Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fast Fast

Ending my Lenten fast always feels a little awkward. For the past few years, I followed the trend of technology fasting. This year, I again gave up listening to the radio in the car and general background noise at home and work. I do this so that I am forced to have moments of silence and peace in my day in an effort to hear God better. The first week is always the hardest, especially in the car. Every few minutes I reach for the radio's on button, usually push it, then quickly shut it off. I notice everything, too. I notice window shutter colors on the houses I pass, people picking their noses at stop lights, and how much I want to be distracted from my own thoughts by listening to music or the soothing NPR voices. Sometimes I end up singing to myself the hymns I memorized in fourth grade choir. Other times, I pray out loud "please help me listen!" By the end of Lent, however, I have acclimated to spending that time in silence and inviting God's presence into my four door sedan. So, when Lent is over, do I kick God out by turning on my radio? How do I end the fast? It felt like a fast from fasting when I started introducing sound back into my routine. It never felt quite right until I start fasting for Lent like a Jew.

Jews know how to fast and they know how to end a fast. One of my favorite meals is the break fast on Yom Kippor. I am filled with a sense of accomplishment and solidarity with my family. For Jewish fasts, there is always a clear objective, instructions, and an exit strategy. For instance, the Passover fast goes as follows:
Objective: Don't eat bread. Eat matzoh and remember it is the bread of affliction. Trust in God because we trusted God when he liberated us from Egypt. Remember there are still enslaved persons in the world. Help them. Refrain from eating bread because it will help motivate you to help those who have no bread.
Instructions: Refrain from eating chometz.
Exit strategy: Eight days have passed. You did it! Eat bread with abandon and celebrate that Jews are not slaves in Egypt anymore. Just as there was an end to the wandering in the desert, there is an end to the fast.

Here's how it goes at my church:
Objective: Work on your relationship with God. Go into the wilderness of your soul, figure out what keeps you from God, and get rid of those things in a methodical way of your choosing so you can be closer to God.
Instructions: Decide what you want to refrain from eating, doing, thinking, or being. OR, add something to your diet, routine, prayer list, or habits. Don't use these forty days to kick start a diet, because that is selfish and don't complain about not eating chocolate because then you'll be like the Pharisees that Jesus said not to be like. But, whatever you choose is fine because it is all about your personal relationship with God. By the way, there is a rumor that you can cheat on Sundays, if you want.
Exit strategy: Whenever the Spirit moves you, stop fasting. But if you've added something, keep at it! Or, whatever.

This year, I've decided to do two Jewish things to help me end Lent with more satisfaction and in an effort to continue all the good things that have come from my fast. First, I am continuing my radio fast one day a week. Fridays seem appropriate as it will be a Sabbath time of silent reflection, prayer and communing with God. Second, I had a Lenten break fast. I listened to my favorite music and sang from top of my lungs. It was a celebration and it felt right.

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