Praying Your Lenten Fast Fails

Giving up or fasting during the season of Lent is a tradition in the Christian church which many today still subscribe to. This is a noble discipline, one which I also participate in. However, I pray that we fail our fasts.

Photo by  Kamil Szumotalski  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kamil Szumotalski on Unsplash

Fasting seems to be understood by many people less as a spiritual discipline and more as a personal betterment practice. Many who fast from certain food types are doing so for weight loss. Many who fast from technology do so to avoid the toxicity of twitter. There is nothing wrong with these sorts of fasts at all! However, fasting in this way feeds the myth (myth is a unifying narrative not something that is always factually true) that through our thoughts, actions, and will power, we can become a better version of ourselves.

I pray that we all fail our Lenten fasts so that when we do we are faced with the reality that the myth of self betterment is a hallow myth. It is a myth that leads to guilt, shame and even fatalism.

The myth that I hope to live my life around is that of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus Christ reminds us that no amount of will power or determination will bring you to a better self. In fact Christianity points out that there is not a better self to obtain. That in fact the real journey is to embrace who we are, warts and all, and be able to discover the joy in it. When we fail, we come face to face with the reality that we are not god or perfect. We face the truth that we are in need of a grace. We encounter the reality that we are unable to transform ourselves, that we are in need. We need that which is beyond us and that which is outside of us.

May you fail your Lenten fast and experience the grace of forgiveness and pick the fast up the next day.

The Key Difference Between a Cleanse and a Fast

If you are into cleanses then that is great, but do not confuse a cleanse with a fast. They are different.

Of course a cleanse is different from a fast in that many cleanses encourage taking in of some food or liquid and fasts generally do not. It is also true that there are some cleanses that call for fasting from food. I can list all the ways cleanses and fasts overlap or not, but beyond the superficialities, cleanses and fasts are fundamentally different in one way: what they embrace.

The promise of the cleanse is some combination of prolong life and/or health, greater energy, weight loss, better eating habits, etc. Be it the advice of Dr. Oz or any number of cleanses (liver, colon, juice, soup, coconut oil, sauna, etc.), there is a lot to be said for being more aware of what we are eating and how much of it we eat. There is nothing wrong to being healthy, and perhaps a cleanse is a good thing for all of us. However, the promise of the cleanse is that by practicing all these things you will stave off death for a little bit longer than you would otherwise. Cleanses embrace life.

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Conversely a fast is an intentional practice of limiting food for the purpose of coming face to face with your limitations and dependence upon others. It is purposefully entering into a state of limits in order to practice in order to be at peace with the limits of life. Fasts may have some physical discomfort but the intended discomfort of the fast is the discomfort we have with death. Thus the more we fast, the more we come to terms with our own deaths. Which is why fasts embrace death.

People are motivated to take on cleanses or fasts for a variety of reasons, and I am not in a position to dismiss these reasons. You may be a person who practice fasting and more power to you. However, if we embark on a fast that leads us to embrace life rather than embrace death, then we are really embarking on a cleanse by another name. 

Too Busy Making Monsters to See Children of God

One Sunday July 10, 2016 I invited members of the church to join in a one day fast to consider ways in which we individually and collectively create monsters of other people. Objectify people is never a right thing. Objects are often used, consumed and dismissed. We never should make a human being into an object.

But objects are not the only thing that turn people into, we also turn people into monsters. When we make another person or a certain part of our own selves into a monster, we feel like we have a righteous cause and the moral justification to kill that monster. Just like the mob in Beauty and the Beast wanted to gather together to "kill the beast!" We will become that mob when a monster is present. 

Saul was a person who made others into monsters. The followers of the Way were not doing right by the tradition Saul was brought up in. These people claimed to the eat flesh and drink the blood of their leader. These “cannibals” worshiped a man named Jesus who was an enemy of Rome and even the Jewish leadership. Jesus was so bad that when given the option, the people chose to release a religious zealot named Barabbas instead of Jesus. These Christians knew their actions were evil which explained why they met in secret and even had secret codes and symbols. These Christians were, in the eyes of Saul, monsters. 

Saul's conversion moved Saul away from making and slaying monsters. But this conversion was not on his own doing. He had an encounter with Christ. He was struck blind and needed the help of others. He fasted for three days. When his sight was restored, he was eyelash to eyelash with one of these Christian "monsters". 

I believe that Paul's life is the archetypal Christian life and as such, the Christian must go through a conversion. While we cannot control the Spirit of conversion, we can make space for the Spirit to move us. While not formulaic, I asked anyone who would like to join me in a one day fast to reflect on ways we make monsters. In response to this invitation, I share with you some of the things I saw shared on Facebook.

It is my prayer that we might have a conversion from identifying people as monsters to identifying people as beautiful, beloved children of God. If it can happen to Saul/Paul it must happen in us.

Source: By Universal Studios - Dr. Macro, Public ...

Lent Advice From the John the Dwarf

We all have demons that, like any uninvited guest, take up too much of our time. In an effort to lessen the effect our own demons have on us we turn to the activity of talking about how much more awful the demons of others are.

"I may drink myself dumb, but I am not doing anything illegal."

"I may yell at my spouse, but I am not hitting them."

"I may engage in observing pornography, but I am not cheating on my spouse."

"I may gossip, but it is only to my close friends" 

"I am not perfect, but I am better than that person(s)."

Whatever the demons are we all can choose to live with them or work to defeat them. If you are looking to defeat a demon in your life, expose your false self, adknowledge where you are not doing so well, etc. then consider the advice from John the Dwarf:

“If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy’s city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food, so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh: If a person goes about fasting and hungry, the enemies of his soul grow weak.”