The call for forty days of fasting

The last time I visited St Teresa, a children’s home in Huruma, Nairobi, for charity work, I spent a fair share of my time washing clothes for the kids. Another team fed the children, some with special needs. We also took time to play with the youngsters, and seeing their faces brighten with joy for the donations we made and time spent together was both humbling and very satisfying.

As we scrubbed the foam into bubbles in lively conversations with my friends Justus Muthee and Anthony Ndegwa, washing clothes for the children took our minds about a dozen or so years down memory lane before we got married when we last bent our now stiff backs for this age-old chore.

Laundry one of the most mundane of chores is often tucked behind us, left to the house helps and wives. But there is value in the ordinary chore. As Allaine De Botton says in celebrating ‘Work at the Linen closet 1663 painting by Pieter de Hooch, appreciating the value of ordinary life helps us see that the big things in life, prosperity, happiness and relationships, are always grounded in the way we approach little things.

Our visit to St Teresa centre was well timed around Easter when Christians are encouraged to fast and donate their resources including time to the less fortunate in our society.

Praying, giving alms, and fasting—all cardinal calls during Lent can fill us with immense joy. Lent is a solemn Christian observance commemorating the 40 days Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert, enduring temptation by the devil. The season is a time of dedicated prayer and a chance of helping others and it leaves in you nothing but hope and love.

We pray, pay attention to God’s teachings and realize He loves us and cares about us. We give alms to show mercy and help those less fortunate in our communities.

Over time, I have come to realize that if I called on you to dedicate a little more time to prayer, you probably won’t argue with me. Prayer is one of the few things mankind agree on even though they disagree on everything else including who to invoke it to.

This Easter I encourage you to enhance your charitable giving. Why because this is one of those time in history when so many are facing difficulty.

The cost of living in Kenya is at an all-time high exacerbated by a severe drought that has left roughly six million people in dire need of emergency food support according to the National Drought Management Authority’s latest update.

Kenya’s statistics office shows March inflation hit 9.2 percent, the same as February on account of the increasing cost of food and non-alcoholic drinks at 13.4 percent as well as transport costs which posted a 12.6 percent jump.

With projected less-than-average rains in the country starting March, the cost of living could remain elevated following the Central Bank’s move to raise the base lending rate by 75 basis points to 9.5 percent to sync with a global trend where policymakers increased the cost of credit.

What’s more, the situation might worsen with the expected rise in the cost of electricity as Kenya Power moves to impose new, higher tariffs starting April 1st.

Kenya’s 7.5 million catholics, about a third of the population can make a huge difference under the current circumstances, and many will admit that they can get a little more generous to those in need.

What if I asked you to fast more? Some will most likely wildly claim fasting makes them tired and grouchy, nursing headaches, or renders them unable to optimally carry out their day’s hustle.

There is no doubt that it’s when we are sick that we suddenly realize how wonderful it is to be strong and healthy. Equally, it is when we are hungry we become aware of what needs to be filled in us.

For Christians, fasting is used as a way to purify the body, exercise self-control, and while at it, save resources that are in turn channeled to those in dire need.

Ancient Christians fasted regularly and yes, Jesus went for a whole 40 days and nights without food.

But, do not be an accidental fast. A good number of Christians in Kenya, who are going without a meal due to the high cost of living unfortunately don’t count.

Linus Waweru concedes that fasting should be deliberate, one cannot claim to be fasting just because they have no access to food, or are forced to skip meals by the current high cost of living. Linus, my boss and a lay leader at Blessed Joseph Allamano Ruaka Catholic Church often lead calls for Christians to commit and succeed at fasting.

“If you are starving, i.e, going without food due to your inability to have it, then you cannot be understood as one who is fasting,” he says, adding that if one is starving, then he/she is actually supposed to get food aid, instead. Fasting requires one to deny themselves the regular opportunity of say having a good regular meal, a nice change of wardrobe, a drink up with friends, or something else that one usually holds dear and then donating the same to the needy.

My friend, Fr Alex Kimilu of Machakos Catholic Diocese agrees, noting that starving people should ideally be the beneficiaries of the food donations realized during the period of Lent. One should not entertain the thought that if you are starving then that can also be equated to fasting during Lent.

Equally, ‘fasting’ in order to get that model figure for your beach holiday TikTok reel isn’t really fasting at all, that’s dieting. And losing weight cannot be a good primary reason to have been fasting on the dedicated Fridays; instead, honoring the Lord by commemorating His Passion and death is.

Christians usually abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, and some choose to avoid the popular but pricey delicacy in Kenya for the entire period.

Perhaps this challenge is what has given way to the argument that the Lenten fast need not be about food only: there are a plethora of things we should be ‘giving up’ or ‘fasting’ such as unchecked social media binge, gossiping, complaining, texting, coffee, video games, candy, or any other practice which easily comes out as a personal sacrifice.

The Catholic Church, however, does not consider fish, lobster, and other shellfish to be meat, so they can be enjoyed on days of abstinence.

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