Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fasting: Why Not Give Up A Food

After air and water, food is the first, most basic thing we need in order to survive. Most of us love it, and well we should. Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a feast. In the developed world, most of us do not understand the power the word feast conveys. But if you’ve ever been hungry, you do.

When I was a girl there were locks on the food cupboards and refrigerator. Eating food was a crime except when, what and in the amount my foster-father determined. Until I began working at the age of twelve, I was hungry most of the time. Having a sick digestive tract made it all the worse because I often vomited and so lost what I ate. The only snack I was offered was raw apples. I just happen to be one of those rare people who are allergic to raw apples, they cause me to have asthma attacks. But my foster-father didn’t believe in allergies, at least not for me, so I gave my apple to one of my foster brothers. Vomiting meant I should “rest my stomach” so I was given two saltine crackers and a cup of clear broth.

You must understand, when I say I was hungry, I don’t mean I was politely interested in food, I was terribly, terribly hungry with a swollen stomach and thin limbs. I was very underweight, couldn’t sleep, had headaches all the time, was anaemic. I tried to feed myself by making pancakes by adding water to the flour and salt that were left out in canisters on the counter – without butter or oil, they just stuck to the pan in lumps. On those rare occasions that the cookie jar was left on the counter, I’d try to take just one or two so there wouldn’t be a noticeable diminution but always found myself sneaking back and eating as many as I could – once or twice, nearly the entire jar.* A few times I found the pantry unlocked and was mesmerized by all the food. It was beautiful and I always spent a few moments just looking at it and smelling it. You’d be amazed at how wonderful a raw potato smells or how delicious a hard green banana can be. Once I ate an entire tin of tomato aspic because, for some reason, I thought it would be the least missed item. But finding a jar of cookies left on the counter or the pantry unlocked were rare so I usually ate dry dog food. It was the only food kept in an unlocked cupboard. When my foster-mother found some in my pocket, I told her I was using it to train the dog. I even created an advertising campaign in my mind: Crispy Treats! Packed with nutrition and flavour! I could never come up with a jingle though.

When I did begin working, I spent a good amount of what I earned on food for myself and my foster-siblings. There were many lunch and ice cream cone treats. I bought snacks. And I ate – sausages on a roll, pastrami sandwiches, Hostess pies and Snowballs, candy bars, avocados, corn chips, bananas – food, amazing food. And, after my foster-mother died, for a year or so, when I was Cinderella, I was given the keys to the food cupboard and expected to keep the food safe. It is only now that I have begun to realize how horrid that was. The cruelty of giving me keys to the food and expecting me to remain hungry and to allow my foster-siblings to go hungry is unspeakable. I had reason to loathe them, to despise them, but not to starve them, just to wish they’d go away and leave me alone.

There was always plenty of food. Each day, we’d watch my foster-father eat whatever he wanted. He’d regularly bring home donuts and cake and all sorts of goodies for himself and his wife. But only small amounts of them trickled down to us. After my foster mother died, there were times when my foster-father would leave on business trips without having done the marketing. There would be no food in the house and we didn’t know when he would return. But the lack wasn’t a lack of money. It was a failure to use his money to feed us. When he left us alone, my foster brothers stole food and eventually, so did I. I went shopping. Put food in the basket just as if I was making a regular shopping trip and then bagged it in an unwatched corner. After bagging, I’d push the cart to the back and ask to use the lavatory. The manager would graciously watch my groceries. I’d spend the time in the toilet begging God not to be caught. Then I’d come out, thank the manager and take my groceries home.

I tell you this bit from my childhood to stimulate your own elemental needs and longings for food. Food is beautiful. Very beautiful. So why not give some favourite bit of beautiful food up? Giving up food is the usual meaning of the concept of fasting. It would be foolish, with no preparation, to go on a juice or water fast. But what about giving up one favourite food? Coffee or orange juice or your morning muffin or dessert? Those who are sick should be very careful about giving up food. Instead, we can perhaps substitute some food that has the same nutrition for a food that we love or forego a treat we don’t need. (I’ve decided to freeze the huge slab of chocolate I got for my birthday – I can wait 40 days to finish eating it.)

So that’s my suggestion for today. Plan to give up a food. Doing so is a way of clearing a path within our selves for the Lord. We are so separated from our bodies – there are too many of us who live in fantastic worlds generated in our own minds, worlds with no connection with the real world God has made. Such are the people who would deprive us of freedom. But we aren’t deprived. We can choose to give up some food to help us make way for the kind of hunger that we need. Because we do need to be hungry – for freedom, the freedom God has provided us by giving us citizenship in this country, the freedom to worship Him in holiness and righteousness. We must be as hungry for freedom as the pilgrims, as our founding fathers, as Christ Himself: Didn’t he die for our freedom?

[I]f my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

* Please don’t think for one moment that I was a good little girl and ‘fessed up to my thefts. When the shout rang out, “Who ate all the cookies!” I kept my mouth closed and allowed one of my foster siblings to take the blame and the punishment.

1 comment:

Warren said...

You lived through a scene worthy of a Charles Dickens novel.

The idea that any parent, foster or otherwise, could communicate such a complete lack of concern for whether you and your siblings were hungry that they would lock away the food to keep you from eating your fill, profoundly upsets me. It's evil. A hungry, sick child. Who could harden their hearts against such a vulnerable person. You may not think you were an innocent. But you were.

I realize it wasn't the point of you sharing that. But I can't help myself.