Hot on the tail of my last post, this week has seen a number of significant decisions made. If rebuilding my faith brick by brick is the goal, then it has dawned on me that I’m going to have to stretch myself to build something different. So when my wife approached me with the notion of doing a “Daniel Fast” for Lent, I felt there was no reason to say no. Growing up Protestant, Lent was never a thing that was really mentioned or talked about. As I got older from time to time I’d hear some of my older friends mention that they were doing this or that “for Lent” and I’d smile and nod like I knew what they were talking about. When I finally got around to looking it up, I was shocked to discover that Lent, apparently, is one of those Catholic things. This was particularly surprising because as a Midwest Evangelical, I was more or less told we couldn’t even be sure that Catholics were Christians. (They worship Mary! That’s idolatry!)
I suppose the previous paragraph could just as easily be about fasting as well; I’ve never participated in one and I don’t seem to recall my church really pushing for it. I do know that there were a few occasions in which it was mentioned in conjunction with impromptu prayer meetings… As if fasting somehow made our Holy Spirit babble louder and more important than everyone else’s. I guess as a kid I always thought of fasting like a power-up in a video game. You could get by without it, but if you used it at the right time somehow it would make life easier. When I was maybe eight or nine I tried it. I managed to forego breakfast, but by lunch time I thought I might wither away. Riddled with guilt and remorse I stepped in line at the school cafeteria. That day, my rectangle pizza tasted only of failure. It wouldn’t be until much later that I realized fasting wasn’t about denying yourself something as much as it was making yourself more aware of the movement and rhythm of God. I thought fasting was something we did to get God’s attention… It turns out, it’s something we do so he can get ours.
The Daniel Fast comes from a pair of verses found in, well, the book of Daniel:
1:8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
10:2-3 In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. I ate no pleasant food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
Admittedly, grabbing two verses and building something out of it feels a little like bad hermaneutics, but I’m willing to overlook it as this is more about the intent rather than the letter of the law. From the above verses, it is extrapolated that Daniel consumed no meat, no liquids except water, no leavened bread, and no sweetening agents of any kind. (If any of you are familiar with Tim Ferriss’ “Four Hour Body”, you might think this sounds familiar. Apparently Daniel was the originator of the “Slow Carb” diet. Who knew?) So, for the forty days proceeding Easter, my wife and I are going and doing likewise.
The idea of Lent is an interesting one. So strongly have many Protestants turned their backs on Catholic tradition that we may have missed a few things worth keeping. I’ve heard the Easter story since I was in the womb, but let’s be honest… It’s always just felt like a story. It was this event that happened a long time ago that we’re told we’re actively participating in, and yet… We’re not. Not actively. We’re sitting in our pews watching a bunch of children act out the passion play. (That’s not a metaphor. I don’t know about your church, but in ours the children re-enacting the brutal death and following that, crushing grief of Good Friday was a venerable tradition.) Lent is a way to make the story come to life.
The idea is that for forty days prior to Easter, you choose something meaningful to abstain from. My wife and I will be abstaining from the foods listed above, so in essence, we’ll be forgoing all vestiges of joy and happiness. (What else can you call a life without dairy?) By being without that thing, you are taking part in the loss the disciples felt when Jesus was taken from them. Each day is a sacrifice. Each moment you miss that thing you are making a connection to what Peter felt when he remembered that he couldn’t tell Jesus the joke he had heard. Each pang you feel will be reminiscent of the times John wanted nothing more than to hear Jesus say, “Peace.” You go from an observer of the story of Jesus to a participant… and then…
Sunday comes. On Sundays you’re allowed to indulge in the very thing you’ve been avoiding. My wife and I will be gorging ourselves on cheese, bread, and delicious, glorious sugar on those days. Why? Because it’s a reminder of the resurrection of Christ. He’s back! It’s a celebration. It’s a tiny taste of what Peter and John felt when Jesus appeared beside them. It’s all warm hugs and laughter. And then on Monday, you begin your fast again. You do this for forty days, until Easter. When Easter arrives, it’s nothing but joy and celebration! And why shouldn’t it be? Jesus is alive and we have an amazing, unending life ahead of us because of it!
Lent starts this Wednesday. I’m excited. Despite growing up in the Church, it feels like this might be the first Easter in which I get it, you know? What about you? Do you have any Easter traditions you want to share? Any thoughts on Lent? Are you participating? If so, what are you giving up?