Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Lenten Disciplines - Fasting (1)

I began by suggesting that we might think that Almsgiving was the easiest of Lent disciplines - after all one need merely set up a standing order to a charity and that, we think, is that. I went on to suggest that Almsgiving if pursued in the spirit in which it is intended is actually the hardest, such is the grip that money has on us

On the other hand - we might suppose that fasting is the hardest of the three chief disciplines. Of all three, it most smacks of asceticism - a much maligned word in a culture that thinks that lack of Anything we desire as soon as we have the thought is Gross Deprivation!

Yet, at the heart of all these disciplines is the stripping away to discern Reality. Through Self denial, we realise we have been living a Lie, we have been deceiving ourselves. All that is stripped away is revealed as a cloak under which we have hidden - the false security of Money, the Busyness which cannot allow time for Prayer, and we come to see how we have abused the Goodness of Food, and in so doing missed its real Gift.

When we Fast we learn again the significance of food. And it is a significance we have forgotten and lost sight of, a Loss as significant as the Loss of Life we suffered when our First Parent Sinned, for it is inextricably linked to it. We fail to understand what we are involved in when we eat, and Most especially as we always should - (for 'it is not good that Man should be alone') - when we eat together.

One of the first effects of the fall was a distorted relationship with food - 'by the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread' - and we have reached a time in history where that distortion has reached what one can only call blasphemous proportions. We live in an age when many millions are dying from overeating and millions more from inadequate nutrition. This is played out before us through the media, yet nothing seems to change. That which was Good has become a Snare.

In part this is revealed in our practice of fasting or, better, lack of practise. In an age when so many of us have so much food, fasting has died a death. Yet in previous times when food was more scarce and thus more precious, such self denial was a commonplace. We have as it were become addicted to food and our relationship to it more and more unhealthy. Many homes are full of cookbooks that are never read, TV shows draw in millions who rarely prepare a fresh meal to watch the experts, perhaps whilst also munching through a bag of potato crisps. Which draws attention to the paradox that we have also become increasingly inattentive to food. We Watch it, look at it, read about it - but do not attend to it - we are not Present to the Gift. We talk of Grazing - we Eat on the move - we have business lunches. Family mealtimes are more and more a thing of the past [One sad definition of a family I read was 'a small group of people who share a common refrigerator and microwave].

And this last example brings me to my point - that Food is a Creative Vehicle of Reality - it has the Deep potential of Creating Life, if we understand what it is - God's Life giving Gift. And the Life is Shared. In the Fall we lose our relationship to Everything in losing our relationship with God - with Food and each other. (It is noticeable that the first murder denotes separation over matters of Food). We speak of Companionship as a deep level of Friendship - the word literally means 'With Bread' - Friendship - Relationship is Food oriented. And so in lent we strip away all the Lies and re-appropriate Food - by  NOT eating for a time.

Imagine you have not eaten for some time - you are hungry - you have been praying (Fasting should Always be accompanied by prayer). Now you come to sit and eat. Take time to contemplate what is before you - God has Provided - Give thanks (Saying Grace has also disappeared from our lives as we have lost touch with Food). In a very real sense, the food is an expression of the presence of God - He has provided it, without Him you have no food.

Now imagine further - two people sat together sharing a meal - but a third is present, for God has provided. Something knew comes into being in the Deep web of reality if we will but see it. Eating and Drinking is a Sacramental Act. We remember one who came 'eating and drinking' - the Lord of Life is Present. In this simple act of sharing a meal Companionship is happening - in God's hospitable act of providing food - you are drawn closer together.

Of course, as Christians we should never have forgotten this for central to our Faith is The Meal. God offering himself to us in Bread and Wine - the Life that enlivens Everything. In the early days of the church, the feast of the Eucharist was encompassed by a shared meal, just as the Institution of the Lord's Supper takes place in the context of a meal. Everything touched by this becomes Holy.

If we are alert to what we are doing - to the Gift, then Every shared meal becomes something Gloriously Other. As we say at the Eucharist 'The Lord is Here - his Spirit is with us!'. 
Might we not also say around the dinner table??

If we fast we begin once more to encounter God, 
to strip away the excess and thus see everything in its true light - including Food.

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