Some words on the topic of Food and Fasting in the Lenten season. (adapted from web article on Fasting)
The purpose of fasting is to remind us of the Scriptural teaching, “Man does not live by bread alone.” (Matthew 4:4) The needs of the body and the needs of the soul need to be held in tension. Above all else, we need God, Who provides everything for both the body and the soul. Fasting teaches us to depend on God more fully.
The first sin of our parents, Adam and Eve, was eating from the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:1-19). We fast from food, or a food item, as a reminder that we are to fast from sining and doing evil.
There are several benefits of fasting. Fasting helps us pray more easily. Our spirit is lighter when we are not weighed down by too much food or food that is too rich. Through fasting, we also learn to feel compassion for the poor and hungry and to save our own resources so that we can help those in need.
Fasting is more than not eating food. John Chrysostom (4th Century) teaches that it is more important to fast from sin. For example, besides controlling what goes into our mouths, we must control what comes out of our mouths as well. Are our words pleasing to God, or do we curse God or our brother?
The other members of the body also need to fast: our eyes from seeing evil, our ears from hearing evil, our limbs from participating in anything that is not of God. Most important of all, we need to control our thoughts, for thoughts are the source of our actions, whether good or evil.
Fasting is not an end in itself. Our goal is an inner transformation. Fasting is about “spiritual athletics” or disciplines which are central to training as a disciple.
Fasting is a spiritual exercise. It is not imposed or forced upon us. In the same way that true repentance cannot be forced upon anyone, each of us makes the choice to turn away from sinful ways and go toward our loving, forgiving Father in Heaven.
Some of you may be interested in listening to a podcast on Food and Faith – an interview with a Christian nutritionist on the teaching of the early church Fathers on food.
On a personal note, I’m really a novice at prolonged fasting. I try to follow the traditional Orthodox practice of fasting from meat, animal products, olive oil, and wine (the last 2 permitted on weekends) Everything in moderation all the time is the life-long goal of the food and faith connection. So I’m enjoying more nuts and peanut butter, hummus and raw fruits and vegetables and less caffeine. My snacks are definitely healthier! The vegetarians among us have a head start on good meal options!
More importantly, I want to become more alert to God. That constant need I have as a disciple for the New Testament word “nepsis” – to be WATCHFUL and ATTENTIVE – to give my attention to Him at all times.