He was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days .In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over. The Devil said to him, “If you are God’s Son, order this stone to turn into bread.” But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone.’” Matthew 4 v 2 – 4
Yesterday we were introduced to the idea of “liminal space” – an in between space in time where life before will not return in the same way but we do not know yet what future life will look like either. In our next stage of the desert story of the temptation of Jesus, that has much to offer to us in our lockdown reflections, today, we look at hunger.
What would it be like to go without food for 40 days? Generally it’s believed that humans can survive without food for 30 – 40 days as long as they are kept hydrated (as is evident from many hunger strike cases) but the effect on their body and their mental health is very severe. Rather than asking how can people go without food for a long time, a better question in this or any spiritual context is why did Jesus, why do people, for religious and spiritual reasons go with out food; why do they fast?
From the 23rd of April to the 23rd of May, Muslims will be marking Ramadan where they will fast, reflect and pray in a similar way that Christians do during Lent. All the major world religions have an element of abstaining from the material to focus on the spiritual during the year. Although we will not give up food completely or even give something up as we might do in Lent during the lockdown, perhaps there is an opportunity for us to look at our relationship with food and drink. Could abstaining from some types of food or drink in these days help us focus on the spiritual?
Many cultures see an obsession with the physical world as a detriment to spirituality. By removing some of the draws of the physical world, one can return to a more focused, spiritual life which is why fasting is generally coupled with increased prayer.
Another reasons for a person to fast is purification. Contamination comes from exposure to toxic influences. Spiritually speaking, such things certainly do not need to be medically poisonous but even physically we know how we damage our bodies with an excess of certain things. Purification involves stripping away the outer layers of the self until you get to a more simple and pure state. Abstaining from food or certain types of food is one way of doing this.
The third reason people fast or change how they eat is a show of humility. Humans need a certain amount of sustenance to survive, but many of us eat well beyond that basic level. Fasting helps remind the faster of the hardships faced by the less fortunate and can encourage them to better appreciate what they have, including regular access to food. For this reason, fasting is also sometimes paired with alms-giving, giving to charity.
Now of course, you have to keep body and soul together and eating each day is an opportunity to look after ourselves, nourish ourselves and be thankful that we have enough. However, remember we are in a liminal space right now. In liminal space we sometimes need to not-do and not-perform according to our usual successful patterns. We need to be silent instead of speaking, experience emptiness instead of fullness, anonymity instead of persona, and pennilessness instead of plenty. In liminal space, we descend and intentionally do not come back out or up immediately. Like Jesus in the desert, it takes time but this experience can help us re enter the world with freedom and new, creative approaches to life.
What new approaches could you try with food and drink this week? Could you mindfully cook or bake something you have never made before? Could you have some meat or alcohol free days? Could you deliver food (safely distancing) to a neighbour or relative or pray for the developing work of local foodbanks at this time? Could you do without something you always have, even for a couple of days, in order to focus your body, mind and soul on something deeper that unfolds a truth about the Kingdom of God?
Today’s prayer to sing or listen to: