Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

February 10, 2010

Lenten Fasts and Our Gym – For What Reason Do We Fast?

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , — frandrewrowell @ 2:33 pm

We quickly approach Lent, the 40-day season in the Church’s yearly recitation of the grand arc of God’s salvation story where we “go into the desert with Israel and with Jesus.” For 40 days, a period meant to echo Israel’s 40 years of desert living and Christ’s 40 days of desert temptation, we surrender many things that give us pleasure. We simplify our lives through abstention from some foods, some activities. We alter some of the normal patterns of our lives, praying more fervently, adding some additional time with the poor and downtrodden, remembering God’s command to us to find Him amongst the orphan, widow, alien and oppressed.

At the end of these forty days of reflection and contemplation, of abstention and preparation, we celebrate with loud shouts and the ringing of bells the “joy that comes in the morning” – the great Vigil of Easter where God’s salvation plan reaches its culmination, brought to dazzling light as we remember Christ’s resurrection from the dead. One of my favorite moments of every year is the eating of chocolate-covered strawberries and the drinking of a glass of champagne on Holy Saturday night/the wee hours of Easter Sunday morning. My tongue and my stomach get to tell my brain that joy has come, that the period of mourning and reflection has been cast aside! Easter becomes a full-body exercise, not just something I know in my brain or feel in my heart – my whole, unified self gets to join in the joy! The new light has dawned and the Church celebrates “Bright Week,” a week where NO FASTING is allowed AT ALL, because who in their right mind would fast when the Bridegroom in all His glory has come to feast with us?!

For most of the Church – both East and West – Lent is primarily practiced as a season of fasting. Accordingly, my Crossfit buddies are preparing to buckle down for Lent and get even more serious about their paleo/primal diets. In other words, they are going to do none of the regular “cheating” we all do. The chatter in the gym is that some are going from primal (roughly paleo + dairy) to full paleo by shedding dairy from their diets. Others have sworn that sugar will not pass their lips until Easter. These people are serious.

But are we being serious about the right things? For some of us, it’s hard to imagine becoming more serious about our diets. Some in our gym have commented that, in the quest for the “perfect” diet, food has become only fuel for the next lifting of the next weight. The pleasure that comes from food and drink has largely leaked out of some of our lives. This can’t be God’s plan for us. Indeed, the constant conversation we have about what we are or aren’t eating, the contempt we sometimes express over the lack of commitment some in the gym have to our espoused dietary strictures….all of it has become a bit obsessive and I keep wondering if we’ve left any conversation about the joy of food out of our conversation. Indeed, if we find no joy in food during the other 325 days of the year, what spiritual traction could possibly be gained by becoming marginally more miserable during Lent?

I’m worried. For one thing, I want us to be cautious about utilizing a holy season as the means to further worship the idol of “elite fitness and perfect diet.” This season is not about losing a few pounds or getting more sleep or reading more books and watching less media for the sake of the advantages that might accrue through such alterations to our normal patterns. It’s about quieting our hearts, shedding some distractions, reminding ourselves physically of the deep spiritual need we have for the dawning of redeemed history through the Resurrection.

For another thing, I’m worried that the joyous feast I’m planning for the gym on Easter Vigil night, the feast that is supposed to be joyous, is going to be a failure because we’ve forgotten how to find joy in our food! For that feast to be spiritually full, it cannot be a time for us to feel guilty because we find ourselves neglecting the idol of perfect diet that sits so prominently in our gym. I seem to remember Jesus turning 150 gallons of water into wine for a wedding…I hate to think about FAHBG folks standing alongside that celebration with our arms folded, calculating how much of that alcohol was going to convert to unhealthy carbs in our digestive tracks….I’d want us to join in the dancing joy of that wedding feast because surely the joy of the Christ’s presence outweighs the worries we have of body shape and image and supposed perfection.

I’m pondering writing a post discussing the potential spiritual benefit of having all of us add three Twinkies a day to our diet for Lent, such that we will only be allowed to return to Paleo when, in the Church year, Easter season dawns with all of its joy. That’d be a way to kick the idol of fitness and diet to the curb. Not sure how much theological traction I could get out of that since, to be clear, I think we ARE doing holy activities as we try to purify our bodies through better eating and the care for creation that may come through eating grass-fed beef and local vegetables. But we must be careful to not become Pharisees along the way, neglecting the joy of being in the midst of the One for whom all of this obedience is supposedly being done – being more in love with the rules than the One towards Whom the rules are supposed to be pointing our hearts.

Let me say this again so that we don’t miss it:

We need to care for our bodies by eating well and exercising for one purpose and one purpose only – so that we are better equipped to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

If we do it for any other reason, then we are merely worshipping our own physical form, caring for it for the sake of it, not the One who made it and redeemed it for Himself.

So here comes Lent. By all means, go crazy paleo….but do it to get ready for the revelation of the grandest chapter in God’s unrelenting plan to reconcile all things to Himself through Christ, not to make yourself more beautiful or more proud of your disciplined life. Bright Week better add a few pounds to our waistlines and we better not complain about it. I’m already stocking up the Cocoa Pebbles and whole milk.


  1. Great post, Andrew!

    You said many things that needed to be said.

    I have been asking some of the same questions, as I notice myself becoming slightly less joyful recently, corresponding with the removal of milk from our diet. It’s not that bad really, but somehow, it feels like the last straw, and I just want to stop caring about food anymore.

    But then I’m caught in the double bind: if I eat like crap, I feel like crap. If I were to eat two twinkies, I would be less able to work for the kingdom because I would feel nauseated, dehydrated, and have a headache for the rest of the day. We still cheat all the time, and it’s delightful, but I almost always feel crappy afterward, and not from guilt.

    All the body image, anti-establishment, environmental concerns aside, I can’t escape the fact that I feel better when I eat primal.

    So, the primary reason I try to eat primal is really health. I want to keep my body in the best condition I can so I can serve the kingdom as fully as possible for as long as possible, and so I can feel good doing it. But is living longer worth it if I enjoy each day a little less?

    But then I wonder, isn’t this just evidence of our skewed relationship with food in this culture? If I hadn’t grown up depending on Cheerios and pizza as sources of happiness, I wouldn’t be having this problem. Maybe this angst I feel about giving up all my formerly favorite foods is exactly what I need to refocus my priorities. I should be getting my joy from Christ, not a bowl of cereal.

    So does celebrating the risen Christ necessarily have to involve cocoa pebbles and pancakes?

    Now the milk, however, sounds nearly divine…

    Comment by Mara — February 10, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

    • Great informative post, and great reply. Good dialogue, that is worth continuing. For me the biggest motivator is to be here as long as I can for the ones I love.

      Comment by Joan — February 11, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  2. Another thought I had this weekend is that I don’t see a problem with using Lent to consciously rely on God to help us do something we have been unable to do without that reliance. What I mean is, if we’ve been trying to eat paleo for months but have not been succeeding very well, it seems entirely good and correct to me to seize Lent as a chance to change our perspective on how we motivate ourselves to eat well by looking to God for the ability to stay disciplined and become moreso. Isn’t Lent ultimately about learning to rely more on God and less on earthly delights and motivators? So it seems to me that going further into paleo land for Lent is just fine, as long as we have the proper spiritual orientation.


    Comment by Mara — February 15, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    • I think you’re on to something here Mara. If we are to go back to what JC said, as we should, isn’t it all ultimately about the condition of the heart? I think that is what Andrew was getting at, that yes we should go paleo crazy and continue to workout, ect. BUT, we have to have as our constant reminder the fact that our lives are not our own and setting anything (diet, workouts, computers, iPhones) in the place of God is wrong.

      Its all about the heart. Kinda like chronic cardio!!

      Comment by Micah Vandegrift — February 18, 2010 @ 8:46 am

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