Hearing today’s collect at Evening Prayer reminded me why I was right at the beginning of my second, year-long ‘fashion fast’: “Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts….: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all your creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God…”
Sometimes we need to give the Spirit a helping hand and I certainly knew the tyranny of shopping was not settting me or my wallet free and was probably not doing much to contribute to the liberation of all creation. Its all too easy to shop and eBay from your phone and the thrill of a bidding war as well as delight in a bargain meant parcels of various sizes and shapes were regularly appearing through our letterbox. So two weeks ago I realised it was time for drastic action.
From 2009-2010 I had a year buying no clothes (well I cracked after 11 months in TopShop in Solihull) and I found it helpful on loads of levels. (Eg I was able to close my wardrobe doors, it meant I could spend money on a fabulous family holiday and a party to celebrate our joint 40ths and I could admire clothes in shops and adverts with feeling like I needed to acquire them.)
This second attempt was triggered by a number of things. Firstly I just had too many clothes even after clearing out things I hardly wore and I things I can no longer wear. Secondly it made financial sense to stop shopping. Thirdly I thought it would discipline me not to expand into a new dress size and fourthly it was a response to our final weekend at theological college which focused on the care of creation and climate change.
But what I found in the first week was that I switched my buying activity from clothes to bags, shoes, beauty products etc so as I came home with a new handbag I did not need I realised I had got to up my game and quit buying anything that is an inessential. (My father thought that should include wine but I decided that things you buy in order to share and build relationships were probably ok – so that’s food, coffees, drinks and presents).
In Birmingham at the moment a lot of people are talking about fasting and some of the things I have heard said have impressed me very much. I have heard many people say they prefer Ramadan in the summer rather than the winter because in winter you basically just skip lunch and that is not drastic enough to shift one’s focus to God and compassion. I have also heard people say that one should give as one fasts – and particularly one should give things that it hurts to let go off so I hope that while I am not consuming I don’t become mean and ungenerous. And many people have said its not the giving up that is important but the change in focus that accompanies it. There is no point in a fast that leads to self-absorption or pride but rather by denying oneself of something you should become less interested in yourself – and I really hope that happens, because in all honesty, theological training is a time when one can become just a little bit inward-looking.
Last Monday it was my privilege to spend the evening with a group of Muslim and Christian women and break the fast together at an event called an Iftar. There was a real joy in the sharing of food and prayers but many of the women who had been fasting for 19 hours did not want to eat much more than some fruit and perhaps yoghurt. That is a lesson I need to carry with me for a year so I don’t spend my first weeks of ordained ministry bidding like crazy on eBay and stalking summer sales on fashion websites.
The first weekend of July is full of celebrations in our family. In 2015 it will be the weekend of my ordination, my niece and nephews third birthday party, my parents 53rd wedding anniversary and my God-daughters 12th birthday. It will also be my first trip to the shops to buy two outfits – one for my ordination and one for a massive party afterwards. And then, after that, I will settle down to a sensible shopping diet of mainly fruit and yoghurt that doesn’t cost the earth but speaks of the freedom of the children of God.