Someone in a facebook group I belong to asked a question this morning about fasting. She was concerned about the nature of the foods she and her family chose, asking if substitutes for meat and cheese were in keeping with the spirit of the Great Fast. Discussion ensued, and there were many on both sides of the issue, debating the issue almost as if in a court of law. It made me sad. People were so adamant about the correctness of their position that they almost forgot there was a humble, maybe fragile, soul on the other side of the screen reading their commentary and absorbing their judgment and criticism. They chastised her about being scrupulous, warned her about the boasting of the Pharisee, and defended their position, as if she had attacked it..she had not. Yes, it has been my experience, especially now that my family has begun the penance of fasting perpetually, that everyone has a different idea of what the proper fast must be. So...without further ado, here's MY personal take on the subject. Take from it and reflect on it as you will. If it's good advice, keep it; if it is garbage, throw it out.
I have come to realize that the whole purpose of the bodily fast is NOT to make us suffer needlessly, or to give up food that is meant to nourish us and give us what our body truly needs. It IS to free us from the slavery we have to food, so that our souls can be totally free from distraction and we can focus on God better AFTER the fast is over. It helps us become just and merciful, like our God. Think: if we can barely keep ourselves from minor distractions like the hamburger, or the chocolate bar after dinner, how can we judge our brother who can't keep from major addictions like alcohol, drug abuse, habitual lying, etc. We become more compassionate AFTER we fail. When we give up things for lent, yes there are rubrics that should be followed, but these are guidelines only. The individual needs to focus on what keeps him bound to the material, and fast from it, no matter how trivial or permitted it may seem to someone else. The merit lies in the journey and in taking each step toward perfection fast by fast, year by year.
Each year I do follow the guidelines, but I sometimes add a few specific things that are totally permissible, but a real and true temptation for me. For example, I HATED being a slave to coffee! I didn't like that it had hold of my emotions like that, so I gave it up every Lent for years and now, praise God, the hold is gone and I am free. I can drink it now, even during the fast and I am free of its distraction. I have become detached! My understanding is that our perfection will be reached when food, all food, all possessions, all things, become an indifference and we will no longer be a slave to their distraction and we can then focus more on the soul and its craving for God.
As I began to prepare myself to enter into this Great Lent, I watched a documentary film on the benefits of fasting and heard this excerpt from the book of Isaiah read aloud.
I imagine God the Father speaking to him, and to us through him.
A perfect adherence to the most tedious of fasting details won't result in a fruitful fast if we neglect to imitate Him in His generosity and goodness.
I'm so glad I came upon this.
Here's to a most fruitful fast!
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Amen...that is all.