The Lent Fast
Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline common to most religions. In recent times Christians have become particularly aware of how seriously Muslims take the practice of fasting, especially during Ramadan, when they do not eat during daylight hours. We sometimes seem to be less aware of fasting as part of our own religious tradition, but of course the Bible describes and advocates fasting in several places.
The prophet Joel in one of the traditional readings for Ash Wednesday speaks of our returning to the Lord “with fasting, with weeping and with mourning”. “Sanctify a fast!” he proclaims. Jesus himself spent forty days in the wilderness fasting. Jesus also said in his teaching, “When you fast”, not “If you fast”, but “When you fast”.
The essential point of fasting is discipline. It is a time of going without simply in order to bring us back to the simple life, making do with no more than we need, and making sure we have not become addicted to things that are unnecessary or even harmful. But there are naturally other benefits. One will be benefit to our bodies as well as our souls if we fast sensibly. We may feel more fit and healthy and such physical health may help also to create the setting for spiritual health and growth. (Of course those with medical conditions need to be sure fasting will not harm their health). Another benefit is that, with the money we save through fasting, we can help the poor and that is particularly pleasing to God.
For Christians Friday, the day of Christ’s death on the cross, has long been seen as an appropriate day for fasting. But the principal season of fasting is for the days of Lent, preparing spiritually for Holy Week and Easter.
But how does one fast? There is no one way. The most common Lent observance is by giving up for Lent some particular item of food or drink – no alcohol, no biscuits, no cheese, or whatever it might be, But that’s only one possibility. There is also the possibility of eating nothing in the middle of the day (though one should drink water) either on Friday or another particular day or perhaps every weekday through Lent. There is the possibility – perhaps more challenging than the traditional biscuits or chocolates – of giving up meat for Lent. Or one could invite family or friends to share once a week, in place of their main meal of the day, in a very simple “hunger lunch” or “hunger supper” of not much more than bread and water.
In the Diocese of Gloucester in 2012 the hope is that the Lent Fast will support the Bishop’s Challenge, which aims to raise funds for two projects in Africa. One is in our link diocese of Western Tanganyika, where the diocese is looking to finish the construction of a dispensary building in Mubanga, one of its remoter parishes, to provide health services, especially to women and young children. The other is the Kailahun Health Project, a European Union supported project, monitored by Christian Aid, in Sierra Leone. This project will enhance facilities in two hospitals ensuring clean running water and a reliable electricity supply to all wards. This project us supported by the European Union which will add £3 to every £1 we raise. Contributions to the Bishop’s Challenge should be sent to The Social Responsibility Department, First Floor, St Peter’s House, 2 College Green, Gloucester, GL1 2NE. Cheques made out to ‘GDBF’.
So I invite all people of goodwill to share in our Lent Fast, both as a discipline bringing spiritual health to themselves and also as a way of bringing physical health to brothers and sisters inAfrica.
+Michael Gloucestr: January 2012