Back to school ...

I don’t know about you but the beginning of September always reminds me of sharpening pencils and cleaning shoes in preparation for the new school year. While my schooldays are long behind me, this time of year still fills me with a sense of anticipation as the long, lazy days of summer are put away, energy levels begin to rise and the diary starts to fill up with new projects and activities.

You may know that in the Methodist Church the beginning of September heralds the start of the church year with all that God has in store for us. Often Methodists hold their annual Covenant Service at this time of year; this is when we come together to remind ourselves of promises we made at our confirmation and provides an opportunity to renew our commitment. In 2017 we also began the new church year with a day of fasting and prayer, something we plan to do again this year. Whilst many of the world's religions include fasting from food as part of their regular practises, this has mainly lapsed within the Christian tradition. Many of us, in the West are not used to being told what to eat or abstain from. Fasting from food, or indeed any kind of abstinence, does not fit easily within a cultural context where self-fulfilment has priority and self-denial is perceived so negatively.

While the idea of fasting may sound old fashioned and unpleasant there seems to be a growing awareness of the benefits of intermittent fasting and not just from food. People have reported the health benefits derived from regularly fasting or abstaining from certain food products such as having a Meat-Free Monday. Many people are also now recognising the need to unplug ourselves if only for a short while from our technology. Researchers have studied the effects on students of avoiding their gadgets for 24 hours with many reporting a sense of distress, confusion and isolation away from their smart phones. It certainly makes you question your own reliance on gadgets and access to the internet.

Whilst we might see the need to fast from food or technology as bringing benefit to our physical bodies and mental wellbeing we may also need to rediscover a form of fasting which enables us to focus on God. In the hyper-connected world of social media, it becomes increasingly difficult for some people to resist displaying their activities and their abstinences as trophies to whoever is watching. Jesus told his followers that they were to maintain a cheerful countenance and refrain from advertising their fasting but rather fast in secret.

His invitation is to a depth of spirituality without the need for the praise of others. In our world with very few secrets, abstaining could recover a sense of intimacy with the God revealed to us in Christ, in whom we are truly and fully known.

If this is something you are interested in or you would like to find out more about the Christian faith do visit the CTNP website or pop into one of the churches in Newport Pagnell, whichever one you visit we can assure you of the warmest of welcomes with the offer to share in the refreshments after the service!

With every blessing
Revd Nicola Martyn-Beck