Dear Friends: March

I shall let you into a secret. Lent is my favourite season of the church year. Being a natural extrovert I need structured space to explore my shadow side – to reflect, consider and to fast. I wonder what we understand by fasting. Do we think of going without food for 40 days and 40 nights, or do we start a little smaller?

Fasting has always been part of the Christian life, the ‘Teaching of the Twelve’, a Christian book from the first century, states:

“Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but rather fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.”

Did the early Christians go without food two days a week? No, the nature of such fasting would have been like Daniel’s fast, who refrained from meat, wine and rich foods for 21 days. It was a partial fast, common to Judaism in the first century, and it was also part of the early Christian’s pattern of rhythm of life.

And yes, it bears remarkable similarities to a popular diet at the moment. 5:2 fasting seems to have both physical and spiritual benefits!

I suspect that when writers in the New Testament talk about fasting in general terms this is what they mean, going without luxuries and rich food, but on a regular basis, as part of every Christian’s pattern and rhythm of life and worship. Jesus doesn’t say if you fast, but rather when - So fasting is for all of us – little and often.

The bible also speaks of deeper fasts, of Paul’s three day fast after his conversion, of Mordechai's and the Persian Jews fasting for three days in the book of Esther. Then deeper still - what of Moses’ two forty day fasts, and of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness? Jesus’ fast in the wilderness was not part of a regular pattern of prayer; he was led, driven even, by the Spirit into the wilderness. A deeper fast must always be led by the Spirit. If we feel called to such a wilderness fast we discuss it with others of spirituality maturity and discernment.

Yet even when we fast in smaller ways it is still a reflection of that great wilderness fast. The wilderness, a place of emptiness, a place of repentance, a place of wandering, a place of temptation and trial - when we fast we eat a little of the wilderness. When we fast we create an emptiness within ourselves that is physical but also spiritual.

In the Hebrew Scriptures the word that we translate heart is more literally ‘The inward parts of the belly’. Our innermost being, spirit and soul are described in terms of organs that can be filled, that can be empty, and that can hunger. When we fast we feel that hunger, that lack of something we long for, we eat of the wilderness. When we offer our physical hunger to God, God takes that and in return can refill our spiritual emptiness.

In Luke we read that Jesus returned from the wilderness “in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside” (Luke 4:14)

When we take on general fasting as a regular pattern, when we are led by the Spirit to a deeper fast, when we fast during lent, God will meet with us and fill us in a deeper way. As we explore the call to fasting this Lent may we be open to Him, ready to be filled.

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