Why do I fast? I don’t know. (Short answer.)
1. It’s a communal act. I was born into a commune, okay? I like it. Give me a break. I couldn’t do it on my own, without some support system. I couldn’t say, “this year I’m going to give up X, Y and Z” and actually stick to it, all on my own. I’m all for thinking for yourself and being an individual, etc. etc. But there’s something pleasantly childlike about going along with everyone else. Doing as we’ve been told to do for centuries. Not that the act of fasting shouldn’t be examined – but it’s not a logical decision, really. The whole idea of faith isn’t terribly logical. The Resurrection is outside the bounds of day-to-day life. A link between this world and the next. Which is maybe the point of the fast? To change our daily lives?
2. I have a confession. Well, two.
a. It look me a long time to accept fasting. When I was a kid, and my whole family still went to church, we did the no meat thing. I couldn’t imagine giving up dairy. Neither, apparently, could my mom – at least with three children. I don’t remember so much having a problem with not eating meat – it was the substitutions that made it truly horrific. Particularly memorable was the spaghetti with tofu instead of meat in the sauce. (I’ll let you contemplate that for a second. Horrific, eh?) I gradually took out dairy and eggs – first following the rule of “if you can’t see it, it’s not there.” The rule is very convenient if you want to eat breads, muffins, etc. You cut out overtly dairy items like slices of cheese and ice cream, but you can still have that cookie. Not bad, huh?
Then there was the phase of extremity, where I could be found examining labels in the grocery store until my eyes hurt. “This has milk proteins – we need to find something else.” Um, yeah. I’ve backed off a bit. I’m going to go have St. Patrick’s Day dinner with the cousins (as long as you save some for when I get off work, please?) and not worry about it. I’m not going to stand there and agonize over whether I should just eat the potatoes or have some of the meat, too.
b. The other confession is this – and hoo boy is this one tricky to suppress – sometimes I feel a nasty sense of superiority, especially over Catholics. I’d like to blame it on seven years of Catholic school, if I may. As a middle schooler, I found this particularly mind-boggling – they picked what they wanted to fast from. Things like soda, or watching TV, or sweets (although, I would be a miserable wreck if I had to fast from sweets. I’ll just throw that out there.) It seemed to childish. And the whole fish Fridays thing? Please. During Lent, the fish/wine/oil days shine like a beacons of deliciousness.
It’s always made me laugh: Catholics + fish = suffering. Orthodox + fish = rejoicing.
Anyway, I really hate that feeling of false superiority. Because it’s not about what you eat or don’t eat or whose church is better. Obviously. But the whole Catholic school experience did put me on the defensive. Hard to shake, maybe like that Catholic guilt thing.
3. It’s part of the whole experience of Lent. It’s all tied together. It’s like a whole food. Process it and you lose some of the nutrients. You can’t digest it as well. Maybe it gives you cancer, we’re not really sure yet since the studies are inconclusive, but don’t risk it, okay?
4. I like having a time of the year that’s different and set aside and all that. It’s referred to as “the sea of the fast” a lot and I like that mental image – a little ship, sort of Dawn Treader sized, in a stormy sea. Maybe your supplies are running low and sometimes you just want to get off, but the other shore is a whole lot better than the one you just left and the only way to get there is to keep sailing.
5. It’s about food. Food seems to always be crucial in the religious experience. Is there any religion that doesn’t involve food, somehow? I doubt it. I love food. I love cooking, and the social experience, and eating, and all of it. And it changes the whole experience when you’re limited in diet. Eating to live, rather than living to eat. And each year is such a different experience.
My head is still all wonky and snot-filled, so this ranks “low” on the Articulate Scale. And is by no means thorough. And is likely slightly self-righteous and, um, boring. Whatever.
Also, yesterday was the Sunday of Orthodoxy on which we celebrate the triumph over the iconoclasts and all that stuff. I celebrated by staying home sick, but that’s just me. There’s a bit I always love at the end, after we process with our icons (at the Greek church, if we’re feeling social) and shout out things like, “this is the faith of our fathers! This is the faith of the Orthodox!” Which, you know, cracks me up. Because hardly is this the faith of my fathers. My parents don’t even come to church, so it’s only marginally the faith of my father, let alone all those generations. But somehow that makes me like shouting it even more.