I had every intention of writing a clean, coherent reflection on the fast I recently participated in with many others in solidarity with Witness Against Torture's recent campaign in DC. However, I cannot seem to pull myself together and really confront myself with the task of writing. What follows then is a compromise, the reflections jotted in my journal over the course of the past couple of weeks that relate what I was thinking and feeling. I primarily included thoughts that relate directly to the fast but included too impressions that at first glance have nothing to do with the fast's intentions but that surfaced from my personal experience of it:
Day one of the fast went smoothly enough. I felt that what was most difficult was not eating. That is to say, not the hunger itself, but missing out on the action, the ritual. I did feel a little fuzzy and weakened but in good spirits.
Day two begins. I just woke up to my 6:30 a.m. alarm, pressed snooze and could not fall back to sleep. I was very nauseous, feeling strange and uncomfortable. Prayer came for those who wake this way every morning, and also for those of us who create and allow circumstances that lead to such conditions of living. I stood up and had difficulty gaining my balance. I took a sip of water then went quickly to the bathroom where I sat on the floor and vomited liquid into the toilet. My skin was even paler than usual and I was sweating and trembling. It frightens me a bit that I could react this way after only one day without solid food. Now I feel a bit better, though still managing a shakiness. I feel very weak, still a little nauseous and quite unsure of what to do. Yesterday, I was uncharacteristically cold as well.
Day two of the fast ended far better than it began. In the morning, I made myself a smoothie with a whole banana and walnuts and flax seed which did a good deal towards returning me to strength…I made a really delicious looking savory pie for Anne and put a piece for myself in the freezer. Cooking without eating my craft as I create it requires some discipline and is yet another reminder of how impulsively I tend to act; certainly with regard to food, but with other things as well…It was good to hear from the others why and how they are fasting and I learned that I am not the only one supplementing my juice and water with more substantive things, like a smoothie.
A terrible earthquake shattered Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a few days ago. The news grows worse daily as journalists are able to gain access and report in more detail…The destruction is more than I can imagine. Aid is difficult because there are virtually no structures remaining in which to store supplies, let alone house people. Men, women and children are dying from minor injuries because they lack the basic tenets of survival—food, water, shelter—and because there are so many more people that need treatment than there are doctors who can provide it…Walking home from the bank with Isaac in tow, my back ached and I moved slow. When we look critically at a mother who seems unresponsive to her child—is she hungry? When we look down on a man for being lazy or lethargic—is he hungry? When we encounter people who seem confused or detached—are they hungry? When a child struggles to keep up with studies, or when that child ceases to struggle—is it because he or she is hungry?
My menstrual cycle began today and I was advised by some friends that I should eat because of this. Transitioning out of the fast feels like betraying those who continue and abandoning those who suffer. I ate a piece of bread tonight.
Prayed the rosary…Friday’s mysteries were “sorrowful” and could not have been more appropriate as I offered the prayer with intentions for the broken people in Haiti and those in the prison at Guantanamo. I imagined Jesus praying in anguish for them, bleeding before God, as he did for himself in the garden (as he does for those suffering both as their intercessor, and because they are him, incarnations of Christ in this world), while we his disciples sleep; or betray (with a kiss?). I imagined Christ’s presence in them as they are forced to carry an unjust cross, as they are beaten and mocked; mother’s watch in helpless agony, parents separated from children. Christ in them. Christ in me. All One. I prayed the Our Father and came to the supplication, “give us this day our daily bread,” and felt my small voice was the mouthpiece for millions. I could almost feel them, hear them, “give us this day our daily bread…(please, we are hungry!)” Especially poignant because I had not yet eaten. May my feast of a slice of bread tonight be a symbol of what is soon to come for all who hunger! Let me eat as an act of hope.
…One of the primary challenges of fasting is how it inhibits me socially—eating is such a relational experience. I miss sharing meals with my roommate, bringing a dish to a friend’s house, going out for dinner.
…Prayed the rosary up to the third mystery this evening. Today was “Joyful” mysteries and even with these I could feel the alignment with my intentions. I kept thinking of the seemingly impossible claim God made to Mary which she accepted with obedience and hope saying, “Let it be as you have said,” and I thought that if we are willing to be obedient vessels of hope, living out the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…” then it will be. And that hope came to us in the form of a small, unknown child, with a long journey ahead.
…Throughout mass, I was preoccupied with the thought that I wanted so much to embrace and be included in the sacraments, but I don’t feel nearly ready to accept and profess the whole doctrine of the Catholic church, nor do I think any amount of time or study will change that. I believe in God as mystery, intrinsic and transcendent. I believe in God as ineffable. God cannot be tied down with words, however many one might try to pile on (and the church does pile them on!). Yet, I still want the connection, the community, the signs and symbols and in many cases the traditions and teachings…
…I called Pop and had a nice long chat with him and Mom. He gave me some anecdotes about fasts (he has done three forty day fasts and numerous shorter ones):
“If you are driving down the road and see a billboard for Kentucky Fried Chicken and think, ‘man, I could go for some of that!’ then you have not been fasting long enough. If, some time later you pass the same sign and think, ‘man, I could not eat that, all that grease and junk would tear me up,’ then you have not been fasting long enough. If you pass by that same sign again and think, ‘JUST LET ME EAT THE PAPER!’ then you have probably fasted long enough.”
A quiet day. Revisited yoga, finally, followed by some mediation, prayer and reading of scripture. Sitting and studying the contents of my RCIA binder, listening to itunes and sipping coffee (accepting my empty stomach), I don’t know when I have last felt so much myself…a song, “Sing with the Sailors” comes on and my heart beat quickens. The feeling, I find, is not unlike what I experience when I catch a glimpse of the mystery of God and the intimate love we share; the indwelling of Christ. Oh, I am happy to be returning, returning yet moving forward, returning but becoming new; always becoming.
Larry’s e-mails have highlighted some of my insecurities and doubts—they’ve also reached into my heart and turned it, ever so slightly, to remind me that I am not looking at the whole thing. He is reminding me of something I keep wanting to believe I have overcome; the fear of loving, truly…
…Some further thoughts I would like to pursue reflecting on:
• Eating and Community
- inspired to fast because of community I know and love. Supporting them as they support others.
- struggling with fast because of community that I feel separated from (i.e. not sharing meals with Anne)
- feeling more connected to those who suffer both because of my hunger and because of how easily I could and did end it. Feeling and knowing (beyond intellectually) that I did not have a greater right but did have a greater privilege because of where and to whom I was born…this brings up many questions and mixed emotions.
• Prayer and compassion; so much richer during absolute fast. The more I ate the less I prayed and the less attentively I reflected on and followed news.
• Distractions: thinking a lot about Haiti and about myself, including discerning future paths both practical (where will I live? what will I do?), and spiritual (what do I believe? what is my vocation?). Though, I don’t know why I separate the two—practical and spiritual—because for me they go hand in hand.
• Question: is there pride in denying privilege or, a kind of attempt at personal redemption (from guilt) when we deny ourselves—is it a rejection of gifts?
• Recognizing the sin of excess: how seldom I ever feel hunger and is over-eating as wasteful as dumping good food in the trash?
• Supporting others, acting justly through agriculture and loving our neighbor/friend/enemy through sharing a meal.
• Being denied the right to deny ourselves (i.e. Jake’s reflection on hunger-strikers being force-fed)