I humbled my soul with fasting.”
— Psalm 69: 10
I post all sorts of things on Facebook without thinking much about what I’m posting, as I did the other night when I posted this:
“I gave up alcohol for Lent to spend the time I would spend in watering holes reading the Bible or spiritual growth books instead. I just realized how much Bible and spiritual growth reading I’m doing in ice-cream shops and pastry shops and my girth is growing along with my spirituality. Lord in your mercy, help my excesses.”
Since sharing that thought with FB friends I’ve thought more about what I said.
This fleshy girth of mine really is expanding–no joke–as a result of trying to practice spiritual discipline in a nice, new, air-conditioned ice-cream shop, which is a short walk from a cozy little outdoor pastry shop here in San Ignacio.
And so, since I had that “light-bulb moment” about my over-indulgence of sweets–or let’s call it a “God moment” since fasting puts us in closer touch with God–I’ve modified my Lenten fast to include sweets.
The practice of Christian fasting is a serious undertaking.
The whole point of any Christian fasting, during Lent or any other time, is not to give up something for the sake of giving up something to somehow please God. That leads right to the sin of pride. It’s like, “Wow! I went 40 days without any candy, cake or pie! And I lost eight pounds in the process! God is good! God is good!”
No joke: I actually heard the member of a church I was in years ago say that after accomplishing a fast, and never mind that a fast is not supposed to be some kind of successful accomplishment.
The Jews in the Old Testament and Jesus and his followers in the early Christian centuries placed fasting as a serious, spiritual discipline right up there with prayer and worship and other disciplines. Fasting from food or something we enjoy a lot–and I do enjoy my evening drinks swinging in the hammock with sixties rock blasting through my ear buds before dinner–works in such a way as to expose our flaws and excesses.
In my case, it has exposed my chronic cravings for sweets, which makes me wonder, in my bid to grow spiritually in Lent, what that craving for sweets is about. A craving, be it for sweets or anything else, is something that unsettles the soul. This craving for sweets in lieu of alcohol is something I’m exploring in my quiet time with God and the spiritual journal that I’m going to a lot this Lenten season.
My giving up alcohol had already started working on my conscience, which fasting can do, since our conscience is largely God’s way of reminding us that we all were created in the image of God. John Wesley, who fasted every week, saw our being created in God’s image as meaning that we’re created in God’s moral image.
So I’ve been wondering in this fast: how in good moral conscious can I drink almost daily, albeit in light to moderate amounts (most of the time), while seeing the horrendous effects of alcohol abuse here on “the other side of paradise” that is Belize.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t see some dirty, ragged character literally putting his life and the lives of others in danger as he staggers down a busy street or road, drunk out of his bucket.
If you come to live in Belize, don’t be surprised by the many unconscious bodies you’ll see on the sides of roads or perhaps even outside of the grocery stores, where those large bottles of sweet and cheap Belizean rum fly off the shelves seven days a week–morning, noon and night.
Many has been the time when I’ve come across some lifeless body passed out somewhere and have stopped to check for a pulse. I’ve not come across a dead body yet. But I know a Canadian expat who did find a body, dead from alcohol poisoning, in a park in a village when she went for a morning walk. She was shaken for days.
An American expat who hires the best carpenters in town for her thriving cabinet-making business told me one day that she had to fire her best carpenter because he went on a drinking binge for several days and didn’t show up for work or notify her.
“You just can’t depend on the labor force in this country because of the drinking,” she said.
This enterprising American woman, who has been in Belize for years, has just about had it with Belize’s notoriously undependable labor pool.
“I love Belize but I’m thinking of moving to Panama or Ecuador and starting over,” she told me.
Not long ago I went to the bush home of a very poor family I know, where the mother of many sons and daughters had died. The members of this family are wonderful and good people–when they’re sober, which is most of the time.
But on the day I went to see them after their mother’s death, I found Belizean beer and rum bottles littered around the deceased mother’s property. All four of her sons and two of the daughters were all engaged in drunken quarreling to the point of some pushing and shoving inside and outside the house. Children and grandchildren were all around, some playing, some shivering in fear, some showing nothing but blanks on their faces.
I literally went around the house and property collecting every machete and knife I could find and hid every machete and knife away, fearing somebody would get slashed up or stabbed. You only have to read the Belizean papers or watch Belizean news to know that drunken Belizeans will go for their machetes and knives when drunken push comes to drunken shove.
I patted and hugged the kids and called the police, who never showed up. (This is something they don’t tell you in the “move to Belize” brochures: the police may or may not come to the rescue so don’t count on it, especially to homes where potentially violent family disturbances are routine.)
After an hour or so of waiting for the no-show police, I left, having done what I could, which was console the kids until neighbors I called on came to do it–that and hide the knives and machetes.
Other than that, there was nothing in the world I could say or do there that day that any of the drunken, violently aroused family members would even remember the next day.
* * * *
I don’t think my fasting from alcohol, which I’m not missing in these 40 days of Lent with the Sundays included, will drive me to alcohol abstinence.
Drinking alcohol, like so many pleasures in life, can be a double-edged sword. It can be enjoyable and harmless and, as the doctors now tell us (to our drinking delight), it can be healthy. Christian giants like Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis drank regularly and drank with much gusto, and were able to enjoy it with no ill effects.
But that old “demon rum” and any other alcohol can put lives to waste like nothing else and who hasn’t seen it do just that to friends or family, in Belize, in America and anywhere else.
The drinking Christian might do well to ask himself or herself from time to time, “Is my enjoyment of alcohol in moderation causing someone prone to alcohol abuse to “stumble” (to borrow a word that the Apostle Paul used)? Am I drinking as responsibly as I should, or as responsibly as I like to think I am?”
My fast from alcohol has me thinking about all this, and thinking a bit harder about my own eating and drinking habits, and about how I might respond to the ugly alcohol abuse that I feel helpless to do much about in a country drenched in alcohol.
The makers of Belize’s famously good Belikin Beer currently have a billboard advertising campaign with the tagline, “No working during drinking hours.”
Lord, help my sense of helplessness in this besotted land I’m in.