Posts Tagged ‘fasting’

Why Practice Spiritual Disciplines of Abstinence

March 17, 2016

Remember the old Southwest Airlines commercial “Wanna get away”? For my international readers–Someone would be pictured in a position, for example, a football referee before a big match for the coin toss and he forgot to bring a coin, who wanted to get away. It resonated no doubt because we all want to escape at times.

The Desert Fathers were men who sought deep spiritual experiences and encounters with God. They thought that by going off alone into the deserts of Egypt, Sinai, Syria, they could get away from society and focus with every second of their being on God.

The movement began in the mid-200s and lasted into the 400s–but in some sense still exists in the monastic traditions.

They practiced the spiritual disciplines of abstinence–solitude, silence, simplicity, sacrifice, fasting–almost too well. The monastic movement struggled for centuries against excesses of this practice.

The disciplines of abstinence are meant to prepare us to encounter and engage with God. Jesus, for example, went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days following his baptism. Then he encountered temptation. It wasn’t because he was weak from lack of food that he had the experiences. It was actually because he was now at his strongest so that he could deal with The Tempter.

Spiritual literature loves the metaphor of the jar.

You have something you need to store. You search for an empty container. There are many containers in your cupboard filled with now-useless stuff. But you have no container for your precious stuff. You empty a jar of its useless contents, and now it is ready to accept the new.

Just so is your mind and soul. When it is full of thoughts, worries, plans, and more, it has no room for God.

Now we intentionally pursue disciplines of abstinence to pour out the extraneous stuff of our lives. Only then is there room in our soul for God.

Dallas Willard puts it this way, “Abstinence then makes way for engagement. A proper abstinence actually breaks the hold of improper engagementsĀ  so that the soul can be properly engaged by God.”

That’s why following silence with study is so powerful.

To Lent or Not To Lent

February 18, 2015

My mind was full of competing thoughts. All were bouncing freely through the brain. There are now three partially written meditations cluttering my computer–and my brain.

Then I noticed that it is Ash Wednesday.

I completely missed Fat Tuesday–Mardi Gras!

Oh, but that is OK. I don’t have to store up all the bad things in order to make it through 40 days of fasting. Among the traditions of my youth, observing Lent was not one that was observed. Most of the kids in my village did. Most were Lutheran, descendents of German-speaking Alsatians who came to America in the 1840s. We (the Methodists) sort of wondered about those Lutherans. Mom said to never marry one.

Mostly when we talked about ritual, we used the term “empty ritual.” This feeling was only strengthened when stories went around about what various people in town gave up for Lent. My favorite was the guy who gave up watermelon every year. Of course, we wouldn’t see any watermelon for another six months! Talk about empty.

We also didn’t have church and get ashes. Didn’t have a clue about that.

Someone just tried to define a ritual as something we do to change God, while a practice is something we do to work on ourselves. But I know many who gain great spiritual comfort from the traditions of ritual. That is not a bad thing.

It is good to set aside time to reflect on Easter. That is the single day/single act that sets us aside from all others. The day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. He was alive. He was hope in person.

It was good to be reminded. I need reminders.

If you give up something, do it wisely and reverently. I have a friend who gives up fried food, desserts, and (hardest of all) beer every year for Lent. He loses 15 pounds. But then comes Easter šŸ˜‰ But he does it out of reverence for the season. He’s 85. Has been doing this for at least 20 years. It reminds him of why we have Lent.

What will we do in remembrance?