Monday, March 15, 2010

Guest Meditation: Understanding the "Why" of the Fast


Dear Parish Faithful,



I strongly encourage everyone to read the following "lenten meditation" written by one of our catechumens, Jennifer Haynes. Jennifer first sent this to me in the form of an email letter in an effort to share some of her family's experiences in moving toward the Orthodox Church. I found what she wrote quite fascinating, and asked her to edit or "touch up" any possible rough spots with a parish-wide distribution in mind. She agreed, and has done so very nicely, without changing the content of her initial letter. Her letter is deeply encouraging to me on the pastoral level, as a genuine witness to the potential depths of our traditional practices and how such practices - in this case, fasting - can open up new insights about our own lives, including previous "blind spots," and our relationship with God. A whole new world opened up to the Haynes by just not eating meat! Hopefully, other riches are in store for them as they move toward the full communion of the Church's sacramental life. Her reflection may be encouraging to you, if you find yourelf struggling with the very meaning and purpose of fasting, beside the day-to-day struggle with "what to eat?" And what you read may open up new levels of understanding that will prove to be helpful.

What we may take for granted within the Church - and perhaps even a burden at times - is a gift from God that is meant for our liberation from the bonds of "this world," in order to experience the freedom that is found in Christ alone.

Fr. Steven
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Father Bless

Last year I was speaking to an old girlfriend during the pre-Lenten season. She said, “I’m giving up chocolate for Lent. What are you giving up?” The most honest response I could give her was “Well, sin.” I wasn’t quite sure how else to answer her question because it seemed like we were going to be giving up a whole lot compared to chocolate. It struck me as odd, though, that chocolate would be something to give up given the unlimited things in this world one could give up to redirect our attention back to God. Did she have an unhealthy dependency on chocolate? How does giving up chocolate bring one closer to God? I really didn’t understand it. Fasting seemed like it was going to be so much more complicated and deeper. We didn’t have expectations, but just followed the guidelines of the Church.

Last year during Lent was our first fast and although we didn’t fast as strictly as some, it remained an enlightening experience for us. Chuck and I were raised in a meat-eating environment and meat was on the menu for almost every meal. When we were preparing to fast from meat, for some unknown reason, we thought it would be very difficult to restrain ourselves from meat. It proved to be easier than we thought. We even felt a sense of strength. As time passed during the fast, a strange compassion began taking place in our hearts for animals. We mourned for them because all too often we had taken for granted their life for our sustenance. In digging deeper, it became apparent we were also taking the life we were given for granted by satisfying the moods of our stomach. I always associated gluttony with obesity, but was awakened to the astonishing truth that we were gluttons! We eat entirely too much and spend an obsessive amount of time thinking and preparing food. It is still a challenge for us during non-Lenten seasons. Our family had no idea how satisfying and simple an onion and bowl of rice could be. On an even deeper level, it is truly beautiful to experience the connection between our appetites and self-control. For some reason we were under the impression, self-control would only be related to food. We are still learning, but we now understand we do have some control over our choices, be it through our words or through our actions. So many times we have heard others in parish tell us fasting is not about the food. Now we understand what they meant.

We still eat meat during non-fasting periods, but we are acutely aware we don’t need it. We enjoy it, but we will not die if we do not have it. This year we are learning to incorporate more almsgiving, prayers, and repentance along with the fast, which is definitely hard to balance. As someone from the parish told us, though, it is like a muscle you are strengthening. Every time you fast you are exercising your muscle and becoming stronger, but you don’t have to be perfect. It takes practice. When we began this journey into Orthodoxy, we never imagined abstaining from certain foods would be this highly spiritual and mystical experience revealing all kinds of things we were formerly oblivious to. We are joyful and grateful for the strictness in it. More importantly, we understand “why” we are doing it.

With love in Christ,

Jennifer
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