Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Have a miserable Lent, y'all!

Tomorrow's the big day!
Yo, Joe, you got some schmutz there...
Tomorrow is the beginning of the season of Lent. I know that plenty of nonCatholics practice it, but most of the ones I know don't. They look at me a little funny when I mention fasting, so I am taking a minute to once and for all sing the praises of fasting!

Why Fast? Two Reasons...

Fasting Increases Compassion
If there was ever a need for the American Christian, it is fasting!  We have such an appalling abundance that we actually think a car, a computer, heating and air conditioning, and cable are basic necessities. Here in the West, we base our very lives on increasing our comfort, not our discomfort. Fasting goes against the grain. In fact, it runs counter to our culture (ergo, if you ever want to be cool and counter cultural, fasting is for you!)

Why voluntarily suffer? I'd pose that there are plenty of reasons. Fasting and being hungry is a type of suffering because it is uncomfortable. It's the rare Middle Class American who can actually distinguish between true, gut-wrenching hunger and the nagging, "Yeah, I could eat" feeling. Fasting puts you in that gut wrenching place and helps you to understand this a little more.

 Let me take that back. There is nothing comprehensible about this.

Voluntary suffering through fasting, helps you to feel the misery of the world more personally--a world where in some places hunger is the norm. Through fasting you may only  have a taste of hunger, but that taste is enough to make you more viscerally aware of another's real and completely involuntary suffering. So, one reason to fast is to increase your compassion and to assist you in commiseration with others. Muslims fast during Ramadan, in part, for this very reason.

Fasting Strengthens Your Will

 Another reason is to strengthen your will. I am going to make the controversial statement that we Americans are becoming weak willed. I say that for two reasons: we don't exercise it and we don't respect it.

You calling me a weak willed wimp? Sort of, but fasting can fix you by...

Exercising your will
First, our lives are physically easy. There is much less to endure. In the summer, we are cooled. In the winter, we are warmed. Our food does not come to us through our labor in the fields, it comes from a quick visit to a store. There are less physical demands on our bodies that our minds have to willfully force us to endure. Our determination, our will, to stick with a physically demanding task is exercised much less these days and is therefore weaker. Fasting answers that weakness directly. Fasting is voluntarily taking on a hardship. The longer that you endure it, the more you exercise your will. In fact, because it is voluntary, it is incredibly easy to abandon. The act of the will involved to sustain a fast is immense!

Respecting your will more than your whims
Number two, we have been told since the 60s that our feelings were more authentic than our reason and our will. "If it feels good, do it!" has been the rallying cry for the hedonists among us for decades now, and as a result, we have little respect for personal grit and determination until the fruits of them are made conspicuous by success. Even then, we are more apt to respond with jealousy rather than determination to mimic the behavior that led to that success. A fast doesn't feel good if you do it. It takes endurance... meh. It takes determination... ugh. It takes an act of the will to conquer the self... that is so ickily Catholic!

So what? Start small. If you are physically unable to sustain a fast for a day, skip a meal. If that is impossible, fast from a food item, like dessert. If even that is too much for you, and this is entirely possible given the amount of diabetes and eating disorders in the world, fast from something other than food.

Some nonfood items to fast from...

  • Wearing your favorite color
  • Drinking soda
  • Wearing eyeliner
  • Sarcasm (good luck with that)
  • Complaining (these are getting harder)
  • Pride (good, Lord, help me!)

Actually, He will...

About.com's section of Catholic Fasting
Cool spot to reference if you want Biblical support on the topic of fasting

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