Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thoughts on a fast

Disputations called for a fast, and being a sucker for a little physical mortification I jumped on it. The fast was to run Aug. 29-30, breaking for the Sunday on which we do not fast, then resume and run from Sep. 1-6. It was an eye-opening experience in several ways, and I thought I'd jot them down here, not to brag that I did this but for whatever amount of edification or education they may provide anyone who happens to trip across this post.

  • The first two days of the fast were not all together that unusual. I normally fast on Fridays anyway so one or two days was nothing new. (This is not to brag - I started this as part of the "It started here, it ends here" Friday Fast in St. Blog's ... then I found out after several months it was supposed to be First Fridays only. At that point I was used to it and since I could use all the help I can get I just naturally continued.) You'd be amazed at how easy it is to keep yourself both distracted from and focused on your fasting once you do it a little.
  • After the break from the fast on Sunday as required, I found day three to be a little harder than I'd expected. I actually got hit with hunger pains a couple of times, but they were easily dismissed by actually remembering to offer it up to God (frequently with the words "God, I have no idea how you can use this, but it's all yours" or something to that effect) and then getting back to work.
  • Somewhere between days three and four I realized just how hard it was to follow the precept of "when you fast, ...". I wanted this to be something people didn't know about, partly because I didn't want them to think me weird and partly because I didn't want anyone to think me holy or some nutty thing like that. Fasting really isn't hard, at least not for me.
  • Days four and five found a little minor demon (think Wormwood, if you're familiar - if you're not, get familiar-you won't regret it) whispering in my ear to cut corners. "Remember, you're allowed two small meals, and nobody would notice anyway." Yep, 'tis true - how could anyone notice me not fasting if nobody knew I was supposed to be in the first place? I confess, I used that wiggle room a little until I was able to kick myself in the keester and straighten out.
  • Days six and seven I started to notice more consistent hunger pains. But like I said above, it's nothing new so it wasn't a big deal. To be honest, if I didn't have the hunger pains I probably wouldn't have remembered to offer anything up so they were, in themselves, a blessing.
  • By day eight Wormwood had met his demise and the taunts were more Screwtape-ish. Which was just fine because by then I noticed a new feature. It genuinely hurt to eat. My body had finally adjusted to not getting its usual constant intake of food (see, I snack constantly, so there's a world of difference between fasting and my normal intake pattern) and eating anything physically hurt more than eating nothing. At this point I'd have rather not eaten anything. I'm sure there's a psychological definition for that, and I'm equally sure I don't really care what it is.
  • Come day nine it was a constant battle running in my head between finishing this off, wishing it weren't going to end (remember what I said above about psychology?), and thinking I'd never make it through. Physically it was no longer a big deal - being a Saturday I was running around like crazy so distraction from hunger was no big deal. Mentally though it was a constant stream-of-consciousness flow of thoughts. Had I done enough? Had I done it right? Was it worth it? How stupid am I? Could I make it through? Am I being pompous thinking I'm important enough that this trinket actually matters?
Perhaps the most striking realization that I had around days eight and nine was that Christ called for "prayer and fasting" not just fasting. Yep, I'd spent all that time doing a half job because I hadn't managed to do anything to crank up my prayer life for those nine days. It's times like these that I realize you can measure my cranial thickness on a Cro-magnon scale.

All in all I have to say it was a very positive experience. Yeah, it hurt a little now and then, but so does just about anything worth doing. I can't help but feel a loss in how little we fast as a Church as compared to centuries past - it is a practice which gives back far more than it takes, and one whose direct gifts are so desperately needed in this world.