The Bible is full of feasting and fasting. Entire chapters of the books of the law are dedicated to the practices, feasting in particular, and how to make sure that fasting is genuinely meaningful and feasting truly generous and fun. Yet us Christians don’t seem particularly good at it as a whole; I’ve come across churches holding ‘hunger lunches’ at Harvest and Easter and celebrations during Advent for example, and we rarely observe Lent with anything approaching the seriousness with which Muslims approach Ramadan, perhaps failing to give up chocolate rather than approaching it as a season of fasting, repentance and generous giving. It strikes me that we have lost some important and useful spiritual practises in the process of doing away with religious legalism, and perhaps, that we have decided that God is only interested in our souls and that feasting and fasting are too bodily and physical to be of real value. Why pay attention to a physical world that is passing away? Here’s some thoughts on the benefits of feasting and fasting:
Fasting can take many forms, but is primarily about putting ourselves second and God’s kingdom first. It’s about making a space for prayer, getting in touch with ourselves, our needs, our failures and God’s grace (remember the two go together – it’s never about beating ourselves up!), our desires, and putting other ‘gods’ in their place, be they the stomach god, the spending god, the TV or Facebook god or whatever. Fasting is used to build a sense of solidarity with suffering, to repent for wrongs done, and to refocus and realign ourselves with God’s plans. Anything that achieves those aims could be a fast; it doesn’t need to mean giving up food, which isn’t appropriate for everyone, although it is usually going to be some form of ‘self-denial’, such as eating simply, buying nothing or giving something up.
Feasting is about celebrating God’s provision and building up community; feasts should do both. Feasts should be fun, not solemn, and generous, not half-hearted, and should be inclusive, although feasts also help build relationships within a group. Feasting is used to draw our attention to the good things we have, the good that exists in this world, God’s love for us as whole people, physical as well as spiritual, and give us a bigger vision for the possibilities we have to make things good.
Feasting and fasting with SPEAK
SPEAK’s first fasting period this year is this coming week, the 9-13th September, the week of the DSEi arms fair in London. We will fast as a Network in an act of repentance for the role our country plays in promoting the global arms trade that fuels conflict, aids oppression and harms development. We will also fast in solidarity with activists from SPEAK and beyond who will be there to protest and pray. Please fast with us on one or more days that week in whatever way suits you best.
We’ll also be thinking about how to observe Advent as a fasting period; perhaps we could go vegetarian or vegan, give up food that is not either locally produced or fairly traded, go organic, try to eliminate food waste, spend nothing on any food or entertainment except for essential fruit and veg and live on what’s in our cupboards, or try to practise hospitality with all of our meals, sharing our food with others as far as possible?
And we have many opportunities to feast too coming up this year: Freshers’ Week is a great chance to get your group back together or start up a new group, and a shared meal together is a great start of year social. Perhaps cook a LOAF meal together (where all the food is either Locally produced, Organic, Animal friendly or Fairly traded), and use the Seeding Change grace prayer before you eat? Many churches are celebrating ‘Creation Time’ this month, another great opportunity to celebrate God’s earth. We could feast together including wild foraged foods like blackberries to celebrate. Harvest Festival and Thanksgiving occur in the Autumn, and are both times to get together with your communities (why not open this out beyond your group to include your church, street or local community?) for a fun time of food and generosity! Both are great chances to give thanks for God’s provision and show love for our communities by inviting them to share food with us. And then there’s Christmas – let’s use this as a real time to celebrate Jesus’ coming into this world after the hard run-up of Advent.
Join us to fast and feast together!
Keep an eye out for our monthly prayer calendars for upcoming fast and feast days and seasons.