The Didache 3 – Fast for Those Who Persecute You

Posted: June 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Didache | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Didache 3 – Fast for Those Who Persecute You

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you.

What does it mean to love the other? We find the injunction to bless those who curse us, to pray for our enemies, to do good to those who intend us harm repeatedly in the Holy Scriptures. We see it lived out in the lives of the saints. But very often we do not do it. I know that, at best, I manage feeble, faltering steps in that direction.

Today, I want to reflect on the phrase I never really noticed before. My eyes, for some reason, tended to slide right over it.

fast for those who persecute you

I am developing some idea what it means to use my words and my body to bless the other. I’m slowly developing some understanding of what it means to pray. But how do you fast for another? How can our fast in our own bodies be offered up for the benefit of another human being? For surely this is what the saying means. I do understand that in the Holy Scriptures, fasting and prayer are often tied together. I have some grasp how to intercede for another through prayer. I’m less certain how I can intercede for another through fasting — how my fast can be for their good. And yet there seems to be some aspect of that here.

I don’t yet have an answer to this question. If you’re expecting answers in this series or from me in general, you probably have set yourself up for disappointment. I tend to always raise more questions than find pat answers. I even tend to find questions within such answers as I already have. But this question is important to me.

If I am going to live a lifelong fast, I would prefer it to have meaning.


Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 7

Posted: May 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 7

But it is the fast that I’ve been given.

As I’ve written the posts traveling the thread of my own experience and personal journey, it’s dawned on me that some, perhaps even many, might read that statement from my earlier posts as some form of fatalism or even is if I’m blaming God for this disease. Neither is even close to the truth, as I’m sure anyone who knows me well would recognize, but I should spend some time to explain why that’s so.

It’s extremely common in our culture for people to have an image of God as a figure who stands apart from us, guiding and intervening in our lives. There are a variety of different images of this sort of God. I want to take a moment to explore a few of the more common ones.

Sadly, some people have internalized an image of an angry God smiting those who cross him and punishing those who screw up in some way. It might be all people with whom this God is angry or only certain ones. It seems to vary. This is also one of the more common images of the God whom those who have abandoned God have rejected.  Personally, I don’t blame them. If I believed that God was anything like this particular God, I wouldn’t worship him either. This God is a God unworthy of worship and certainly unworthy of love. Worthy of fear, maybe, in the same way you would fear a rabid wolf, but not worthy of love at all. So no, I don’t believe that God is ticked at me for not adopting and practicing the “right” rule of fasting and prayer and celiac is his way of punishing me for my failure.

Others hold a milder version of this same God. It’s not a God who is necessarily angry with us, though perhaps he does get disappointed. This is a God who is, perhaps, more like the stern parent who will sometimes reward you and sometimes punish you in order to train you properly. I don’t believe in this God either. Yes, God teaches us. The Dark Night of the Soul shows us one way that he sometimes teaches us and moves us on to deeper and more solid practice of our faith and lives. He never actually leaves, of course, but for a time he lets the strong sense of his presence fade so we trust him and not that emotional experience. He also teaches us through the consequences of our actions, through illumination and revelation of Holy Scriptures, through other people, through the saints, and in a host of ways. He is the one truly good Father. But as such, he does not “teach” us by doing evil to us. Never. So no, I do not believe God gave me celiac disease so I would be able to move past the point where I have been waiting these past couple of years.

Still others imagine God controlling the minutiae of all that is. Of course, God does sustain and create all that is, but that is a different concept than the concept of control. Still, there are a small minority of ‘Christians’ who perceive a universe without any freedom whatsoever. God manages everything down to the smallest of subatomic actions and absolutely nothing ever happens at any level that is not precisely and exactly as God intended it to happen. There are varying degrees of this perspective and I will point out that I’ve never seen anyone who actually lives moment to moment as if they truly believed this were so. This God is perhaps the worst God of all of these. This is the God of scientific determinism. This is a personal, active God who originates all evil as well as all good. In such a scheme, there isn’t really any such thing as evil or good in any sense we would recognize. Every permutation and manifestation of this God that people paint makes me absolutely shudder. No, I do not believe that God foreordained I would have and manifest celiac disease and is putting me through my paces for his own narcissistic self-glorification and honor.

Indeed this is the fast that I’ve been given, but God didn’t give it to me. More on this in the next post.


Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 5

Posted: May 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Celiac, Fasting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Not the Fast I’ve Chosen – Part 5

As my efforts to understand this Christian faith within which I found myself continued, I kept reading both the Holy Scriptures and patristic writings from the first millenium. Nowhere could I find a change from the core communal practices of fasting, set prayer, and care for the sick and poor (at the very least through almsgiving). Other spiritual disciplines and practices were refined over the centuries, certainly.  But those, which seemed to flow directly from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (which is recorded historically from the late first century and early second century as being the first gospel written), always seemed to form part of the core of the life of the Church. (We won’t discuss Eucharist and Liturgy right now.) There continued to be a monumental disconnect between the church of Scripture and the entire first millenium and what I personally saw and experienced around me.

In an entirely separate journey from my own, my mother converted to Roman Catholicism. She was and is heavily involved with the Carmelites. Somewhere along the way, she shared Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God with me. If you’ve never read or listened to that book (audio is online from several sources), I highly recommend it. Brother Lawrence greatly influenced me and continues to influence my practice of the faith today. Moreover, he is an early modern practical mystic who has much the flavor of the ancient writers I was struggling to connect to the present day church. In order to connect the dots in the middle, I began to explore ecclesial medieval history in the West. I already knew a lot of the non-ecclesial history of Western Europe from the fall of the city of Rome through the medieval period. I didn’t even realize there was this huge gap in my knowledge until I began to explore it. What happened to the Western or Latin Church after the fall of the city of Rome and the rise of Islam drove a wedge between the eastern and western church?

As Rome declined and fell, the order it had imposed in the West gradually vanished. (The Roman Empire, shifted to the capital of Constantinople, continued in the East until the 13th century, of course.) No surprise there. And no real surprise in the work done in the monastic communities preserving the ancient works and serving as centers of light and order. What I saw by looking directly at the church, though, was that during this period more and more of the activities, such as fasting, that had been the work and practice of the whole church, came to be seen as largely more centered in the monastic calling. Rather than being an expression of the fullness of the Christian life to which all believers are called (well, except for celibacy), the monastic calling came to be seen as a higher calling, a different calling, following a different rule of life. And as this happened over time, the practice of the “laity” doing things like consistently and broadly observing the rule of prayer and fasting began to decline. One rule of faith developed for the laity while a different rule of faith developed for monastics.

Then, of course, at the Reformation, many such practices that were deemed too “Roman” by the reformers were simply discarded and a rule of individual choice of discipline and spiritual practice — which quickly devolved into very little actual practice at all — began to replace them all. That which the Reformation began, the Radical Reformation with its deep iconoclasm (an ancient first millenium heresy) soon completed. The Christian church in the West, by and large, became focused purely on the “spiritual” and began to treat the body and the “natural” mind as though they were divorced in some odd way from a person’s body.

I did eventually run into Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines which seeks to correct some of that decline. And his work helped me at least understand the disciplines in a modern context better than I ever had before. And though he writes at length about fasting (which I may explore on the blog at some point), I never actually adopted the practice for myself even though I agreed in theory with everything he wrote.

That’s the first sign of the truth behind my confession at the start of this series. By this point, I knew that fasting and prayer were deeply embedded and intertwined in the practice of Christianity from its very beginning. I knew it was likely an essential spiritual discipline. Yet I did not even try to fast, even in the clumsiest of fashions.

In the next in this series, I’ll close the loop of this journey with the last bit of knowledge about current Christian practice that I was still missing.