Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are definitely days for fasting, in the tradition I hail from. The season of Lent as a whole, and also possibly (depending who you ask) the season of Advent, can be times of fasting and penitence as well. But at the same time, there’s no reason to limit fasting to these days and seasons.
Saints throughout Christian history have embraced fasting for much larger portions of the year, for the sake of purification, of prayer, of solidarity with the poor. Many people I know who take on some sort of a fast during Lent say that they hope it will be the beginning of a new little habit of self-control and abstinence which will endure even beyond the end of the liturgical season.
There are several things I’ve given up in recent years that I really believe have brought me closer to God. I was a bit conflicted about writing this post, because I don’t mean to look as if I’m judging anyone or bragging about myself. Obviously that’s not the point of fasting. Still, I decided that it might be worth sharing for whoever might happen to see it, because I do believe that it is important for us to learn to be a fasting people, and these are some generally simple changes I’ve found that are easy enough to make that they don’t cause a lot of pain and aren’t hard to sustain, but are sufficiently inconvenient or annoying that they often butt in to remind me why I’m doing them. This list isn’t about making myself feel good or look good, but about helping anyone who might be looking for a bit of inspiration. I hope it might be valuable! Here goes.
1. Meat. On Easter Sunday, I eat bacon and eggs and cheese. Special occasions are special occasions! So it feels weird when people that I know try to insist to me that I’m a vegan; that doesn’t seem like a very vegan thing to do. But for most of the year I do indeed seek to avoid (or at least minimize) consuming animal products and other rich or refined foods. This is something I did a couple times for Lent, and a few years ago I began to make it a more normal part of my life and routine. I try to centre my eating around vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and a small amount of nuts and seeds. This follows the example of the prophet Daniel, and of many other saints from Church history (eg St Benedict).
2. Alcohol. Booze is a popular thing to give up for Lent, something that I’ve tried myself for different Lents in the past. A little over a year ago I was curious to see if I could give it up more generally throughout the year, and although it was at first surprisingly hard to say goodbye to it (it’s sure a nice way to unwind after a stressful day!), I find I’ve really been happy living without it.
3. Tobacco. I have a tobacco pipe, and I used to love smoking outside with friends or while reading a good book. This was not a regular pastime for me, so it was less difficult to give it up, but it has still felt like a worthwhile sacrifice to make.
4. Food. I fast from all food for a portion of every morning. I eat breakfast mid-morning, at the same time every day, which doesn’t sound like a great feat, and I certainly don’t claim to be a hero of virtue, but you definitely feel the absence of food while waiting for the slow hours to pass before breakfast. Especially since:
5. Sleep. I try to wake up at the same early hour every morning, no matter what time I went to bed, no matter how little sleep I may have managed to get. I stay awake through the morning after my alarm goes off and never hit snooze, although on rare occasions I might let myself fall asleep in the early afternoon for a short nap, if I really feel I need it to make it through the day and if my schedule allows.
And that’s the list, for now! This post focuses on the negative rather than the positive spiritual practices, the things I’ve given up rather than the things I’ve chosen to add into my life and my regular schedule. Maybe that will be a list for another day — or then again, maybe not!