried until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate; but let them come too.  And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.  For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.  The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour, even as to those who toiled from the beginning.  To one and all the Lord gives generously.  The Lord accepts the offering of every work.  The Lord honors every deed and commends their intention.  Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

In other words, it’s not the strict observance of a strict forty-day fast that matters.  Instead, God honors every good deed and intention.  It’s our deeds and intentions that draw us into communion with the Holy One.

As we move toward these last days of Lent, I invite you to consider what fasting can mean in your life.  Are there things that prevent you from growing toward intimate union with the Holy One?  Are there habits that interfere with your good deeds and intentions?  What is it that blocks you from fully being in unique reflection of the Divine you were created to be?  Are there things that you may need to give up in order to more fully become nothing less than an image of the Divine? Can fasting in any form support your journey along the inner way to union with the Holy One who is already at the heart of your being?

Read more http://whereheartandmindmeet.ccuccatl.com/2012/03/30/fasting-can-it-be-relevant-for-us/

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