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Before 5:2, there was 6:1

21 June 2013

THE 5:2 diet has been gaining popularity in recent months. The principle is that, on two non-consecutive days of the week, adherents restrict their food intake to 500-600 calories. The other five days, they can eat whatever they want. The attraction of the plan is that self-denial is limited to short bursts of time. Gratification is not cancelled, merely postponed for a brief period. Last weekend, The Guardian suggested applying the 5:2 principle to other areas of life - for example, drinking, shopping, relationships, etc. This raises the possibility of further applications.

In spiritual matters, there is already an existing pattern, the 6:1 plan: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates." To the Israelites, this was not a self-help exercise: domestic animals and even, by extension, the crops in the fields were included in the sabbath rest.

The 20th century brought the addition of Saturday (the original sabbath day, of course) to create a two-day weekend. This produced the 5:2 ratio between work and leisure, but it removed the distinctiveness of Sunday. This trend has continued. Increasingly, Sunday is being seen as the day to finish what did not get done on Saturday, usually shopping. It is possible for this to be restful; but the point of the sabbath is that it is less about a healthy work-life balance than a healthy life-God balance.

The Church has not been good at establishing a spiritual pattern for laypeople on weekdays. The Book of Common Prayer attempted to adapt the pattern of the religious orders to parish life, and the Canons still enjoin the minister to "make such provision for Morning and Evening Prayer to be said or sung . . . as may best serve to sustain the corporate spiritual life of the parish". The lack of attendance at these daily services suggests that, in the view of most people, religious observance can be safely left till the next Sunday comes around. The six intervening days can be spent in the usual manner: working (if in employment), eating and drinking, child-rearing, recreation, and so on, uninterrupted. What ought to be acknowledged is that to engage in any of these activities is to have the potential to honour God in the midst of them.

The object of the 5:2 diet, however, is to reduce one's weight. Similarly, the 6:1 pattern is designed to increase one's awareness of God. Lessons that take hold on the sabbath have the habit of slowly infecting the rest of the week. A day set apart for prayer, worship, thankfulness, and service is an indicator of how the whole of life should be. Unlike the 5:2 diet, in which the special days are ones of deprivation, the special day in the 6:1 plan is one of enrichment.

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