I recently read that a young Christian physician had finally met a woman who suited his desires and needs as a potential marriage partner. Before he proposed to her, he made several intermittent days of fasting to help in his discernment of whether to “pop the question” to her. Wow! For years I had taught engaged couples in pre-Cana conferences and I never once thought of applying fasting somewhere along the process of preparing to marry. And, I had read this story in the New York Times society page!
But it got me thinking that perhaps there are at least two kinds of fasting. Lent provides the opportunity to engage in one or both for our spiritual lives. For instance, there is penitential fasting when we “give up” something we like or find fulfillment in like various foods or entertainment. We do this in our stumbling, human way of making up for our shortcomings and sinfulness. Then, there is what I call proactive fasting when we “do something” to replace our comfort in accepting things as they are. When we reach out to help someone we would ordinarily ignore, we are fasting from comfort and replacing it with a holy risk. When we make an effort to slide into a chapel or church and simply listen to God, we are fasting from our coveted control over time, especially free time and giving it up for moments with our loving Creator.
In the seventeenth century, the Paulaner monks in Bavaria developed a beer heavily concentrated with carbohydrates and nutrients, which they called “Sank Vater” or “Holy Father” beer, and which they said was truly “liquid bread”. During Lent, they consumed 4 to 5 glasses a day and never had solid food. Now, I am NOT recommending this type of fast! If you are like me, you would not make it past Ash Wednesday on this fast! But the monks had no healthy water system and were often low on food. I think it was a fast from comfort, replacing it with “holy risk” to be sure!
The Paulaner monks notwithstanding, there are creative ways we can come up with forms of fasting. Isaiah’s words in Isaiah, Chapter 58 are the loveliest incantations you will ever read about “proactive fasting”. Take time to reflect on these.
Read Matthew 6: 16-18. It is Jesus’ gentle encouragement on “hidden fasting” before a “hidden God” – a powerful reflection.
And, please, remember all who are afraid of or afflicted with the COVID-19 virus, especially our South Korean Anonymous Angels or their associates.