For the next four Tuesdays of Lent, the Classic Christian small group will be looking at four spiritual disciplines: Fasting, Simplicity, Worship, and Service. Tomorrow night, we begin with Fasting.
Fasting is a venerable practice engaged in by many of the luminaries of Scripture, from Moses to Elijah to St. Paul to our Lord Jesus Christ himself. The Didache relates that the early Christians fasted twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The Desert Fathers ate one meal a day around three o’clock in the afternoon. They taught that fasting was essential to the life of prayer — and undivided prayer was their purpose in retreating to the desert. One cannot pray on a full stomach — and John Cassian recommends never eating so much that you be satisfied. Fasting and prayer coupled together are the best defense against the demons and the evil thoughts that infiltrate our minds and tempt us to sin.
Fasting continues to be emphasised throughout the monastic tradition, from St. Augustine and St. Benedict through to the Franciscans and the Dominicans. In course of time, requirements for fasting on particular days and at particular seasons mellowed to abstinence, thus, not eating (red) meat on Fridays or going vegan for Lent.
In most Protestant circles, the emphasis salvation on absolutely nothing but faith in Jesus led to the falling away of fasting over time, even though Martin Luther, the loud proponent of justification by faith, fasted. In the 1700’s, John Wesley found himself inspired by the ancient Christian witness and practice. He fasted twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays and required that those wishing to become Methodist preachers themselves fast twice a week.
Fasting has an eminent pedigree. We who live in a culture obsessed with food, obsessed with consumption, in the thrall of instant gratification, should seriously consider fasting. We must not allow ourselves to become slaves to anything* — our bellies, our taste buds, food, grocery stores, advertisers, food production companies, restaurants, fast food joints. Ruling our bodies is a step towards freedom, and fasting is a step towards ruling the body.
If you find yourself stoked about fasting & John Wesley, read his sermon on fasting, the text for tomorrow.
*This would, in fact, include being enslaved to a rule of fasting.