Monday, April 18, 2011

On Fasting

I hate fasting. Let me be clear about that from the start. I don’t look forward to it, and I don’t enjoy it while I’m at it. But every year during Lent I overcome all my rationalizations and trivializations, and run a fast for the students at my school.

Why, you may ask, would anyone want to torture teenagers so? (Don’t answer, parents!)

Fasting is a traditional observance for Catholics, as it is for people of many other denominations and religions. For some, fasting on Fridays, or at least avoiding meat, is a way to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. One prepares the mind and body for the celebration on Sunday of the resurrection. During Lent in particular, Christians make sacrifices and fast in order to model Jesus’ forty days in the desert, making space in their lives for reflection.

But what, the modern person may inquire, is the point of all that deprivation? After all, surely we are beyond the age where we might think that fasting will bring some magical indulgence or benefit to the participant like an outdated rabbit’s foot or lucky coin.

People fast for a variety of reasons and some, I admit, may be suspect. I offer here only my own perspective.

Fasting makes me aware of my connectedness not only to my own body but to the world as a whole. When I fast, I acknowledge that food is a gift from the earth, not something to be treated casually. I give myself time to reflect on the connection between the way I treat this planet, and the way I live my life. It’s an unavoidable reflection, brought on every time my stomach rumbles.

More than this, fasting reminds me that I belong to the privileged group of humans who every day have enough to eat. In my life, I do not wonder if I will eat. I only wonder when I will eat and what I will eat. By fasting I offer an act of solidarity toward all those who struggle to maintain their existence. These are the poor and marginalized, the beloved of God. The money I save on groceries goes to them.

The fast that I run with the youth involves more than simply giving up food. The teenagers engage in activities that open their eyes to issues of injustice, poverty and environmental distress. We watch relevant videos. We play games. We engage in role play and creative arts. This year we focused on the School of the Americas Watch, as well as the relationship between the military-industrial complex and the degradation of water, earth and people in so many parts of the world including Canada.

During our fast we hunger together, grow together, pray together and endure together, mindful that we are exercising a freedom to choose or not to choose food that many people on our planet do not enjoy. And the teenagers every year inspire me with their wisdom, their steadfastness and their concern.

Even if God doesn’t need humans to fast, humanity needs humans to fast. In so doing, we offer an act of peace toward the earth, toward each other and toward God.

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