25 February 2009

Rerun from Last Holy Week - Is There a Lutheran Way to Fast?

Yes! The Augsburg Confession disdains the distinction of meats, and does so solidly based on Colossians But that doesn't mean that Lutherans didn't and don't fast. If we remember that fast mean "to go hungry" the solution is apparent: skip meals! It's not a matter of what FOOD you give up for Lent, but a matter of what MEALS and feeding (as in snacking!) you set aside. If one follows the typical Western fast, one eats but 1 and 1/4 to 1/2 meals per day. This is not done to impress God, but to train our bodies (that our belly is not our boss) and to free up time for prayer and money for charity. I bring this up again because we are preparing to enter Holy Week. During this week as we give time to specially contemplate the Passion of our Lord, the discipline of fasting is highly appropriate for all who can safely do it. A complete fast on Good Friday suggests itself to allow for total concentration upon our Lord's self-immolation for our salvation. Fasting is such a blessed discipline and is a bodily form of prayer - as we are reminded that no earthly food can satisfy the hunger of the human being, which is ultimately a hunger for the Blessed Trinity - to whom be glory forever!


Dixie said...

Several years ago when both Father Fenton and I were Lutherans he had some excellent material on Zion's website regarding fasting and abstinence. It really helped explain what I presume would be a valid Lutheran position and it connected the personal discipline with the discipline of the community of believers...which I think is important as well. I don't know if that material is still available but if not...it probably would be helpful if someone could assemble something similar for Lutherans looking to understand how fasting fits in with Lutheran spirituality. In fact...it was a google search for Lutheran fasting that led me to the Zion website! I had never heard of Zion or Father Fenton or even confessional Lutheranism before that!

Kali Sarakosti!

William Weedon said...

I think it's still up on Zion's website.

Past Elder said...

I like your pointing out that the ashes are about dust and what that means, not fasting, in the other thread.

But I have to have a minority report about fasting. Being a veteran of both RC and Jewish fasting disciplines, I'll have to say hunger reminds me of nothing but -- I'm hungry.

Nor is hunger anything to fool around with. It's physiology, not spirituality. Low leptin levels inducing the production of ghrelin are just that, not a spiritual event.

Having a regular diet which is neither wasteful nor unhealthy, very spiritual. Returning thanks for the food God has given us -- as the rabbis say, he who eats without giving thanks, it is as if he stole the food -- very spiritual.

Deliberately inducing a mild glycogenolysis and calling it spiritual -- something better left to "world religion" since it seems to be a universal idea of a religious work we do.

Happily, there is no rule about it. I wouldn't prohibit anyone from what we are talking about anyway, any more than I would accept having a rule laid down that I do it.

Chris said...

Past Elder,

Please don't condemn the practice of fasting because it doesn't work for you. A person I knew entered a monastery but couldn't remain because of the severe dietary restrictions which his body was not equipped to handle. Such may be the case for you.

On the other hand, our hunger is to be compensated with the spritual food of prayer. Fasting without prayer is absolutely futile and then only becomes a diet.

I wish you had a more positive experience with fasting but please don't fall into the typical Protestant trap of because it doesn't work for you means it shouldn't happen for someone else.

Past Elder said...

The only thing I condemn about fasting is requiring it.

Actual hunger is "compensated for" by actual food. The rest is metaphor. For a metaphor to "work" it must remain metaphor, not an equation.

Spiritual hunger and indeed starvation itself work much like physical hunger and starvation.

This does not mean I need to skip meals or curtail them to remind me not to skip Word and Sacrament and so forth, any more than it means I need to skip Divine Service or leave early to remind me to make dinner and eat it.

Dixie said...

I went to the Zion website to find Father Fenton's papers on Lutheran Fasting but unfortunately the link is broken and I couldn't find another reference. I do have copies I downloaded way back when.

Father Fenton wrote: Christians discipline their eating habits during Advent and Lent to remind themselves that Christ Jesus is their true food and drink, and that love for His Holy Supper exceeds love for all other foods.

PE...it is true that fasting can be dangerous and inappropriate for some. Fortunately that is something spiritual fathers can help with...finding alternatives.

From the same paper: Our annual fasting also is a constant reminder that we need to restrain not just our eating, but all our other appetites and desires—especially those habits which often compete with or crowd out godly behavior and our attendance at Holy Mass. It is love for Christ that should hold sway over us, rather than our own wants and cravings. So Advent and Lenten fasting reminds us that we should "make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Rom 11.14).

There is so much more in this paper that opens up the subject for Lutherans, at least it did for me at the time. PE, if you'd like to look it over...let me know and I will send you a copy.

christl242 said...

I used to be somewhat amused by fasting the way some Roman Catholics did it (although it's greatly stripped down in the RC from what it used to be).

No meat on Friday, please. But lobster is fine.

Giving up food is fairly easy. Giving up strife, lust, envy, greed and a host of other sins is much, much harder.

I have nothing against it for those who want to undertake it. But it's very much adiaphora for me.


Past Elder said...

You ain't fasted until you've done Yom Kippur, lemme tell ya.

By the same token, a little experience with involuntary hunger will remove any need to spiritualise the whole thing.

Btw, I didn't enter a monastery. I entered a university sponsored by a monastery, thinking of entering the monastery. By the grace of God, I did not follow a bad decision with a worse one.

You guys wanna go for First Fridays too? Here's a heads up for the best thing about that -- the girls don't have to wear those damned uniforms so you can check them out better.

I agree with Christine. Great Judas in the forum, I seem to be saying that more and more these days.

sarah d said...

I like the idea that fasting frees up money for charity.

I am excited to fast a little this year due to not being pregnant or nursing.

Your thoughts on fasting are always appreciated...thank you for your posts.

Chris said...

Did not Christ our Lord command it when he was asked about how a faith that can move mountains can be realized? Was his answer not "By prayer AND fasting?" If Christ fasted and we wish to grow to become like Him, through theosis, is this not a valuable means? Of course, everyone fasts according to their abilities and necessary accommodations, but outlawing it simply because you can only perceive it in symoblic terms is ridiculous.

Past Elder said...

Once again, I am for neither outlawing nor requiring it.

Great Judas in the gym.

The first step in having a faith that can move mountains is to quit thinking about having a faith that can move mountains.