Posts Tagged ‘fasting’

Advent Day 19: Fasting Again?

Advent Day 19

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  (Isaiah 40:3)

I’m smiling as I post another idea about fasting.  As I mentioned in the last post about this, fasting is not an idea that I relish.  However, I’m still intrigued by the idea of fasting from something.

As best I can understand it, part of the art of fasting is to get us out of routines that are at best dull, and at worst destructive.  It seems that if we have more than enough of anything (food, time) we somehow find a way to misuse the excess, often in a botched attempt to fill some kind of emotional void. 

Marjorie Thompson writes in Soul Feast about a wise old monk who advised a younger one about fasting.   Take in your daily bread, said the old monk, and fast from excess.  The older monk knew that an abundance of food could lead to a spiritual desert.

I remember a college friend who was having a rough semester and sought comfort in ice cream and soap operas.  She often invited me to join her.  I remember feeling a little stress that semester, but maybe I looked worse than I felt!  Looking back, I wish I had suggested that we just talk, or even take a joint trip to the campus counseling center.  Her little dorm room, with its free cable and mini-fridge, became a desert instead of a place of solace and refreshment.

I also remember a couple from my high school who found themselves in a desert.  Both high achievers, they sought relief in one another’s arms during those few hours between the end of the school day and their parents’ arrival home from work.  They conceived a child, and the girl was promptly whisked away to an abortion clinic.  I never knew the story until it was all over, and it made me stop and think.  What looked like every teenage girl’s fantasy (a boyfriend, attention, “practicing” marriage) was nothing more than a dry place of pain.  I became thankful for my “daily bread” of an after-dinner walk with a boy I was dating in the neighborhood.  That was all we could get away with!  But it was a refreshing break and never got us in trouble.

Today, practice having your daily bread, and break daily bread with a friend.  Think about what you really need to sustain you for today.   Try fasting from anything beyond that daily bread, as abundant as it may seem.

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

Advent Day 7

Advent Day 7:  the Fast

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.

–St. Richard Chichester (1197-1253)

I feel a little awkward writing about fasting, because I’ve never had success with a traditional fast (i.e., not eating.)  Every time I do it I get sick.  However, recently I found a different idea about fasting.  Some spirituality teachers (including Foster and Thompson) write about fasting from other things we consume or activities we do on a daily basis, to help make us more open to receiving God’s Word and Spirit.

Many of the college students and young adults I meet have a pretty steady diet of anxiety.  They are anxious over the future, over relationships, over personal identity, and over whether they can “perform” on the academic or social scene.  Feeding your soul with anxiety is like feeding your body with chocolate-covered coffee beans.  Sure, you’ll get a rush, but you’re depriving yourself of the nourishment you need for the long haul.

 So the practice for today is a fast from anxiety over performance.   Try to spend a day refusing to be anxious, and consider these questions during your day:

  • A person observing a more traditional fast will think about how God provides for them, even though the thing they want (food) is not available at the moment.  Use this same thought process:  how does God provide for you, even though your anxiety isn’t cured at the moment?
  • What do you really need to get you through the day?  Even the hands-on, high-energy people I described in yesterday’s post need down time.  No one is Superman, and why would you want to be?  He never gets to live a regular life.
  • What would unconditional love look like in your life?
  • What is holding you back from giving others unconditional love, instead of doling out love based on their performance?

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

just a little bit

I’ve always believed in the power of little things.  Yes, it sounds sentimental, like a motivational poster with a picture of a butterfly or something (“One little flutter of a butterfly’s wings….”) Blech.

It’s just that in my way of thinking, getting the big things right is impossible unless I start small.  And in my experience, if I forget about the small stuff, my whole life gets out of balance.

Over the weekend I found myself re-converted to my belief.  Last Thursday night, the college students shared ideas on taking a Sabbath rest.  (Most of the folks in the room admitted to already being tired this early in the semester!)

It struck me how all the ideas being batted around the room were so, well, little.  The activities the students described were rich and meaningful, but just … short.  This is no criticism of the students!  They are simply part of a larger society that seems to have no use for big commitments anymore.

In fact, as I mulled over our discussion, I remembered some other things I’ve read, suggesting that people of faith try something little.  Donna Freitas, author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses recommended in a recent interview* that students try temporary abstinence from sex.  She wondered if short periods of abstinence might lead to a greater commitment, once students have a breather from worrying about sexual performance and have a chance to rest in their own beds.  Somewhere else (but I can’t remember where) I read a suggestion that Christians try small bits of “fasting” or “abstinence” from things like TV or junk food.  Even the secular magazines I read regularly have articles about cutting down on meat or gasoline or some other commodity, but not cutting it out entirely.

Only one student in that group brought up the concept of a total Sabbath.  Her relatives had been farmers, and they took Sundays off. No cooking (cold leftovers for all three meals), no laundry, no cleaning.  They just got dressed, went to church, visited relatives, and probably washed the dishes.  (I can’t imagine a Southern woman leaving dishes in the sink overnight!)

Wow.  I guess this is where we are as a society.  Sometimes I think the only true commitment we make is to our cell phones.  We’re accessible 24/7, ready to go over tomorrow’s meeting with the boss while we cook dinner, or to check Facebook while we supposedly have lunch with our significant other.

Other than the phone, what commands our true commitment?  Work?  Hmm… everyone checks Facebook at work too.  Marriage?  I wonder if there would be so many marriage books on the market if couples just took a little more time to talk.  Taking care of our bodies?  As long as I can do it in 10 minutes or less!  Taking care of our souls?  Um, maybe later when things calm down at work/school/whatever.

Of course I still believe in the little things.  I really like Donna Freitas’ suggestion.  Also, later on, I’m going to post some of the Sabbath ideas shared by the students.  Maybe these little things can help us rearrange our commitments.

I’ll close this post with one of my favorite photos.  A few years ago, some of the students in our group organized their own camping trip.  Those who went kept talking about what a moment of rest it was, despite the campfire that wouldn’t get going and the bugs and the heat.  One day they rented canoes and just set out in the calm of North Carolina’s eastern rivers.  And on that day, they rested.  If only we could make a commitment to this.

* Donna Frietas’ interview with Patheos: