Many of the clas­si­cal spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines (prayer, con­fes­sion, sim­plic­i­ty, and the like) strike con­tem­po­rary Chris­tians as good, help­ful spir­i­tu­al habits, and so they are. But there is also more going on. Encoun­ter­ing God in dis­ci­plined, life-giv­ing wor­ship ignites a fun­da­men­tal move­ment in the believ­er from self-decep­tion to self-aware­ness, a move­ment aimed at devel­op­ing a deep knowl­edge of both who we are and who we are called to be in Christ. This is why most of the dis­ci­plines have a not entire­ly pleas­ant edge” to them.

Take, for instance, the dis­ci­pline of fast­ing. We may like to believe that we are patient, long-suf­fer­ing peo­ple. I’d like to think such is true of me. Yet what often hap­pens when we fast? Along with our hunger, a vari­ety of hid­den issues bub­ble to the sur­face: we chafe at incon­ve­nience, we snap at those around us, we crave spe­cif­ic sen­sa­tions, we demand sat­is­fac­tion. The tem­po­rary depri­va­tions involved in fast­ing crack us open like nuts, reveal­ing some of the hid­den real­i­ties that lie with­in us, truths hid­den from our direct con­scious­ness by our depen­dence upon food, dis­trac­tions, amuse­ments, and so on. After a few hours of fast­ing, our whole con­scious­ness echoes the scream of our bod­ies: I want to eat, and I want to eat now!” – though in fact most of us could refrain from eat­ing for hours or even days with lit­tle phys­i­cal harm. In this way the dis­ci­pline of fast­ing serves as a means of grace that God lov­ing­ly employs to expand our self-knowl­edge and deflate our self-decep­tion, to help us dis­cern more clear­ly who we actu­al­ly are and who we might become. 

It is not only in their tra­di­tion­al forms that these dis­ci­plines can be help­ful. For instance, some peo­ple have dis­cov­ered the chal­lenges and ben­e­fits of the clas­si­cal dis­ci­pline of fast­ing not by giv­ing up food peri­od­i­cal­ly but by giv­ing up enter­tain­ment media for a sea­son. Dur­ing one semes­ter at East­ern Uni­ver­si­ty, the school where I used to teach, some forty stu­dents of mine agreed to take part in a media fast.” They agreed to fast from all forms of media over a sev­en-week time span – no music, no films, no radio, no tele­vi­sion, no tex­ting, no Face­book, no YouTube, no inter­net, no video games, no CDs, no DVDs, and extreme­ly lim­it­ed use of cell phones and email (no more than fif­teen min­utes a day). Some par­tic­i­pants ini­tial­ly report­ed that they felt quite anx­ious. Oth­ers strug­gled with bore­dom. Many found that oth­er, non-media temp­ta­tions increased. At the begin­ning of the fast there was much dis­tress on every side! 

Yet for almost all par­tic­i­pants, after a week or so these ini­tial dif­fi­cul­ties sub­sided as deep­er things began to hap­pen. Many stu­dents report­ed that God, the world, and they them­selves began to look dif­fer­ent. The media fast cre­at­ed time to read the Bible in a much more con­cen­trat­ed man­ner. Con­ver­sa­tions with oth­ers became more fre­quent and gen­er­al­ly deep­ened. Stu­dents’ aware­ness of the effect of their envi­ron­ment upon them height­ened. They became more attuned to what had shaped their think­ing, speech, and behav­iors. Many found them­selves more sen­si­tive to the Holy Spirit. 

With the absence of almost all dis­trac­tions and diver­sions, they could not hide from them­selves. Behav­ior and thought pat­terns that had been ignored or unrec­og­nized for years sud­den­ly rose to the sur­face of their con­scious­ness. Areas that need­ed the heal­ing and trans­for­ma­tion of the Holy Spir­it clar­i­fied. Con­crete change began to occur in stu­dents’ think­ing, speak­ing, and behav­ior as the Spir­it spoke into the silence of these new learn­ing spaces. Many par­tic­i­pants said at the end that this fast had some­times been deeply painful, but also redemp­tive and restora­tive. Their hunger for God deep­ened as oth­er, less­er hungers were reined in. 

Why not try a media fast this week? Per­haps it could be some­thing as sim­ple as look­ing at email only three times a day. Or not read­ing emails from six on Sat­ur­day to six on Sun­day. Be cre­ative. And keep your eyes open for the grace of God to show up in unex­pect­ed places. See you next week. 

This series has been adapt­ed from Steven D. Boy­er and Chris Hall’s The Mys­tery of God: The­ol­o­gy for Know­ing the Unknow­able. Hun­gry for more? Please vis­it Bak­er Aca­d­e­m­ic for more information.

PC: Marek Uliasz

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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