As I wrestle in my mind with whether St. Patrick's day is sufficient cause to take a day off my alcohol fast, it seems a reasonable enough time to put down a few thoughts on the project.
Last year, as I was trying to think of something improving to do for Lent, I told myself: "It would, of course, be completely impossible to give up coffee or alcohol. I need those."
As soon as I said it, however, I realized I didn't like the sound of that "need". So alcohol it was. (I'm willing to admit needing coffee, but having 1-2 drinks a day is something I'd rather "enjoy" than "need".)
Last year it was moderately hard. The point I get home from work tends to also be the point when the dinner prep/hungry child cacophony reaches fever pitch, and daddy Darwin likes his chance to pour a glass of beer or wine and try to slow down a little from 9-12 hours of coffee and multi-tasking. Giving it up required me to work harder to remain patient while listening to the cares of two or three high pitched voices talking rapidly and simultaneously. And yet it was, when I put my mind to it, eminently doable. And in a sense liberating to recall that one does not "need" these sorts of things.
I took the same discipline this year, but found quickly that although I went straight back to having 1-2 drinks most evening after last lent, the detachment had remained. It's been oddly easy to give up alcohol this year. Sure, I'd enjoy having a drink of an evening, but there's no longer any sense of "needing" just of "enjoying".
This is, perhaps, a terribly trivial example, but it seems to me that this detachment from material things is one of the disciplines we see encouraged again and again in the Bible. In the most extreme example: Job has a great many of the things which people consider to make life worth living: home, wealth, family, respect, social standing, etc. Yet he's called to remain faithful to God even when all these cans can be, and indeed are, taken away.
And this is, I think, why we're called as Christians to engage in fasting during certain times of the year. Going without food for most of the day is something we can sustain, though it takes concentration and is not enjoyable. And the discipline helps us recall our ownership over ourselves -- something which we must often achieve in subtler circumstances in order to obey God's laws. Finally, in this affluent place and time in which far more people are afflicted with obesity than hunger, fasting is a reminder that we came into this world with nothing, and with nothing we shall leave it. All that we have may vanish, yet we ourselves, not our possessions, are what have moral and human dignity are are loved by God.