Fasting and feasting has long been a part of all the sane religions of the world. YHWH kept the Jews busy with feasting and fasting all the year long, both to remember and to celebrate His work among them and their identity as His people. The Muslim calendar holds its two festivals in lunar equilibrium, keeping a balance not unlike the finely-tuned centripetal motion with which the moon orbits our earth. The Greeks, Romans, and various pagan cults of the world each have acknowledged something of the sanity of the rhythmic motion between celebration and mortification; and the Christian Church, having already celebrated Fat Tuesday, is quite solidly begun upon its Lenten fast, even while eyeing Resurrection Sunday with an ever greater longing—to say nothing of growling stomachs.
It is the modern, secular man who has settled into an unholy and insane destruction of food through dieting. It is modern materialism, or perhaps only reductionism, that describes food as merely fuel for the body and presumes that, whatever life might be, it is not something worth celebrating in the way that most men have always celebrated—with a cornucopia of victuals and a liberality of drink. Such a viewpoint not only runs the risk of dehumanizing mankind and destroying civilization, it will most certainly conclude in tragedy: men will never again relish the simple yet monumental achievement of a Dutch baby browning in the oven while the family gathers in anticipation around the breakfast table on a Sunday morning.
Fasting in general, and Lent in particular, is the key by which men can remain sane in their relationship to food. There are two types of people who abuse food—those who love it in all its particularities and flavors so much that they either eat it in excess or not at all, and those who see food merely as a means to an end, eating with a morbid monotony and guilt punctuated only by unrestrained orgies of glut. Contra modern dieting fads, the Christian takes food and pleasure seriously enough to recognize that the best way to overcome inordinate desires for either is to cut them off altogether, rather than coaxing and dallying with poor imitations that will never satisfy a true soul and will only dull the senses.
Christians have always understood fasting to be an exercise one enters into in order to curb unlawful appetites and to deal with personal or corporate sin. It has never seriously been suggested as a permanent way of life—a way of life that would endure from this one and into the next. It is only for a time and for a purpose, allowing them to acknowledge the goodness of food, even while guarding them from ever-present lusts and idolatry.
Fasting frees men so they can hear the symphony of the soups and salads, the meats, sauces, butter, sugar, and eggs. As Father Robert Cappon so masterfully puts it in his culinary reflection:
Food these days is often identified as the enemy. Butter, salt, sugar, eggs are all out to get you. And yet at our best we know better. Butter is . . . well, butter: it glorifies almost everything it touches. Salt is the sovereign perfecter of all flavors. Eggs are, pure and simple, one of the wonders of the world. And if you put them all together, you get not sudden death, but Hollandaise—which in its own way is not one bit less a marvel than the Gothic arch, the computer chip, or a Bach fugue. Food, like all other triumphs of human nature, is evidence of civilization—of that priestly gift by which we lift the whole world into the exchanges of the Ultimate City, which even God himself longs to see it become.”
Fasting prepares us for feasting, and feasting prepares us for heaven.
This Lenten season fast, and fast strenuously but not out of religious compunction or as some sort of holy motivation for counting calories. Fast so that you see your weakness…and so that you can see the glorious once and future provision of God in a supper, a marriage supper with the Lamb!