New Year's Rhythms
This is the time of year where many of us choose to buckle down and try out healthier ways of eating, exercising and living with those we love. These resolutions say something noble about where our best intentions lie. Our resolutions also say something about our reliance on will power as our go to way to effect change in ourselves.
In the spiritual life, human resolution and resolve can only take one so far. The real transformative power lies in God’s intentions and his divine will. In his goodness, God invites us into rhythms and routines that open us to the winds and patterns of his grace. The Christian life is not about trying harder. Amen! That truth allows me to exhale a big breath of relief.
At the start of 2018, I am trying on a particular spiritual rhythm for size, namely, the rhythm of feasting and fasting. It’s a rhythm that I’ll be inviting our wider community to join in as well.
The idea of a rhythm of feasting and fasting was born out of studying the book of Esther. Esther’s story is told around the occurrences of many feasts and parties. In contrast, at the center of Esther’s narrative are instances of horrible news (a plot to wipe out her people) and a crisis of courage (risking her life to petition the king) that both inspire prayer and fasting.
Here’s what I’m going to do: Between the beginning of January and until Easter, I’m going to lean into Sunday as a day for feasting. A true feast day involves being with those you love: God, good friends, family. A true feast day also involves being fed well with minimum effort! In the case of my family, this may mean one of two things: going out for a meal, or, enjoying some quality leftovers that we cooked up on Saturday. Finally, a true feast day involves some fun. For me, that typically means some time outdoors. Happily, the definition of fun is quite flexible and subjective.
On Wednesdays, I’m going to lean into the fasting side of the rhythm. In my case that’s going to mean omitting food for the day until after sunset. I will be drinking some water and tea to keep me from being too grumpy with my coworkers over the course of the day. My plan is to use the extra time in focused prayer for God’s will to be done in the search process for our next associate pastor and for spiritual renewal at Elmhurst CRC. I’m wondering, and I’m hoping, that you might join me in this rhythm of Sunday feasting and Wednesday fasting. A few disclaimers:
#1) Fasting is a very flexible word. If you discern that you want to jump onboard with this rhythm, you need to settle on an age-and-health-appropriate way of observing a fast. Not everybody should skip meals until sunset. Perhaps for you it could mean eating only fruits and vegetables for the day. Perhaps simply eating a light lunch will fit best. If you have questions about what would realistic and workable, ask your doctor. It would be great if health professionals all over the Western Suburbs were questioned by members of our church community about the physiological side of fasting and prayer!
#2) Fasting is not a diet plan. This rhythm isn’t about cutting calories, it’s about focused prayer.
#3) Fasting is not meant to impress God. God doesn’t respond differently when his people are hungry. Our acts of self-control don’t earn any spiritual brownie points. Fasting helps us remember what matters most. It helps us know in our hearts and stomachs that we prefer the will of God over a regular square meal. Hunger pangs transform into reminders to pray and into awareness of a deeper spiritual hunger.
I’ll be presenting this same invitation in a more thorough way in this Sunday’s sermon. There will also be an opportunity to say yes to the rhythm of fasting and feasting as part of the worship experience on January 7th.
My hope is that leaning into this rhythm will produce spiritual growth for us, unified prayer among us, and spiritual depth within us. Not a bad way to start the year!
Grace and Peace,