On Feasting and Fasting, Joy and Sorrow

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
11th Sunday after Trinity
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago at my church we had a sermon on fasting. It was a good sermon, largely compiled from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, but a good sermon. It, as I have not yet told the one preaching it (who blogs here), inspired me to try to take up the ancient Christian practice of fasting, at least partially, on Wednesdays and Fridays. This has had mixed success thus far. But I’m not writing to you about my fasting habits, Scripture rather prohibits that, at least in this kind of a public manner. Rather, I want to write to you about the nature of feasting and fasting in Christianity.

In a conversation with a friend the other day, I used feasting and fasting as examples of ways we can try to live out the Church Calendar in our daily lives. The whole of the calendar is centered on this kind of back and forth with regular meals and smaller feasts throughout. In Advent we’re meant to fast; in Christmas, we feast. In Lent, we fast; in Easter, we feast. In Ordinary Time we keep eating, but we don’t feast as much; and sometimes we fast, but not as intensely. There’s this rhythm to it all so that neither spend too much time fasting nor too much feasting. Of course, there’s plenty of room in the Calendar for special feasts and fasts. But this brings me to two points concerning feasting and fasting I think very important: The high and low nature of feasting and fasting and the necessary link between feasting and fasting.

In feasting and fasting we get this very paradoxical mix of the high and the low. Culturally speaking fasting is perhaps on the high end. Only those with enough food, who know when their next meal is coming, can fast in the way we so often mean it. It is because I know that there will be eggs in the fridge Thursday morning that I can fast Wednesday night and use it as a cutting out of something I have regular access to. For those who go to bed hungry, fasting is often not an intentional spiritual discipline but a way of life for they know not when they will eat again. The kind of fasting we so often do is therefore a privilege (and the reason Isaiah suggests fasting should be accompanied by feeding the hungry). Feasting, on the other hand, can be culturally low, in the sense that nothing is more common, more accessible to all people than a celebration involving food. Yes, even the impoverished can feast on that happy day when they have enough to eat for the night (however, if feasting means eating only special or expensive foods, which it should not, then it too is culturally high, but it is no longer feasting). Yet spiritually feasting is something of a high for us as it is a celebration of good that has happened in this world (the birth of Christ, his resurrection, etc.). Fasting, however, brings us low, reminds us of our sinfulness (often the sins we cover up with food). This is especially true in Lent when we fast and remember that it was our sins that put Christ on the cross. So feasting and fasting are both high and low.

The second thing I want to emphasise is their mutual importance and inextricability. We can have no true fasting if we do not also feast. Alternatively, we can have no true feasting if we do not fast. I think often one or the other of these gets more attention. Whether it is Lent coming into vogue and everyone talking about their fasts; or else we’re all ready for the next potluck or some other celebration. We need to be thinking in a rhythm of feasting and fasting (as well as a rhythm of just eating and minor fasts). To truly fast we must also have time’s of feasting. Without feasting, without special celebrations, our faith will be too focused on the spiritual lows and cultural highs. This can lead us to think too much on our sinfulness and to alienate our less-privileged brothers and sisters who cannot afford to always be fasting or who may turn to thoughts too dark by the emphasis on sin that so often accompanies fasting. Alternatively, we cannot be all feast and no fast, all cultural low and spiritual high. Even here, the culturally low will quickly become high as so many of our brothers and sisters will not be able to maintain so much feasting. Also, this can lead to too much focus on all the good and joyful things. A life of feasting only is what leads us to the prosperity gospel. No, we need both. We Christians must be a people who feast and fast for we are a people of both joy and sorrow.

Yours,
David

Lenten Activities in 2015

David Russell Mosley


Ordinary Time
17 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Lent is nearly upon us again. While both Advent and Lent are times of fasting, Lent feels very different from Advent. Part of that probably has to do with how our culture deals with Christmas and Easter. Christmas is more deeply rooted in our culture, with more common customs and rituals. This plays out into Advent as we buy Advent calendars, begin singing Christmas carols and other wintry songs. What Easter and Lenten customs there are and have been are less firmly rooted in our cultural consciousness. Sure we have candies and flowers (though candies are typically off limits in Lent). We have few Easter songs that everyone knows, the way they might “Joy to the World” or “What Child Is This?” or “Silent Night”. But there’s something more. Advent leads us to a simply joyous event: the birth of Christ. What pain there is in childbirth is quickly overcome once the child is here. In Lent, however, not only is our focus in part on our sinfulness, but also on the Light having gone out of the world. We aren’t Mary awaiting the birth of the Lord, but Israel awaiting the end of the dessert wandering. Equally, rather than passing through labour, we must pass through the grave (and quite probably Hell) before we can reach the celebration of Easter. However, this ought to make Easter all the more joyous for us, for in it is bound up all the pain and suffering of life in this fallen cosmos.

As I said, Lent is a time of fasting. Now traditionally, this is a food and drink fast. That is, people fasted typically from various meats, flour, butter, sugar, oils, alcohol, etc. I still hope to do a proper Lenten fast in this fashion someday. However, this year is not that year. Instead, I am fasting from most social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter (don’t worry, I’ll still be writing here). I will also be fasting from iPhone games. I tend to get rather addicted to these games, so I thought it appropriate to give them up. I’m also giving up sweets this Lent. I have an insatiable sweet tooth and little self-control. So, no more sweets for me. Sundays in Lent are feast days, though typically it is a complete feast since you’ve typically gotten rid of all your flour, butter, etc. Nevertheless, I will be indulging in some sweets on Sundays, but still not social media or phone games.

Another plan I have for this lent is to get more disciplined in my prayer life. I’m typically fairly good at getting Morning and Evening prayer in most days. But I want to do better. I also want to add a few more set times of prayer. So, some time in the midmorning, I plan to pray the Rosary; in the early afternoon, I will say a prayer from The Prayers and Hymns of Thomas Aquinas.

The final thing I’ve decided to do for Lent is to read some spiritual books I’ve never read before. I may add more as I finish the two I’ve set myself. The two books I’ve already planned to read are The Handmaid of the Lord by Adrienne von Speyr and The Cloud of Unknowing by an unknown Englishman in the late fourteenth century. I chose von Speyr’s book because she is a relatively contemporary mystic who saw many visions. She was also heavily influenced by her confessor Hans Urs von Balthasar. I chose the second as my ancient/medieval read. I know very little about it and look forward to learning more.

So, what are you doing this Lent? How are you preparing yourselves for the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour? Are you giving anything specific up, taking anything specific up, or reading anything in particular? Do let me know.

Sincerely yours,
David

Lent: The Light Has Gone out of the World

Dear Friends and Family,

We’re just over half-way through Lent and I’ve realised I didn’t do a post about it. There is a lot I could tell you about the history of Lent; how it started as a forty-hour fast before Easter to symbolise the time Christ spent in the tomb and then evolved into forty days of limited fasting to connect better with the Israelites in the desert and Christ in the wilderness. Instead, however, I just want to write a brief apology for Lent.

For many Christians Christmas and Easter are easy to understand. Even Pentecost and Ascension Day make sense since they’re days in the life of Christ. Lent is just a different bird. Lent is in place to remind us that Christ died, that the light of the world was snuffed out. We commiserate with the disciples who, still misunderstanding Christ, thought he had come to restore the Davidic Kingdom. We recognise our sinfulness during this time and dedicate ourselves anew to repentance. We fast to remember that the true source of our being is God, not food, not the comforts of this life, but God.

I know some Christians who see all Christian celebrations and commemorations as inappropriate because we ought to be celebrating Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all the time. This is true. It does not, however, negate the usefulness of year in and year out living in the rhythm of Christ’s Birth, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Spirit to the Church. We ought to set aside specific times to think about and discuss these things. Otherwise our view could become myopic, we could become sidetracked by whatever aspects of salvation speak to us most. In the Church Calendar we abate that fear. In Lent, we remember why we needed a saviour and why we tend to myopia in the first place.

Spend these next few weeks reminding yourself why you needed a saviour and Easter will seem all the more felicitous for it.

A Lenten Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Yours,

David