It’s Sunday today, and I attended bible study. They had turned all the chairs to face outward, away from Rick the minister. They do stuff like that sometimes, to stir things up, to make us think. I’m feeling the need to stir things up in my life. During bible study I sat for an hour with my back to everyone, as the chairs told us to do, and I listened to Rick with my eyes closed as he talked about worship, and I gathered my courage for what I needed to do next.
It reached 102 degrees today in central Texas. Although Austin is not a desert, without rain it can feel like one in the summer. We’ve had a bunch of these 100+ days lately, and it’s only June. So it seems fitting that I enter the desert today, metaphorically.
I’ve wanted to do a 40-day fast for years. The number 40 is symbolic and appears often in the Judeo-Christian bible. The big ones: The flood, when it rained 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:17); And after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, when he goes into the desert for 40 days and is tempted by the devil (Mark 1:13). 40 days is longer than a month but shorter than a quarter. 40 is not a multiple of 7, the number of days in a week. Why 40?
This fast is not about losing weight. I’m only a little overweight. There are easier ways to get to my ideal weight. No, this is about something bigger than weight. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus tells the devil: “It is written, ‘Not by bread alone does man live…'”
I’m afraid. Embarking on a 40-day commitment to eat nothing is a big unknown. I won’t be going entirely without nutrition. I will be consuming 4 ounces of a mineral drink every day to keep my mineral balance in check. However, there will be nothing else except water. No fiber, no calories, no protein, no fat. Nothing to chew. I’m not sure why I’m afraid. I’ve gone 2 days without food before, but never more than that.
The idea to go without food for 40 days seemed so reasonable just yesterday. But today it seems a little crazy. I’ve read about 40-day fasting on the internet, so I know what to expect. I will not be consulting with a medical doctor before and during the fast. Perhaps I should, but I don’t want to be burdened with the tests and the concerns of someone who might not be entirely supportive of my goal. Again, this isn’t about health. It’s about being in the desert.
Why would an atheist want to live like Jesus for 40 days and nights? I don’t know. Maybe to burn away the irrelevant, the superfluous, the unnecessary. Maybe to focus the attention on something that matters.
I’ve read that someone fasting for 40 days and 40 nights will experience hunger for the first 3-5 days, but after 5 days there will be no hunger, after the body has made the adjustment to burning only fat for energy. When hunger comes again, sometime later, it will be a signal that the body should eat. If that warning is ignored, then the body will start burning its own muscle for protein.
But I’ve been hungry for something bigger for a long time. So hunger for food seems like a small thing to endure for what I truly want.