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Saturday, February 29, 2020
The glory of these forty days
we celebrate with songs of praise;
for Christ, by whom all things were made,
himself has fasted and has prayed.
Alone and fasting Moses saw
the loving God who gave the law;
and to Elijah, fasting, came
the steeds and chariots of flame.
“The Glory of These Forty Days” (vv. 1–2)
by Gregory the Great (6th cent.); trans. Maurice F. Bell (1906)
Hymn 165, Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
Today I’m sitting down to lunch, feeling virtuous because I’m just having a salad, and I open this text and I see three references to fasting. And I’m thinking, “Hey, I’m having a salad, isn’t that good enough? You have to come at me with fasting?”
I mean, nothing puts a damper on virtue signaling more than an encounter with actual virtue.
But fasting is not just about not eating. There is a difference between fasting and starving. If it was all about not eating, then feeding the hungry would be impeding their spiritual growth. We feed those who are hungry because there’s a difference. Starving people would eat if they could. Fasting people can eat if they want to. Starving people are suffering. They need something and can’t have it. Fasting people don’t qualify and shouldn’t claim to.
It’s not about not eating; it’s about why you’re not eating. Fasting is an act of agency, a conscious choice of where to put your time, energy, and focus. It’s saying “I will put my focus on this task and not on my appetite.”
Have you ever had the experience of being so into an activity that you lost track of time? Forgot to eat? Almost everyone has had the experience of being in the zone like that, though it can be kind of rare. It’s a great feeling, but why does it feel great? Did it make you feel virtuous, being so wrapped up in what you were doing that you forgot to eat? Or was the most important thing the work that you were involved in at the time, what you were able to do with that clear focus?
When you fast, it’s because you are choosing to focus on some kind of spiritual work. It is trying to get yourself into that zone. It is your decision that, for a time, you declare that the spiritual work of following God is more important than a sandwich. Maybe that’s a low bar. Still, maybe sometimes it wouldn’t hurt to try it for a while.
Lord, remind us that we can clear our lives of distractions when we choose to. Help us to see the work ahead and train our minds and hearts to seek your kingdom and its righteousness. Amen.
Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts
Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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