As the Alive Now staff prepared an issue on Fasting (March/April 2001), many of the resources they encountered suggested fasting from media and popular culture. Media so pervades our lives; we may not notice its influence until we remove it from our routine. Here are some ideas for those who would like to explore fasting.
FASTING FROM IMMEDIACY
Are you a news junkie? Do you read a newspaper over coffee, then turn on news radio as you drive to work, and check in on a few websites of interest during the day? For some people, focusing on staying in touch up to the minute adds to the sense of frantic activity that can deplete the spirit. Try as an experiment, for at least a week, a total news blackout. No papers, no radio, no televised news shows. If something really important happens, someone will tell you. Spend the time consciously slowing down your life: walk to some place you might ordinarily drive. Do only one thing at a time.
FASTING FROM BACKGROUND NOISE
How often do you experience silence? If you turn on the television or radio as soon as you come home or start your car, you might be surprised by the soothing power of silence. if you're in traffic, pray for the other drivers. Spend some time practicing the presence of God, that is, opening yourself to the real presence of God with you. It might help to imagine Jesus as your passenger in the seat next to you as your drive, or to silently invite God to share in your day. From time to time, remind yourself that God is with you. Soak up the feeling of God's presence. Listen for God's leading.
FASTING FROM ISOLATION
Have you ever been to a museum where most of the patrons were using the guided tour on audiocassette? Imagine a room full of people, all wearing headphones, hearing the same words, turning at the same time to see the same thing, completely disconnected from one another. It's a little disconcerting. It can be great to listen to music or books on tape while exercising, doing chores or commuting. But it is isolating. During Lent, try experiencing these same activities "unplugged." Use the time for prayer or meditation. Make a special effort to reach out to others. If you don't know your neighbors well, say hello.
TOTAL MEDIA BLACKOUT
Can you imagine a month with no movies, no television, and no radio, videos, recorded music, video games or Internet use? Also no magazines, newspapers, or other recreational reading? The point here is not punishment, but getting another view of how you spend your time, and where you express your values. Is media a helpful tool that you control, or a demanding presence that controls you? If the idea of a media fast depresses you, it might be a sign that your media habit is a dependency that needs examining. A media fast would be a positive way to examine these habits. To get ready, try rearranging the furniture in your family's favorite room so that the television is not prominent. Bring out board games, or an art project. Visit neighbors or friends. Plan a garden. Bake some bread. Pull out family photographs and tell their stories. Write letters.
If you decide to fast, begin the process with a time of prayer and meditation, during which you invite the Holy Spirit to guide you as you begin this experience. Choose a familiar scripture passage, and spend time meditating and praying over it, asking God for guidance. Use the following questions to guide your time, or develop your own. From what do you feel God is calling you to fast? How long should you fast? How can you offer this fast to God, as an aspect of the mission that God is calling you to fulfill or as a means to deepening your spiritual relationship with God? (This can include a cause or organization that you can donate time or money, or both, to as part of your experience.)
Once you have answered these questions, develop the routine for fasting that you will follow. Adapt these suggestions to your personal situation and the needs of you and your family.
If you plan to fast from food, make sure that you prepare your body for the experience. Determine what day of the week you will fast, for how many meals, and in what way you can donate money, food, or time to the service of others by fasting. If you plan another type of fast, determine how you will spend the time you save to become closer to God or to fulfill the project to which God is calling you.
Especially concentrate on using this experience to become closer to God. Develop a breath prayer to say whenever you are tempted. Copy a psalm (19 is a good one) on a piece of paper small enough to fit in your purse or briefcase. Take it out and reread it each time you feel discouraged. Keep a journal of your experience. Spend some time reflecting on what makes this hard or easy. After you break your fast, note any differences in how you feel about the things from which you fasted. Are there any lasting changes you'd like to make in your patterns of consumption?