Few of us would disagree that Genesis 3, the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise, is a spiritual story. Interestingly enough it is focused on eating, which is for us a most physical activity. That eating explains the spiritual malaise of humankind will surprise some. But today as the myriad ways in which food and health are related become central to mainstream medicine, as well as alternative medical practices and popular culture too, we realize just how food is related to our health, spiritual, mental and physical. The Genesis 3 narrative connecting eating and spirituality becomes far more realistic.
There is little doubt that our culture has problems with over eating: diet plans and places abound, obesity is said to be an epidemic, there are food addictions and food allergies, we have no sense of proper food portions, junk food is a normal part of our diets, endless and competing ideas are presented as to how to eat our way to better health.
So one of the hymns from Meatfare Sunday, though written hundreds of years ago, has some modern eating themes in it:
WE ARE GLUTTONS, WHO REVEL IN OUR FALLEN NAKEDNESS;
EXILES BANISHED FROM THE FACE OF GOD!
THE DELIGHTS OF FOOD HAVE BECOME EXCEEDINGLY BITTER FOR US!
LET US RETURN THROUGH REPENTANCE, AND ENLIST FOR THE BATTLE!
LET US COMPLETE THE DAYS OF FASTING, THAT OUR FLESH MAY BE CLEANSED.
STRENGTHENING OUR HEARTS WITH THE HOPE OF GRACE,
LET US NOT LABOR FOR THE FOOD WHICH PERISHES,
FOR THE LAMB OF GOD WILL FEED US
ON THE RADIANT NIGHT OF HIS RESURRECTION.
HE IS THE VICTIM OFFERED FOR US.
HE COMES TO EAT WITH US
ON THE NIGHT WHEN HIS MYSTERIES SHALL BE ACCOMPLISHED:
THE CHAINS OF DARKNESS WILL BE DESTROYED,
AND WE SHALL ENTER INTO THE LIGHT OF HIS RESURRECTION!
Overeating is habitual for many of us – fasting, if it brought us to the level of eating only the amount necessary for our survival, would accomplish for many of us a great thing. It would help restore our humanity to us as it would return food to serving its purpose to nurture us, rather than to control us. The goal of fasting is not to reduce fat , alcohol and cholesterol, nor is it to reduce the risk of diabetes, but if it also did those things, that would be a good thing. Fasting is to confront our habitual pattern of over-indulgence, starting with overeating. The delight of food has become bitter for us – it is killing us with obesity, diabetes, heart and cancer problems, not to mention allergies, auto-immune problems and a host of other diseases as well as attempting to anesthetize our emotional discomforts. Fasting is to learn to say “no” to the habits which control us and to the desires which are polluting our stomachs and arteries as well as our souls and minds. Fasting can be a means of restoring sanity to our lives when it comes to food. Fasting is to help prepare us to be fed by Christ, the Paschal Lamb of God.
And, we are to remember fasting is not only or even mostly about food – for there is the real fast which is pleasing to God. As another hymn from Meatfare says:
DANIEL THE PROPHET, AND GREATLY BELOVED MAN, WHEN HE SAW THE POWER OF GOD, CRIED OUT: THE COURT SAT IN JUDGEMENT AND THE BOOKS WERE OPENED! CONSIDER WELL, MY SOUL:
DO YOU FAST?
THEN DO NOT DESPISE YOUR NEIGHBOR!
DO YOU ABSTAIN FROM FOOD?
THEN DO NOT CONDEMN YOUR BROTHER,
LEST YOU BE SENT TO BURN AS WAX IN THE FIRE.
BUT MAY CHRIST LEAD YOU WITHOUT STUMBLING INTO HIS KINGDOM!
See also my blog Fasting: The Rules and the Individual