I'm not kidding.
A lot of people actually believe that.
The Holy Day of Yom Kippur is traditionally celebrated with a 25 hour fast. Many people will wear all white. Generally speaking, everyone celebrating Yom Kippur avoids any normal daily activity (like preparing meals, doing laundry, going to work, or mowing the lawn). The TV usually isn't turned on, unless it is to watch some special video that helps the family draw together in worship. But, the not eating part... for a lot of people, that's weird.
So, let me explain.
On Yom Kippur, Leviticus chapters 16, 23 and 29 instruct us that we are to take this day to "afflict your souls."
"Ah, I get it. Not eating."
No, you don't.
Afflicting your souls is not a condition of self deprivation. Worship is not about showing how good you are by how badly you can treat yourself. In fact, Yom Kippur is designed to be an incredibly joyous occasion.
"So, how is 'afflicting your souls' a joyful experience?"
A lot is lost in translation. We tend to think of "affliction" as a negative painful experience. But the Hebrew word "a-nah" simply means "to put down." or "to lower the estimation," "to disesteem." It is the assigned task of Stanley and Waldorf on the Muppet Show. And the command is not to afflict our bodies (as some would describe fasting), rather, it is to disesteem our "nefesh", the vitality of our own life. It is a time to look at our own lives as God sees us, instead of always finding some way to build ourselves up, we take this time to recognize the distance between who we are and who God is.
The celebration of Yom Kippur is about coming into the Presence of Almighty God, expecting to stand before the Righteous Judge, but instead finding yourself before the Loving Father. It is the story of the Prodigal Son: the names, dates and places are changed but the story is the same.
Throughout the Days of Awe (from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) we spend a lot of time seriously reflecting on the previous year, how we've represented God to the world and how we've represented ourselves toward God. And the more honestly we look at it, the more trouble we find ourselves in.
But, on Yom Kippur, God says "afflict your souls," or, maybe more accurately, "get your self out of the way." It's only then that you can see God for who He is.
So what is with the fasting?
Have you ever been so in love that you forget to eat?
Have you ever so much desired to spend time together with that one person that everything else in the world is a frustrating distraction? That is the intent of fasting on Yom Kippur. It's not about what you aren't doing. It's making way for what is the best experience of your year.
Everybody wants a Yom Kippur. Everybody wants to step into the Presence of God, knowing exactly who we are, seeing exactly who He is, and realize that He loves us anyway. Everyone wants that acknowledgment, that undeniable evidence, that God's love is really that unconditional.
On Yom Kippur, we stand together, adorned in white and confess our sins before Him:
For the sin of not crying out for peace
For the sin of ignoring the poor
For closing our hearts against our neighbors
For teaching our children prejudice through our attitudes
For not respecting God's image in every human being
For falsely representing ourselves
For ruthless competition
For offering inferior goods or service
For conformity driven by complacency
For remaining silent when truth has no voice
For indulging our children
For entertaining rebellion
For wasting our wealth on worthless frivolity
For withholding a kind word or a warm smile
For choosing sides to encourage division
For speaking our own wisdom instead of God's
For sending our children away instead of praying with them
For duplicity in living (godly toward believers, worldly to the world)
For trivializing what we don't understand
For showing contempt for what is not like us
For closing our ears to those who need sympathy
For listening for grievances to justify offense
For trusting our own strength instead of seeking Your power
For dismissing Your miracles because we don't think it's possible
For hesitating when You say to act
For acting when You say to wait
For assuming Your silence is because You're not speaking, instead of realizing that it is because we're not listening
For gathering confederates when we we're not sure we're right
For hiding alone when we've discovered we're wrong
For speaking foolishly and listening to fools
For closing our ears to the wise
For all these, where we have separated ourselves from Your love, we ask Your forgiveness.
And God says, "I love you so very much!"