Monday, February 18, 2013

A Holy Fast

Here at Bethany, we have no standard fasting recommendation for the Lenten season.  Fasting, traditionally abstaining from food and drinking only water, has been a spiritual practice in the church and Israel to the earliest biblical record, and is a practice shared by many other religious traditions.  In our tradition, fasting is not simply about abstinence.  We go empty so that we can be filled, filled with God’s Spirit and with God’s Word.  For example, to skip lunch because we have a busy day is not the same as fasting.  But to skip lunch and spend the time in prayer or reading the Bible is fasting.  In addition, fasting and other spiritual practices that are “personal” cannot be separated from basic biblical ethics, from doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God (Micah 6.8).  In fact, Isaiah says that a fast that does not change our behavior toward the weak and vulnerable is no true fast (Isaiah 58).  John Wesley, the founding figure of the Methodist tradition, wrote, “There is no personal holiness without social holiness.”

The traditional fast days for Lent are Friday and Wednesday.  You may be familiar with fish being served on Fridays, year-round; that comes from the Catholic tradition and is a way of recognizing Good Friday, the death of Jesus on the cross.  During Lent, this Friday tradition is especially highlighted.  Wednesday is chosen as well, since we begin Lent with Ash Wednesday.  But, the entire Lenten season is considered a time to fast, as our Muslim friends fast for the entire month of Ramadan.  If you have any special health needs (such as blood sugar or blood pressure), please take that into account when making plans to fast.

Some people create their own alternate fast.  For some, it involves specific food or drink – no chocolate or no alcoholic beverages.  For others, it may be no television (to focus on other ways for the family to gather).  And, more and more, people are focusing on positive changes or giving back.  Volunteer to clean the home of someone who needs help.  Volunteer to serve in a ministry or outreach.  Read through the New Testament, or listen through the audio New Testament (check our audio Bible resources on the “resource” page of the church web site).  In only 28 minutes a day, you can listen through the entire New Testament in the 40 days of Lent.

In this Lenten season, while I do not have a standard recommendation for fasting, I do encourage us all to find a new way to make more room for Jesus in our lives.  Blessings!

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