Monday, March 14, 2011


For Lent, three of us girls plus my boyfriend all decided to try something. We decided to take the idea of fasting for Ramadan and apply it to Lent (one of my girl friends was raised by both a Catholic mother and Muslim father). We decided to wait till after the break (wanting to enjoy meals with families) so today is day one. I had done a Catholic fast for Ash Wednesday (one full meal, two lesser meals, plus water) and abstained from meat on Friday but I wanted to see what it would be like to go without food for thirteen hours. So, with a couple modifications (no fasting on Sundays, as they're feast days for Catholics, and no forgoing water, as I have had health issues), I started.

It doesn't feel too hard for the first couple of hours. I start feeling a bit hungry, but it's easy to ignore. I feel a bit slower but in a good way. I feel I can take moments at a leisurely pace and I feel peaceful, spiritual. I realize that I don't need to constantly be snacking on something. I tend to eat a lot, many times out of sheer boredom, the need to have something in my hands, or because there's a lot of food and I don't want to waste it. At the same time, I feel this inability to master my appetite. Part of it comes from always being told I was too skinny and feeling the need to prove that I'm not an anorexic (that stuff stays with you when you're a little kid). Another part is I just love food. So this kind of freedom has proven I can master my desires.

After awhile, it hurts. It's hard to concentrate. My stomach gnaws at me. Everything feels tedious and time feels like it takes forever. I want nothing more than for the sun to go down right now. I said a rosary and it felt boring to me. It bugs me that I have to wait about three hours from now before I can break fast. On top of it, I really have to focus on homework. At the same time, I don't want people to see grouchy, hungry Katie. I want them to see a happy Katie, one who genuinely is trying to become a better person.

That's when I realized that this is the point. The whole point of fasting is that it's painful and challenging. The challenge is, are you going to master your hunger? Or, will you let it master you instead? Will you give in to the temptation to snack? Or will you hold out just a bit longer, saying a prayer for strength and focusing your mind on other things?

People may think I'm crazy for doing something that seems so extreme, even in the eyes of other devout, practicing Catholics I know. On the other hand, is it really that crazy? We live in a society where people are slaves to their desires. People overeat, drink too much, have promiscuous sex, consume houses, cars, shoes and other things they can't even afford, and they forget about other people. We don't even know whether the people who make our products earn a living wage, the people we sleep with are looking for something deeper, or whether the food we eat is even beneficial to our bodies. And the thing is, we don't even care. It's all about us.

To me, it's especially poignant because my career goals all have to do with ending poverty and fighting for human rights. How can I fight for justice and work to end those things that enslave others when I can't even free myself? How can I work for change in this world when I can't even change myself.

Fasting does not automatically make you a better person. Rather, it's the attitude that brings it out. If you can beat the obstacles of fasting, you can fight other urges that are much more destructive. If you can take it as a time to slow down and clear your mind of all that isn't necessary at that moment, you will be able to think clearly when it counts, when you are already nourished. If you can take it as a time to be grateful for food, especially when so many of the world go hungry, you'll be more sympathetic to the plight of those who have little.

Fasting is not fun. It's not sexy. It's not that glorious. Yet I find it to be a necessary ingredient to our humanity. Even if you cannot fast from food, you can fast from something else (Facebook, chocolate, sex, etc). It's hard to resist temptations. At the same time, becoming masters of those temptations is how we become better people.

What would it look like if everyone fasted for one day? What would it look like if we not only fasted from material things, but also fasted from our negative actions? What would humanity look like if we did that?

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