Fasting Day Four: Learning to Pray
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 look at ourselves as we are we will then feel the appropriate contrition and humility our spirit requires.
We need humility because when we pray we stand before the awesome judgment seat of God, the God Who knows exactly who we are and what we've done. This is incredibly important to remember and it helps me when I feel very nihilistic, because I will have to give an account.
My work requires a lot of driving around Denver and I see how people live all over the city. Some people love the energy of the city. I find it draining because I find it difficult to see anything other than a lot of expended energy on pointless and useless pursuits with no value or real meaning (perhaps this is an example of judging my neighbors?).
I look at the property, I consider the system I'm testing and making sure is working correctly. I think about the building and everything that has gone into making it, to the forces that compel the people living there to get up every morning and go to work to ultimately pay to live in the building. It seems like a futile cycle driven by necessity with a thin illusion of freedom. The empty beer cans, the cigarettes, the trash in the flower beds, the dogs kept in tiny apartments who jump for joy at a chance to run a little in a tiny dog park when you know they'd be so much happier with a proper yard (wouldn't we all?).
I don't know, the daily grind and cycles that compel all of us to get out of bed in the morning are nothing more than necessity. Freedom is an illusion and when I get drawn into this thought trap it seems like the best way to cope is to escape. I suspect many people feel that way, otherwise there wouldn't be so many movies, TV channels and video games.
It is difficult to pray when you're stuck in a rut of thinking that there is no meaning to life. Prayer is rather lifeless and rote. Thus fasting is incredibly important in learning to really pray, to consider who you are actually talking to and in the presence of.
"Let my prayer rise before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" says the Psalmist. Incense, icons, prostrations, fasting all serve as tools to re-direct our minds from the earthly cares that weigh us down and to remember the Holy God we stand before. They remind us of the saints around His throne who prompt us take a reverent approach to God, rather than a careless or thoughtless approach to conversation with our Heavenly Father.
For me the root of judging others stems from the pride that grows out of nihilism. If nothing matters then I (and my escaping from that reality) am the only thing that matters. And, as you might guess, other people get in the way of that constantly. The exercise in denying myself for these 30 days isn't magic. Any progress I make in this war will have to be diligently kept up and cultivated through continual use of the tools the Church has given me for my spiritual life.
My observations about the meaninglessness of life as I see it around me come from pride, from a willful refusal to see Christ in my neighbor and to cherish the world He has given to me. While this is the natural result of the materialistic world and culture we live in, that doesn't give me an excuse to indulge the delusion.
To fast is learn to lose our delusions about the world around us, to help us see the world and ourselves as we really are, to understand that we stand before God and His holiness as very sinful creatures. We fast before the Eucharist for this reason, so that we might remember every time that we draw our life not from bread but from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the source of our life, the bread come down from heaven for the life of the world.
Sorry, maybe this wasn't the most cheerful post but this is where my mind is in my fasting journal today. Lord have mercy on us all!