I recently started intermittent fasting. It really wasn’t about weight loss for me (although I would welcome a little of that, no lie…).
I was listening to a Jen Fulwiler podcast, and she mentioned a book called Delay, Don’t Deny, by Gin Stephens. It sounded like a Catholic concept to me, and I was intrigued. I didn’t read the whole text, so I can’t give my seal of approval for the book – or really for Jen, either – but I was struck by the idea that our American bodies are in a fed state most of the time due to our regular patterns of eating and snacking. The fed state means that we are constantly either using or storing the nutrients as they enter our digestive systems. Many Americans seldom enter a fasting state, where the body can tap into its stores for nourishment.
There are a lot of physical, psychological, and emotional triggers and issues surrounding food and its consumption, and I want to be careful with my comments and thoughts, lest I lead anyone astray or misrepresent the science.
For me, hearing about the fed and fasting states took me to my mid-pandemic spiritual life. March, April, and May found me often seeking quick and easy comfort – in food, in wine, in entertainment – anything that distracted me for a few moments from the fear and uncertainty all around. I was in a constant fed state, living off whatever I took in on the regular.
The thing is, by June I was heavier but emptier than I was in March. The constant literal and symbolic feeding wasn’t leading me to health and happiness, I wasn’t tapping into my stores and finding satisfaction.
Catholicism is filled with paradoxes, and here we find some examples: we must empty ourselves to be filled, we must fast to truly appreciate the feast.
Catholicism also recognizes that we are not soul-less bodies or bodiless souls. We are integrated such that what happens to the physical body impacts the soul, and vice versa.
With that understanding, I knew it was time to get back in shape. I needed to know hunger for God, to tap into the rich stores of my foundation and allow Him to nourish me. I couldn’t live off the junk food that I was pouring in and be healthy. And, thanks be to God, I can do that by starting with the tangible and moving inward.
When it is time to physically fast, I do so knowing that I have the great privilege of having good, stored nutrients to fuel my body, and when it is time to eat, I do so with relish and joy. Food can be part of our joy, it can be part of what gives us comfort. The same can be said of entertainment or other recreational pursuits in moderation and in it’s due time.
Spiritually speaking, I use my (extremely mild) physical hunger to drive me to prayer. I ask to be emptied of my own selfishness to be filled with Divine love. I am also feasting on good soul food like Fr Jacques Phillippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace.
Pope St. John Paul II said in 1996, “One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. The effort of moderation in food also extends to other things that are not necessary, and this is a great help to the spiritual life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. . . “
I cannot end this reflection without mentioning the reality that there are those among us who are truly, regularly hungry in both body and soul. I work on myself so that I can be ready and fortified to help others. I should be filled such that I can pour out the love I’ve received to others.
As a final aside, I have been serving on my Diocese’s Women’s Conference committee, and we have been planning for the virtual event (happening today!) with keynote speaker Emily Stimpson Chapman. She writes about food and its spiritual connections in her book The Catholic Table – Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet. I CAN give my seal of approval on this one, and I hope you will read it.
What fuels your spiritual life? How do you live out the integration of body and soul? Let me know in the comments below. Let us know you like this content by clicking like, then share with friends and family.