Lenten Fasting – Revisited
by Shenouda Girgis
Holding the dog hostage and setting the eagle free – Lenten fasting revisited.
Diving into the Lenten season, we find ourselves face to face with an ogre in the room… the infamous no fish, no meat, no milk, no nothing fast. And my first reaction to the impending despair, is to honey the thought with a dose of cognitive behavioural therapy.
Don’t worry, it’s short.
Wait, I can’t lie to myself, its darn long.
Ok, let’s be truthful. It’s not that bad, I always look back and it was like nothing.
At this point I’ll start clenching my fist with a couple of catchy one liners; “what doesn’t kill me, can only make me stronger.”
With our mind fixated on the thought of the seriousness of the situation, we gradually develop our own maxims that push us to fast with more austerity. We become completely focused on eating less to discipline the body and free the soul, tame the dog to guide the eagle. This works – for a time. Then what? After a couple of dodgy fasts, we reminisce on the glory days, where fasting meant so much and felt, like, sort of- liberating. We relabel the focus with the same maxim that we developed a couple of fasts ago, and at it headfirst we go again!
It doesn’t work so we keep trying to uphold this cheap one-line which we can so sternly stare down and focus our glassy eyes on. The one line we set on a pedestal is usually a couple of cheaply put together words that are easy to remember and generally guide the intended thought behind the veil of the words. The more we think, the more the words take on new meaning and the initial thought in all its integrity is lost. What is left is a few flat words that Google thesaurus would dutifully snicker at. With time, we find this one line sink real deep into our mind and sort of take over our whole being, a bit like a mantra. Fasting and non-fasting times, we are just naturally gravitating toward eating less. Fasting loses its meaning; food becomes the obstacle to our goal; if we could just eat less, we would glimpse the shadow of the days of honey and milk. And do you see the monster we’ve developed?
In the beginning we loved food. The joy and complete utter miracle of eating was fresh in our senses. The rich crunch through an apple sent our spirits soaring. We were thankful with a heart overflowing with bliss. We were positive, we were happy. Fasting was a hold on our diet; a tool to violent recollection and inner peace; a stern development of character; it was the perfect balance between the eagle and the dog. Not an assassination of the poor dog. Now we’ve hung the dog at the stake, and the eagle has flown high. We’ve convinced ourselves into thinking we could be free like an angel. But we’re not angels. We’re human, we are body and spirit. The balance between the two and the complete cohesion and fullness of the two is a bliss more glorious than angels. Sort of like the dog attached to the eagle like a kite in an innocent boy’s hands.