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  • Writer's pictureRev. Christopher Tweel

A Fast for the Ages...

Let's talk about fasting... the surge in popularity might hide it's previous use as a discipline for our faith life and a spiritual practice. Personally I have made fasting something that I often do, and often return to. For our reflection, or if you are just wondering what it's really like, here's my experience in the days leading up to Holy Week in daily reflection on a more total fast:

Some "Fast" foods...

Day One:

I mentioned to some friends that I was going to be fasting this week, doing mostly liquids till day 4 or so, and I had a thought. Maybe it would be fun to read about what it's like? I might throw up some video and stuff, so you can track my descent into being and ascetic. hahaha, not really. I like how if you look up "fasting" on Wikipedia some of the "also see" pieces are links like "anorexia." Nice. That makes me feel great.

So tonight is my "last meal," and it's going to be BBQ. Hahaha. But, it's Wayne Chandler's BBQ, so it's amazing. Also, we served it at church today, so it's like... blessed by Holiness or something, right? I am also going to have a load of yogurt before I hit the hay. OH! What I was saying earlier in PYF about yogurt. My dad had this body building fitness book by Franco Columbu, who was like best friends with Schwarzenegger when they came over from Europe. He had this whole dietary plan for body-building and he always ended the day with a bowl of plain yogurt. And the guy was huge, so he knows what he is talking about with the plain yogurt right?

Anyway, so ends day –1, we will see how I weather “the hump” in the morning. The first few days are the hardest in a fast…

*Disclaimer—remember, younger friends, until you are basically done growing fasting for more than a day isn’t really healthy at all. Same goes for those playing active sports! If you try this out be safe! Be healthy!

Day Two:

So today was an early early morning, which helps nothing. In some way you want to get more sleep so that your body can be doing the all important jobs of recovery during the fast. But, in another, the more you sleep the less you are thinking about eating. Speaking of sleeping I had dreams about the zombie apocalypses last night. But I just read WW Z too, so I am sure that factored into it.

Today has been just broth and raw vinegar tonic. Delightful. But that’s part of the point isn’t it? To some degree I guess this whole thing is a little medieval. I mean, the whole suffering as a way to come closer to God. Although, it’s not really about the suffering, more about deny ourselves something… it sure feels like suffering though.

It’s not that bad really. But that might be me just “putting oil” in my hair.

Tomorrow morning I think I am going to have… 10 grain cereal. Or perhaps some juice.

There is another method to being prepared for the fast though. You have to be aware of where food lurks. I mean, pictures of food, people eating food on TV. There was a show on with people eating lemon cake and ice cream and… well, I had to change the channel. How sad is that?

So far things are good though. I don’t feel bad, just hungry. Which is ok.

Day Three:

Your body makes all kinds of weird noises. I may not have noticed before, now they seem more pronounced, but there are all kinds of gurgling. Different types as well, and in different parts of the GI tract it seems like. Ah, the subtle music of fasting. Ha.

It’s like your hunger has this conversation with you on Day 1:

H: “What the heck is going on? FOOD. FOOOOOOOOOOOD!?”

Y: “No, we are fasting.”

H: “I don’t know what that means!!! WHY AREN’T WE EATING! WE ARE GOING TO DIE!!”

Y: “No, we aren’t. You will be fine.”

H: “GASP! Goodbye cruel world… I will miss you.”

...and then Day 3 comes along:

Y: “See? We are fine.”

H: “Hmmm. I guess… Food?”

Y: “No.”

H: “Ok. I guess we will be fine.”

Y: “That’s better.”

H: “JK. Seriously, when are we eating?”

Y: “…”

So, I mean it is still doing its JOB, but it’s way less incessant about it.

So today is another day of broth. Although, I think I am going to have some fresh veg juice as well. Thanks to my lovely wife who made it for us. Oh, and yesterday I did also have a spoonful of coconut oil, which tasted way too good to me. Ha. My wife said that seemed a little to much like actual food and I told her that her head was too much like actual food. I also had a little grapefruit seed extract, mixed with water, which was the most bitter thing i have ever tasted and seemed to just make every part of my GI tract that it touched grumble and seize. Which… means it is working? I have no idea. Honestly, my wife is the one who researches most of this stuff. I come along and am like, “What does this do?” to which she says that it does X and then I eat/drink/ingest whatever it was. It’s like “Adventures in Gastronomy” and I am Carl Sagan exploring new places.

Day Four:

So, I was thinking that as a society we are really really obsessed with food right? I mean in good and bad ways. I mean like a McD’s on every corner as well as millions of health food stores, and movies about food, and food productions, and the healthiness of said food and how we grow it, and on and on and on.

This is the image my Wii Fit suggested for me...

Even now our video games are centered on food, or rather our health which relates to what we eat and how big we are. Thank you Wii Fit for noting suggestions to my diet. You smug little balance board.

I guess this all just comes with being a society that is a First World nation so we have time to worry about the types of food we eat. I mean, in a lot of places there is either food, or no food, never mind taste or choice or true nutrient value.

Because of that though we have a higher responsibility right? To set an example, or a point of aspiration for the world? Or is that ethnocentric and hubristic? I wonder if it is even possible to be ethnocentric in America. I mean, we are all this amalgam of other cultures that settled here into various region blends. Our collective ethnicity is “mutt.”

Day Four and a half:

On the fourth and half day God… created… something… Light? Sun and the moon I think… easily looked up. I feel like my brain is wearing a sweater and is refusing to come out for the day.

So my dreams the past 2 nights have been really vivid and fun. My dreams last night were not vivid, and seemed mundane and colorless… Which is way out of character for me. I slept well, or seemed to, but this morning I woke up feeling bad. Just generally bad. The thought of broth kind of made me sick to my stomach. I ended up sipping it and tea though this morning. I also had some yogurt which made me feel infinitely better. I even went to Lowe’s! Ha.

Yesterday I had a regimen of that grapefruit seed extract and coconut oil. I am not saying that is what made me sick, but it might have been more than my system was ready for. So, today is broth yogurt and a little kombucha.

In the car my wife asked that if I could have the best pizza in the world or the best ice cream in the world which would I have. I answered pizza. I mean I like ice cream, but a really good pizza is a thing of beauty. We then went on to tell each other, in great gastronomic detail, what the best pizza we ever had was. There came a point where I just shouted, “What the heck are we doing! Now I want pizza!”

But the food cravings have subsided. Although… in the night I think Hunger made a pack with the rest of the body:

Hunger: “So he won’t eat, eh? Well, we will smoke him out see? Yeah… Stomach? Yeah, you’re gonna do flips, ok? Yeah. And you, Head? You’re gonna start swirling around. Yeah, he can’t beat me see, I own this town.”


But after all that I feel pretty good. I think tomorrow will be reintroducing solid foods into the diet. Some carrots and things cooked well in some broth.

It is good doing this during Holy Week. I mean, you are definitely not at top form. I mean, I feel good, just weak, and tired I guess. Puny, as my grandmother would say. But it also puts you in this mental state that I think is a little more spiritual. You kind of float above things, stuff doesn’t bother you… I am certainly more open to things of spiritual nature. Holy Week focuses that — I am looking forward to the Maundy-Thursday service. I’m building the cross too, 8′ x 3′, and I’m looking forward to that too. Being in the fast really does prepare our mental state for things that aren’t of this world. Food is so tied to our mortal nature. Denying that is in a way denying that nature.

I can see why Jesus saw the devil at the end of it. If I did this for 40 days, or even 2 weeks, who knows what I would be seeing at the end of it. Also… i totally relate to the temptation of bread. I mean, sometimes we read hat passage I think and say, “Ooh big whoop, bread. Who would be tempted by that?” But… let me tell you. This is only Day 3 and if I could make bread out of rocks I totally would. Warm, lovely crusty bread with butter oozing into it’s cracks…

Day Five:

Some day the world will end in rice...

“Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.”

--Robert Frost

That has nothing to do with anything, it’s just one of my favorite poems.

So today I ate rice. Glorious, glorious rice. Yesterday was much improved after the yogurt and then that evening I have more broth with a onions and carrots and celeries. That was good too. Oh and some tea, and of course water. But, today was rice. Mixed with coconut oil, salt and yogurt. It was amazing. Tonight, I think I may even incorporate an egg into the mix. Friday and Sat are going to be devoted to coming off the fast so I can eat normally on Sunday.

I haven’t stopped working either (I mean outside). I haven’t purposefully been pushing myself to insane limits, I just have been taking it slowly and trying to listen to my body. I hauled lumber and built some things, started a bridge over a creek, and even got some more things planted. It felt good though. It feels very much a part of the fast and part of the whole Holy Week experience.

Jesus looks... bored? Dreaming of rice?

I imagine what it was for Jesus to be fasting in the wilderness before he began his ministry. I mean what was he thinking and praying about? “Pray unceasing” must have taken on a whole new meaning. I mean, just in camping there are those Divine moments, but to be fasting and in the wilderness, I could imagine just constantly being surrounded by the Spirit. And the whole time Jesus is making peace with his ministry, his mission, his death, his disappointments perhaps? Like in the Apostles? I mean, he knew what was coming, so was he preparing himself for their failure. What did he do the whole time? Just wander around? Did he draw things in the dust with sticks?

Keeping busy does help. You don’t think about how hungry you are when you are doing something. Like any guy though, I talk better when I am doing something too. Usually. I mean, it seems like guys are less likely to just and talk. Which is I guess why men’s clubs with smoking rooms were invented. Then you could be smoking a pipe or something and then also talking about deep personal things. But it works the same for me when talking to God too. I get a lot of time with God even when I am working outside or building something, I just focus thoughts or questions on Him.

We are having a Maundy-Thursday service tonight, with elements in it of the Crucifixion. I am really looking forward to it. More than I am looking forward to what I might have for dinner.

The Good Day:

So today is Good Friday. We did a reading last night at the service of the entire passion, beginning with the scene in Gethsemane. It was really powerful, and I guess has been on my mind. The stations we did, with the nailing, the handwashing and then the intimate communion was really great as well. The service had a wonderful sense of mystery and Godliness.

Crucifixion with St Mary Magdalene - Luca Signorelli

It’s hard to say “celebrate” Good Friday, but I guess really you are “keeping” Good Friday in your spirit and in your attitude. Which is what exactly? One of purposed waiting. It’s odd though isn’t it? In our lives we don’t usually purposefully try and be sad. Sad is a reaction, not a practice. We allow ourselves sadness only in death, or loss, or some form thereof.

In that way Good Friday really stands out as a holiday in the Church year. It’s a time of waiting in which we practice the attitude of  somberness and sadness. Our lives are so often filled with attaining happiness or good feelings, it’s odd to do the opposite. Which is the same with fasting as well I guess. We spend a lot of our time eating and drinking things we like and love and look forward to. But here, on Good Friday, this is a time of denial and waiting, in a way to train us to deal with the inevitable times of sadness and waiting that occur in life. Like weight training.

Because in life there is both. Some happy and sad. If all we are ever about it attaining the happy then we miss the real joy that is present because we are not practiced in our discipline of the sad. We experience Sad, but not in an expectant way, or a Godly one. We are trained only to endure by our human nature, and the endurance of sadness isn’t enough. Sadness is a time of expectation, or if it is, then we are not people of sadness, but people of Joy and Promise who are dealing with a sad period.

That’s who we really are. That’s who we are created to be. People of Joy, in expectation of the Return, dwelling in a place that is filled with sadness. But we are not sadness. We are not meant to live in it. We are meant to experience it as a period of waiting, and of discipline. Holy Week doesn’t end on Friday… but on Sunday.

Day Five:

I was up at 5 this morning. One of the students was going to try and bag a turkey on youth day for turkey season. There is something… mystical about getting up in the wee hours. You feel secretive, and as a by product of that in a more Godly frame of time perhaps.

Today was also a work day, being over at the church at 9 to set up and rehearse for the Sunrise service on Sunday. The fast is officially over today, and in some way I am relieved and sad. Eating is filled with a new more somber joy at this point, and will have that for a little while until the polish on it fades (how good our human brains are at covering “tragedy” with more recent memories of plenty!). I can see the real power of fasting for longer…Really I see

Abbey of Montserrat Monastery in Spain

the power of being separate from everything as a spiritual discipline. Fasting is just one way to do that without retiring to a mountainside or a monastery. Or a ship at sea. Ha.

The fast has been really good. I recommend them to anyone that can healthfully handle it, and if you decide to do it be sure to prepare ahead of time. Mentally and physically. Having people around you who are supportive helps too. I mean, if your roommates or family are all having cake and ice cream on your second day of a fast you are either going to murder them in their sleep or crumble pretty fast.

Fasting is a measure of discipline. It’s a way of teaching yourself certain things that I think cannot be learned otherwise. Patience, trust, release of the earthly things…. Stuff that we talk about, but can be extremely difficult to actually internalize. If you decide to do it there are hundreds or resources out there to aide you. The best thing is to do research and then find someone who has been on long term fasts before an discuss your plan with them. Choose a time when life might be less physically taxing, and a time when you will have the ability to devote yourself to spiritual thinking. There are all kinds of fasts and be prepared, especially your first time, to make adjustments for your particular body type and needs. There is no one way to do this, it’s all a part of he process of finding your faithful path to a greater relationship with God through Christ.

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