notes on a fast

I will never preach again.

The Sunday before Lent, I preached about fasting and how joyful and freeing this gift of a discipline is. Then I started actually fasting and it’s awful.


I didn’t decide to do this, really, I just read about the idea about six months ago and I knew that I needed to do it for Lent. Rice, beans, vegetables, and fruit. That’s it.

I came up with all these reasons after the fact – solidarity with the world’s poorest people; being environmentally friendly; eating healthy.

For the first two weeks I was moving and the whole thing was really impractical. So it’s only been a month. And I keep traveling, making mostly-veganism the closest thing I could get to the strictest sense of my chosen discipline. And I took a whole day off when I went to Buffalo for no good reason, except that Buffalo wings are my favorite food. I ate seventeen.

I haven’t even “done” that well, and it still has been this monumental effort that I’ve only kept up with out of guilt over the Earth and a general belief that spiritual disciplines shouldn’t always make sense or feel good.

Not that it hasn’t made some sense. Benefits:
– again, the Earth. Animals are not sustainable foods (giving corn to a cow when you could give it to a person). Animal products are only marginally better.
– I’ve learned to make lots of new international foods and tried creative new made-up recipes.
– I’m healthier.
– without other sugar in my diet, fruit tastes amazing.

But the costs, ugh. I know this is whiny; let’s just call it a “confession”. It just feels so difficult. I love to cook. I love to bake even more. And I love to eat even more than that. In my life, every victory and disappointment is met with a treat. I try to reign this in, treats in moderation, but I can’t quite believe this is a wholly bad way to use food.

Beyond this, I just believe in food, even apart from its celebratory and consolatory powers. It’s such a spectacular, creative gift. And it has a mystical ability to bring people together; unless someone (meeeee) is getting left out.

So even though there are lots of yummy ways to eat rice and beans and vegetables, these past weeks have been greatly frustrating to me, not least because they’ve shattered my hard-fought illusions that I was being aware, intentional about what I ate. I really thought I was. But the first week, it just took one glance at my snack stash at work to see that I’d been mindlessly midafternoon munching on pure junk food.

And of course, the hardest thing about sticking to it has been defeating my own excuses, all of which are totally irrelevant. My life is already stressful. I’m making important decisions right now. All of Syracuse is fasting from sunlight. In other words – life is too difficult to deprive myself of whatever foods I want.

Isn’t that the point though; isn’t that the point. I thought I wasn’t dependent on food to get me through rough days, but I am. I cannot say with St. Paul, I know the secret of being content, because however much I want him to be, Christ is not always my strength.

And that is all the gift there is. Just me, knowing my weakness. This winter, in so many ways, I’ve learned anew how weak I am, and in the past couple of weeks, how deeply God loves me regardless.

Lent is about to end. I need that. In the last few days I’ve started to feel the shadow side of all this creeping in: a little too much pleasure in deprivation, a road I’ve gone further down before. And then, even if I did someday perfect the art of subsisting on rice and beans, I am certain there would be that absurd ascetic pride that’s kept far too many Christians from enjoying the good world God gave them. There is a time for letting go of certain foods; soon comes the time to let go of dieting.

Likewise, there is a time for getting stronger, and a time to just acknowledge weakness. I know this year that Holy Week is not a time to be strong. Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, became weak to bear my weakness. All I know is to rest there, beneath the cross, and let the mystery tangle around us because here is the eye of the storm: that you, O Lord, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving.*

I need Easter deep in my bones this year, because I miss the spring, because I miss home, because I wonder this year more than usual whether victory is really possible. But I also need him to rise just so I can lay into a cinnamon roll with a new and profound awakening to the world in its icing-containing glory. We are redeemed, not into some exhausting self-improvement project, but into new life, as our pitiful little selves getting stronger in time, but first there is love without condition.

Thanks be to God.

*Ps. 62

Leave a comment


  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  March 30, 2013

    SEVENTEEN WINGS! Holy cow. Well, holy chicken, maybe. That’s a lot of liking Buffalo, I gotta tell you. Of course, the burning question is: did you choose ranch or bleu cheese?

  2. Love this. All of it, particularly the line, “All of Syracuse is fasting from sunlight.”

    The end of winter is a beast.

    Lent is a ridiculously strange and painful and lovely thing.


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