Despatches from the front line of the Church
So, I tried fasting a few years ago and it was an unmitigated disaster – more like a spiritual hunger strike than a fast. To be fair, I did try a dawn-til-dusk fast at the height of summer.
I decided that I would never fast again, and that it wasn’t for me. But then I read an article online by a man with the reassuring but academically-vague title ‘Doctor’, which told me about all the myriad spiritual benefits. It used words like ‘awesome’, ‘revival’ and ‘life-changing’. I was impressed.
It occurred to me that I could do another dawn-til-dusk fast for just one day, to show God how grateful I was for so many things in my life. And with the promise of ‘awesome’, ‘revival’ and ‘life-change’, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. But then, I am me, and I should have known better.
I chose a Saturday. This is what happened.
Out of bed as quietly as possible so that Wifey doesn’t wake up. But curses, I am foiled…
“What – what are you getting up for?” Murmurs a nonplussed voice from beneath the covers.
Drat. My mind races. I don’t want to fall foul of Matthew 6:16-18 so I need to try and keep The Fast a secret… but I can’t lie because otherwise I’ll be in violation of Leviticus 19:11. But then, inspiration! I can resolve this sunrise theological conundrum like this.
“Oh,” I say breezily, “I’m hungry, I’m going to get some breakfast.”
Wifey seems broadly pacified by this, and she rolls over, mumbling something that’s difficult to hear but may have contained the word ‘idiot’. I creep downstairs.
I have eaten like a king. Fried eggs, sausages, fresh coffee – I feel on top of the world and super-spiritual. Maybe I’ll have another cup of coffee? Look at the sunshine, streaming over the lush, green trees! Mornings are a true blessing. God is amazing. I’ve never seen the sun actually come up over the trees like that befo… oh. The sun’s up, then. No more coffee. Right.
Breakfast things cleared away and time to pray. I close my eyes and clear my mind to begin. “Heavenly father,” I murmur. This morning praying thing’s ace. It’s so quiet apart from the birdsong. I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. Oh, wait – supposed to be praying. “Heavenly father,” I say, and I tell Him I’ve put the morning in His hands, committing the time to Him. It will be a day of spiritual reflection, my head emptied of thoughts other than the Divine. Maybe I should check whether I left the hob on first, though? No, this is God time now. He wouldn’t have let me leave it on. Unless it’s a test? God does want us to understand the consequences of our actions – maybe I’m supposed to understand the consequences of leaving the hob on. No! Focus! This is prayer time. I resolve to stop thinking about the hob. I refuse to think about the hob.
The hob wasn’t on. I return to the living room and sit down again. “Heavenly Father,” I begin.
I glance at my watch. That seems to be a slightly shorter prayer time than I had anticipated. But maybe I’m just very concise. Should I spend more time praying? I don’t want to contravene Matthew 6:7-8. Maybe I’ll go and do some Bible study and come back to it. Yes, that seems like a Christian thing to do.
This fasting thing is easy! I don’t feel hungry at all! And I’m so productive – I’ve done a Bible study, I’ve written a blog post, I’ve organised my desk! Early mornings and fasting, it’s the way forward!
Still not hungry! I should fast more often. This is great, the sense of devotion, and freedom.
I’m like a modern day Francis of Assisi! I had no idea I was so spiritual, I have no need of material food, the Lord is all I require! Maybe I’ll fast weekly! Maybe I’ll do one of those 40-day fasts! Perhaps I have an annointing – maybe I could give talks on fasting? Maybe this is my gift!
OH I AM SO UNBELIEVABLY HUNGRY.
I need food. I’m so hungry. I feel faint. I have to eat. Can I eat my computer? Does that count? That’s not technically a food. Wait – water! I’m allowed water. I’ll get water.
I’m at the fridge. There’s sparkling water in here. Is that banned too – does that count? Has it got anything in it that might be food-ish? It’s got gas. Is gas a food? I decide to play safe and guzzle from the tap instead.
Feel a bit better. But not much. I consider trying to pray again but find it hard to concentrate. Maybe I’ll meditate and just listen, perhaps the Lord will speak to me.
It’s a lot harder than it looks to empty your head of thoughts, you know. There are people at my church who seem to have fully formed ‘pictures’ (sometimes with action that develops, of the “and then I saw…” variety – I think we should call these ‘videos’ rather than pictures) that pop into their heads at time like this. I can’t compete with spiritual giants like that, I don’t know how that would work in my head. If I try to clear my mind the only things that pop into my head are strange little pantomimes in which rabbits ride bicycles. Today, all I’m thinking about are strawberry laces and cookies. They’re not even saying anything particularly meaningful to each other.
Maybe I’ll take a nap.
Nap interrupted by rumbling stomach. More water needed I think. Try to pray again.
Praying interrupted by rumbling stomach. Drink a little water. Seems to help. Aha! That will be my coping strategy for every time that my spiritual concentration is attacked by my hunger! This will be a day of prayer and when the flesh tries to distract me from the spiritual I shall thank God and get water!
Is it only lunchtime? I feel like I’ve been doing this since the dawn of time. Let’s try another Bible study. I’ve recently begun reading the Bible cover to cover and have got as far as Judges. Genesis was astonishing – I can’t believe people don’t know how crazy so much of it is. You’d send in Social Services if it was a family in the city suburbs.
If I thought Genesis was eye-opening, Judges is quite a sequel. Up to Chapter 5 now and so far there’s a dead King in the toilet, a guy who killed 600 people with a stick, and some kind of Chicago-style feminist tent murder incident.
I’ve discovered that if I drink hot water my stomach thinks that it’s tea.
My stomach, which is cleverer than I am, has detected the deception and is now demanding food in spite of all the hot water.
What do you want from me, stomach? Why do you hate my faith? Don’t make me Matthew 18:8 you.
Clearly my stomach has seen this for the empty threat that it is.
Ugh – still one hour until this whole thing is over. One hour!
Twenty minutes. Starting to look at the clock quite frequently now.
COME ON. FASTER.
If I DIE of malnutrition in the next 13 minutes I am going to be REALLY ANNOYED.
Faster, time, faster!
Are you PLAYING WITH ME? Do you think this is funny?
I know for a fact that time goes faster than this. It may be hunger compromising my rational mind but I am convinced that this is a conspiracy to slow down time. Possibly by the Illuminati. I don’t really know who they are but I have heard they are general conspiratorial types.
Okay let’s try to fill the time with prayer. “Dear God,” no, you don’t start prayers like that. That’s like a letter. Like alphabetti-spaghetti. No, concentrate. Concentrate. Concentrated apple juice. Stop thinking about food! Wait, that took a bit, maybe it’s 21:30, let’s look…
No. Of course it isn’t 21:30. Maybe the clock is actively going backwards now. I’ll look up Illuminati on Google to pass the time.
Not convinced they are the cause of the time slow-down conspiracy. May have to consider other sources. Mm – sauces. No, STOP.
Nearly there. Counting in seconds now.
Come on… come on…
Five, four, three, two, one…
OH THESE CRISPS ARE SO TASTY NOM NOM MMMMM TASTY MMMMMMM.
Well that wasn’t so bad, maybe I’ll do it again tomorrow.
So this didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and it left me feeling a bit deflated. But then I remembered that Jesus wasn’t about the ruthless and precise application of the Jewish Law, he was about restoring the ‘spirit’ of the Law, and therefore I could be pretty sure that God had been pleased (and possibly amused) by my clumsy attempt to show my gratitude.
Did it help me focus on God? Sort of – but not in the way I had expected. Reading the article by ‘the Doctor’, I had fallen into the typical Christian trap of expecting supernatural fireworks if I carried out one particular activity. As if Christianity is a giant spell book. But that’s not what knowing God is all about. The fast served to demarcate a particular patch of time to spend praying and meditating, but I still had to do the praying and meditating.
I also think we need to be clear in our purposes for fasting too. If we are trying to hear God, or want to meditate on the Bible, then it’s a great way to set aside time to do that. But was it really the best way to show my gratitude to God? It didn’t feel very joyful, and didn’t feel very sacrificial – perhaps I should have given money to a social justice cause? Perhaps I should have spent the day helping at one of many local charities?
One thing under the ‘gratitude’ heading that did occur to me was that it was useful to remind me of how many people are forced to fast involuntarily. And don’t think that’s just people in the developing world – there are plenty of people starving in Western countries. Frustrated as my hunger-addled brain may have been that Saturday, this should be nothing compared to the anger we should feel about poverty and food insecurity. So perhaps combining a fast with some awareness-raising activity may be a better way to help keep my mind focussed next time.
Next time. Will I do it again? Maybe. Probably in winter. The days are shorter…