Fasting and I have an odd relationship. Having embarked upon my Christian journey aged 12 with what could be called a mystic experience, I was probably an unusually pious child, but in odd ways, and without much information to go on about what forms piety might take.
Fasting was not a big part of the tradition I grew up in, and was in the form of "giving something up for Lent." The focus as I remember it was on this being a kind of reminder of the suffering of Jesus, and also on giving to those in need the money usually used for whatever it was you had given up. I think I might have started by giving up chocolate (very common in the church of which I was a part.) Certainly by my later years in school, I would give up all sweet things and dessert in general - the only exception being to eat birthday cake as many of my family and one of my friends all had birthdays during this time and would be upset to think I wasn't sharing their cake.
Upon moving away from home I started to not eat meat during Lent as well (the practice in the Eastern tradition of the church is generally much stricter than the West, and involves a fast from meat, dairy and a variety of other things)
But by the time I went to Theological College, the emphasis was increasingly on "taking something UP for Lent." So, to take on a spiritual practice of increased Bible reading, or more prayer or journaling. Which, I must be honest, often went the way of New Year's Resolutions.
And then I developed cfs. While my memory is impaired for this period, I'm pretty sure that I haven't fasted at all during my illness. For two reasons, because eating the right things at the right time has become immensely important to my health, and also that my whole life is a fast in some ways now, if the intention is to "mortify the flesh" or however we might phrase that to pretend that isn't what we're saying.
Which brings me to an issue which troubles me: Do Feminists Fast?
(Speaking here, not of fasting as political protest, but of the religious fast, and I make apologies for this conversation being so limited to my experience in Australian Western Christianity.) (Although I am very interested to read about the Hindu fast for married women called Karva Chauth: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/
What is the point of a fast? Is it irredeemably anti-body? 'Cause I'm not ok with that! Do fasts of necessity buy into a dualism that states that the only way to be spiritual is to distance oneself from the body? Is it a part of the mind-set of the church that confuses care of self with selfishness and says this is the essential sin.
I also feel horror at the idea that as a teenager I felt that giving up dessert could be a reminder of the suffering of Jesus, and indeed of so many people throughout the world today who go hungry.
What other reason is there for fasting? I feel as if there is one, but it is eluding me at present. Perhaps this might be my Lenten discipline, to develop a theology of fasting that resists dualism and embraces life.