Intentionality and fasting

My husband and I discovered the joy of pairing Prosecco with potato chips in Ravenna.

The collect for Friday after Ash Wednesday is this one:

Support us, O Lord, with your gracious favor through the fast we have begun; that as we observe it by bodily self-denial, so we may fulfill it with inner sincerity of heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday is a traditional day of fasting for Christians during Lent (and sometimes other times), so today's collect focuses on not only the general fast that is Lent (a season of fasting which includes not saying alleluia, toning down the fancy organ music or veiling the shiny silver or using the pottery chalice, substituting simple greens or willow branches for colorful altar flowers, abstaining from the blessings at the end of church etc., just as Easter is a season of feasting in which we play trumpets and use the fanciest silver and put out ALL the flowers and sing and say alleluia from beginning to end of the service, etc. ) but the specific fast for Fridays in Lent which is bodily self-denial. I remember from long ago how some of my Roman Catholic friends would not eat meat on Fridays, for instance or not eat at all on Fridays but simply drink water or perhaps plain tea. 

When I began to be a more intentional, practicing Christian again after some years of neglecting any kind of faith activities, I was a mother of a young child with another on the way. During the season of Lent, which was my first as I came to the Episcopal Church from a non-liturgical tradition, we learned all about Lenten practices. My husband embraced the practice of fasting at least on certain days but that was just not something I could do for years. Pregnancy, breast-feeding, being a mom with all the stuff that goes with that - my body literally could not deal with physical fasting from food. I might be able to go for a few hours, but a whole day? Nope. Regularly? Nope. Not happening. And so I focused on other Lenten practices for those years.

Further, I struggle with bodily self-denial. I struggle with self-denial of any kind to be honest. But I love to read the words of this collect as I translate it: 

Hi God: This is a season in which we are being intentional about abstaining from some things and today the topic is physical fasting. And actually, we are needing your help with physical fasting. You are always gracious about helping us. So today when we fast through physical self-denial, help us to do this with our hearts in it, and not just as an exercise or thing to check off or brag to people that we did it. Help us to get something from the fast instead of just powering through it. And help us remember that we are in your favor even if we fail. Help us know that this is not a test we have to pass in order for you to love us. Amen.

This helps me put the whole fasting thing in perspective and, I hope, proper context. Intentionality is at the heart of fasting. If we don't enter into a practice with a desire to get something out of it (something that deepens our spiritual connection with God), then why are we doing it? Remember what we read every Ash Wednesday about practicing our piety before others. Go in your room, Jesus says, or more properly your storage closet which is what the original hearers would have understood, and work on your spiritual life alone with God and God will be there alone with you.

So if I'm going to practice fasting, it's going to take more than just not eating. It's a much bigger commitment. I can't just do it on the fly, skip lunch or something, and call it a day. So help me, God, clear out some space to experience self-denial as a way of making room for you.