Thursday, September 10, 2009

Feasting or Fasting?

Which better feeds the active soul? Feasting or fasting? This kind of question was raised at a weekly clergy lectionary Bible study group I have attended the past three years. I was surprised at the liveliness of the discussion.

Some felt that fasting was an indispensable traditional spiritual discipline. They pointed to fasting's benefits. First, when you fast you are foregoing something you rely upon daily for nourishment and sustenance. This can remind you of your dependence upon God for “daily bread” as the Lord’s Prayer puts it. Also, feeling hunger can be a way of gaining empathy for those who are hungry in our world. Some who fast donate the money they would have spent on food to a food bank or other hunger relief organization.

Others in our group argued that feasting was more of a soul-nourishing experience. First, eating food gives us energy and strength to do our daily tasks, which can include helping others. When we are eating with gratitude, we are feeding both our souls and our bodies. Food, they argued, is to be enjoyed and celebrated. They pointed to the social benefits of a meal shared with good friends and family.

One interesting fact arose out of this discussion. Jesus feasted and fasted. He joined in celebratory feasts at weddings and Jewish festivals, but also withdrew into the wilderness for a time of fasting.

My view is that this is a “both and” issue rather than an “either or” issue. Both feasting and fasting can nourish our souls in their own way. Obviously, fasting is not going to occur as frequently as feasting. We must eat to live. But, fasting can remind us that we don’t live to eat.

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