Confessions of an accidental faster


Like many people of a protestant-evangelical persuasion I have a persistent (is nagging a better word?) voice in the back of my mind that I should be doing more with my time, my life, my money, my energy. Never is this voice more vociferous (great word huh, gosh I hope I used it right!) than in relation to my spiritual life. I have lived with a constant sense of ‘not doing enough’ with regard to prayer, bible reading and spiritual discipline. This disappointment with myself lingers in the background, like static on a radio.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself being accidentally spiritual! You see the evangelical assumption is that left to my own devices I will gravitate towards being naughty. So ‘not trying’ is a recipe for disaster – so the received wisdom goes.

Over the years, my understanding of the Christian life as sharing in the life of Jesus has grown deeper and more real. Understanding that I not only pray in the name of Jesus, but I also breath, live, speak and serve in his name as well. New Testament Scholars will tell you there is an ambiguity in whether its ‘faith in Jesus’ or ‘the faith of Jesus’ in the Christian scriptures. It may be intentionally ambiguous. But if it at least includes the latter, then my faith is a participation in the perfect faithfulness of Jesus towards his Father. I will not be ‘left to my own devices’, instead I will find myself putting my feet in his footsteps. And because its a sharing, I will not get there by telling myself ‘I should be more like Jesus.’ Sharing implies invitation and welcome, not coercion and enforcement, from me or from Jesus.

I know this in my head, I also know this from experience. I know that guilt and expectation are two of the worst motivators for sustainable transformation the world has ever known. Why they feature so strongly in parenting and faith formation, I will never know (I lie – I know exactly why, they’re so easy to use. And sort of satisfying).

More recently I have tried to let the faith of Jesus happen in me, rather than to make it happen. I confess that I haven’t made the sort of progress I have expected from myself, but at the same time, I am living with a lot less guilt, so maybe I’m closer in step with Jesus than I realised.

Alongside that I made a startling discovery a week or so ago. I found that I had been fasting without realising it. I always felt fasting was one of those spiritual practices for doctoral level Christians, and I’m still muddling away on my undergraduate. I have never fasted before as a spiritual discipline, so its not something I would easily slip back into, and I love my food – eating more out of habit and enjoyment then necessity. So this is odd.

It began with me getting up, having a shower and then in the midst of the shower, a song idea came to me. I hopped out, grabbed my notebook and started working on the lyrics. It wasn’t as if I was ‘in the zone’ and just forgot the time. I had to take my son to daycare, and ended up working on the song out at the beach near our house. My time was far from uninterrupted. But when I got home in the early afternoon, I started into recording the song, and still I hadn’t eaten. It was close to 4pm by the time I had finished.

Throughout the day I had begun to realise that food had not featured, and every now and then my stomach would make a claim on my attention. Something in me suggested that I use these aches prayerfully, to be aware of the longing they speak of, and not just ‘for bread alone’. When I completed the song, I realised that now I could ‘break-fast’ and so I did, with a real sense of joy and a feeling of being caught up in something bigger than myself.

What I haven’t told you is that this had happened several times before and it has been happening again and again since. I wake, a song comes, I write and record and then I finish, exhausted and spent. But it wasn’t until now that I have understood this as fasting, and my hunger as prayer, and the whole experience as a participation in the faith and life of Jesus. I haven’t noticed that I have been inhabiting that unique contradiction between emptiness and abundance, hunger and creativity. Since then, I have done it twice more. Not forced or contrived, just as the songs have come I have set time aside to experience my need for more than just a full stomach. The only thing that has changed is my awareness, that Jesus is somehow leading me into an experience of his own hunger, and his own creativity. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it has been effortless, but it has come naturally, as if springing up from beneath my feet, rather than being imposed from above. Without realising it, Jesus is causing me to be faithful. And here I was, thinking I was just hungry.

Stay tuned, as I want to flesh this out more in terms of how hungry and creativity might have been expressed in Jesus’ life.

Also – some friends have begun this blog and are doing something pretty awesome for Lent. Check it out.

In the meantime – here’s the song I wrote that day. Its for a Kids Friendly/Presbyterian Support Northern initiative called the ‘Children at Risk Prayer Week’.

1 Comment
  • Adrian

    Hi Malcolm, thanks for this post. You speak truth and look to embody it! Here’s a slightly different angle on it:
    The shape of lent for me right now is a refraining of those things that I give spirtual weight to – creative writing, writing prayers, searching for insight, bible study, reading christian books or theology. Instead I’m throwing a dice each morning and attending to one of six quote-unquote unspirtual opportunities for that day. A little practice I was led through in ChCh and haven’t done for a few years.

    It is rather like, as you say, letting the faith of Jesus happen in me.

    Be choice.

    March 7, 2014

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