February 16, 2021
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday which begins the Christian season of Lent. Many Christians give up something or fast from something during this season. I’m pretty good at fasting from things (probably because I’m stubborn and can also drift toward self-righteousness). While I’m “good” at fasting, I’ve never come away with an astounding spiritual insight or some kind of mystical experience. So, I’m trying something this year that is a bit different.
Together with a small group of people in my church, I’m trying something I’m calling a solidarity fast. That isn’t an original name. There are resources available with a quick google search if you’re interested. What I didn’t find were super clear instructions along with a brief purpose or intention. That is what I’ll attempt to lay out in the rest of this post.
What the goal is not:
The goal of a solidarity fast is not ego driven and doesn’t align with rational self-interest. This fast is not seeking to improve our lives in some way or bolster our sense of self for doing hard things. In fact, the hope is that with a solidarity fast, we train ourselves to look beyond the narratively defined self and learn to perceive the web of relationships we exist in.
The goal is also not a vertical spiritual experience or blessing from God on high. We are not earning or paying or hoping to accomplish anything on some metaphysical plane. This type of spirituality is practiced by many. Attempting to experience a spiritual awakening is not necessarily bad, but that isn’t the goal of a solidarity fast.
What the goal is:
A solidarity fast is intended to train our bodies, minds, and hearts to see our connectedness to one another and our planet. We are attempting, in a small way, to stand in solidarity with those our society and culture is quick to forget. This fast is based on the simple premise that we aren’t currently living in perfect harmony with our world. There is dissonance and imbalance and inequality. While a 40-day fast isn’t going to solve those issues, it is a practice with the aim of learning to live in right relation, or to seek justice in our world.
In Isaiah 58:5-6, the prophet writes, “
“6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
What is a solidarity fast?
So, what does a solidarity fast consist of? Being the first year I’ve tried this, I’ll outline a couple steps I’m taking this year and take notes as the season plays out.
A level of discomfort:
I’m looking to fast from something that I intuitively reach for or lean on in everyday life. This will ensure that I am consistently experiencing some level of discomfort throughout the fast. This element is not to be a masochistic punishment or some kind of means of attainment, but that of bringing awareness to our patterns of desire and reflecting on how we relate to those desires. With this level of discomfort, we are seeking to whet our appetites for what Christians call the “Kingdom of God.” We are attempting to tune into our thirst for justice.
This discomfort isn’t meant to be repressed or muscled through. The idea is that when this discomfort arises, we turn that desire into a simple prayer. The prayer can be simple or complex, but the prayer I’m using is short and sweet, “Help me to see.” When we can open our eyes to our relationships and the lives of our neighbors, we tune into the web of life and begin to realize our place in this vast cosmos. We turn our attention away from our own wants and desires. We learn to see ourselves not as a self that has the relationships but as a self that is made up of relationship. We are bound together.
One practical step is to redirect your time, money, or some other element of your fast to someone that would benefit from it. For example, if you’ll save money from your fast, you could give to a food bank, or a homeless shelter, or an environmental protection organization. If you’ll save time, you could make phone calls, or volunteer, or write notes to people who might be struggling. This part of the solidarity fast turns our attention from ourselves to our community and calls us into concrete, practical action.
Again, the goal is not spiritual achievement or to lose ten pounds. The hope of this fast is to attend in a small way to the Kingdom of God in our midst. Whether it is James 1, or 1 John, or Matthew 25, or Amos 5, or Micah 6, or Isaiah 58, we recognize the Biblical stream that calls us out of performative religion and into a life of mutual care, reciprocity, and love. Our hope is that our eyes would be opened, our hearts enlarged, and we would begin to see beyond ourselves.
My 2021 fast:
So, for Lent 2021, I’m giving up coffee. I drink nearly five cups every day of half-caf coffee. I have a burr grinder and a French press that may be the most ROI positive investments I’ve ever made. I’m certain that there will be discomfort and plenty of opportunities to pray that prayer and to live into that hope. Normally, I would just replace my coffee habit with a tea habit or some other beverage, but to resist that temptation, I’m only going to drink water for the season of Lent.
The amount of money I’ll save by not drinking coffee isn’t a large sum, but it is something and I’m planning to give that money to the local food bank. This way, by abstaining from an enjoyable experience, I’ll be able to contribute to the more beautiful world I long to see.
While I’m not claiming any originality for this fast, I hope this is a helpful way of thinking about fasting during this Lenten season. Note: you don’t have to be a Christian to participate, all are welcome!
If you’d like to fast with me, let me know. Shoot me an email or a DM and let’s fast in solidarity, in solidarity (see what I did there?). Whatever you do, have a wonderful day and I hope this Lent is a deeply meaningful season. Peace.