On Wednesday, March 5, at about 12:40 a.m. I ate 7 delicious samosas. I haven't had a bite since. I have taken on the seemingly crazy goal of fasting from solid food for the 40 days of Lent.
I will be consuming only clear liquids, and a daily multivitamin. The main thing that will sustain me, is a type of beer called doppelbock. A German-style of beer, first made by the monks on the outskirts of Munich. These beers were made year-round, but they were particularly helpful during the fasting times of Lent and Advent, where their much higher caloric and nutrient values kept the monks upright (and probably at least a little buzzed) for the duration.
My particular doppelbock was made for me by Amsterdam Brewing Co., here in Toronto. We adapted the classic recipe somewhat by adding oatmeal to the mix, hopefully adding a bit more protein and calories.
But why am I doing this?
It's not unusual to hear people of the Christian faith "giving something up for Lent", or fasting (fasting doesn't have to apply only to food; one can fast from TV, their iPhone, sweets, etc). What I have found unusual, is hearing them give a sensible reason why.
Many people when they talk about why they are fasting during Lent, will tell you it's to show thankfulness for the sacrifice of Jesus' death Christians celebrate at Easter. But this has never really made sense to me. We claim that Jesus suffered a painful humiliating death for our benefit, so to show thanks, we will slightly inconvenience ourselves for a relatively short period of time. It just doesn't seem like enough. If we fully understand the weight of the salvation we claim, ceasing to drink caffeine or eat chocolate for 40 days wouldn't even come close to the level of thankfulness we ought to feel.
No, I have not given up eating as an act of penitence. And while Lent is definitely a time for quiet reflection and thankfulness, more importantly, it is a time of training.
When I am driving and when I am sitting in a bar and when I am taking my son to school, I am often aware that my thoughts can turn negative quickly. A bad driver or a loud drunk or an annoying parent can send me into a spiral of anger, judgementalism and ugliness. I cease to pray ceaselessly. I fail to see the blessings that are all around me. I don't feel joy and hope. I stop trusting God to provide for me. I forget to be God's hands to people around me in need.
And so I need to train, spiritually. To do that means constantly reminding myself to direct my energy to good. But if it were that easy, I wouldn't have a problem. I need a reminder, like a string around my finger. Something that is out of the ordinary, that when I notice it reminds me to self-check where I'm at.
This is why Christians should fast. No, not everybody should abstain from food. In fact, I would assume most shouldn't. But choosing to stop doing something, to intentionally redirect your energy, is a good idea. It can be as simple as forgoing your morning cup of coffee, and spending 10 minutes reading the Bible; packing your lunch instead of buying it, and donating the money saved to a local foodbank; skipping going to a club on Friday night, and waking up early on Saturday to volunteer at a nursing home. Or it can be giving up food, and trying to remember, every time you feel a hunger pang, to be thankful for what you have, to encourage somebody, or to pray for people who are hungry because of circumstance rather than choice.
And here is why I'm writing this here: This discipline isn't just for Christians. No matter what you believe, we could all use a time to remind ourselves of the good around us, and to do good things for others. So why not join me, regardless of your faith, and fast from something, and redirect your energy to something good? Skip dessert and go for a walk; enjoy your neighbourhood, or maybe pick up a few pieces of litter. Buy a 12 of beer instead of a 24, and drop the savings into the donation box on the counter. Skip getting a manicure, and buy some beauty supplies to donate to a women's shelter.
There are so many ways to take part, and I doubt very much that you will feel worse after any of it.
Chris Schryer writes about beer at http://TorontoBeerBlog.com and you can follow his Lenten journey there.