Along with my clergy colleagues, Leslie and Jonathan, I was leading a session last night on fasting, a spiritual practice common to the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One man in the group said, “I’ve been worshiping as an Episcopalian for 25 years and this is the first I ever remember anyone talking about fasting.”
Fasting is definitely a highly neglectable discipline! We are amped on accumulation, our whole culture is based on consuming. In a way, we are all still like that darling infant who is just stuffing everything in his mouth—keys, phone book, toys, pencils, coins. He wants to take in the whole world. So we are not all that interested in hearing about fasting. Fair enough. Fasting has a bad name. Legalistic. Punishing the body. Nothing of grace or transformation.
Nevertheless we took up the topic last night. We tried to understand fasting as a way of opening up clean, empty space for God to fill. We are so good at filling empty space. It’s called horror vacui, the dread of empty space—which we rush to plug. What if we could just let it be, allow it stay vacui, sit with it for a few minutes and see if Someone else might enter that space?
A woman in the group told an affecting story. Her young son, she said, had recently suffered a concussion, and the treatment for weeks following this kind of brain injury is: no visual stimulation. You can’t read, can’t watch TV. Here’s a kid who spends hours on video games, who gets up the morning and turns on ESPN’s Sports Center to see all the great replays of his favorite star athletes in action.
She said, “We got a blanket and put it over the TV so he could hear it but not see the moving images. And that worked for a while. But it wasn’t nearly as exciting as seeing the slam dunks and the home runs. Eventually he stopped turning it on when he got up. And then one morning he said, ‘Mom, let’s play a game.’ He would never suggest that! And then, ‘Hey, Mom, let’s talk.’” [Note: Every mom in the room swooned!]
There are many ways to fast. Many things to fast from. Don’t fear it. Just let go your usual consumption, open an empty space, and wait. This is important—the waiting. The Spirit comes in her own time. Never rushed. So you have to wait a while, usually a little longer than you’re comfortable with. But if you open a clean, empty place today and wait just a bit, you might be surprised Who appears.