Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sometimes it's good to go hungry

Last week, my good friend Erwin Goedicke told me a wonderful story. Erwin is pastor of North Presbyterian – an urban church here in Cincinnati where he regularly has to deal with poverty, crime, and hardship. He’s faithfully serving Christ in a very tough area – and the congregation is doing well under his loving leadership.

The church started a partnership a few years ago with an orphanage in Kenya – and last year they brought the director of the orphanage to the US for fundraising and telling the story of what God is doing through their ministry. They took the orphanage director to a fundraising banquet for another ministry the church supports. The meal was a delicious steak dinner with twice baked potato, huge salad, and dessert. The director of the orphanage looked at the meal, then looked to Erwin and asked:

“Do Americans ever miss a meal?”

He knew that she didn’t mean “do Americans skip a meal because they’re working too hard.” She meant do they ever miss a meal because the food isn’t there. Erwin answered “no” “It is good to sometimes miss a meal” she said.

She then told him how in their orphanage, there was a special signal – if there was no food for the meal, the signal would ring and all the children knew to proceed not to the dining hall but to the chapel. There, while missing their meal, they would gather and give God thanks for the next meal that they would receive.

This story hit me powerfully – as I restrict my diet in an attempt to lose weight and lower cholesterol, it is so tempting to feel “deprived”. And yet this example prompts me to give thanks for all the great food that I do have available to me. Just allowing myself to feel a little twinge of hunger makes me appreciate the flavor that God put into oranges, leafy lettuce, carrots, etc.

Eating can be a profoundly spiritual exercise – as can fasting. Lauren Winner, in her book on Chastity, compares chastity to fasting: when we abstain from something as a spiritual exercise, it becomes a vehicle for drawing closer to God. It is only by God’s grace that we’re able to live with the prohibitions, and in the twinge of hunger that we feel, we are driven to rely upon grace. Winner talks about this in her interview with World Magazine: “In Real Sex," she told WORLD, "I contextualize chastity as one of many ascetical spiritual disciplines, disciplines in which we renounce something in order to attend to God in a particular way." Fasting, for example, "is a time-honored Christian spiritual practice, not because food is evil, but because refraining from food can clear out space in which we can focus on God in a particular way."”

We protestants don’t understand fasting at all – it’s not some legalistic “don’t do this or God will blast you” (as portrayed in the movie Chocolat (which was a fine film in its own right) – rather it is an invitation to come and lose yourself that you might find God. And that is a wonderful thought.

Perhaps too, fasting is God’s way of helping us identify with the hungry, that we might be moved to be His agents of blessing to them? Which is one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to helping with the Hosea House Soup kitchen this weekend (one of our church projects). It’s not much, but at least it will help me feel like I’m doing something.

Anyone out there had experience with fasting?
Soli Deo Gloria