Jean-Daniel, a pastor in Montréal, to the young adults to whom God, through the Anglican bishop and United Church regional council, has called as a slightly older moderately educated friend and mentor.
The letters of the New Testament, though they have found their way into our Bibles, and are rich with insights for us today, were first intended as far more specific documents. They were compassionate advice to specific communities. This is why they are often called "pastoral epistles."
This is, humbly, a limited pastoral epistle. It is Ash Wednesday, a day we are reminded that we are all dust, as Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, teaches, and that we all return to dust. Death is the grand universal of life after only birth. Ecclesiastes also teaches, later in chapter 8, to the chagrin of centuries of later preachers, in fact, "There is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad."
Ash Wednesday also ushers in the season of Lent, a forty day period, inspired by Jesus' time of fasting in the desert, of spiritual preparation. I am writing this letter with two thoughts in mind.
I know fasting is an ancient tradition of sprituality in and beyond Christianity. I have multiple degrees in religion. I have fasted much in my own life. I do not want to deny or downplay this tradition.
I am a pastor called to loving and caring for the people I serve. It is not our tradition that clergy are authorities who make declarations that bind you, it is still our tradition that I should attempt to wrestle with all of Christian scripture and history and deeply listen to your lives and offer guidance. And in that vain, I would like contradict point one. Please, please, just eat this Lent.
Insofar as fasting is spiritual, its strength probably comes from the act of self-control. And I am not going to conclusively say nobody ever should fast again. But I want you to be honest about the last year of your life.
Have you been deprived of anything?
Have you been trapped in any deserts, real or metaphorical?
Have either of these facts forced you to confront Satan, embodied or metaphorical, and wrestle with fundamental questions of who you are, what your life means, and where you're headed?
Yeah, thought so. Please just eat.
Because beyond being a religion scholar, I'm a pastor, a literal dad to teens, and a spiritual big brother figure to a few more wonderful folks, and I am constitutionally incapable of turning off my Dad mode.
And I have seen something deeply troubling happen to Christian fasting.
The idol of diet culture has invaded it.
Sure, not always, but enough. And it's a spiritually and physically life-threatening idol. You are in midterms. You are in Montréal winter. You are in COVID. If this isn't a desert, I don't know what is. Please, just eat.
I have watched people I love on the brink of death from deprivation of food. I have watched people I find beautiful in every way spiritual and shallow convinced that they are not. And I have seen Lent become an excuse for further self-harm, and it scares me, and it makes me sad, and I want to give you enthusiastic pastoral permission to flee it. Please, just eat.
Adam and Eve were once naked and unashamed. Because God made good bodies.
In Psalm 139, the poet declares, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." You are wonderfully made. You are deserve nourishment and strength.
In the New Testament, Jesus gathers his friends around food all the time, too. Food is not bad. Food is not sin. If you think about food spiritually this Lent, think about ethical sources and think about how to share it. Please, do not sacrifice the health and well-being of your own body, made by God, to the false god of any dangerous ideal. Please, just eat. If you are struggling with eating disorders, please feel safe to let me know. I am not a professional, but I can refer you to those who are. There is a lot we can do together this Lent, and I look forward to sharing some ideas over the next forty days. But as if now, it is Ash Wednesday. It is about 8 pm. Have you had some dinner yet? In love, Jean-Daniel