The Mystery of Fasting

Here is a mystery: The Fast.

Fasting is layer after layer of mystery, contradiction, and paradox.

(And I’m not even talking about the most obvious one: Although it’s called a fast, there is no period in the world that seems to go by so slowly as a time during which you abstrain from eating.)

Contradiction and paradox are two of the must fundamental building blocks of mystery.  They are things that should not happen.  And yet they do.  To our limited and puny little minds, things seem like they are impossibilities.  Things seem like they can’t possibly happen.  They confront us, sometimes quite brutally, with the limitations of our abilities to understand.  They speak of a reality which is greater than our understanding.

It is a contradiction, a paradox (and therefore a mystery) that abstaining from a thing is the best way to see its value.  Not-eating is the best way to fully appreciate eating.

It is a contradiction that we might begin by recognizing that eating is a very human need.  And yet me are somehow most human when we refuse ourself this need.  An animal eats when he is hungry, and damn the consequences.  A real human being is someone who looks at food, feels his stomach screeching for it, and still says “No.  I want to do it.  But I won’t.”

It is a contradiction that we come to see best how God nourishes and cares for us by choosing to not eat.  This is true in two senses.  When we go a day or so with out eating, we realize how very blessed we are that we have been able to eat before.  (and so what if it was not precisely what we wanted; who cares if it was not as much as we wanted.)  It is also true that God nourishes and cares for us in ways that are so much deeper than merely physical.  When we take a break from focusing on his physical provisions, we see so much more deeply all the other things he does for us.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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