Friday, September 21, 2012

Fasting as a Means of Grace

Four members of First United Methodist Church, Plattsmouth agreed to try out fasting with me to see if this spiritual practice could become a means of grace for us.  We read a pamphlet on fasting, discussed it at our first meeting, and covenanted to observe the Daniel Fast (vegetables and water) for our evening meal every Wednesday.  We pledged to set aside time in the evening for private devotions and to email each other the next day and describe our fasting experience.  We met once a month to check in with each other and to evaluate whether or not we found fasting to be an effective means of grace.

I define "effective" according to the Wesleyan analogy of faith (Repentance-Faith-Holiness)--  Do I experience God's grace as a result of engaging in this practice?  Am I convinced to repent?  Is my faith strengthened?  Am I inspired to love God and to love my neighbor?

Even this modest attempt at fasting proved to be beneficial for me.  My Wednesday evenings became more low-key as my energy waned.  As a result, I became more aware of the huge amount of time I spend planning and organizing for the future.  At first I felt impatient when I was not able to complete all of my tasks.  I tried to push myself, but I simply could not concentrate on my to-do list.  Finding that my normal tendency was impossible to maintain as my blood sugar level dropped, I instead was forced to focus more on the present moment.

My fasting goal is to slow down and seek God's presence in the present.  My private devotion is meditation because that is all I have the energy to do by the time Wednesday evening rolls around and because meditation enhances my awareness of when I am thinking about the future and when I am resting in the moment and seeking to abide in God's love.

After two months, I felt ready to try an all-day Wednesday fast (only fruits and vegetables).  The result was emphatically not a means of grace experience.  My blood sugar level dropped too low, and I had to modify my fast the next week.  Now on Wednesdays I eat my usual breakfast and lunch, a vegetarian dinner and cut out all snacks.

I am into the fourth month of this experiment, and I've noticed that I can now practice resting and abiding on non-fasting days, as well.  I have an easier time abiding in God's love and feeling the outward flow of that love towards others. 

My meditation practice has also expanded to non-fasting days.  I try to meditate every evening.  I seek to abide in Christ, and if I am not able to do that, I try to notice what's got me agitated.  When I do this I am usually convinced to repent, which in turn opens me up to a fresh experience of Christ's compassion for the sinful.

Meditation has increased my awareness of my internal drama and that in turn has made me more cognizant of how the anxiousness of others hooks me and draws me into their negative mood.  Now whenever I'm around an agitated person, I try to focus on my breath.  On the in breath I remember that I am capable of the same kind of negative emotions.  On the out breath I try to remember Jesus' promise in John 7:38, in which he stated that the Holy Spirit will flow out of the believer and reach out to others.  My prayer is that we will both experience the peace of Christ infusing our interpersonal interaction with grace.

I am humbled to see how much my good attitude depends upon getting enough to eat and enjoying the company of congenial people.  Take either of those away from me, and I am an imperfect, impatient, anxious mess.  To love God and others is a gift that must come from God.  As long as I am in this body, I will not be able to maintain that orientation on my own.

I have come to see my fasting experiment as a way to honor my ordination vow that I would earnestly strive after perfection.  What practice is supporting your effort?

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