Ash Wednesday (March 1st this year) and Good Friday (April 14th this year) are the two days set aside in the Book of Common Prayer each year as days for fasting.
Fasting is an ancient practice, stretching back far before the time of Christ. Fasting as a spiritual practice is something we share in common with many religions. Fasting is a valuable practice handed down to us by the saints, our mothers and fathers in the faith. Fasting is a practice for today.
What does it mean to fast?
Fasting most simply means the abstention from food. Not eating. The most common form of fasting involves drinking plenty of water. The human body can survive a very long time – many weeks – with only water intake. A fast with water will allow the body to function more or less normally without interfering with the spiritual and social aspects of abstaining from food.
An alternative to an actual fast would be abstention. Some people choose to abstain from particular foods or beverages. Alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate are popular candidates for abstention. There’s a long tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays. Some people choose forms of abstention centered around behaviors: refraining from watching TV or from having the last word in an argument.
Why do we fast?
Extreme sorrow and extreme need are two common reasons why people fast: fasting is a natural bodily response to trauma and change. When we grieve or when we are frightened, we may not feel like eating for days on end. The power of the meal after a funeral is that the fast is broken, and we acknowledge that life continues.
Sometimes we fast due to illness, or in preparation for medical procedures. Sometimes we fast out of a simple sense of obedience or obligation to a particular tradition or community.
Personally, I tend to fast for two basic reasons. The first is a desire to reorganize my priorities in body and soul. When I fast, I’m showing my stomach that it’s not the boss. I do not live by bread alone. There’s something more important to me than food: that is my relationship with God. I also discover the emotional grip that food has on me.
The second basic reason I fast is because I hunger for God. Fasting creates space inside myself. I invite God to inhabit that space. My physical hunger reflects my spiritual hunger. Sometimes I engage the fast with enthusiasm, sometimes I show up reluctantly as a matter of discipline and faith: the fast does its work regardless.
How does one get started with fasting?
Fasting is not for everyone. If you are pregnant or have other medical issues, traditional modes of fasting may not be a healthy choice. If you are diabetic, fasting may require extra care and strategy. A consultation with a doctor might be called for. Yet the vast majority of us can easily sustain a fast from several hours to several days without any significant impairment.
It’s important to plan a fast ahead of time. Block out fasting mealtimes so you don’t end up with an awkward lunch date. Use that time for prayer or feasting on the word of God. You will do well, especially when just beginning to practice fasting, not to plan heavy physical activities while you’re fasting. You might feel light-headed the first few times.
Don’t jump into your first fast. Cut out all snacks and skip just one meal. Drink plenty of water. Get comfortable with that. Then move to two meals skipped. Skipping two meals will result in a 24 hour fast. I find it easiest to skip breakfast and lunch. If your stomach feels empty, drink more water. On days when I find a fast particularly challenging, I might supplement with Gatorade or fruit juice.
It is best not to “load up” in the meal before a fast, but to ease into it. If you know you’re about to start a fast, eat a light meal: a salad is perfect. Ease your stomach into the fast, and then ease it back out. When you break fast, start slowly and gently. I like to eat a few crackers and then, after waiting some time, a salad. Oh, and drink lots of water.
Be gentle with yourself and don’t worry about proving anything to anyone. The fast is not about being heroic; instead it is an invitation to explore a new way to encounter God.
Fasting is whole-body prayer. Practice it in secret or maybe invite some trusted companions (a small group?) to practice it in community with you. You are beloved of God and, contrary to what you may have thought, the fast is one more way to experience that love directly.
This Sunday Evening – Music Guild Concert
Lily of the Valley: Sacred Music of Venice and the Balkans
February 26, 2017 – 6 pm
In the Church
Agave Baroque, a professional ensemble of strings, baroque guitar, theorbo, and harpsichord, all led by Henry Lebedinsky, will feature former Epiphany soloist, soprano Linda Tsatsanis.
This concert will explore the music of the 17th century Republic of Venice which stretched from Milan in the West to what is now Slovenia. Come and enjoy a historical evening representing 150 years with the music of Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Salamone Rossi, and Tartini, finishing with the deeply spiritual solo songs of the composers of Croatia.
Reception following event.
THIS TUESDAY – Mardi Gras Pancake Supper
Tuesday, February 28
5:30-7:30 pm – Great Hall
On Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, enjoy some pancakes
and bacon before Lent. No tickets, just a free-will donation.
Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017
8:00 am in the chapel and 7:30 pm in the church
On this day, the beginning of Lent we are marked with the sign of the cross on our foreheads to remember our humanity, as we hear the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” This is a service of Holy Eucharist. Epiphany Choir sings at the evening service.
Following each service you will have the opportunity to take part in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (private confession). This is one of two days set aside in the Episcopal Church for private confession and fasting.
Anne Lynn of AFEDJ Says “Thank You, Epiphany!”
Anne Lynn, Executive Director of American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ), visited Epiphany on Friday, February 17, to thank us personally and report on the kitchen and dining room upgrades at the Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children in East Jerusalem. Our parish helped fund this work early last year with a timely gift of $10,000.
To a small group of parishioners enjoying wine and cheese in the Fireside Room, Anne described how the new kitchen and dining room have enormously improved daily life at Princess Basma for children, mothers, and staff.
Although in Anne’s slide the old kitchen looked pretty modern with its gleaming stainless steel, it nevertheless had a number of food storage and plumbing violations that needed fixing in order for Princess Basma to keep its health license. The kitchen feeds up to 1000 children, mothers and staff members daily.
Anne called the dining room the “hearth” where families gather to eat and celebrate. It’s also where mothers meet to support each other and learn about their children’s disabilities and care. She said perhaps the most welcome improvement to the dining area was the addition of bathrooms. “Imagine hundreds of children in a dining room and there isn’t a bathroom anywhere close!”
Anne praised our parish’s interest in the Holy Land and our regular pilgrimages there. “Epiphany is way ahead of most churches. It is astounding how many American Christians have no interest in discovering the roots of their faith.”
More of Anne’s remarks will be reported in next month’s Monthly Message. She is planning another visit early next year.
Thank you, Epiphany!
Thank you to all who attended Have a Heart and helped make it a success in so many ways. You gave more than $64,000 that evening, and follow-up gifts have made us wonder if the final total might be closer to $70,000! Thank you so very much!
Save the Date – Newcomers Reception
March 5 at 6 pm
Are you new to Epiphany? New-ish? Are you interested in meeting more people or finding out how to get more involved? We are having a reception just for you at Doyt’s house after the evening service on Sunday, 5 March, at 6pm. Beverages and appetizers will be provided. On-site supervision will be available for children. Your presence would be delightful! RSVP to email@example.com.
Sunday Lectionary Corner
Last Sunday After Epiphany
or Psalm 99