Sunday, February 01, 2009

Except by Prayer and Fasting

I used to understand fasting as a way to discipline my "body", much in the way that one would exercise muscles to strengthen them. That is, fasting would help me grow stronger spiritually. I now think of fasting as a way of metanoia. Fasting is a way that I help my body to let go of the habits of my sin, both inquity and daily transgression.

As I fast I become more aware of my continual suffering, which motivates me to call to God for help: O God come to my assistance! So, prayer is a natural consequence of fasting. So are my myriad attempts to avoid this suffering. And I'm so accomplished at avoiding suffering that I don't realize how automatic are my responses until I purposefully stop them. Thus, fasting is painful not because I'm deprived of nutrition but because I'm less able to distract myself with food.

The practice of charity is how I change in the midst of it all. This is the hardest part of fasting because I'm not only cranky, I'm self-righteously so. I deserve my goodies and others should be nice to me because I'm suffering. I don't want to receive the mercy for which I repeatedly ask ("Kyrios eleison"). I desperately want the familiar soothing of food because the mercy of God does not "feel" good the way eating does. I want consolations, not the desolations of letting go of my familiar and cozy pain, which leaves me less full. Of course, when I'm less full, I have more room for the Holy Spirit to work through me. It is in kenosis, this emptying of false consolations, that God works through me. In the end, it is not my charity that changes me, it is the Spirit working in the midst of my desolation. When I fast successfuly I am more at peace and in joy, the fruits of the Spirit working through me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

For where your treasure is, there is your heart also.

I was wondering about simplicity as it is an important concept in our public association of the faithful. I was wondering what it means. The latin root is “simplexty”—the state of having only one part. Interesting. This immediately reminded me of a monastic dream I once had (decades ago at Osage Monastery) which ended with the written phrase “mona heart”—one heart. What I mean is that simplicity is an attribute I expect to find in monks, who are both alone and one in Christ. So I find this meaning: my nous is focused on Christ, he is the treasure of my being, he is my "portion". This is the obverse of what I think is the secular meaning of simplicity, which focuses on elimination of complexity. Thus, for the secular world simplicity is the state of having eliminated distractions: emptiness. For Christians, simplicity is the state of focusing on Christ alone and being created anew in Christ: fullness. As such, simplicity is an integral part of our rule: all that matters is that one is created anew. What fills me with wonder about simplicity is that when I practice it my nous is filled with joy and peace and charity. Funny how that works.