We often describe Lent as a season of Fasting. But, in truth, fasting has fallen out of favour. Now, rather than fasting, we are likely to give up something for Lent – biscuits, cakes, wine, sweets. Increasingly we are encouraged to take on something for Lent – more prayer, more bible reading, more charitable work. All of this is good but I want to suggest that there is still some benefit to be had by fasting.
The dictionary definition of fast is: Abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.
So what are the benefits to us of abstaining from food or drink?
Firstly, to go without something reminds us of how important it is to us. If I were to go without some of the things that I enjoy or like it will make little difference to me. If I don’t read my newspaper I don’t lose very much. If I don’t listen to music for a day, it costs me little. But if I go without food for a day I feel hunger and I know that I will need to eat or I will become unwell. A day without food may not bring me more than a little discomfort but doing so reminds me that I need food to survive. Food doesn’t merely enrich my life as music or reading the newspaper might; it makes life possible. Increasing my understanding of my dependence on food should make me more appreciative of it, it should make me more thankful for the food I have. Following on from that realisation should also make me more grateful for the people who provide my food for me – the person who cooks, the people who grow the ingredients or rear the meat, those who process those ingredients.
Secondly, going without food can make me more understanding of what the third of the world’s population who to bed hungry every night are experiencing. Being more understanding should also make me more active in supporting those who are hungry. I will think about what food justice means. Why do we accept a world in which we can live in a nation which throws away up to a third of the food we grow, or import, while others are going hungry – sometimes in the very countries from which we import our food? It makes me more aware of the cries of the world’s poor for justice.
Following on from all of this should be an increased awareness of all the other things that we need for sustainable life. Companionship, clothes, shelter, employment, security. This increases our understanding of our need for other people and resources. We are reliant on people all over the world for the things we need for life. And they are reliant on us. Our responsibility to one another becomes clear, as does our responsibility to the created environment.
Fasting, taken seriously, should make us activists in our world. It should make us people who work for justice for all people, it should make us people who work for a sustainable future for our world and for its people.
Fasting doesn’t just make us hungry, it makes us hungry for a better world.
Welcome to Lent.