Mary Fletcher was the first woman John Wesley permitted to preach in the 1770s. Her journals, diaries, and letters embody the largest collection of Methodist papers in existence with the sole exception of John Wesley’s papers. There are times I’ve wondered if a Lenten fast is nullified by Easter feasting. But in reading Mary Fletcher’s journals, noting the ebb and flow with which she made entries, I understood her seasons of profuse writing were not negated by the seasons of terseness.
Lent brings with it a unique dynamic that emphasizes both the individual and the communal nature of our life together.
Lent is a season of clarity. We already sit among the ashes. We already sit in cities made in our own image.
We fast to clear away the noise and the pain and the hurt. We fast to tune our hearts to his grace. We fast, even in the midst of our pain and brokenness, not to be torn down.
No, we fast to be built up. To be reminded of what matters and where life is found. We fast so that our ears can properly hear that voice of God, calling out to us.
In seasons when my faith has faltered, I can invariably point to a fumbled prayer life. Prayer empowers and gives vision; the lack of it weakens trust and causes me to wander.
How does fasting bring about wholeness?
For Wesley, the purpose of fasting was not to lose weight or to be more physically healthy. Wesley believed fasting was crucial for the spiritual health of Jesus’ disciples.
The rise of the internet has created a perfect storm for growing numbers of men to become addicted. It is available. It is anonymous. I suspect no other generation of men – or their pastors – had such a collision of forces that are the same time both irresistible and destructive.
Fasting is more than denying ourselves food. It is choosing to act out, by temporarily denying ourselves food, that we do not live by bread alone. We are completely dependent upon God, and we deliberately choose voluntary weakness. We become identifiably humble in the face of the problems with which we are dealing. We admit to each other, and primarily to God: only you can get us through this “mess.”
Like a tide that ebbs and flows upon a shore, the disciplines are like waves, ever-present with the rising and falling of the water. Discipleship is a life-long endeavor, regularly punctuated by the fasts and feasts we keep, consistently renewing and transforming us so we might be worthy vessels to offer the life giving water of Christ to a parched and weary world.