The Cure of Souls

Thoughts on Spiritual Direction, Mentoring, and the Care of Souls

12 Chapters on Listening and Being Right

Ed. note: after publishing this I recognized  the genre .  It’s the ancient Christian genre of writing on the spiritual life in “chapters”: short paragraphs over which one is too linger in contemplation as one reads but which together form a sustained reflection on a topic.  I’ve now numbered the paragraphs and revised the title of the blog post to reflect this realization.  However, I do not claim to match the wisdom of those who mastered this genre.

1) Listening is a key piece to the cure of souls.  As various controversies rage and people dismiss others views, I believe listening becomes even more important, listening to those who may say things that one finds offensive or even dangerous.

2) Not everyone is in the place to do such listening.  And not every thing said is worth being heard.

3) But listening from the perspective of Spiritual Direction and the Cure of souls isn’t about validation or agreement. Listening in such a view also isn’t about letting one person simply rage or lash out.

4) The listening I’m talking about is giving space to questions.  It is also giving space so that genuine sentiment, faith, and experience can come to the fore.

5) In the Cure of souls it is also listening for the voice of God, in the floundering words of the one speaking.  This spiritual act of care is listening for the lacunae, the gap, the fissure that shows a contradiction, the place of the spiritual illness or blockage in a person’s life.

6) In  listening one can’t seek to make one’s own point or convince the other of the truth.

7) Listening is then an act bounded in love between the one speaking and the one listening.

8) Listening also means responding,  reflecting back, taking time to hear what the other may not hear in their own words.  Listening is interactive, its a negotiation, where the Holy Spirit plays a key and necessary role of illuminating and reviving the soul

9) Listening is seeking the truth through clearing a space where a soul may be lead into the truth by the Holy Spirit.  Listening is being willing to give oneself up to the work of the Spirit.

10) This sort of listening means each time one enters this clearing, one begins again.  Previous conclusions are held lightly, so that the truth of the soul may continue to emerge and come to light.

11) This listening in the cure of souls is the continual abandonment of the sense of having come to the right conclusions and being right so that relationship may emerge and thus the health and wholeness of the soul with whom one sits before God may come to completion and perfection.

12) Listening is accompaniment on the journey of the soul, so that the soul on her journey will have a relationship with, and remain in relationship to the source of life.

Christians Embrace Death and the Particularity and Physicality Of the Gospel

We Christians are anxious about the state of our institutions.  We at the same time want to believe someone has the fix.  So, we make pronouncements.  A number of people including Tony Jones and Brian McLaren have suggested that we are seeing possible end of denominations, others are talking about the decline of particular denominations (such as the Episcopal Church) or groups of denominations (the Mainline), or maybe even the whole kit and caboodle Christianity itself, or even more astounding the Church, is dead or dying.

The reasons given for this  demise are myriad, but they do coalesce around an anxiety that we aren’t or haven’t allowed the Spirit to move and that we are trapped in the institutional and the historical/material manifestations of our faith.  This it seems to me wishing to blame our having bodies, that is those real, actual, physical, architectural manifestations, that aren’t the s{S}pirit.  In a sense what I hear in our anxieties and the various remedies for our demise is the claim that we  are not our bodies.   Which is strange to me.

In college I read Souls and Bodies, a novel about the loss and retention of faith.  As I read it the novels contention was that it was precisely the “spiritual” obsession that denied our bodies that was the reason for the flight from religion.  The characters in the novel longed for cathedral and body to agree in spirituality.    Architecture, institution, body all are spiritual, the crack in our systems of faith and theology is when we dismember ourselves, when our cosmos no longer is imbued with the spiritual.    Religion and faith that can’t bring together body soul and spirit, leave us with corpses and pointless souls wandering in an amorphous and dreary world.  That is at least my impression of the novel 20 years on.  Whether or not it was the author’s intent it is what I took from it, and it spurred me to seek a faith that had form, architecture, institution, and body.

I wonder if our problem is that we are still seeking some essence, some inner spirit that can be decanted into any container.  If this is so then i say we are shrinking from the particularity of God and the church.   It is my conclusion that with all our love for “incarnational” theology we find the actual incarnation of God, in a Jew 2000 years ago, to be a little embarrassing, and possibly just a bit out of date.  We don’t want our future our “destiny” to be tied to that Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, whom we know so little about.  We’d rather create a Jesus in our own image, rather than be confined by a Jew who gathered 12 other Jews around him and sent them out into the world to proclaim the reign of God established by a violent and embarrassing death.

We embrace with difficulty that God is now forever human because, God is forever a 1st century Palestinian Jew who was raised from the dead and is seated on the right hand of God.  We also embrace with difficulty that from the moment of the incarnation God has been gathering together a new humanity through union with this one person jesus of Nazareth, through baptism and eating and drinking bread and wine.

American Christianity (liberal or conservative) tends to  prefer a more generic and American triumphalist universalism.   Actually following a crucified Jewish peasant from the first century Palestine is a bit of lunacy.   Doing so isn’t the way to win friends and influence people, its not guaranteed to gain you access the halls of power to influence the power brokers and leaders of the (free) world.  In fact that Jewish peasant tells us we aren’t suppose to seek power and influence and access, but God’s justice and righteousness first.  The problem for both liberal and conservative Christians is that we believe that justice and transformation of society can only come from in the very least having access to and influence over the power brokers.

Should we be surprised that people may find this all a little too incredible.  Should we be surprised that since Christianity has had access to the power centers for so long and yet used that access not to be open to God’s kingdom but to replace God’s kingdom with our vision of freedom and democracy (liberal or conservative), that people will walk away.  Who needs Christianity if it is simply a version of secular ideologies.  Our universalism our reductions of Christianity to principles, or morals or to social justice, leave no need for a Palestinian 1st century Jew.  Or to make this Jew relevant we ask people to believe something even more incredible, that said Jesus of Nazareth was simply an 21st century populist democrat, or  we ask people to believe in a being that died just so you could accept him into your heart and go on your merry way without a care for the world.

We need to embrace it all.  The messiness, the imperfect way Christians are the body of Christ, and the Jewishness of our God.  The particularity of our material existence is the universal spirituality of Christian faith.  We need architecture, we need art, we need what Christ instituted both sacraments and the historical continuity of  the temple that God is building us into.

We will come to know what reflects this holistic particular universal faith not by reductions and seeking the essential nature of the Spirit, but by seeing that the God who became a Jew a little over 2000 years ago is the God of all, who embraces all, and instituted the Church and is building a temple, which is the new humanity.  Such a vision perhaps simply isn’t compatible with the vision of our age.  In part though that is our fault for we have been proclaiming something else, we have lost who we are, we have sought release from our bodies, so that we could have universal spirit that could appeal to everyone.  This is our demise, this is our death. We are the dry bones and we are finding if we are honest that there is no life outside our body.  Mortal can these bones live?  Lord only you know.   May we prophesy that the spirit return to our dried out wasted away bodies.  May God return to us the flesh we have abandoned.  Our bones can witness to the life of God, but we must prophesy to the breath, and accept our particularity, our mortality.

 

Spiritual Gifts, the Holy Spirit and our Abilities

For Pentecost I preached this sermon.  The sermon emphasizes a certain aspect of Spiritual gifts: namely that they aren’t equivalent to things we do well or like to do.  For instance you don’t have the Spiritual gift of Hospitality because you like to and are good at throwing parties.  To put it another way, having a spiritual gift isn’t the same as being ‘gifted’, as in having a native talent or ability to do X above and beyond other human beings general ability to do X.  What I preached is that Spiritual gifts are about receiving something that isn’t part of one’s native ability or natural inclinations.   The gifting of the Holy Spirit gives us that which take us beyond ourselves.

I have a problem with my sermon: What is summarized above is only part of the story.  Since I was trying to get people to connect with the divine presence in themselves, that stream of water spoken of by Jesus in The Gospel of John, I didn’t explore the connection between our native abilities and gifts and the abilities and gifts received from the divine presence in us, the Holy Spirit.  The only hint I gave that I believed there was some connection between our personal abilities and gifts and the gifts of the Spirit was to emphasize a couple of times that according to Paul gifts were given to each individually.

In my sermon I was seeking  a corrective:  we at times too easily equate a desire or propensity towards something to be our Spiritual gift. Yet,  if take seriously the account of Pentecost in Acts and Paul’s argument in Corinthians the point of being gifted by the Spirit isn’t an aspect of our own effort or ability.  In a sense speaking in tongues and gifts of healing are obvious and thus quintessential Spiritual gifts.  Other Spiritual gifts like hospitality or even discernment could also simply be natural ability or bent, though Paul also speaks of  these as Spiritual gifts.

I didn’t bring it up in my sermon (sermons are limited like that) that I do believe there is a needed discernment of the connection between what has been gifted to us from the Spirit, our personhood and our native abilities and inclinations as persons.

What might be the nature of this discernment?  There are a few things I’d suggest we need to keep in mind and pray about when we have the question of what gifts we have received.

1) As the baptized we have been given the Holy Spirit, in meditation and prayer seeking that flow of life in us is a place to begin.  In this discerning meditation and prayer where in your life, in interactions with others, do you see life springing up both in yourself and in others.  The metaphor of streams of living water for the presence and gifting of the Spirit is to direct our attention to the unexpected places we find life springing up like well watered plants.

2) The Holy Spirit chooses, the Apostle tells us, but also that the Holy Spirit gives to each individually.  While the focus of our gifts isn’t on our native abilities, that the Holy Spirit is God in us and the one who can articulate our deepest longings and desires before God in prayer (Romans 8:26) means that our personality and talents aren’t ignored in the giving of gifts by the Spirit.  I suggest that in discerning one’s gifting one is looking in that space between who you are and the edge of your abilities and inclinations.  This could mean that a gifting of the Spirit takes a natural ability and takes it beyond what one is able to do, or it may offer a means to do something consistent with ones personality but to do something that doesn’t come easy. For instance praying in tongues can be for an extrovert that way to be silent before God and wordless prayer with words, that is a means to meditate for someone who may find regular wordless prayer temperamentally challenging.

3) Paul does connect desire and receiving of gifts.  When in prayer and meditation seeking to know one’s gifting is to seek those places of ones desire.  What do we long for?  Paul seems to even show that in seeking to know the gift one has received that we are to desire certain gifts.  We may find that we aren’t given what we initially desire, again Spiritual gifts do take us beyond ourselves.  Yet, in allowing ourselves to desire good things, which all spiritual gifts are, is key to becoming aware of the gift we have been given by the Spirit.

4) This will require discernment, and talking it out with others whom one trusts.  Spiritual gifts aren’t for our private and personal enrichment, they are how we are to Spiritually relate to other members of the Body of Christ, and the way in which God seeks to bring life to the World.  Therefore the feed back of those close to one: Spiritual counselors and friends are key in discerning what gift one has received.  Again those who are close to us are part of who we are as persons and individuals, they will be able to tell you how they see you fitting together in the Body of Christ.

As I grew in the faith and found my way into the ordered ministry, much of the above discernment happened for me informally and implicitly. Though ordered ministry and office is a different but related thing to the Spiritual gifts, gifting and office also aren’t completely separate.  But that is another post, and a topic that I’m still unclear on myself.  My point though is that this discernment will take time, it also may not always be obvious, or in the moment of a specific conversation where one asks another for feedback on Spiritual gifts.  This process can be those small bits of affirmation, someone  pointing out something one did that one wasn’t even aware one was doing.  There is something organic and fluid to this process, not mechanical or procedural.  And this shouldn’t be surprising because it is about receiving and being the conduit of abundant life, those streams of living water.

 

 

The Meaning of Giving Praise to God

When we praise God for something what are we doing?  When we thank God for a positive outcome and praise God for that outcome what are we meaning?  What are we attributing to God.

These were some of the general questions I recently dealt with in a spiritual direction session with a directee.  Praising God for God’s character made sense, and being thankful also made sense to the directee, but when it came to particularities, things got messy.  So many factors, in becoming healthy, or a healing, who or what is responsible, one’s own body, one’s own initiative in taking health inducing activities?

There is a desire to give thanksgiving and praise, even so the question haunts: for what are we thanking God, and is there reason to praise God for outcome X if we can’t be sure that God is the cause of that outcome?

This anxiety over praise and thanksgiving is in part a fear of idolatry, but also feeling that to praise or thank God truly we must find God and only God to be the cause of the situation or scenario for which we give thanks and praise.  The concern over the idolatrous act has some truth to it though more than simply idolatry may be at work.  However, I’d argue it is misplaced to think of praise and thanksgiving to God as requiring a causal link between God and situation and event over which one is giving praise.

Though, I actually wonder if such anxieties over praising God and their legitimacy, is really a failure to be fully immersed in the language and experience of the Psalms.  Praise and thanksgiving in the Psalms is varied and often also paired with lament.  Praise and thanksgiving are then complex. Praise and thanksgiving are about a particular situation, about the nature of God, and the relationship the psalmist has from God.

Sitting with the whole of the Psalms, I suggest that our anxiety around giving praise and thanksgiving to God for particular situations and “good fortune” (or is it “grace”, that is gift) occurs when we think praise and thanksgiving to be only in response to having received or experienced a desirable or good outcome.  Praise and thanksgiving over a particular situation is properly connected to who God is and one’s relationship to God.

Praise is relational, and is a response to the gift that is Given.  This donation will include any and all good things that happen to one who is in relationship to God.  This gift is not eliminated or negated by tragic or lamentable situations and suffering, thus praise and thanksgiving are part of lament, and aren’t merely celebratory responses.

Though praise and thanksgiving are also ecstatic celebrations that comes from personally knowing and encountering not only one’s own maker but the source of the entire cosmos.

When we are in relationship to God, our knowledge of God and our relation to God is found in praise of the character of God.  This is without regard to situation or suffering, thus lament is also praise.  Since we are in relation to that which is the ultimate source of all that is Good, any good thing is an occasion for celebrating in God’s presence, that is in the expression of praise and thanksgiving in the wake of a fortunate situation, even if we can’t directly link God’s action to the immediate outcome over which we are celebrating.

On Living in a Futile and Crooked Generation

This reflection is a riff on  the Sermon I preached at Reconciler on May 4th, the Third Sunday of  Easter. The Gospel text is the Road to Emmaus, the other Scripture texts are a portion of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost and the beginning of the First Letter of Peter

We can lose sight of the meaning of Pascha, of the Resurrection and this season of Easter.  Conservative or Liberal we may be tempted to see this as about morals, or justice, or ethics.  Or maybe we want the Resurrection and the incarnation to be a principle we can apply.  All of this doesn’t take seriously enough the human predicament.  Doesn’t take seriously our own, my own, predicament.

Our predicament (my predicament) is futile, it leads towards death. It is a dead end.

What was Peter preaching on that first Pentecost?  Was he calling people to repent from being part of the mob that handed Jesus of Nazareth over to be crucified. I don’t think so. Jesus on the way to Emmaus tells Cleopas and his companion that  the Messiah had to suffer, had to die, had to enter the tomb.  It doesn’t help to repent from our predicament, that we are stuck.  That we live in a world dominated by death, violence, injustice and oppression.  No, the change of mind Peter called for and which Peter still calls us to, is to decide with what will we identify, the one who was crucified, who we crucified, or the crooked generation.  Are we going to identify the one who entered our tombs our dead end world, or are we going to identify with an age and a generation that can only offer us a life that ends in our death, the dead end.

If we have difficulty understanding the faith of the Apostles and the nature of the Joy of this season of  Easter it is because we think God came to transform a dead end age into the Kingdom of God.  This is also what everyone at the time of jesus thought the Messiah was going to do, no one thought the Messiah was going to become accursed in Death, die on a Cross.  The Messiah wasn’t supposed to do that, Cleopas says so.

Jesus has to set us on a different path.

Jesus, as we know from the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter after the Resurrection still has the wounds.  Christ really died, and by death beat down death an on those in the tombs bestowing life.

If we are to understand what has been achieved for us and live it out in our daily life,  ff the joy of the Resurrection is to penetrate, we must admit that we are still in the tombs.  It is to us and all humanity that Christ has come.  The tombs, Christ undergoing death isn’t simply some past event, it is what it means to be rescued from the futility and meandering path of our generation, of this age.

This should lead us to repentance and conversion (one that is continual throughout our lives, not a one time event) as we encounter again and again how we tend to simply wander to our deaths, without purpose.  Continually repent from how we live according to this generation and age that is passing away and convert to the age of life and Joy that has come, and is to come.

The futility and crookedness of this age has little  to do with its ethics or morality, nor its principles, but simply that it is given over to death.  We can live as Martin Heidegger described in his philosophy as being towards death, or we can become identified in baptism and Eucharist with the one who is Life itself.  This doesn’t change the nature of this generation and age that is being towards death, but it changes us so that in these tombs we and those around us may have life.  This is the path of discipleship, this is the path of the cross, this is the purpose of the ascetic and mystical path, that we may be Christ, who is life in the midst of this futile age that is passing away, that is being towards death.

There’s another possible misunderstanding here, to identify this age or generation with the physical universe and the age to come and of life with the non-material.   Or to see it as a past/present verse future dichotomy.  What is proclaimed though is to ages and generations existing as alternate “dimensions”.  Or another way of putting it two ways of being, one way which is being towards death the other which is being in life.  Both are physical and spiritual, material and immaterial.  This is why it is key to affirm the bodily Resurrection of jesus and that Thomas could have put his finger in Jesus’ wounds.

I recommend also reading the sermon, if you haven’t already done so, to get the fullness of this thought.

Listening to Wisdom of the Silent Tomb

Today is Holy Saturday, I generally try to let the silence of this day settle in.  We wait on this day.  It is the last day of the Lenten fast.  Any who have been fasting are probably weary of it by now.  We have come to the end.

There is  a deathly silence to this day.  Silence and listening are more than not using words.

Today, many people are running about their business with no attention to Jesus Christ in the tomb.   Many Christian traditions do nothing with this day.

The second reading for Vigils in the Benedictine prayer is an ancient sermon by an anonymous preacher (well we apparently don’t know who preached it.) This preacher reminds us that the day Jesus was in the tomb is the sabbath.  Death has many meanings, it also means rest.  The body of Jesus of Nazareth rests in the grave on the Sabbath.

Silence can also be restful. Grief, loss, death, rest, silence.  Are we listening?

A friend points out how we often struggle to keep these three days together, this  the boundary between Lent and Easter.  Easter can overwhelm us into a search for certainty.

Easter is about triumph, and we can forget the means of that triumph. “By Death Christ beat down Death.” The way of the Cross is the path of Resurrection.

So thanks to the Anglobaptist.  On this Holy Saturday I’m wondering if  the ways in which we seek justice and righteousness and the conflicts surrounding that search are so rancorous among and between us Christians because of our forgetfulness, that is a misunderstanding,  of Resurrection.

We think Resurrection is about certainties or we think it’s about metaphor and principles.  We forget that our sense of certainty and rectitude isn’t the point.

Even after the Resurrection the silence of the tomb speaks to us.  It should in the least remind us that, whatever our positions, whatever our beliefs about justice and righteousness, God come in human form, and who then dies is simply unsettling.  Resurrection doesn’t settle anything, but it unsettles everything.  The wisdom to know what to do after the displacement of Resurrection, comes from a bowl towel and feet, and the silence of the tomb.

Holy Week, Grief and the Unexpected

As has become our custom at Reconciler, I didn’t preach.  We let the liturgy, the scriptures, sung and read, the hymns preach.  We walk a lot in our Palm Sunday service: We the Palm procession, we also process around to different stations for the reading of the Passion Gospel, we process up to gather around the altar, and we then process to the baptismal font for dismissal.  It’s a beautiful service.

The triumphal entry and palm procession didn’t move me this year, or rather it rang hollow.  The griefs of the passion story was more palpable for me this year.  This time around the knowledge that the crowds shouting “Hosanna” would soon melt away muted  the celebration at the beginning of the service.  Grief, loss and the unexpectedness of the liturgy and the Gospel were prominent in my consciousness as I presided in the liturgy.

This is not surprising given that  2013 was a year of loss and grief.  Very little went as I had thought and my father  passed at the end of 2013.  Little of what I’m facing now did I expect to be facing when I last celebrated Palm Sunday and entered Holy Week last year.  A year ago we we’re wondering whether or not my dad’s recovery from a major stroke would be a slow or quick recovery.  Nothing indicated that in 7 months he would die.  I also didn’t expect that the community would be down to four people in a temporary space big enough only for the four members curtailing much of the activity of the community (I’ve written about our “winter” here and here).  The events that are remembered and rehearsed in Holy Week, weren’t anticipated by the disciples and full of distress, loss, grief, and confusion.

Even the hopeful reality of Easter and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, wasn’t what the Apostles and disciples of Jesus expected.  The whole of what we celebrate and enter into in the liturgies of this week are tinged with loss, grief.  Even the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth means a certain loss: Loss of what the Apostles thought was about to come in the life and ministry of Jesus.

We may fail to see the complexity of the story and the liturgies.  We know the story, the path of the liturgy is well worn.  But life happens, and we find ourselves in unexpected places with griefs and losses that we didn’t have the last time we walked this way of Holy Week, of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  If we pay attention we can find these liturgies, these scriptures not only speaking to our situation, but showing us something we hadn’t seen or experienced before.

We  come again and again over our lifetime to these Holy Days, both to interpret our lives, but also because there is always more to learn and experience in these liturgies and these Scripture texts.

Whatever the intervening year has brought you, I encourage to attend to it and how the liturgies and Scriptures are experienced differently because  you are in a different place.  Come to these familiar rites and texts with anticipation.  There is more than you expect in them, there is a deep reality and resource in them.  Encounter them in the difference that life has brought you since you were last here.

Further reflections on fasting and Lent

As I mentioned in this previous post, I’m a novice when it comes to fasting.  Other spiritual practices I’m much more adept at and find much more congenial.  Since this Lenten fast has been one I’m practicing with the church communities I lead The Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconciler and the Community of the Holy Trinity  fasting has come up in conversation this Lent.

One common thought I’ve run across in these various conversations is that  the point of fasting is endurance.  Fasting is a contest of ones will, and certainly it is that in part.  One could read certain passages of scripture and the desert fathers that do compare asceticism to a type of athleticism, I’d still argue that the point isn’t the endurance.  More to the point endurance is only part of what ascetic practices are about.

Specifically fasting is about awareness that allows us to strengthen or reorient our relationships.  This isn’t obvious.  I’ve discovered that in fasting I become aware of all sorts of things, some of them trivial, some of them significant.  Having good relationships, with our loved ones, with God, with our bodies and what we eat takes awareness.  In our daily life, our ordinary day in and day out habits can deaden us to certain aspects of our lives and relationships.

Now to gain an awareness of the connections and our good and sinful relationships to things and other, one has to endure.  But if one’s focus is upon enduring the hunger, or the abstinence from certain foods, one misses the opportunity to examine what other hungers and desires are also stirred up in one’s self.  Fasting allows us as I said in that other post at the beginning of Lent, to examine our desires.  This is why fasting should be accompanied with prayer and meditation.

But there is even a more.  Since Lent is a penitential season we can see this asceticism as merely the rooting out of sin or evil.  But again if this is our focus we will be frustrated, and only partly effective. What fasting allows is for us to be aware of what good we desire.  The problem isn’t with desire or hunger but that we sometimes desire or hunger for what is ultimately undesirable.

Here, the current secular practice of a vegetable juice fast brings home this spiritual reality.  Part of the point of the juice fast is not only to detoxify (root out sin by analogy) but also to reset what one desires in food, so that one’s hunger actually will satisfy what your body needs.(by analogy fasting can teach us to desire the Good, and find that we truly desire God.)

I’ve said the above is an analogy.  Yet, I’d suggest that spiritual and bodily processes aren’t so separate.  What happens in our body when we fast is also happening to us spiritually, in our souls.  We fast and take up ascetic bodily disciplines not because our souls and bodies are who we are.  At times we need recalibration.  Our hungers and desires are a mismatch of good, mediocre, and evil.  Lent becomes a time to realign ourselves and our relationships to food, to things and to each other.  A basic and primordial way to do this is in our relationship to food, and so we fast.  With prayer and meditation such fasting during Lent can truly lead us to a joyful seasons of Easter where we can find our true desires restored, and find that we simply don’t have the appetite for the mediocre and evil.

Why Fast?

Lent is a time of fasting.  The patterns of fasting for most Christians in the united States today aren’t about complete abstinence from food, at least not in Lent.  Thus, “giving something up for Lent.”

I confess that I’m not good at fasting.  The spiritual disciplines I gravitate towards are meditation, solitude, Lectio Divina (alone and in groups), and retreats.  Some of these practices are suited and come easy for an introvert, for instance solitude, and spiritual retreats.  Fasting is just difficult, especially a complete fast from any food. I don’t feel I fast well.  I often just am aware of what I’m not eating. It’s difficult to get to the spiritual benefit of fasting.

Fasting might be that for most people.  This is probably why we seek to fast by refraining from only certain foods or even apply this to refraining from certain activities in Lent.  One can quibble with me about whether giving things up for Lent should be properly understood as fasting, but I would still argue the practice is rooted in seeing Lent as a time for fasting.

But why fast at all?  What are we doing when we abstain from some or all foods or certain activities for a period of time?  

Part of the reason we fast is that orthodox and catholic Christian spirituality is an embodied spirituality.  We fast because we are embodied and our bodies matter for our spirituality.

But one may wonder at this: How is it that refraining from food something we need as bodies, an affirmation of our being bodies?  This touches upon this sermon on desire and temptation.  We can have un-reflective or possibly unhelpful relationship towards what we need to live.  Jesus responds to the temptation to turn rocks into bread with “People don’t live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4b TNIV)  This isn’t a denial of the need for food, but an affirmation of where our sustenance and life truly comes from, God.  Fasting through limiting or abstaining from food altogether is a way to affirm a trust in God, who is the source of all life.

The spiritual discipline of fasting has analogous end to what someone is seeking to do in a vegetable juice fast.  In a vegetable juice fast you are seeking to reboot your body and it’s desire for certain foods and to clean out one’s system.  The idea is that, especially in our context of highly processed foods and high dependence on animal products, dairy, and meat for our sustenance, our desire for certain foods is out of whack and that especially due to processed foods we need to detox ourselves.  For some this is the first step towards a vegan diet for others a means to re-calibrate and detox.  In both cases it is to reorient ones desires towards a more healthy pattern of eating and retrain your body to desire truly health giving foods.  This happens both physically and spiritually when we orient a fast towards our relationship with God.

This can also be the spiritual result of fasting.  Through fasting we become aware of our desires, possibly how they may be misguided, and we can through this bodily discipline let God reorient our desires, taking our hunger or our cravings for certain foods as an opportunity to examine what we desire and why before God.  

Personally, I also find that my compassion for those who may have little to eat around the world and in our midst can increase in  fasting.  When fasting I find myself being keenly aware of all the restaurants and convenience stores, and snack shops that are all around. Things, I often pass by without notice.  Fasting then can lead to a compassionate engagement with food, abundance, and hunger.  Through fasting we can allow our chosen hunger to orient our awareness of hunger in the world.

I know of some who fast who will take the money they did not spend on a particular meal, or on food they would have otherwise purchased and donate the money to a food pantry in their area or to an organization working on addressing hunger and starvation around the world. 

These are just some beginning thoughts on why we fast.  Thoughts from one who is a novice at fasting.

What are your experiences with fasting? Why do you fast?  How have you met God in fasting?  is fasting a spiritual discipline you are drawn towards?