In which Ruth is still pondering spiritual fasting

So. Fasting for religious purposes. Do we do it? Have we ever done it? Are we a fish on Friday kind of person? Or just a Good Friday faster? Or perhaps you think the whole thing is nonsense and just for others?

We talked about all those things at our Lent Group this week and I was surprised to hear that nobody else there had ever fasted for religious purposes. I suppose it all depends on which church you grew up in and what you were taught. I was under the impression that pretty much everyone fasted on Good Friday and my friend Sheena and I would go back to her place after the Three Hours in the afternoon, tummies rumbling, and sip water until we could go back in the evening for Creeping to the Cross. We would encourage one another, smoke fags, and hiccup madly. (Our Rector said it didn’t count that we poisoned our bodies with nicotine but we were prepared to argue that point.) And why were there always so many references to food that day everywhere we turned?

Some people in the group did remember fasting before Mass on Sunday. I used to do that too which was not easy, let me tell you, when mass was at 11.30am. Teenage altar servers were known to keel over in a faint regularly and take the contents of the Credence Table with them.

hot cross bunI’m afraid these days I usually only do it until after the Three Hours when I reward myself with a Hot Cross Bun (or two!). The best ones, by the way, are from Oliphants the Bakers in Linlithgow, only made in that week. Not like now when you get them in M&S all year round.

I was doing a bit of research into why people fast and found a table of all the faiths and their reasons. Want to hear what they are? By the time we’d gone through them and finished our Lent Group some went away saying they might actually try it some time.

Baha’i – Fast to focus on love of God and spiritual matters.

Buddhist – Fast as a method of purification. Some fast as a means of freeing the mind, some to aid yogic feats, like generating inner heat.

Roman Catholic – Fast as control of fleshly desires; penance for sins; and solidarity with the poor. In lent to practice austerity; and on Good Friday to commemorate the day Christ suffered.

Easter Orthodox – Fast to strengthen resistance to gluttony, and help open a person to God’s grace.

Hindu – Fast as a way to enhance concentration during meditation or worship, purification for the system, sometimes as a sacrifice.

Jewish – Fast as atonement for sins and/or special requests to God.

Mormon – Fast to be close to God; to concentrate on God and religion; to petition for a specific cause such as healing for one who is sick, or help with making difficult decisions.

Muslim – Some fast every Monday/Thursday because Prophet Muhammad was said to do so; some fast during the month of Sha’baan which precedes Ramadan, and especially during the three days before Ramadan.

Pagan – fast to purify a person energetically; as preparation for magical works; to cleanse from heavy winter food.

Protestant (Evangelical) – Fast for spiritual nourishment; solidarity with poor; as counterbalance to modern consumer culture; or to petition God for special needs.

Protestant – Fast for spiritual improvement or to advance a political or social-justice agenda.

So, do you fast? If so, when and why? Does it help you spiritually?

In which Ruth ponders fasting

Yeh right! Do I look like a woman who fasts? Ok, perhaps not but I always do on Good Friday. (More of that tomorrow.) At our Lent Group this week we pondered fasting. We are using the Christian Aid/SEC book ‘Lent FOOD’ and our first session considered Isaiah 58:1-12 on fasting and whether any of us had ever gone without food. Most of the group agreed that while they had fasted for medical tests etc they had never really experienced real hunger and couldn’t imagine what that would be like day after day, week after week. I do remember as a single parent waiting for benefits to come through and having no food. Of course this is nothing on the scale of those living in Syria at the moment, but for a well-fed Scottish woman it was a shock to the system. I had two very young children and I’d gone without to make sure they were fed and we had relied on the goodwill of my mum for food parcels but pride stopped me asking for more. I do remember daily visits to the DHSS only to be told that we’d have to wait until our claim was assessed but no emergency provisions would be made. After day 4 I left the buggy containing two wriggly children and walked to the door. “You feed them!” I said, “because I can’t.” I only got to the door before the crisis loan was made.

This week I had two very drunk men arrive on my doorstep begging for soup. “Please missus, please can we just have some soup?” For once I had none but I did make up a food parcel. “God bless you, missus, God bless you.” And then I was asked to bless one man’s rosary. It was wooden and sweaty around his neck, and he held it aloft like a talisman that would protect him from all ills. I prayed that it would.

Very few of the Lent Group had ever taken part in religious fasting (more of that tomorrow) but they did know that people are forced to fast because of poverty in our own country. More and more foodbanks are opening and it just seems crazy that in our wealthy country there are people starving. Of course some of them spend their money on booze and drugs but I for one don’t blame them. Who wouldn’t want to numb the feelings of hopelessness and depression?

May we never take for granted the food we have, nor tell ourselves that hunger is not our problem.


This Lent I am reading Maggi Dawn’s book Giving It Up.  I’m only three days in but really enjoying her style.  Today she says:

Fasting in the Christian tradition is essentially about recognising that there’s nothing we can do to improve ourselves. We are fallen creatures and need redemption, not cosmetic surgery. No amount of self-improvement will change God’s view of us – God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who is not fooled by the way we present ourselves in prayer or religious observance, and who loves us anyway. We do not need to put on a show for him and we cannot save ourselves apart from him. We are not trying to impress God or the person next to us; neither should we be trying to impress ourselves, satisfying our egos with the idea that we are very cool, very smart and very in control. The point of the fast is, in fact, to humble ourselves – an old-fashioned word that really means accepting with absolute honesty our true self, in terms of both good points and bad.