It started with a BBC ‘Horizon’ programme in August on ways to avoid late-middle-age spread affecting your health and life expectancy, and in particular how ‘fasting’ can help. The city with the fattest people in
runs a slimming programme based on eat-what-you-like every other day, and almost nothing every other day – with dramatic results. Other ‘fasting’ regimes are on the increase, and (crucially) have shown that it isn’t just about losing the fat. It seems that when the body stops burning ‘intake’ and starting burning stored fat instead, it also stops creating new cells and focuses on repairing existing ones. Apparently one of the problems of modern Western food affluence is that our constant intake prevents the body going into ‘repair mode’ – a bit like running your car constantly without ever putting it into the garage for a service. Thus perhaps the greater incidence of cancers because damaged cells have gone un-fixed. The TV reporter, trying to resolve his own weight and health issues, opted for a programme where you ‘fast’ (no more than 500 calories) twice a week. Ah! Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, strict Jews in Jesus’ day. Some wisdom there we have since forgotten (although clearly the concomitant self-righteousness that Jesus criticised is not to be emulated…). America
That is how one Sunday in late August I came to be fasting (perhaps for me it will only be once a week…). It felt odd because of course Sunday is a feast day in Christian thinking. In fact even Sundays in Lent are feast days (too many days in Lent otherwise – count them if you don’t believe me). So feast days trump fast days, because feasting is the language of celebration and well-being – in a world where hunger was never far from anyone’s door, and experienced often enough to remind people. And of course, often enough to repair all those damaged cells. But in a world of constant plenty, of continuous calories, perhaps there is a place for celebration by fasting – low calorie days which punctuate the relentless feast and allow our whole selves – mind, spirit and body – to take the opportunity to withdraw and repair.
They say that one consistent feature of fresh expressions of church today is that we do (good) food. There is a lot to be said for this as an expression of Christian hospitality and generosity. But in an age of abundance and all the health problems that go with it, perhaps there should also be space for some kind of ‘happy fasting’, knowing we are giving our bodies’ God-given mechanisms a chance, and rejoicing that Christ sets us free from the constant pressure to eat.