I preached about fasting yesterday, which is pretty funny given my lack of ability to do it well.
Mostly I drew on both choices of lessons from Hebrew scripture - Joel and Isaiah.
My three points were:
Fasting is a community endeavor, not a solo act.
The opposite of fasting is not feasting, it's mindless eating.
The point of fasting is not the practice itself.
Here's the development of the middle point:
For my second note on understanding fasting, I am stealing shamelessly from a Lutheran theologian of food, Shannon Jung. Jung posits that the opposite of fasting is not feasting, it is mindless eating.
This seems to me to be a lesson particularly for our time, when food is so abundant. Alice Waters reported seeing a bumper sticker which read, "If you are what you eat, I am fast, cheap and easy." And my guess is that for some of us that is true most of the time, and for all of us it is true some of the time. We eat without thinking about the connections that the food we eat represents - all food comes from some place, not just someplace else - as Deborah Madison says. We eat without thinking about the consequences of our eating - consequences for ourselves, for our communities, for the global community, and for our planet.
Sometimes I think feasting is just as rare a practice as fasting. Food is simply not that precious to us, and so special occasions are just not that special. Feasting in our times, and with our cheap food (most Americans spend only around 10% of their budget on food) is more often simply too much of "that which does not satisfy".
In such circumstances, fasting can help us get in touch with how much is really enough.
Mindful eating, then, is what we are going for. And if it helps you to think about mindfulness or intentionality, rather than going without, as the most important aspect of fasting, perhaps that will encourage some positive disciplines for Lent - and beyond.