In the season of Lent, which began yesterday, we enter into the forty-day fast that Jesus undertook in the wilderness. For many of us, beginning the season meant attending an Ash Wednesday service to receive the imposition of ashes and be reminded we are but dust and to dust we shall return.
During this season, we observe chosen forms of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving (or service, charity, or justice) for forty days. These ancient practices are considered the three pillars of Lent, represented below by a fish for fasting, clasped hands for prayer, and coins for almsgiving. Tradition tells us that we fast for the good of our bodies, we pray for the good of our souls, and we give alms for the good of our neighbor. We'll be focusing on each of these three pillars over the coming weeks. This week, we begin with fasting.
For many Christians throughout the centuries, a fast has been central to the observance of Lent. Though we most often relate this to physical fasting, giving up meat, sugar, eggs, and other rich foods, our fast can be anything. This is not meant to be an act of abjection—these are not ills we're giving up—but rather an act of love and devotion. We give up something good in order to receive something better.
It can be helpful to think intentionally about this as a rhythm of fasting and feasting—of setting aside and taking up—and choose something specific to feast on in exchange for our fast. We may choose to fast from social media or mindless screen time so we can feast on the presence of God and others. We may set aside a self-indulgent habit or thought pattern in order to take up an act of service.
Whatever we choose, we break the fast on Sundays, which are considered feast days of celebration throughout the church year. This is our time to cease and feast on God's goodness and grace.
Fasting has much to teach us about our dependencies and our needs. It strengthens our reliance on God rather than ourselves or others. It makes us more aware of our crutches and even our idols. Through this dedicated period of self-examination, we allow God to further shape us into the image of Jesus. We also align our hearts with the suffering of Jesus as we move ever closer toward Holy Week and the event of the crucifixion.
How are you approaching the Lenten season this year? What has your experience been with Lent and fasting in the past? Is there a rhythm of fasting and feasting you want to observe? What might God reveal to you through this practice?