Fasting and Caged Cats

Peter Leithart drops pithy, counter-intuitive  biblical readings regularly on his blog.  Living more ascetic now than normal, I’m appreciative of this take on the Bible and the Body.

For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body.  We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical.  The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked.  The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.

Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure.  After all, if good and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them?  Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.

The reason members of the Church began to value fasting as renunciation of the body is beyond my scope. I am concerned how a text loses its initial vitality and how a text is revivied.  Isaiah 58 illustrates this process. See reason for cat image below.

Isaiah 58, read in synagogues on Yom Kippur, is a great though often muted text.  Friend Rabbi Fred Dobbs recently explored this in a sermon,

“I once heard a short story about synagogue practice — ostensibly by Franz Kafka — that really grabbed me. A very short story: “One day a leopard stalked into the synagogue, roaring and lashing its tail. Three weeks later, it had become part of the liturgy.”…  I heard this version of Kafka’s leopard story from Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who bemoaned how “Many synagogues read [that] Haftarah as another droning piece of the machzor [liturgy].” “Unfortunately,” Waskow wrote, its predictable placement threatens it with being “not a challenge to the liturgy but a part of it” – a caged cat.

Waskow suggests we might unleashing the power of the prophets texts today by secretly staging a synagogue scene. (I paraphrase) “Oy, I’m so hungry,” one congregant says rudely out loud, voicing a common feeling.  Another congregant suddenly stands up and yells,” Do you think the Lord is pleased by your petty groans?  No, this is the fast He desires: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; To break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him.

via JPS Tanakh

2 To be sure, they seek Me daily,
Eager to learn My ways.
Like a nation that does what is right,
That has not abandoned the laws of its God,
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

8 Then shall your light burst through like the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly;
Your Vindicator shall march before you,
The Presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: