Katie Snipes Lancaster
Scripture: Matthew 6:16–18
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Spiritual Practice: Fasting
Because of the culture of eating disorders, I sometimes hesitate to talk about the spiritual practice of fasting. For some, fasting is a trigger, connected to the trauma of one’s relationship to their body. I remember girls in High School who loved the season of Lent because they could openly talk about what they were refraining from eating, but in reality, it was giving their anorexia room to thrive. There are other ways of engaging in spiritual disciplines if you have an ongoing struggle with your relationship to food.
Yet, for the majority, fasting can offer a gift. I have a friend who fasts from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday: her last meal is “Jesus Last Supper” and her first meal is the “Resurrection Feast,” the celebration of the Eucharist at sunrise on Easter morning. It enriched her experience of those holy days and put her in tune with the story of Jesus in ways that she described as truly sacred. In that way the hunger of her body put her in touch with the hunger of her spirit: her physical needs and her spiritual needs were in sync.
A few times I led a youth event called “30 Hour Famine,” where youth and adults participated in just that: thirty hours of fasting. We woke up Friday morning, had breakfast and then refrained from lunch. Friday night, we gathered for conversation about global hunger, and stories of God’s call to participate in feeding the hungry. Then, well, we went to midnight bowling, because that’s what you do on a lock in. All the while, we fasted. No youth group pizza. No late night popcorn. And everyone slept at church that night. The next morning, we went to prepare meals at “Feed My Starving Children” and then in the afternoon, volunteers cooked dinner for us, and we broke our fast in community, shared about our experience, and worshiped together.
Have you ever fasted? I wonder if this year of COVID-19 has felt like a fast from so much? From community? From spiritual practice? From saying yes to too much? Will you consider fasting in anticipation of receiving the sacrament? Or as part of your Lenten practice next winter?
God, our lives are full of abundance,
And you give us the practice of fasting
To put us in a renewed relationship with you and ourselves.
Give us a holy fast, a way to participate in giving up what you call us to give up.
And connect us to you in holy, embodied ways, in the day to come.