Who Am I?

Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 1

Posted: May 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Faith, of any sort, necessarily colors the way we perceive, interpret, process, and interact with the world around us. While many of my thoughts are still half-formed, I can tell already that there are more threads than can be contained within a single post. As such, I’m declaring this my first series. That didn’t take long, did it? Those who know me already know that I’m not by nature a man of few words when I write.

The title of this series is actually a phrase that popped into my head when it began to be clear that I likely did have celiac disease. On one level it seems straightforward, but I find as I’ve reflected on it, that it is deep and rich in meaning. Let’s begin to unpack the thought.

What is a fast? That question is central to this discussion and will likely be central to many questions I will explore on this blog. On one level it seems like such a straightforward question, but in truth the core meaning of a fast has been virtually lost today in the Western world. Fasting has come to mean almost any form of abstention. Thus people say they are fasting from TV or they are fasting from facebook or they are fasting from their iPod when they actually mean that they are abstaining from those activities for a period of time. There is nothing wrong with abstaining from various things for a time for spiritual reasons. But that is not what it has traditionally meant to fast.

If you truly fast it means that you abstain from some or all food and drink for a period of time. While I expect to primarily speak from and through the lens of Christianity, my spiritual journey has been far too wide-ranging for me not to note that that is what fasting means across a broad spectrum of spiritualities. This definition is not and has never been uniquely Christian, though why we fast will vary greatly from one spiritual perspective to another. I think we have broadened the definition in the Christian and post-Christian West today to cover all forms of abstention because we largely do not fast anymore in any meaningful or communal sense. Even our Lenten preparation, for those traditions who still observe it at all, has become a highly individual activity. We each separately decide what we will “give up” rather than fasting together as a community.

The diagnosis of celiac demands a fast. It is a strict fast. It is a difficult fast. And it is a lifelong fast. If you break the fast, you will damage your body. It is uncompromising. No, I did not choose it and I do not want it. This is not the fast I’ve chosen. But it is the fast I’ve been given.

I could try to act as though this was a merely medical condition. I could try to live as if there were some sort of division or distinction between my physical, my mental, and my spiritual being. Many shaped within the context of the West, including many Christians, would have me draw such a distinction. But I’ve never been able to find that dividing line. The things I do or which happen to my body affect my mind and my spiritual condition. It’s clear to me now that I experienced and endured a period of serious depression because of the chemical changes in my body wrought by a combination of sleep apnea and celiac.

The manner in which we think and the condition of our spirits always affect our bodies, for good or ill. We know that and acknowledge it every time we talk about the physical damage stress causes. And yet we still try to draw lines between the two as though they could be separated.

And while this is not the fast I’ve chosen, I must confess that I might never have chosen a fast at all. But I’ll explore that in my next post.

One Comment on “Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 1”

  1. 1 Shaswata Panja said at 8:56 am on May 23rd, 2011:

    Of all your series and themes I guess this is the one that I will explore the most in detail. Fasting is something that I undertook around 5 years ago when there was a lot of uncertainity in my life…God did do away with all those of uncertainities the way I wished but right now I feel it was necessary in some sense cause those uncertainities were part of a larger narrative which evetually led me to my first encounter with God…….Fasting makes you physically weak and at times mentally, but it also makes you humble and a certain deep pain fills you knowing that access to good food is just on other end of a 5 min walk to the supermarket but unfortunately it is not for millions especially children on this planet…Of all the emotions I have felt in my whole life be it ecstasy,joy,elation,defeat,despondency,desire,lust,love,comradeship nothing quite matches the all-consuming intensity of hunger and thirst…After coming out of a 50 hour fast or a 30 hour “fast and thirst” sessions there are times you feel helpless knowing that there are mothers who put their children to sleep for the night even if they are still hungry…..That being said the power of fasting in spirtually strengthening a person against temptations and desires can never be overemphasized…This was shown by Jesus Himself when He fasted for 40 days…..Fasting had become an effective tool for Mahatma Gandhi and his satyagrahis when they wanted to oppose the British Imperial Might or communal violence between Hindus and Muslims or wanted to oppose the evil nature in their own very selves..Gandhi survived a 21 day fast in his seventies….Fasting as a protest tool is being revived again in India by social reformer Anna Hazare to rally against the rampant corruption in Indian ministries……The longest fast seems to have been taken by a group of Irish political prisoners the last of whom survived for 70 days before dying…Fasting humbles one’ soul, helps to fight off temptations and and helps instilling a tremendous amount of will power….