A personal approach to the Lenten Fast

Every year around this time, my kids ask if they have to give up something for Lent. My answer, of course, is no. Fasting is a voluntary discipline. Non-voluntary fasting is called torture and is a human rights violation. So left to their own devices and in full exercise of their global citizenship, my kids usually choose not to fast.

However, I usually choose to do so.

During my journey from conservative Evangelical to agnostic Episcopal, I have had to make peace with the holiday calendar as I go. Even though the bigger events in the liturgical calendar enjoy a lot of secular support, I didn’t want to go trudging through as if nothing had changed for me. So many things have changed for me. I wanted my celebration to be honest. And I wanted to celebrate.

It’s interesting to me what traditions have waxed in importance as my faith has (at least comparatively) waned. For instance, Advent is much more meaningful to me now. The return of light and hope in the middle of winter is something that moves me deeply. Using the Christian traditions I grew up with to participate in that change feels natural to me. 

And now it’s Eastertide. Easter was always my most favorite time of the liturgical year. I’ve always loved the prolonged drama of it. So many special observances. So many beautiful rituals enacting the delicate balance between life and death.

But Easter is also undeniably religious. Well, there’s the whole bunny thing, but if you’ve read my post on elf on the shelf you know I don’t go in for that sort of thing. How can I celebrate in a way that honors what I believe, but still lets me participate? Because, I really do still want to participate in my faith community and tradition. The Christian Church is still my home. And everyone wants to go home for the holidays.

Enter the Lenten fast. I’ve always participated in fasting for Lent (albeit when I was little it was mostly about scandalizing my protestant peers with my blatant Catholicism). Over the years my understanding of it has shifted significantly and I feel that it’s a tradition I can embrace whole heartedly this currently season.

For me, the most important part of fasting is not deciding what to “give up;”

it’s deciding what to “take up.” 

When I fast, I am choosing to eliminate something from my regular routine. It could be an activity, it could be a type of food. It doesn’t matter as long as it usually occupies a regular part of my life. It’s probably so regular that I don’t really give it much notice from day to day. 

Until it’s gone. And now I have this open space.

That open space is an opportunity to be mindful of something new. It could be a new book. It could be a new hobby. It could be a new exercise or spiritual discipline. It doesn’t really matter as long as my intent is to really give it my attention. To learn something about myself through the process.

So my question when considering what i should give up for Lent isn’t really about experiencing deprivation as much as it’s about creating the right space for the lesson I want to learn. For me, the most important part of fasting isn’t doggedly maintaining the fast; it’s retaining the new lesson as I reacquaint myself with my old habits once the fast is over. I think this keeps with the theme of rebirth that permeates Easter. I know it gives me an honest way to practice it.

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