Fasting, the Media and Our Mind
. . . the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. The effort of moderation in food also extends to other things that are not necessary, and this is a great help to the spiritual life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. . . . This principle can be appropriately applied to the mass media. Their usefulness is indisputable, but they must not become the “masters” of our life. In how many families does television seem to replace personal conversation rather than to facilitate it! A certain “fasting” also in this area can be healthy, both for devoting more time to reflection and prayer, and for fostering human relations. [Pope John Paul II, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, 1996].
The ever-present role that technology and the media play in our daily lives requires that we remain wary of their influence, particularly when we are seeking to elevate our spiritual state by fasting.
When we fast, we must be careful that our mind does not continue following its normal cultural and social protocols, while only our body participates in the fast. Fasting with a mind congested by the media is like praying with our thoughts totally distracted by trivial events. Our mouth goes through the motions, but our heart is absent.
For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. [St. John Chrysostom, On Fasting].
Desires, pastimes and even our religion can manipulate our mind so that, instead of God-consciousness, our focus remains on worldly entertainment or secular distractions.
If we try to contemplate God without having turned the face of our inner self entirely in His direction, we will end up inevitably by contemplating ourselves … [Thomas Merton].
If our thought process does not change, it is not likely that our spiritual awareness will improve, no matter how long we fast.
The false self is deeply entrenched. You can change your name and address, religion, country, and clothes. But as long as you don’t ask it to change, the false self simply adjusts to the new environment. For example, instead of drinking your friends under the table as a significant sign of self-worth and esteem, if you enter a monastery, as I did, fasting the other monks under the table could become your new path to glory. In that case, what would have changed? Nothing. [Thomas Keating, The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation].
Can we walk away from prime-time media or turn our back on our favorite show? Piety is extending our state of worship into our daily life. What should we call extending our secular thoughts into our worship? Irreverence? Disrespect? Hypocrisy?
Our normal behavior is profane and impious. We don’t readily express our spirituality for fear of ridicule and even professional ostracism. We want to evince a socially acceptable persona that elicits approval and admiration.
However, the intensity of our emotions increases when we are in serious need. We are most prayerful and sincerely penitent when confronted with danger, illness or other painful circumstances.
During times of grief and despair, facing a major catastrophe or a hopeless condition, we discard cultural amenities and social etiquette. We vocalize our faith and openly express our spirituality.
For [thus it is with most men:] when the waves engulf them like shadows [of death], they call unto God, sincere [at that moment] in their faith in Him alone: but as soon as He has brought them safe ashore, some of them stop half-way [between belief and unbelief]. Yet none could knowingly reject Our messages unless he be utterly perfidious, ingrate. [Quran 31:32].
Therefore, when fasting, adopt the mentality of a refugee in a war zone, of an individual surrounded by a contagious disease spreading rapidly. We are in a widespread epidemic infecting the entire population. See danger all around you, and seek a way to safety. Cry out to your Lord to save you.
. . . ask your King to take you wholly into his service, and place all the hours of this day quite simply at his disposal, and ask him to make and keep you ready to do just exactly what he appoints. Never mind about tomorrow; one day at a time is enough. Try it today, and see if it is not a day of strange, almost curious peace, so sweet that you will only too thankful when tomorrow comes to ask him to take it also. [Frances Ridley Havergal].
Renewing the Mind
Advertising media provoke emotions and passions hostile to spiritual development. Mentioning God and asking for spiritual blessings are not common practices in commercials. We don’t see reality from a Divine perspective. We see only fictional images projected on a secular screen pinned to our brain.
And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. [Romans 12:2].
Are we not able to leave behind trite amusement, at least temporarily? Can we not abandon trivial pleasure even a few moments of our life set aside for fasting?
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [Philippians 4:8 (NIV)].
Remembrance of God disengages us from transient cultural whims thrust upon us by commercial promoters. When our reliance turns solely to the Divine, no sponsored programming or worldly enticement can claim our devotions.
By fasting, we bridle our appetites and tame our lusts. We quiet our desires and activate our loftiest spiritual senses.
Lo! worship preserves from lewdness and iniquity, and remembrance of God is the greatest [thing in life] without doubt. And God knows all that you do. [Quran 29:45].