What follows were my thoughts and experiences about fasting last year. I’ll write next week about how my television fast from last year turned out and how I’m fasting this year. Be sure to tune in!
The season of Lent is again upon us. I personally am glad when the ridiculousness of Fasching – the climax of which is celebrated in parts of Germany the last four days before Ash Wednesday – is over and we can again turn our attentions to other things besides jelly-filled donuts and costumes. Lent provides a specific amount of days to turn inwards, when we can be examining and questioning our preparedness to follow Jesus’ call to discipleship. That sounds easy enough, but in reality we should be continually asking ourselves if we are able to accept the cost of discipleship: being cast-out and alone, being denied, death. It is traditionally a quiet time, which is often immediately equated with seriousness. Yes, Lent can be a serious time, but I am of the opinion is does not have to be, although that is a discussion for another time.
For me fasting during Lent is a chance to be released from some thing that has a hold on me. That thing can be anything from sugar to wine to television. And I think it is possible to miss the essence of fasting when every year the same vice is chosen, without even considering what all binds me in my day to day.
When Patrick asked if I was going to fast this year, I shrugged my shoulders and answered, “I haven’t really thought about it yet.” This was, of course, on Tuesday, the very last day before Lent was to begin. Patrick has decided to again fast this year from extra snacking, especially sweet things and potato chips in the evening. I briefly considered fasting those things again with him this year, but then I don’t really feel sugar has a hold on me. I might eat one sweet thing a day, but I don’t have to. I am not reliant upon it to keep my spirits up. So I ditched that idea with the conviction, I might as well not fast at all rather than fasting something that won’t really bring a release.
That evening as I lay in bed, I tried to get still within and then asked into that stillness, “What should I be fasting?” Almost immediately the thought came to mind, “Television.” My response? “Oh brother.” Oh brother because watching television in the evening is so comfortable. Oh brother because watching television is effortless; I just have to sit there and allow myself to be fed with images, which often seems perfect after a long day. Oh brother because I knew it would affect Patrick as well. If he chose to watch TV, I would be “forced” to leave, and not only miss out on Patrick’s companionship, but also the warm and cozy fire.
But despite my moaning and groaning, I was quite aware that this indeed would need to be my choice, if in fact I decided to commit. Fasting, I think, is often equated with suffering. And although “suffering” is much too strong a word for what giving up on TV for a brief period would entail, it certainly would bring inconveniences with it. However, I also believe fasting can bring opportunities with it, in this case for more study and prayer. Not only should we be using this time to become aware of something that retrains us and working at breaking free from it, but also using the extra time to dig deeper into the examination process I first talked about. And let’s be real honest: my intentions are not all pure. I too am excited at the thought of finally getting some reading done, diving into all of those gorgeous books lined up, which daily call my name.
The whole next day I continued asking myself if I really wanted (and could) commit to this fasting. And after every question the answer came back as a non-committal shoulder shrugging, eye-rolling “meh.” I knew what was going on without wanting to admit it: I didn’t want to go through with this, even if I should. But I also knew I would most likely do it, even while dragging my feet the whole way.
That evening Patrick asked again if I had thought more about fasting. Begrudgingly I admitted I had and said with a knowing smile, “television”. I properly guessed Patrick’s response of surprise and added to it by saying, “But I’m not really sure I want to do it.”
“Why not?” he asked with eyebrows still raised.
“Oh, I just don’t know. And it will affect you too, you know? I’ll have to leave if you decide to watch. It’s almost like you’ll have to fast television too.” Perhaps I was secretly hoping he would release me, convince me it wouldn’t be worth the effort (as if that would have been hard!), and he didn’t want to join me.
“Huh, okay,” he said instead.
“I still get to watch the news,” I added, as if sitting at a business meeting, trying to squeeze the best out of a bad deal. “Really, you want to do this television fasting?”
“We’ll manage,” Patrick answered with a grin.
I’m still not completely committed. After being away over the weekend, exhausted from two very late nights, I couldn’t imagine doing anything that evening except lying on the couch while watching Tatort.
“I’ve heard that Sundays can be a break from fasting,” Patrick said nonchalantly after hearing my lament.
“Really?” I immediately brightened up a bit. “That would be cool.” I paused. “But wouldn’t that be cheating?”
Although I despise cheating, I wasn’t really worried about myself since I had only sort of half-committed to my fast. I was more worried about what Patrick would think. But he offered me this peace offering, and I willingly accepted.
As it turns out, Patrick was correct about Sundays not being included during the fasting season. On the website Catholicism.about.com I discovered the answer, in very simplified form. Every Sunday, not just Easter Sunday, is considered a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. In the Catholic Church (from whom we have, mostly unknowingly by a large majority of the non-Catholic population, inherited SO many traditions) doing penance in any form, including fasting, was not allowed on any given Sunday, which held for the Sundays during Lent as well.
Therefore, when the Church expanded the period of fasting and prayer in preparation for Easter from a few days to 40 days (to mirror Christ’s fasting in the desert, before He began His public ministry), Sundays could not be included in the count. Thus, in order for Lent to include 40 days on which fasting could occur, it had to be expanded to six full weeks (with six days of fasting in each week) plus four extra days—Ash Wednesday and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that follow it. Six times six is thirty-six, plus four equals forty. And that’s how we arrive at the 40 days of Lent!
The rhythm of my week is defined by many things: getting out the door every morning at 8:00 so Fenja will be on time for school; serving lunch by an appropriate lunch time; the kids’ afternoon activities; our evening activities and TELEVISION programs. On Sundays, as we know, is Tatort; on Mondays comes nothing worth watching; on Tuesday we enjoy watching Heute Journal (the news) after choir and then either 37 Grad or Neues aus der Anstalt; Wednesdays often is a toss-up, sometimes there’s a good TV film, sometimes it’s bad; there is nothing good on Thursdays; and then comes Friday. Friday is my favorite evening (along with Sunday) because Patrick is often away playing soccer, and I can watch with a glass of red wine in hand the terrible, but enjoyable lawyer/police/investigation shows that come, my favorite being SOKO Leipzig. When Patrick comes home, I’m usually watching the news, after which we watch together Heute-Show, a satire of current events. Aspekte, a show about culture, comes after that, and although really it’s much too late, we end up watching it anyway because it’s just so interesting. Saturday evenings we usually end up watching some stupid game show.
Obviously there have been some major holes ripped into the fabric of my daily life during this fast. Allowing these necessary holes to become visible is the first step in this fasting process. Ironically enough the past weeks and the ones to come have been so full of evening activities (Monday was the only evening when I did NOT have something going on) that I’ve barely missed my usual TV programming. Mostly I just desire staying at home in front of the warm fire. I could care less if the TV is on or not.
But when I did find a bit of time near the end of last week, did I choose something which would strengthen and encourage me in my walk of faith? Of course not! I chose a book given to me by a fellow BBC (my fabulous book club) member. The book is fluff, sort of giving one a peek-in on a weekend after which most people would have plenty to gossip about. I knew the book would be like that and by the end, I was constantly reading just to finish it, so I could finally move on to other things. (No, I can’t stop in the middle of a book. Of all the bad books I have read in my life, I have put one aside maybe one or two times.)
It’s not that I have a big problem with reading fluff books – I try not to do it too often (and really, who would want to?), but in a way, I feel it’s an opportunity to keep up on current books, which I also find interesting. The point is that fasting should be a time, in my opinion, where we are moving consciously through the day, discovering where we are bound and moving through them by diving deeper into our studies. It sounds so pious, doesn’t it? Pious: an undervalued and misunderstood word, but not incorrect. I wish I could be more devout in my fasting in that I could find, for example, the energy to dive into a more difficult book to read in the evening, instead of “relaxing” with fluff. Maybe facing this dilemma and in some way coming to terms with it is part of this exercise in fasting.