Head and Heart – Fasting Edition

The Lutheran Church and all of the heirs of the Reformation share two things in my opinion.  They share a bias toward the head expressed in doctrine and arguments over doctrine.  Because of that doctrine and because of the crisis that birthed them, they are constantly warning against “works righteousness” which means being afraid that saying “you should do this” will be taken as deserving of reward when it is done.  That led, over the centuries, to a complete loss of expressions of piety.  What did we lose as we lost those expressions of piety?  What we probably lost was the best pathway from the head to the heart.  Thinking about the sermon on the mount series, Jesus is never afraid in his practice section to say, you should do this.  The big three are the three practices of lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  These are the practices that as Joel says “rend the heart and not the garment (Joel 2:13)”.

Now if you look at me, you know that I am anything but a faster.  These days even the Roman Catholics seem to have lost the practice, or it has been reduced to less than half understood rules.  But, the Orthodox maintain a good understanding and regime of the spiritual practice of fasting.  The key understanding of fasting is that you are doing it to learn to exercise control over your desires and internalizing the Ash Wednesday truth that this body is dust and to dust it will return.  In old style language you are mortifying the flesh (Romans 8:13).  The Orthodox, at least externally in America, are immensely graceful in their practice of the fast.  It is encouraged in all, but it recognized that most will not be able to hold it.

This page gives a great run-down of the Orthodox fasting practice.  You can immediately see how incarnate the practice is embedded in time and space, and how tough it would be.  It should also be noted that the Orthodox practice a form of spiritual direction that is somewhat alien to protestants.  The protestant ethos is very much “the priesthood of all believers” taken to the extreme in that each believer is their own spiritual director.  (Yes, that is role of pastors, but would a Lutheran minister attempt to say and do what an Orthodox priest does without thinking he would quickly find himself without a parish.) For a people as drenched in scripture as the protestants of old were, that is not a bad tradition.  But we are not that people.  At least not right now.  The fasting rules in individual parishes and for individual people come under the spiritual direction of your priest or spiritual father.

We are not all eyes or hands, but we are all members of one body.   I like that image when I think of looking at other traditions, but also when contemplating faces within one parish.   We can learn things without saying that I must be a hand also.  We can also sometimes recognize what might be vestigial or missing limbs that should be present.







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