Posted: 17 Mar 2012 06:36 PM PDT
"Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high" (Isaiah 58:4).
Today we are asked to face a sobering question: what does a practice such as fasting really mean? Before we allow it to be hijacked by the health experts, we need to plumb its spiritual power.
To fast only so that one might brag about disappearing poundage is scarcely a Christian practice. But to fast, as Isaiah suggests, so that the walls of selfishness are breached and the poor find hope through our treatment of them—that could make Lent an entirely new experience.
If our fasting makes us more self-centered and self-preoccupied, then our Lenten journey is losing its focus and we will end up disgruntled rather than delighted in the Lord. If our fasting or any other Lenten practice does not make us more aware of our neighbor, more involved in a community project, more genuinely alert to the Jesus we see each day in front of us, then all the prayers and actions we offer him fall flat. We are missing the point.
It is so easy to miss Jesus in our Lenten resolutions. In life we are often ten paces too slow to catch the bus or we reach the dock just as the gangplank is lifted. That is a recipe for misery. To avoid that on our spiritual journey we need to rethink the effects that our fasting practices have on us and on our community. We should not become more self-centered or more full of spiritual smugness during Lent, but rather more humble.
Fasting is not about food. It is about looking beyond all that surrounds and distracts us—food, success, pleasure, entertainment—and making room for Jesus in a needy neighbor. If we miss him there, we will have missed something more crucial than bus or boat. But if we see him when we fast from pursuing our self-interest, then we will find new strength in the Lord.
In that day, as Isaiah suggests, "[Y]ou shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am" (verse 9).
Carol M. Perry, member of Marble Collegiate