The least-favorite Discipline
"Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."Well, we're not talking about lust or sexual behavior, but perhaps Augustine's favorite quote is appropriate as we begin reading about fasting - easily the least-practiced of the spiritual disciplines in America in the 21st century. It wouldn't be hard for a guy like me to pray, "Grant me the willingness to fast, and to be still - but not until after the cookout tonight..."
(Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, chapter VII, section 17)
The interesting thing I've found, in reading the study guide, is the use of fasting as a way to slow down the mind and disconnect from the materialistic, consumerist world that we live in. Fasting becomes a way to free the mind and the soul of distractions - which (for me, anyway) is certainly something worth working toward!
Foster suggests that fasting as "withdrawing from consuming food for a period of time" is perhaps the least useful kind of fast we can adopt. Some others he suggests are:
- a "fast" from people - entering into a time of solitudeIn short, a "fast" might be from anything which we have given excessive priority in our lives...perhaps abstaining from the things that are edging closer to "idols" or "other gods" in our lives.
- a "fast" from the media (at least partly akin to the "turn the damn TV off week" project)
- a "fast" from using the telephone. (This one made me smile, if only because I have several friends who cannot bear to hear a cell-phone ring without answering it - and often engaging in extended conversations while sitting there with me. I'd love to recommend a "fast" for them...
The other image that Foster suggests is that fasting is a way of clearing out room, in our bodies <or in our minds, so that the spirit of God may fill us more completely. It is not a commandment (or what one friend calls a "demandment") - but it is a practice given by God to clear out some of the weeds and underbrush in our lives, if only for a little while.
I'll be fascinated to hear what you experience as you read, and as you try this oft-neglected spiritual discipline!