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Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Why Fasting?
As our 7-24-7 prayer movement gets underway and as our seminary struggles continue, the issue of fasting seems to be taking on more priority and prominence. Just today, our KingdomTide Reader hit on the idea of fasting. You can read the text here Mark 2:18-22. I am going to post a poem I wrote last spring (Lent) below on the issue of fasting. My big question continues to be "Why Fasting?" Fasting is not unique to Christian faith. So what is it that makes fasting as a Christian distinct from fasting as a Muslim for instance. Mustn't there be some distinction? Help me think about this.

Feeding empty with Fullness
Indulgence aside
Tasting weakness
Shattering pride

Spiritual Gasping
Ironic Self Care
Inhaling Mercy
Exhaling prayer

Hunger for knowing
beyond taste's delight
Divine craving
Soul's appetite

Love's yoke of longing
Dross churning within
Fiery crucible burning
foisting Heaven on sin

Deer panting for water
Soul feasting on God
Reveals crucified power
True authority's Rod
posted by John David Walt | at 9/19/2006 03:59:00 PM



Blogger Jackson said...

The question of what makes Christian fasting unique is a good one and hard to answer without being familiar with other traditions (which I am not).

I can say that it seems unique to Christianity that final victory comes not in conquering, but in suffering, that is in being conquered. In the end, it is the "lamb standing as though slain" who is victorious. (This is so unique that a majority of Christians, particularly in America, do not grasp it.)

Could it be, therefore, that the uniqueness of Christian fasting is the fact that it is intricately tied to the sufferings of Christ? That is, we fast as a form of self denial after the model of our Lord who gave his life for the world (and commanded us to likewise deny ourselves). Self denial in this society makes absolutely no sense, which is why fasting is seemingly a foreign concept, even though the first Christians spoke of it with as much comfort as we speak of "quiet times" and "accountability groups."

Regular fasting might be the way that Christians can once again begin to stand apart from this society.

8:17 PM EDT  
Blogger JohnDeere said...

good thoughts Jackson-- will ponder them and comment more later today. thanks. good to see you out here-- friends, Jackson is doing doctoral work at Marquette in Church History/ Theology. He is the contributor who sent me the marvelous God the Farmer piece from Ephrem the Syrian a few posts back.

building on your thought about fasting-- fasting, as you say, could be a portal-- a window-- a "wardrobe door" into THE SUFFERING-- to get us inside of THE PASSION OF GOD where an entirely new world of JOY awaits us. To look into that world from the outside looks like nothing we would want to be part of, BUT to enter into it BY FAITH we would never want to leave-- so Narnia- like it is. FASTING is one of those ancient pathways in. And what if fasting in other religious traditions were the same quest-- only they were knocking on the wrong door........

7:52 AM EDT  
Blogger eli said...

yes and yes. Christian fasting is different from other religious fasts in the same way that Christian prayer is different. We enter into something different - in the case of fasting I think it is entering into the "fellowship of suffering" mentioned in Ephesians I believe. There is real intimacy there. thanks for the comments on my blog, jd. i'm back from vacation and will get a non-beach post up there soon.

11:50 PM EDT  
Blogger Jackson said...

I've been thinking about your thoughts on fasting and suffering the past few days JD and it reminds me of the hymn "O Come and Mourn with me Awhile":

"O come and mourn with me awhile;
And tarry here the cross beside;
O come, together let us mourn;
Jesus, our Lord, is crucified.

O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act Your strength is tried;
And victory remains with love;
For Thou our Lord, art crucified!"
-Fredrick Faber

It seems to me that fasting can be equated to mourning - for the bridegroom is gone. And it is also a reminder that our victory, like Christ's, comes through suffering - "and victory remains with love."

By the way, I took your advice and started a blog. Check it out at www.thecommunionofsaints.blogspot.com. Would love to get your thoughts.


1:25 PM EDT  
Blogger Matt Purmort said...

Good Question JD. When I think of Christian fasting, I think of relationship. We fast from things to remind ourselves that God is the true source of all life. The words of Jesus to Satan were, "man does not live on bread alone..." I think it was NT Wright who said fasting is not about giving up bad vises to please God like smoking for lent. In fasting we are to give up good things to focus on the one thing that is better. Then after we are done fasting we can return to those things we have given up in order to celebrate them for the good gifts that they are from God. Also perhaps those things we will hold on to a little less tightly. It reminds me that we can make good things into idols as well.

5:17 PM EDT  
Blogger Summers said...

One passage that I turn to in ‘trying’ to understand a certain aspect of fasting is found in Isaiah 58:1-14. In this passage Isaiah describes how fasting was to encourage people to respond posistevely to God’s commands (Lev. 16:29,31-Day of Atonement was the only fast commanded by God…but after the fall of Jerusalem, fast days were insituted). However, as this chapter suggests, there were ‘other’ commands that were not being followed…for instance, being just and openhanded to the needy, hungry, poor, naked, oppressed, alienated, marginalized, and so on. Therefore, when one ‘gave’ (or abstained from food), it was a reminder that ‘everything’ belonged to the Lord.

Consequently, in the end, God’s response was that he was more interested in their obedience than their rituals, etc. Unfortunately, like many folks, the Israelites confused rituals with relationship, and outward acts with true obedience…therefore, this is what I think is the biggest difference between why Christians fast and other religions/belief systems.
…just a thought.


11:49 PM EDT  

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