Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hunger pains…

Jesus spoke much, according to the Gospels, about fasting. He said, “When you fast, don’t walk about dirty and disheveled, seeking others’ praise. Rather, clean up! Put on a good face. And your Divine Parent, who sees in secret, will reward your faithfulness.” Similar instructions appear in elsewhere, counseling his disciples about this unique spiritual practice. But one thing Jesus never says is how to actually fast.

“Simple, Preacher. Just don’t eat!” Sure, whatever, but I’ve still got many questions. How long should I fast for? Can I have water? Tea? Juice? What if I’m a manual laborer, or how about pregnant women? Notice that in his teachings, Jesus takes for granted: a) That his disciples actually intend to fast, and b) They know what it involves. Apparently, such behavior was routine back then; like a cultural warehouse of fasting wisdom had developed, to which everyone had access.

But times change. And I doubt most American Christians have ever intentionally fasted. Our question for Christ wouldn’t be, “How can I glean greater spiritual benefit from my fasts?” Rather, we’d cry, “Seriously, Jesus? You want me to do what?!”

Scholars have long debated the evolution of fasting. Perhaps some poor hovel, one day long lost to memory, had a thin Autumn harvest. There wasn’t enough food for the village, this argument goes, so to conserve what they had, everyone abstained for ‘spiritual reasons’ on a weekly basis. Or maybe pious ancient migrants, traveling far with limited storage, occasionally limited their caloric intake, calling it prayer for traveling mercies, and the practice was handed down.

Who knows? What I can testify to, however, is that it’s a spiritually enriching experience. We talk sometimes about sacrificing for God, and typically mean giving money, or using our time and talents to help others. But causing our tummies to grumble in hunger? Sounds strange, right? Well, it’s not! If you’re healthy enough, that is, or don’t have strenuous labor to perform, occasionally battling through hunger pains focuses the mind on God’s grace. Like a school bell ringing hourly, telling students class is starting, when your empty stomach complains while fasting, it whispers constant reminders. “From whence does real sustenance come,” it can query. “Do you thank God enough for your daily bread?”

Of course, another reason people fast is to act in solidarity with the world’s poor and hungry. Having enough to eat daily, indeed, having the option to fast intentionally, is a great and wondrous blessing, which we should never forget. Nor should we allow that privilege to close our eyes to those who go without. Jesus, in fact, preached as much about the evil of hunger as basically anything else. As such, his spiritual ancestors ought regularly seek to ‘share the feast.’ And, as it happens, this month Plymouth Creek will do exactly that.
As you know, every year we walk in the CROP Walk, having fun and raising funds for hungry folk in our neighborhoods and throughout the world. This October 9, we’ll do that again. So I encourage you- a) To walk!, and/or b) Give to those who do. Talk to me or Chana Weaver with any questions.

But I wonder if this year, we might take another step…Will you fast with me for the 2011 CROP Walk? Not the day itself; that’d be unwise. But how about the day before, October 8? I’m imaging that as many who can (and if there’s any question whether you’re in good enough health to fast, don’t, or ask your doctor) avoid food all day Saturday. And at church, before service, we’ll have break-fast food and juice available. If that sounds intriguing, do a little research into the ‘how-tos’ of fasting, or ask me. You needn’t even tell others you’re doing it, although God will surely smile. While you’re at it, use that day to pray for yourself, your family, your church and especially those who hunger throughout the world. It’d be best, of course, if we didn’t have to walk, if everyone had enough already. In the meantime, thanks for following Jesus’ Way, and loving God’s Children enough to share your daily bread.

Grace and Peace,
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