I confess to being a comfort eater.
I enjoy flavour and taste and the feeling of not being hungry. Feasting, therefore is a joy, but fasting is a discipline. I don’t think I am alone in this, however over the last year or so of pandemic and lockdown upon lockdown, I have found that it isn’t just my waistline that has become flabby, but my spiritual life too.
As we approached a second Easter in lockdown, and friends naturally asked me what I was giving up for Lent, I found myself replying that I had nothing left to give up. For Lent this year I gave up giving up. Many of us felt the same way, life had been difficult, we had experienced so many deprivations already, please don’t take away the snacks and other comforts that we had been bingeing alongside Netflix.
I also knew that Easter would bring with it not the usual feast of music and colour and a restored sense of hope in New Life, Easter brought for me some painful changes: the end of my role as vicar, and the loss of our family home. I truly had nothing left to give up. I was justified in not fasting through Lent.
What I discovered as I comforted my way through Lent, and continued to feast through the 6 weeks of Easter, was that in giving up giving up I hadn’t gained comfort, but lost some of the depth of my spiritual relationship with the Divine. Just when I needed to be more rooted, I found myself drifting.
And so, as we move into Ordinary Time in the church calendar, I am trying to restore within my own life some of the spiritual practice of fasting, and I am hoping to find joy within it.
I am choosing to fast once a week, a day I will dedicate to prayer not just in words but in what I do (or don’t do). I will refrain from my favourite meal of the day (breakfast) and setting myself a reminder that today is a fast day lest I forget and dig into the tea and toast (with lashings of butter and homemade marmalade). I will spend lunchtime meditating, or at least building duration and ability to sit still whilst listening for God, as God seems to have been silent lately (or perhaps my mind has been too noisy?). I will give the equivalent of my dinner money to charity, and when my children return from school I will joyfully break the fast with them.
Today I am picking up on an ancient tradition of prayer in which I give my whole body over to God: with body, heart, and mind I will be praying for our next steps in the great adventure with Jesus. Today I recommence my membership at the prayer gym, aiming to strengthen those spiritual muscles which have become weak and flabby. Will other areas of my body also become less flabby? Who knows. This isn’t an exercise in weight loss, but an intentional re-connection with God.