By Rachel Hart
Dear St. Thomas Mission family,
As I was thinking of and preparing what to say, I stumbled upon a sermon from St John Chrysostom on Fasting and ended up writing a small commentary on his sermon. You can read it if you’d like, but here’s the sparknotes version: you cannot fast from food if you have an eating disorder. And you are not practicing a ’lesser’ Lent in not fasting from food.
In fasting, we re-orient ourselves to God, see where our lives have been led by other things that battle to control us, and to surrender them to God. Anyone who has already taken the steps of recovery for their eating disorder is already walking that journey. Eating disorders disrupt the lives from those who suffer from them by obsessing over food. Recovery from an eating disorder reclaims control in a healthy mind. What a ‘healed’ person practices in their fast, the individual with an eating disorder practices daily: you do not have control over me, God is the source of my life and health.
So how do you practice Lent if you’re not fasting from food? Chyrsostom writes:
“Because he neither requires the abstinence from foods, neither that the fast take place for the simple sake of fasting, neither is its aim that we remain with empty stomachs, but that we fast to offer our entire selves to the dedication of spiritual things, having distanced ourselves from secular things.…For there exist, there really exist, ways which are even more important than abstinence from food which can open the gates which lead to God with boldness. He, therefore, who eats and cannot fast, let him display richer almsgiving, let him pray more, let him have a more intense desire to hear divine words…Let him become reconciled with his enemies; let him distance from his soul every resentment. If he wants to accomplish these things, then he has done the true fast, which is what the Lord asks of us more than anything else.”
So as we approach Great Lent this year, let me encourage you. If you are able, fast with great sincerity, seeking the good of your neighbor and love of God. If, however, like me, there is fundamental healing needing to take place still, be gracious with yourself. Commit yourself to prayer. Give generous in service as you are able. This is a communal practice we are entering into, so share with each other your burdens. May this season of prayer and lament cultivate a desire for peace and justice in the world. And may this season of fasting help foster a deeper craving within you for Christ.