So, being utterly exhausted, I didn't get to my blog last night, so I'm combining day 8 and 9 of my journal on today's post. Yesterday was the end of the first seven days and the beginning of reintroducing food. This was a good thing because around lunch time I was totally ravenous, which probably meant my body was really ready to eat. So, I had a banana in the afternoon and it tasted great!
I was really craving a Honeycrisp apple, which is my favorite. I had one of those around lunch time today and it really hit the spot.
I'm definitely ready to start eating again. The difficulty with fasting is that it teaches you lessons about yourself, good and bad. The good is that it teaches me to be more mindful about what I'm eating. The bad is that I have to do so much thinking about it that I see how thoughtless and gluttonous I have been in my life around food, how the abundance of American life has taught me not to be thankful but to take all these good things for granted.
Today was like having the noonday demon all day. I'm probably just physically exhausted and but today was tricky. I didn't do as good a job praying my way out of my funk as I would've liked. The noonday demon was strong today.
If you don't know what I'm referring to, the noonday demon is an old foe of mankind. A monk named Evagrius from Pontus described it this way, and this demon is not one who only attacks monks but all of us at some point.
"The demon of acedia, which is also called the noonday demon, is the most burdensome of all the demons. It besets the monk at about the fourth hour (10 am) of the morning, encircling his soul until about the eighth hour (2 pm).
First it makes the sun seem to slow down or stop moving , so that the day appears to be fifty hours long.
Then it makes the monk keep looking out of his window and forces him to go bounding out of his cell to examine the sun to see how much longer it is to 3 o’clock, and to look round in all directions in case any of the bret...
I broke my fast today, though not because I intended. I got in one of those situations where food was kindly offered to me and to refuse would've meant offense. And so, in the spirit of the Church's stance on hospitality (and common courtesy) I ate some food... tacos to be more precise. Yes, they tasted delicious for a few minutes. But let's make one thing perfectly clear - you don't break a five day water fast on fast food tacos!! My body absolutely hated me the rest of the afternoon.
It wasn't only my physical internals that were grumpy with me. Emotionally I was really frustrated about it and was starting to feel like the whole endeavor was pointless again. Then I read the quote in the image above from St Nektarios and I understood that it was my pride flaring up.
You see, I didn't even fail at fasting. In the Orthodox Church love always comes first. Without love we have nothing, and that is true in fasting as well. So if fasting is going to ge...
Today was a really good day on the fasting front. I was not very bothered about not partaking in food at fellowship, although it did look really good. I'll chalk up this win to the grace of God given in the Liturgy through the Eucharist.
I am deeply thankful for the gifts of the Liturgy, but it isn't exactly a graceful or powerfully Divine experience when you are wrangling half a dozen children. One of the difficulties I normally have in Church is distraction, especially in the pew. Praise God that His gifts are present even when my mind isn't always there.
We can also be helpful that we are not alone in this endeavor, and that many fathers of the Church have great advice for dealing with this problem.
St. Isaac the Syrian has this to say:
"Do not seek... to pray without distraction and so stop praying to cleanse your thoughts first. Rather, persevere in prayer, and out of perseverance... thoughts will be cleansed and distractions will withdraw... If you insist on not pr...
Today was a pretty good day, I feel less fatigue and soreness generally. The evenings are difficult because a lifetime of practice has taught me that the evening meal is the most social one, so, not eating is difficult emotionally instead of physically.
Fasting brings a clarity to the mind that I don't otherwise experience. Those who have fasted before know what I mean. Clarity of mind allows us, I think, to focus more on preparing ourselves for anything, but specifically prayer.
I never thought about preparing myself for prayer before I started reading Orthodox writers. Prayer was part of preparing myself for ministry and worship and the Eucharist, which is appropriate of course. But preparing myself to pray wasn't something I had thought of. According to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov we prepare ourselves to pray when we reject resentment and condemnation of our neighbors and realize our own sinfulness. Basically, if we actually stop blaming others for our problems and actually lo...
Today was stressful for us, we are trying to buy a house, and (as we all know) that's a roller coaster. There were other anxiety causing situations as well and I found myself deep in the pit of anxious thoughts today. On top of that, I had to see and smell food all day long, while I drank my water and wished I was doing anything other than fasting. But I finished Day 3, and I felt stronger about it than I felt yesterday. May tomorrow be even stronger. In the meantime, I wanted to say a few words about that pesky anxiety.
I am definitely among those who would rather escape into a distraction than pray when I'm anxious. The spiritual counsels of St. Paisios of Mt Athos have been the most helpful spiritual thing I've read for dealing with the constant hum and then spikes of anxiety that I feel for as long as I can remember.
"If we work to correct ourselves and look more intently towards our "inner" activity rather than our external, giving precedence to d...
One of the points of fasting is that we would show no mercy to our own sins. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and thus we are God's people, the new Israel.
If we dare to engage in a spiritual reading of the Scriptures, we find a valuable lesson in Deuteronomy 7.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you,...
The war in my thoughts definitely came. I kept the fast today and found it easier to remember to pray, to get less bogged down in distracting myself. Work gave me something productive to do today that proved very helpful. I knew the evening would be a lot harder. And it has been.
I started today reading Matthew 6 and paying attention to the connections between prayer, fasting, almsgiving and not being anxious about one's life. Those passages were a comfort and helpful redirection at several points during the day. The war is between nihilistic and anxious thoughts. They sort of take turns.
How to cope to with them?
For most of my life I've tried distraction - food, music, a show... when I was younger video games were a solid way out. We all have our favorite, right? I still think none of those things are wrong in themselves, I just know I've used them as a way to escape from the war in my thoughts rather than facing them and dealing with them through prayer.
I decided today to start a fast. My goal is to make it the whole month. I aim to do a water fast for the first week and then continue to water fast on the Church’s fasting days the rest of month and eat only raw fruits or vegetables the rest of the month.
Why am I doing this?
Food is tied up with a lot of spiritual demons and fears for me. Some people might have a hard time understanding that, but I didn’t have a very disciplined way of eating growing up. I have had, to this date, a typically unhealthy American diet of too much fast food and indulgence.
One of the first times this problem really struck me as a spiritual problem was in seminary when one of my professors was preaching in chapel on John 6:25-40. The homily was about Christ as the daily bread of the believer. He said the crowd expected a feast and He called them to a fast. At the tree in the garden of Eden the devil awakened in Adam a desire for a feast without a fast. At the tree of the cross Jesus finishes and...
Today is the commemoration of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966). He lived an extraordinary life as a pastor, priest and bishop of the Church. Two stories from his life and how God used this saint to provide for orphaned children are particularly powerful and important to me. I wanted to share them with you.
God is glorified in His saints, they are not a distraction from Christ but their holy lives draw us closer and create in us a desire to be like them and thus more like Christ who worked powerfully within them.
(From the memoirs of Maria Aleksandrovna Shakhmatova, matron of St. Tikhon’s Orphanage in Shanghai.)
"In the slums of Shanghai there were cases in which dogs would devour baby girls who had been thrown into garbage cans. When the newspapers announced this, Archbishop John told Mrs. Shakhmatova to go and buy two bottles of Chinese vodka – at which she cringed in horror. But her horror increased when he demanded that she accompany him into these very slums, where...