Sunday, July 03, 2011

40 Day Fast: Why would you do that?

Starting on the 5th, I'll be running a daily series here chronicling my attempt to do a 40 day fast. There are two major questions people tend to have when they hear something like this. The first question, edited to remove heartfelt and prodigious cursing, tends to be, "What is wrong with you?" and the second, asked with similar passion and deeper, more intense curiousity is, "Why?" This second question is occasionally followed by a swoon in which the person leans against a doorframe and says again, more quietly, "For the love of all that is good in life, why? Why would you do this thing?"

"And now, sweet apple, you begin a most fascinating journey."
Since the question "What is wrong with you?" could easily lead to a 40 part series here at BHR at another time, I'll simply address the second question:

WHY?

People fast for a lot of reasons. Every major world religion includes fasting (often mandatory for adherents) as part of their ritual practice. I don't know of a culture that doesn't embrace fasting as a normal, even laudable practice in the correct context. This might be in a purely natural context (for instance, refusing food during periods of mourning), or part of the calendar year (like Lent or Yom Kippur or Ramadan or Maha Shivaratri). It has been used as a protest tool, perhaps most famously by people like Ghandhi and Cesar Chavez. Some people fast for health reasons, and believe me, you can find quacks who will tell you that fasting is good for everything from "cleansing your body" to "healing your cancer." No, I am not kidding.

Among Christians there is a wide variety of opinions about fasting, ranging from people who think it's a good tool for figuring out a direction in life, that it provides an altered (heightened) spiritual state, or even that it's a sort of bargaining chip that makes God more likely to answer your prayers.

None of which answers why I, personally, would embark on a fast, let alone a 40 day fast.

So, here's my "why." It's not a particularly compelling or interesting one. Basically, a few weeks before I started fasting, I felt during my prayer times that God was asking me to do a prolonged fast. No details, no "theme" or topic I should be praying about, really no compelling reason at all, just that it was something I should do. I shrugged it off and ignored it. Multiple times. Until one weekend, when I was preaching at a local church about following Jesus, and suddenly that little communication from God became more insistent. It reached that level where I had to admit that (1) God expected this of me and (2) it wasn't going away. So I made plans to start my fast that week.

I should mention here that I've already finished my fast. The 40 days here on the blog will be my notes from the time, not in "real time."

One other "why"... I'm assuming some of you are wondering why I would publicly talk about this. There are plenty of people who fast, wanting to keep it a secret. Well, first of all, you can't really fast for 40 days and remain in society AND keep it a secret. So honestly, anyone who interacts with me here in town on a regular basis already knows. Secondly, when I was researching fasting I found a lot of books about the theology of fasting, or the health benefits of fasting, or the history of fasting. What I didn't see much of was the individual experience of fasting. I thought there are probably people out there who are thinking about giving it a shot, or who are simply curious about what it's like (and have no intention of ever doing it). I thought it could be a helpful series for someone.

So, starting on Tuesday there'll be a post every day in the early evening about fasting. I'll try to keep up some of the regular posts as well, so there will be a bit of a mix. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments, I'd like to make sure the series is useful and interesting to you.

And now I will fast from posting on my blog for at least 12 hours. Ha ha ha.