Guest Post: 3 Must-haves for Lent: Part 1
My friend Jenn Cannon has graciously agreed to share her experience of fasting during this Lenten season and its impact on her body theology. You can find more of her writing here.
I am a musician, a photographer, a theologian, a customer service rep. I am a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a daughter, an aunt. But mostly I am a child of God striving to live my crazy life the best way I know how. These writings have been born from my journey back to health that I started in June 2011. At that time, I weighed over 300 pounds and needed to lose at least half my weight to be considered in a healthy range. Since then, I’ve lost almost 50 pounds through adjusting my diet and adding exercise. The surprising side effect is the emotional changes that go along with getting healthy – and that is what has prompted me to begin to write.
Last week, Christians around the globe marked the beginning of the season of Lent. This season of 40 days (well, really 46) of preparation and repentance is observed so that we can prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Holy Week and Easter. We intend to spend these 40 days focused on God and Christ and the upcoming sacrifice that saves us.
At least – that’s the intent.
Historically, Lent has included a fast of some sort: abstaining from certain foods, from all food, from bad habits, from sex… The Lenten fast has taken so many different forms over the years. In more Orthodox congregations, the fast is prescribed and required (with some dispensations granted for the extremely ill or weak). In many Protestant churches, the fast is voluntary (at most) and unknown (at least). Some congregations don’t observe Lent at all.
What then does this Fast, this abstaining, really mean? What is the purpose and how do we observe it correctly? And really – what does fasting have to do with Body Theology at all?
The Lenten practice was originally a 3-part one: prayer, fasting, service. The idea is that one practice without the other 2 is incomplete. So – if we choose to fast simply to fast, we miss the mark. The whole point is to prepare ourselves for Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and life-giving resurrection. If we focus ONLY on the fast, we miss the rest of the preparation.
Fasting without prayer is simply denying ourselves. If we use the popular example of food – we are simply denying ourselves sustenance, and missing the point. Prayer – focus on GOD – is crucial. Without it, we are perhaps using the fast in a multitude of incorrect ways: pride at our will or self-control; attempting to manipulate others (as in the case of a hunger strike); proof of our own piousness; and many others. And physically, denying ourselves a certain food can enhance the desire for it – to such an extent that it could lead to a binge. Unhealthy AND ungodly.
When we add prayer – or scripture reading or any other discipline that focuses our attention on God instead of ourselves – we immediately rescue the Fast from the worldly concerns and it can become, again, a part of worship. We can worship through our physical acts, provided our hearts and minds are in the right place.
As we worship God physically and spiritually, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor, as well. When pressed by the Sadducees to name the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus answered:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. ~ Matthew 22: 34-40
Christ didn’t make a distinction between loving self, loving God, and loving others. They are all tied together into one answer. The Greatest Commandment. And so, too, should our Lenten practice be….
Come back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion!