A week has come and gone in Lent. Though I have made an effort to gear my Lenten fast more toward repurposing than restricting, I found this recent post by Fr. Stephen Freeman tremendously edifying. Fr. Freeman–whose serves the Orthodox Church (OCA) in Oak Ridge, TN–reflects on the spiritual significance of fasting using as a launching point his first Orthodox-style fast during his time as an Anglican. Since I am functionally a crypto-Orthodox Protestant myself, the story struck a special chord in my heart.
Beyond that personal affinity, this observation about the effects of zero gravity seemed to me an especially penetrating metaphor for the importance of fasting (not merely during Lent):
It is said that astronauts, after spending a prolonged time in space, have lingering effects of zero-gravity. Our bodies are made for gravity and require its constant pull for everything from muscle tone to bone density. But we now live in situations in which many forms of natural “gravity” have been reduced or removed. What effect does the long-term ability to have almost any food at any time of year have on the human body? As someone who has spent the better part of my life at a desk, I can attest to the effect of a sedentary existence….
In 2000, the average American ate 180 pounds of meat a year (and 15 pounds of fish and shellfish). That was roughly a third more than in 1959. Scarcity is not an issue in our diet. Our abundance is simply “not real,” and the environment frequently shows the marks of the artificial nature of our food supply. But we have no way of studying what is going on with our souls. What I know to be true is that – as goes the body – so goes the soul. Those who engage the world as consumer are being consumed by the world to an equal measure.
The declaration that our abundance is not real is troublingly accurate. In fact, I don’t think Fr. Freeman need have bothered with the quotation marks. What we have is not an abundance of resource but an abundance of consumptive avarice. It is what William Cronon called an “ecological contradiction”–the use of finite resources as if they were infinite–and what Christians might more simply call sin. Our choice to continue to live in creation as if our actions had no repercussions reflects the kind of moral apathy that seasons of penance and fasting are intended to force us to confront.
It is easy for us to see how to choice to abstain has moral worth, but when Lent is over let’s not forget that choices about how we consume also echo out into our moral universe and reverberate in our soul. The artificial “gravity” we’ve introduced into our lives by fasting will disappear, but it pays to remember that it is the weightlessness not the gravity that is unnatural.