An Unfamiliar Emptiness
On fasting, fatness, and figs
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
Psalm 63:5 NRSV
The King James Version translates ‘a rich feast’ as ‘marrow and fatness’, and what I wouldn’t give for some marrow right now. I just broke a 40ish-hour fast, on a Friday (so no meat), during Lent (so no dairy), and although I thoroughly enjoyed my eggy tuna salad with what seemed like an excessive amount of mayo, I don’t feel full. I’m not hungry, exactly, but I am certainly not satiated.
My ‘normal’ diet is high in fatness, high in protein, and low in carbs. I changed it up during Lent by cutting out my main food group (dairy), and I don’t really like the result. It’s hard to replace those calories with the same macro makeup; the one source of fat I have left is olive oil, but most of that goes to anointing my head (Matthew 6:17, paraphrase).
Consequently, I’m eating less fat and more carbs. Instead of my normal snack of yogurt or a chunk of cheese, I find myself with a few dried figs and an apple. Biblically, these are not good choices. Jesus talked a lot about fig trees, but never nicely. And an apple… I know that, in Genesis, the fruit is never specifically named, but scholars agree that the Fall of Man wasn't precipitated by a slice of Gruyère.
My stomach is not satisfied, because I have not feasted richly. There’s an emptiness inside that is unfamiliar – and exactly what I need.
I was struck this morning by how unaffected I was by this fast. Yes, when I walked up the hill with two heavy bags of groceries, I was a bit more out of breath than usual; I was noticeably not as strong in my workout as I usually am.
Other than that, I was fine. I am fine. I am surrounded by so much abundance at every single level – from the country I live in to the life I lead to the layer of fat that can fuel my body once that fig wears off.
I can skip meals. I can skip paychecks. I can skip (as in joyfully running). My body works well, I’m comfortably off, and I am so, so incredibly grateful. There are so many people in the world – even in my own little corner of it – that are not this comfortable, and I can feel that much more acutely when I’m hungry. That’s precisely why I do it.
Fasting is hard, but not that hard, and it makes room in my gut for compassion.
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