This post is part of a series on spiritual disciplines called Merely Beloved. We are in the season of Advent and Mariclair offers us a straightforward discipline – one that is often only associated with Lent and food. She is incredibly cool, and it’s perfect that her title includes the word “canon.” For more information about this series, click here.
I am contrary by nature. It isn’t a part of myself that I am proud of, but I have tried to make peace with it because I know it also contributes to my drive to seek justice, understand all sides of an issue, and suss out truth. My contrariness has gotten in the way of my spiritual life at times. Along with my latent hipster aversion to enjoying popular things, it means that I have trouble committing myself to a new approach to prayer that seems “on trend”. I have never really enjoyed walking a labyrinth, for example, primarily* because I can’t get away from the little snarky voice in my head cataloging the endless Christian tchotchkes the resurgence of labyrinth walking has produced: labyrinth jewelry, pocket labyrinths, labyrinth pillows. For all of these reasons, and like others contributing to this series, I have been comfortable in an identity that is religious, but not spiritual. Or at least not spiritual like “that”. However, in my continued attempts to be the better, less insufferable human being God made me to be, I regularly try at incorporating spiritual practices. One that has stuck, perhaps because it is inherently a practice of being intentionally contrary, is fasting.
Fasting during Advent is a powerful way to celebrate this season. Surrounded by festivity from Thanksgiving on, this might seem like the anti-fast season of parties and cookies and delicious gifts of treats. Take a digestive pause and try a traditional fasting practice- anything from replacing one meal a day with something simple to an orthodox fast of nothing, not even water, passing your lips from sunrise to sunset. Take note of the times during the day when your hunger disturbs you. Take a moment when your stomach growls to pray for those whose fasts are not voluntary. Without straying into Lenten penitence, refrain from something particularly delightful like cheese, or sweets, or wine, so that in its absence you can be present throughout this season with Joseph and Mary, wandering, without so much as a bed in which to give birth.
Remember that fasting isn’t defined by (not) eating- you can fast in many ways. Perhaps you might decide to “fast” from splurging on fun things that aren’t necessary one day a week, giving the money you didn’t spend on a latte or a magazine to a charity instead. Fast with those in poverty by finding out the local food assistance allowance for an individual or family of your size, and try living on that amount for a week yourselves (in my state a family of four qualifying for food assistance benefits receives a maximum of $150 towards pre-approved foods, with most receiving much less).
Fast from the craziness of Black Friday by participating in Buy Nothing Day and sitting out the mall entirely, or by shopping with local vendors, or making your own labyrinth pillows and jewelry. Join the Advent Conspiracy and fast from celebrating the birth of our Savior with overconsumption and material excess, instead sharing with those who have the least. Fast from missing out on the blessings of your life by keeping a daily gratitude journal of thanksgivings, or gather with friends or family each night, electronically or in person, to share what one thing you are most thankful for in that day. Fast from texting and make a phone call instead, fast from checking your email more than once an hour, fast from technology altogether one evening a week, and celebrate incarnate living with friends or family or maybe your pet- when was the last time the dog got a walk beyond the absolute minimum required, or a full half hour of ball chasing or belly rubbing? When was the last time you got in the floor with your child and played for an hour, without silently cataloging the sermon that needs writing and the laundry that needs doing and the lunches that need to be planned and packed?
Fast from snark. Fast from sarcasm- speak a kinder, gentler world into being. Pay attention to the times you want to make a clever or cutting remark, and then don’t. Fast from chiming in with complaints, as we all do, when we hear of another’s difficulties. Fast from self-critique, and remind yourself of something you are good at instead. Let your creativity run wild, and come up with your own special fast during Advent. Remember that fasting can be anything, truly anything, that requires you to slow down, take a breath, and remember that you are God’s own, wonderfully and marvelously made.
*Also because of the movie with David Bowie.
Mariclair Partee is the Canon for the Ministry of the Baptized at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, PA. She is the editor of the Jesus Review at Fidelia’s Sisters, an online publication of The Young Clergy Women Project. A Georgia native, Mariclair has spent the last decade spreading the Gospel to the frozen north, living in New York City, New Hope, PA, and now Allentown, PA, which someone famous wrote a song about once. Along the way she has picked up a few beagles and a fondness for bretzen, fastnachts, and other Pennsylvania Dutch staples.