As you might have heard, tomorrow is a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria, as announced by Pope Francis a few days ago. So how does that work? What should each of us do? And how could fasting possibly do anything to help the situation? Here’s a primer (and here’s another one, from BustedHalo):
We fast to change ourselves, not because it’s magic
Some many people view fasting (and other physical sorts of disciplines and practices like saying a rosary) as magic ways to get their way. “If I give up a meal” they think, consciously or subconsciously, “then I’ll get this thing that I’ve been praying for.” That’s not how faith works, my friends. It’s not magic. What fasting does is change us in two ways. First, it takes our selfishness and our desires to center stage so that we can see how those things affect change and good in our lives. Want a quick example? Don’t pick up your phone for the next hour. I dare you. See how hard it is? Imagine if you used all that time on your phone texting or playing Candy Crush to speak with another human being, to pray, or to give some time in service to someone else. That phone is getting in the way of you doing those things and now you know it because you fasted from it for an hour!
“But Cindy,” you might be saying, “food’s important. Food isn’t selfish, it’s survival.” True. Which brings me to the second way that fasting changes us. In many parts of the world, healthy, fresh food is a luxury. Many of the inhabitants of war-torn Syria are surviving on one meal a day, and probably not a very big one at that. By giving up one meal–or a whole day’s worth–we are experiencing a small chunk of what it’s like to be those people. And maybe, just maybe, by experiencing that, we’ll be inspired to do our part to alleviate their suffering now that we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. It’s called empathy. Welcome.
We fast intentionally
Any kind of fasting–and especially fasting from food–is something that needs to be approached with prayer and intention. Take an hour or two today to prepare for your fast tomorrow by asking God from what it is that you should fast. Here are some ideas:
- Do a media fast–no cell phone, no Facebook, no email–to help you focus on interpersonal relationships.
- Spend a day in silence fasting from speaking. How does it feel to not have a voice to speak up for yourself and the things in which you believe?
- Do a type of food fast–fast from second helpings or snacks to try to understand what it would feel like to not have abundant food readily available; fast from non-local food to appreciate how unbelievably varied and available our food supply is; give up one meal, fast during daylight hours, or eat only bread and water to understand what hunger actually feels like
We fast with replacements
Whenever you’re doing any kind of fast, replace the thing you’re fasting from with something spiritual. Pray instead of pinning things on Pinterest. Take the money you would have spent on food for the day and give it to an international charity. Write your reflections on freedom of speech while not speaking. Always, always fill the void with something spiritual, otherwise it’s not a fast, it’s just sadistic.
We fast responsibly
If you’re feeling led to fast from food, do me a solid; talk to a priest or trusted spiritual guide, and make sure you’re physically healthy enough for it before you begin. You might want to call your doctor. Don’t take this blog post as the end-all-be-all authority on fasting, seriously. Do some more research first. If you’re pregnant, nursing, sick, travelling, a sports star, or otherwise really need every calorie you can get–DON’T FAST FROM FOOD. If you are healthy enough to do a full or partial fast, consider the following guidelines:
- Begin and end your fast in prayer. Plan time throughout your time of fasting for directed prayer. The fast tomorrow has been called to specifically pray for peace in Syria, so that’s a good place to start!
- Don’t eat a huge meal the night before to “stock up”. It’ll just make you hungrier. Consider having a smaller meal for dinner tonight in preparation. Trust me.
- DRINK LOTS OF WATER. LOTS OF IT!!
- If you’re doing a bread and water fast, eat as much as you need to get through the day.
- When you break your fast, do it as nutritiously as possible. Some Muslims will break their Ramadan fast with figs because their high water and nutritional content prepares the body for receiving the rest of the nutrients from their meal.
- Do it as a community–if you have friends who have also been called to fast, break your fast together with prayer and a meal you’ve prepared as a community. Discuss your experience and what lessons you might have learned over your meal.
We follow up from the fast
On Sunday morning (or Saturday night), congratulations! You did it! Now what? The fast probably taught you something–whether it was to have more gratitude for the wide availability of food, or for the ability to stand up for your rights, or simply for life itself. Did God call you to take action regarding one of those things? As you prayed for peace in Syria, did you come to any conclusions about the threat of war or the fragility of life in war-torn countries? Do you feel more solidarity with the people of Syria? Do you have an opinion now about our country’s stance on how to intervene? Do something about it now–reach out to a refugee charity, write your local Congressman (or Congresswoman if you’re here in NH) telling them your opinion, spend more time in prayer for the people of Syria. Just do something! (And tell us about your experience either in a comment here or on our Facebook page!)