The Cycle of Celebration mirrors the Cycle of Life
Orthodox Christians keep the age-old fasting periods of the church year with consistency. This means that during November and December we are in the Nativity fast, until the 25th of December. Part of the idea behind these fasting periods, which are more properly termed times of abstinence from meat and dairy products, is the variation that attunes our bodies to special festivals. Simply put you build up expectation for the feasts by abstaining from certain foods, which then become the highlight of the celebration at the feast. Certainly that’s not all that fasting is about, but psychologically and even physiologically the anticipation plays a big part.
The difference between fast and feast may also be seen as the difference between maintenance and celebration. Most of our lives, when we are adults, we spend in maintenance. We work, shop, sleep and eat and the whole matter usually settles into a routine. It becomes difficult to hallow each day as it comes, chiefly because the routine breeds monotony and monotony breeds thanklessness. So we need to step outside that circle of monotony and ennui once in a while for the sake of refreshment and celebration. All work and no play indeed makes Jack and Jill dull boys and girls. We need a cycle of maintenance and celebration.
Fasting times, particularly when they occur in late fall and early winter in the Northern hemisphere, can be very subdued times because of the weather. But we embrace these times as part of the rhythm of life, because we end them with gaiety and color and festivity once again.
But let’s turn this idea of a cycle one more time. The fast/feast, maintenance/celebration cycle represents something much more profound; namely, life and death. We are on a course from birth to death the moment we are born. We try to pretend this is not the case; we fill our lives with distractions to turn aside from this ultimate truth. The question is, what are you going to do between now and then? How will you fill up your time? How will you make time for others? What is the quality of your life, specifically in relation to those round about you? These questions come under consideration during periods of fasting and feasting; that’s the way they were intended to work.
If such periods don’t bring all this to your attention then something has gone wrong. If you feel irritation rather than inspiration in fasting times, then better to drop the practice. That’s the advice the monastic teachers and spiritual friends gave across history. Fasting intends to teach us how to live with as little as possible; in other words it is an emulation of the grave. By taking away attention from food we pay more attention to the inner life. Then the burst of release into feasting truly becomes a sign of life and refreshment.
Even if you are not among those who keep the fast in anticipation of Christmas, you can participate in the questions it suggests. How is your walk through this life going? How’s your faithfulness, your loyalty, your support for those who make up your family, first of all, and then those beyond that circle? Give some extra money or time this season to a charitable organization; make a connection that will last longer than one time. Reconcile with a neighbor or a family members. And have a blessed feast day.