Why do people fast during Lent and feast on Mardi Gras? | Opinion
With Lent upon us, believers observing the season between Christmas and Easter think of feasting and fasting: the feasting that takes place on Mardis Gras or “Mardi Gras”, and fasting on Ash Wednesday or other days of this season of penance. and reflection.
But there is a misconception about feasting and fasting, as if feasting is just individual indulgence associated with hedonism and self-centeredness and fasting is diligent austerity associated with dieting. Both of these notions are incorrect and keep us and our personal concerns at the center of our thoughts.
Feasting is less the luxury or excess of eating until we are sore than rejoicing with others. When we are in good company, as the Pembroke College sommelier once told me, “No matter what we eat and drink, something wonderful happens. (So much the better for those of us who choose not to drink his wine!)
Likewise, fasting is not about fighting, but about truly being in solidarity with others. It is something that takes on added importance and urgency this year as Lent begins with the devastating events unfolding in Ukraine.
The Catholic Church in England has weekly fast days on Fridays when the money saved is not just added to the household money pot for compensatory treats, but donated to charity to equip the world’s poorest . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also illustrates the importance of being in solidarity with others.
Family fast days show a family the power of fasting and praying for others with the sharper focus that fasting brings and donating the money saved to humanitarian aid. Both make a real difference to others in need. The needs of others are part of our own life; we find that we personally benefit when people fast with us in our pain or isolation – how beautiful.
And when we are invited to the feast, we receive the unexpected and undeserved generous hospitality of others. These moments of feasting and fasting remain my most overwhelming impressions of my recent visit to Provo, Utah.
There are times in life that remind us of our first personal faith experience and how fasting and feasting could figure into our journey. This happened to me last August in Orem, when I badly burned my feet. At the time, I remember that it was a serious situation, which required medical intervention. It would be a time and energy consuming process, and I probably wouldn’t be the same. In the future, it would take vigilance and discipline to regularly check my feet which I soon learned would have no nerve endings for the rest of my life.
This experience brought me back to a realization when I was 13, when I was prompted to delve into my soul, to discover that I was hurt and needed to “come home”. , but I couldn’t do it by myself. It needed a guide, a good shepherd, a strong savior, to free me from the things where I was stuck, trapped like the ram tangled in the thicket by its horns in the 22nd chapter of Genesis.
I had been found by the Good Shepherd who was also that sacrificial lamb; it was a serious and important moment, of discovering the real state of things. I would need regular fellowship with Jesus Christ and regular feasting with all his people. I would also need to exercise my agency and responsibility – choosing the right and relying on its power to feed my own soul – fasting from the paths of destruction, sin and recklessness, and constantly repenting when I didn’t.
Feasting and fasting go together in a pattern. They bring us out of the closed world of self to sit on the bosom of the Lord as the beloved disciples that we are, just as John did at the feast of the Lord’s Supper.
There is a joyful dignity that comes with being commissioned to feast and fast with others, to be allowed to give our lives and our resources to the Christian Church and to the world. Likewise, allowing people to bless us in their poverty brings immense wealth to all of us, and allowing the poor to have enough to give to others is a truly rewarding commitment.
Feasting and fasting—and our ordinary life in between—are the means by which we can see the hurt and the lost, not with judgmental distance or disdain, but with love.
Fasting places us alongside all of God’s children in their wounds. It communicates to those who are isolated that they are not alone. We are with them and, more wonderfully, the Lord is with them and will remain with us.
One of the sisters at Fairacres Convent in Oxford is also a world-renowned scholar. She was in London where she ran into Maria, a prostitute who spoke to her because she was wearing visible religious clothing. In the few minutes they were together, Maris told her that she had a child and was forced into prostitution by people babysitting her child. Men soon arrived and took Maria away in a car, leaving my horrified friend in the depths of such inhuman evil.
She was a learned nun, whose life in a closed convent was as far from the dark world of human trafficking and exploitation as one can imagine. Yet this brief connection had such a profound effect on her that she prays daily for Maria and her fellow human beings, as well as for Maria’s child and her captors. These men, whom my friend says had violence in their faces, like all people in sin, need us to pray for them. Prayer and fasting move us away from a culture of cancellation.
A book my friend produced is dedicated to Maria. The grief of not being able to fix everything feeds my friend’s spiritual life daily. She fasts with envy and her heart breaks with the pain of the world which, like Maria, needs to come home.
Feasting and fasting—and our ordinary life in between—are the means by which we can see the hurt and the lost, not with judgmental distance or disdain, but with love. Let us seek them, support them, feast and abstain with each other until the mercy of God in his power comes upon us all, and together we can know that “all is good, all is good.”
Reverend Andrew Teal was Visiting Scholar and Affiliate Professor at BYU’s Maxwell Institute last fall. He is a chaplain and lecturer in theology at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, England, and a priest in the Church of England.
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