that was fast
Two more people have solved the puzzle (that's a total of 4 now!) One of them even wrote some code that helped him (which is totally not necessary at all). Be on the lookout for a guest post from him in the near future!
If you want to work on the puzzle, check it out here:
Happy Thanksgiving to all! I hope everyone had a wonderful time full of family and fun. Since I live so far away from my family these days, I ended up celebrating with the most diverse group of friends I could possibly imagine, but that's a post for another time ;)
In the meantime, this post is about the spiritual discipline that is simultaneously one of the most powerful and most misunderstood. When you read the Bible, you get the sense that knowledge of this practice was common and that we are the ones who've forgotten what it is.
To quote from Foster:
What would account for this almost total disregard of a subject so frequently mentioned in Scripture and so ardently practiced by Christians through the centuries? Two things. First, fasting has developed a bad reputation as a result of the excessive ascetic practices of the Middle Ages. With the decline of the inward reality of the Christian faith, an increasing tendency to stress the only thing left, the outward form, developed. And whenever there is a form devoid of spiritual power, law will take over because law always carries with it a sense of security and manipulative power. Hence, fasting was subjected to the most rigid regulations and practiced with extreme self-mortification and flagellation. Modern culture reacts strongly to these excesses and tends to confuse fasting with mortification.
When Jesus talked about fasting, he tried to guard against this "extreme self-mortification when he said this:
..."When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
... "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you--you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
-- Matthew 6:16-21, 25-34 NIV
I only recently realized that my favorite passage in the Bible (the part about the birds of the air and the flowers of the field) is in the immediate context of giving to the needy, prayer (which was covered previously in this series), and fasting. Somehow, Jesus connects fasting with storing up treasures in heaven rather than on earth and the "therefore" in "therefore I tell you, do not worry."
This makes almost no sense to people today, likely because this same passage has been used to silence any voices who choose to talk about fasting and its wonderful benefits. Jesus didn't say "don't talk about fasting" or "don't fast." He simply said not to look somber and disfigure our faces. Instead, he just doesn't want us to make it obvious when we fast.
I'm not an expert on many things, but I know quite a bit about the absorptive layer of the small intestine. You can even read a paper on the subject that I co-authored here:
Your gut is tied to the entire rest of your body! Here's a quote from the introduction of one of my research proposals:
The absorptive surface of the small intestine—where most drugs are absorbed—is wildly complex with crypts, villi, and steep oxygen gradients that help maintain histological and bacterial homeostasis within the intestinal lumen. The bacterial microbiome alone alters brain development(potentially causing autism spectrum disorders) , anxiety/depression , schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder . It also modulates the immune functions to fight tumorigenesis , and diseases like HIV and Graftvs. Host Disease . Further, intestinal stem cells at the bottom of the crypts divide and differentiate as they rapidly move up the villi where they are later discarded into the swiftly moving contents of the lumen tomake the intestinal epithelium the fastest regenerating tissue in the body. The surface structure, microbiome, and dynamic environment work together to protect the health of the entire body.
- Sharon, G. et al. Human Gut Microbiota from Autism Spectrum Disorder Promote Behavioral Symptoms in Mice. Cell 177, 1600-1618.e17 (2019).
- Lach, G., Schellekens, H., Dinan, T. G. & Cryan, J. F. Anxiety, Depression, and the Microbiome: A Role for Gut Peptides. Neurotherapeutics 15, 36–59 (2018).
- Dickerson, F., Severance, E. & Yolken, R. The microbiome, immunity, and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Brain. Behav. Immun. 62, 46–52 (2017).
- Dai, Z. et al. Intestinal microbiota: a new force in cancer immunotherapy. Cell Commun. Signal. CCS 18, 90 (2020).
- Ouyang, J. et al. Treating From the Inside Out: Relevance of Fecal Microbiota Transplantation to Counteract Gut Damage in GVHD and HIV Infection. Front. Med. 7, 421 (2020).
Your body knows everything that happens in your gut and your gut knows everything that happens in your body. When you alter something in your gut, you cause changes that especially affect the brain, but also the immune system; however, the exact relationships between changes in the gut and the rest of the body are still unknown (hence my research proposal).
In this case, I like to take the common wisdom from my spiritual ancestors that tells me fasting is beneficial for both spiritual and physical health. (The current research on the topic is catching up–especially with the increased popularity of intermittent fasting–but for the time being, the scientific foundation of this is strong, but not bulletproof).
Here's how Foster puts it:
The constant propaganda fed us today convinces us that if we do not have three large meals each day, with several snacks in between, we are on the verge of starvation... Anyone who seriously attempts to fast is bombarded with objections. "I understadn that fasting is injurious to your health." "It will sap your strength so you can't work." "Won't it destroy healthy body tissue?" All of this, of course, is utter nonsense based upon prejudice.
And he's right. Protests against healthy fasting are nonsense based on fear and misunderstanding. Many people who've tried don't make it through the first day because of these social pressures.
That's right: because of social pressures. If we've had three meals a day for our entire life, hunger as we know it is not actual hunger. What we think is hunger around mealtime is actually our intestine saying, "You normally put food in me around this time." What we think is hunger at the end of one day without food is our intestine saying, "I'm done processing food. I'm going to rest now until it's time to eat again."
That's it. That's all there is to it.
Unless you're very unhealthy in the rest of your life, you're not malnourished and you're definitely not starving. We're just so accustomed to our intestines working nonstop that we rarely if ever hear it tell us, "I'm done for the day"–which is exactly what they were designed to do!
Real hunger will come after 1-3 weeks without food (which I have never experienced and never plan to). When exactly that happens depends largely on how much sugar and fat your body has already stored.
First, your body will burn glycogen (which is the animal version of starches like in potatoes). Next, it will burn fat. You'll actually receive a boost in energy in this stage because fat is a super-efficient energy source! Once your body has expended those, it will start to burn protein which is the main characteristic of the process called ketosis (and the reason that the keto diet is low carb, but high protein). Your energy will go back down and you will feel awful because protein is great for building your body, but it is a terrible energy source.
Experts in the spiritual practice of fasting (including Foster) recommend stopping the fast as soon as you enter ketosis. You'll know you've reached that point by the dip in energy and mood after the boost you received from your fat stores.
to be continued...
Now that we know a tiny bit about the science and common knowledge related to fasting, and we've dispelled some of the misconceptions, we can finally explore the purposes of fasting, then share some testimonies related to fasting.
If you've ever fasted, even once, even if you think it was a failure, please click the button below to send me a message and tell me about it. I want to hear from you and learn from you so that my next post in this series will be as powerful as possible!
This post is a continuation in my series on Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. You can read the entire series here:
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