Friday, February 29, 2008

Fasting or Starving?

The Associated Press has a story about a teenager from Maine who lost 60 pounds while being an exchange student in Egypt for a year. He was living with Coptic Christians, who, according to the story, fast for more than 200 days a year. The young man described the experience not as culture class, "Rather he said, it reflected mean and stingy treatment by his host family and a language barrier that made it difficult to communicate."

I find this disturbing on many levels, but perhaps most troublesome is that this fasting regimen is, I assume, connected to a strive for holiness. And yet it contributed to the teen's impression that they were mean and stingy.

Reading this durring the season of Lent causes me to reflect on our fasting practices. Of course, far from fasting 200 days a year, I think most of us in the US struggle to make it 40 days fasting only specific foods or occasional meals. But does fasting anything at all send a message that we are a stingy, strict, and maybe even an unhappy people? Maybe this is why in the Book of Matthew Jesus makes it clear that fasting should be done in such a way that no one knows that you are doing it.

How do you talk about fasting with youth who are surrounded by the lie that food is all about weight? I think the prevailing thought among teens is that ating food causes weight gain, and not eating it is dieting. Isn't there much more to our food practices than how much we weigh?

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Wow - that's a really interesting story...

I tried fasting in college in preparation for GC with a friend (the Bishops had issued a call to fasting), and we had a great time doing it - because we'd have pizza and snacks as soon as our time was up!

I think you are right though that it is hard for young people with so many body issues to differentiate motives for fasting without some good education about the spiritual practice.