Canon Hilary Barber: Fasting is a very cleansing experience

​​Today as I write it is Shrove Tuesday, or as we tend to call it Pancake Day. Much of our cultural heritage in this country comes out of our Christian heritage. The idea was to take food out of the pantry with eggs and flour and consume everything that was left over from Christmas, be it sweet or savoury.
Fasting during Lent is a very cleansing experience.Fasting during Lent is a very cleansing experience.
Fasting during Lent is a very cleansing experience.

By Canon Hilary Barber, Vicar of Halifax Minster

The timing was to take place the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, when fasting was part of the preparation for the Festival of Easter.

Ash Wednesday is a day of obligation for all Christians, when they go to church to receive ashes on their head in the sign of the cross, reminding them of their baptism and of Jesus’ death on a cross.

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It’s also a day of fasting, so having consumed your pancakes and emptied the pantry, one is ready to enter into the 40 days of Lent with heart, body, and soul, for the spiritual journey ahead.

Fasting tends to be something associated with either preparing for surgery or during Ramadan for Muslims in the Islamic faith.

There has in recent times been issues of young people fasting to improve their body image, and for those who suffer from different kinds of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa. We also see a very Western condition of obesity at the other end of spectrum. Food and faith have always been combined together.

Fasting though during Lent and during Ramadan is a very cleansing experience.

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There is no doubt that many of us, though not all, would benefit from eating and drinking less, and eating less meat in particular. But as well as benefitting the body, it’s also beneficial for the soul and the spirit.

Jesus went out into the wilderness where he too went through days of fasting, in order to be nearer to God.

I’ve never fasted through Ramadan, and I know people who have tried and become very ill. It’s not something to be done lightly, and I take my hat off to all my Muslims friends who fast each year during that month.

I was always brought up to eat fish on Fridays, the day of the Cross, and culturally many people in this country, whether people of faith or none, also do the same. A few years ago during Lent I started to eat fish on a Wednesday too, as part of my Lenten discipline, and because everything I read about the emergency climate change, told me I needed to eat less meat. I now tend to eat fish on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays as part of my usual diet. Equally I still love my Sunday roast with all the trimmings!

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Many Jewish people, secular and practising, keep the Seder Meal on Friday night, as they prepare for the Sabbath Day on Saturday. It’s a family time with special food, cultural as well as religious. Jewish people also eat Kosher Food, in the same way Muslims eat halal meat.

The Hebrew bible is full of references to food laws, some of which are very sensible and around cleanliness and food hygiene, others seem strange to our western life style.

In these desperate times of political turmoil, we need as communities to come together, to share food and conversation, as we try to build resilient communities in which to live out our lives, and for our children and grand children’s sake. Happy Lent!

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