Reflections on the Daniel Fast

A little while ago, our church and school here in Guatemala participated in the Daniel Fast. If you’re not familiar, the Daniel Fast involves saying no to certain food choices for a short period of time in order to focus on spiritual growth and renewal. It’s based on the foods that Daniel (from the Bible) eats when he is brought to Babylon in captivity. 

This is not the point of my blog today, but may I invite you to consider cultural differences for a moment? If you live in North America, imagine your pastor announcing that everyone is going to complete a time of fasting… and then everyone (or more or less everyone) does it. They don’t argue. They don’t complain (publicly). They participate. I cannot imagine a hypothetical situation at my church where my pastor would announce a Daniel Fast that we’re all doing because I can’t imagine people actually doing it. Cultural differences are wild, y’all.

We completed three weeks of Daniel Fasting. Because the school and church are very integrated, the school staff and church members participated. School families either participated or didn’t based on their involvement in church. (School staff all attend the church that’s connected to the school; many families attend the same church, but others attend different churches or don’t attend church.)

I live outside of Antigua. It’s about 30 to 45 minutes to get into town, depending on how long I wait for a bus. While I never feel unsafe inside the compound that I live in (with security cameras, concertina wire, and a security guard at the gate), it’s not wise for me to walk around our small village after dark. So I don’t generally go anywhere on weekday afternoons after school. It would need to be quite a quick trip to catch the bus into Antigua, run whatever errands, catch the bus back, and arrive home before dusk. 

That means that a) weekend trips into Antigua are valuable because they provide some variety in my week and b) I almost always go out for lunch since it’s many restaurants here are very affordable and I’m not spending money on anything else throughout the week. I have a strict budget, but a weekly lunch out is much more affordable than in Canada, for example.

We started the Daniel Fast on a Saturday. No eating out for lunch that weekend! Two weeks before we started, I caught Covid. That meant the weekend before the Daniel Fast began, I also didn’t get to go out to lunch. I was feeling a little sorry for myself about that. One of my few pleasures in life… gone! An extra opportunity taken away, just because I was sick!

Because of the general once a week trip into town, I plan my meals carefully and make my grocery list accordingly. I usually have a couple of easy-to-throw-together-with staples-won’t-go-bad meal possibilities in my pantry cupboard, like pasta noodles and a jar of pasta sauce, just in case I need something additional during the week. Preparation for the Daniel Fast was much more extensive. I spent numerous hours online before the first Daniel Fast grocery trip, researching recipes, planning out meals, and making my grocery list. Subsequent Friday afternoons had at least an hour dedicated to recipe research and planning. 

I ate healthy, flavourful food with a lot of variety. And yet, I got really tired of what I was eating. I got tired of not being able to eat certain foods. I got tired of all of the rules. And I was still really grumpy about missing my weekly lunch out.

I had really great intentions about taking lots of pictures of my food during the Daniel Fast. Instead, I took exactly two photos. This one… (a salad with a great homemade salad dressing)

And then I was reminded about where I am and how much privilege I have. I have the time to research recipes and make a variety of food. I have the financial resources to buy not just a variety of food, but enough food. I have the ability on a regular basis to eat out once a week. I live in a world where somewhere around 800 million people face hunger. I live in a country with a vast amount of food insecurity – where close to half of children under 5 are stunted due to chronic malnutrition. And I can eat a variety of healthy food and not be hungry… and I am still complaining about it. 

I needed a big attitude adjustment. 

Our return to regular food after the Daniel Fast was nice. I enjoy being able to buy a bigger variety of food and to not have to plan so thoroughly for every meal. But I hope I don’t quickly forget that attitude adjustment. I hope I remain more grateful for what I have and for my ability to choose what and when and where to eat.

… and this one. The start of a delicious vegetable soup.


The sun is already past its highest point in the sky by the time we set out. The air is hot and dusty, and I can feel the heat of the road through my sandals. Cleopas and I had meant to set out earlier, but the morning had been… strange. 

Scenes from the last week flash through my head. 

Palm branches waving as voices shout Hosanna! Tables of money changers flipping over in the temple as the teacher declares, “My house will be a house of prayer!” Crowds following us as we follow the teacher. Quiet moments with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, as he teaches us strange and mysterious things. 

Celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus lifts up a piece of bread, breaks it, and says, “This is my body, broken for you.” A cup. “This is my blood, poured out for you.” 

Soldiers in the garden. Pilate, washing his hands. The nails. The cross. A final spear thrust from a soldier; blood and water pouring out. Darkness descending over the land. 

Darkness in our hearts. 


For quite a while, the only sound is the plodding of our footsteps. Cleopas and I are in no hurry. Certainly, we have been away from Emmaus for longer than we intended; the events in Jerusalem three days ago kept us beyond the Passover. And then suddenly it was the arrival of the Sabbath and we could not travel home. I think back to the Sabbath prayer. Peter’s hands shaking as he lit the candles. His voice shaking, too, as he sang the blessing. “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam…” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe…

I hold so firmly to this conviction, that Yahweh is indeed ruler of the universe. But I no longer hold any certainty over what his plans may be. Last Sunday crowds gathered around us to shout Hosanna and it seemed as if the whole nation recognized Jesus as the Messiah that Yahweh finally sent to redeem us… Now those hopes have died within us. 

Finally I cannot stand the silence any longer. “Cleopas, what can God be doing?” I ask. My voice betrays my desperation. “Surely Jesus was the Messiah… We saw how he healed people, taught with authority, revealed the scriptures to us. But now I do not understand what God intends for us to do. Our teacher… our friend. He is gone.” 

Cleopas’s first response is a long sigh. “I too wonder what Yahweh is doing. And what of the stories of the women this morning? Mary, Joanna, Mary Magdalene. What can they have meant by their words?”

A fierce urge to defend my friends rises up in me, but I too was confused when they returned this morning as we were preparing to leave. They told us of going to the tomb to prepare our friend’s body for burial. Instead, they found the tomb empty except for two men, filled with glowing light, asking them why they expected to find Jesus. These women are my friends. I know they would not make up a story. Could they have imagined it? None of us have slept much in days. Could they all have imagined the same thing though?

Cleopas and I are talking through the details of their story, when suddenly our footsteps are not the only thing I hear. I turn and see a fellow traveller catching up behind us. He is alone, without any provisions. Probably, like us, he had attended a Passover feast in Jerusalem. 

I move toward Cleopas on the path, leaving ample room for him to pass us by and continue on his way. Instead, as he catches up to us, he falls into step with us. 

“What an intense conversation you were having,” he says. “I am interrupting.”

I sort of smile to indicate that it is okay. I don’t need to have this conversation with a stranger, though. Cleopas must feel the same. He only nods his head. 

“What were you talking about?” our fellow pilgrim asks. 

I’m shocked that he has no idea. What must the whole nation be talking about by now? “Have you not been in Jerusalem as we were?” I ask, astonished. “You must be the only one who has not heard about the events there these past days.” He doesn’t reply. 

“About Jesus of Nazareth!” I explain. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people! We know he was sent by God, but the chief priests and rulers had him sentenced to death and he was crucified. We had… “ My voice breaks. “We had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.” Suddenly it’s difficult for me to see through the tears in my eyes. My heart is breaking like my voice, and I cannot continue talking. 

Cleopas takes over as we move steadily down the road. “Something else happened that we do not understand. This morning, some of our friends went to take care of the teacher’s body since there was no time before Sabbath began. They went to the tomb early this morning but when they returned, they told us they had not found the body but instead saw a vision of angels!”

Our fellow traveller pauses in his walking and turns, looking first at me, then Cleopas. “Do you not remember all that the prophets have spoken?” he asks, his voice intense. “As Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.’ Or do you not remember the words of the prophet Zecharaiah? ‘Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem. Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey.’ And the prophet Isaiah foretold…”

Mile by mile, this fellow pilgrim goes through the scriptures with us, starting with Moses and working through the prophets. My heart begins to warm again, a feeling I have not had since before the teacher died. The same feeling I used to have when he would teach. It is not much, like the first lightening of the sky before dawn. But it is noticeable, especially given the darkness of my heart these last three days. 

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam… Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe. I think again of the words that start our Jewish prayers, words that just a few days ago were so hard to say. But this man has explained the scriptures in a way that make me see how the last few days’ events were God’s plan from long ago. A plan I do not fully understand, but a plan nonetheless.

All too soon, we crest the final hill and see our village laid out in the valley below us. Our fellow pilgrim continues in his explanation all the way to the door of our house, and then turns to walk on. “Do not go!” I blurt. 

“Indeed, do not continue your journey tonight,” Cleopas echos. “It is almost evening. Stay, break bread with us, and rest here tonight. The day is almost over.”

Cleopas and our visitor sit at the table while I gather a humble meal for us. I join them, setting down bread and then sitting down carefully, my tired body groaning in protest after the day’s long walk. 

Cleopas invites our guest to pray the blessing over our food. He lifts up the bread, breaks it, and gives thanks. “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, hamotzi lehem min ha-aretz.” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

And suddenly I think of other hands lifting up bread. “This is my body, broken for you.” Hands lifting up bread and giving thanks, then feeding a hillside full of people. A strange energy shifts in the room. In my heart. I look from the hands holding the bread to the man’s face. I know this man. I know this man. But how can this be…. I study his face. Is it disappointment I see, that we did not recognize him? Is it annoyance that he had to explain to us again things that he had taught? 

No. It is a face shining with love. 

My body, suddenly tired no longer, jumps up from the table. And in that moment, Jesus disappears. Cleopas and I look at each other with amazement. Our teacher, our friend, the Messiah… alive! Tears fill my eyes anew, but these are tears of joy. 

“But how? How did we not know him?” I exclaim. “And yet… Cleopas, surely my heart was burning within me while he revealed the scriptures to us!”

Cleopas nods his head. “ How could we not have known our Lord? And yet, as you say, it was my heart that began to know him as he taught us.”

“But it was in the breaking of bread that my eyes knew him… just as he broke bread with us before.”

Cleopas rises from the table. “We must go tell the others!” he declares. 

“We must!” I agree. “But first…” I gesture to the bread. Cleopas and I each pick up a piece of the bread left behind at the spot where Jesus was sitting. This is my body, broken for you, I think again. We eat. Tears stream down my face. I do not understand all of this yet. But I say again, as we eat, “Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam…” Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe… 

Psalm One

Afternoon church services in my childhood would start with a hymn sing, and the organist would choose and announce these songs before the pastor got up and officially began the service.  Especially exciting were the times that the organist would be confident in his ability to sight-read anything the congregation would throw at him, and would allow people to suggest hymns instead of choosing them in advance.  

In my head I would always chant to those around me, “Choose number 1!  Choose number 1!” I never would have dared to request it myself. But that first song in the hymnal held such a fascination for me.  What could song number one be about?  

One spring day, Dad had to do some fieldwork, and it was my turn to ride inside the tractor with him. As the tractor made its way through the fields, I told Dad how I wondered what song number one was and how I hoped that someone would choose it for a hymn sing.  I shared this probably hoping Dad would request it the next time it was a brave organist playing for the hymn sing.

Dad did something way better. He sang for me then and there.  

“That man is blest who, fearing God, 

from sin restrains his feet,  

who will not stand with wicked men, 

who shuns the scorners’ seat.”


He sang it for me until I knew the first verse from memory.  And while it was a psalm we did not sing often in church, it has remained for me a favourite one.  And Psalm One was a natural choice for me to memorize in its entirety later in life. The image of the tree, planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – that was easy imagery for a farmer’s daughter to understand.  

What made it stick, though, was the example of my godly parents, who spent time reading God’s word, who prayed with their kids, for their kids, and on their own. Parents who talked about their faith, who sat at the dinner table long after the meal was done to answer questions that had come up in the Bible reading.  Who expressed their faith that God would use all things in our family to his glory and grace, even when we couldn’t see how that was happening.  

My parents are truly Psalm One people.

He is like a tree

planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season,

and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1: 3

The Pilgrim Way

Today, beautiful words from Psalm 119:


verses 33-38

God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course.

Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—

my whole life one long, obedient response.

Guide me down the road of your commandments;

I love traveling this freeway!

Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot.

Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way.

Affirm your promises to me— promises made to all who fear you.


verses 55-56

I set your instructions to music and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way.

I meditate on your name all night, God, treasuring your revelation, O God.