“If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.”-Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I converted to Orthodoxy just a few months prior to the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Of course, I had been inquiring for about a year before that, and in that time had given thought to the idea of asceticism. Coming from a Protestant Christian background it is somewhat of a foreign idea. Not completely so, but, still, there is not much emphasis placed upon it in Protestantism. It’s mostly something you see your “overzealous” friends do.
In the Protestant world it looks something like… giving up TV for a month. Or going on a juice fast for some period of time. Or maybe just skipping a meal. Now, I’m not knocking those things. That thing I said about overzealous friends? That’s how I felt about it years ago. I think those people were onto something. But, there’s no structure of asceticism in the Protestant world. There’s nothing like: Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, unless it’s during a feast week. No one expects you to do it, I guess is what I’m really getting at here.
So, obviously, as I just mentioned, in Orthodoxy you have that basic weekly fast, where MOST weeks of the year, the “rule” is that you should fast on Wednesday and Friday. No, Protestant friends, it’s not a rule in the sense of.. if you don’t fast those days you are definitely going straight to Hell. But, it’s a rule because it is for the benefit of your soul.
I had some starts and stops with fasting early on, and more recently I just haven’t really tried at all, until today. Today I kept the fast. And I intend to do it again on Friday. I want to get to a point where I’ll be able to make a real go of keeping it for all of Advent.
Why the sudden interest in doing so? Well, because I recently started seeing mentioned in various places the idea of being better than you were the day before. I think in at least one place it was a clip of Jordan Petersen, suggesting that you should never compare yourself to other people, because you have no idea what their situation is, but you CAN compare yourself to yourself. So just be a little better tomorrow than you were today. That’s the thought I really needed to hear.
Lately I’ve gotten pretty lazy about things. And if I’m honest, being lazy has been a big problem for me much of my life. It’s not that I’m ALWAYS lazy, or that I’m lazy about everything… but I can be lazy about a lot of things. So that’s meant I’ve not really been exercising for the last several months, I haven’t been eating well the last several months, I haven’t really been praying or reading the Bible as much as I should the last several months… and also I haven’t been writing like I should. I’ve NEVER written like I should. I like it, but as soon as I start to feel like I’ve got a bit of writer’s block, I just stop trying. But I want to break through that. That’s why the new blogs lately. If I don’t keep up with them then you’ll know that I failed.
I feel like a modern secular asceticism is the idea of a diet. Limiting your food choices so as to lose weight instead of just eating whatever you fancy at the time. It may not perfectly meet the requirements, but it’s something close. When I started out with the idea of fasting I thought something like… “But my food is already limited by my diet, and then this is going to cut out the primary thing I’m allowed to eat: meat.” While that’s true, it’s not like it’s impossible to do both. After all, there are people who do vegan keto as their whole lifestyle, and they manage to survive. While I only need to fast on Wednesday and Friday I think I’ll be able to get by just figuring things out on my own, but by the time Advent rolls around, I will for sure be checking out some vegan keto recipes.
I’ve also started using a stupid little iPhone app I bought years ago that lets you earn “experience points” for doing tasks that you define for yourself. Strangely it is a little bit motivating to be able to go in there and knock them out after I finish something.
So a few days in, things are going pretty well. I’m not much better than I was a few days ago, but I think maybe marginally so.