Fasting….From People?

For several years now, I’ve been trying to add more spiritual practices to keep myself engaged with my beliefs and to keep myself from becoming bored and stagnant. I’m great at reviving traditions or focusing on something new during a particular season such as Advent or Lent, but the season of Ordinary Time (from Pentecost to Advent) drags on so long it’s easy to be lazy.  It doesn’t help that summer falls within Ordinary Time and without the usual schedule, it’s easy for me to lose track of time and my routines.

Now that school and the fall are here, I’m struggling, and somewhat succeeding, to get back into the routines and to shake off the dust of the summer. As I’m writing this today, it’s cold, rainy, and an all-around autumnal day.  We actually have had a real fall this year with leaves of every shade of yellow, orange, and red.  All the signs are pointing towards my favorite season of the year, Advent.

I love Advent because it’s focused on expectation and preparation, both of which I’m good at. I sometimes expect too much for things and put pressure on myself and the event, item, occasion, etc. and end up let-down and depressed once the occasion/item arrives.  Christmas day used to be one of the biggest let downs of the year for me. Not because I was solely ungrateful for what I had received, but because I had unrealistic expectations for what I hoped my parents and family would think I wanted for Christmas.  I had expectations not just for gifts, but for the day, the night before, the day after, you name it.  My parents, on the other hand, were not festive people.  There were many times the day after Christmas we would start taking down the decorations.  Everything pointed to Christmas day and if the day didn’t deliver you were stuck with 364 days worth of unmet expectations.

Advent breaks down our expectations into four weeks; from November 30 to December 25. Each week focuses on a different aspect of Jesus’s first advent, and subtly mirrors his second.  Christmas Day, then, doesn’t bare the entire burden for the season.  It merely becomes a part of something bigger.

As part of my Advent last year, I fasted.  Fasting during Advent? Isn’t that for Lent? Yes, Lent is typically when many people fast, but there’s a long standing tradition for fasting during Advent as well, it’s just not as popular because it flies in the face of all the glut of gifts and parties that fill the Advent season.  Each Friday during Advent, I didn’t eat from sun-up to sun-down.  Being that it’s winter, it’s not as hard as you might think.  Plus, being a teacher, there’s many days I don’t get to eat lunch. Really it was just being more intentionally about when I did or didn’t eat.

Fasting during Advent taught me about my expectations and the reason why we should fast more.  Not just from food either. The more I’ve fasted during particular seasons, the more I’m taught about the importance of intentionality.  When you give something up as part of a fast, especially something that has become part of your daily regimen, you really have to intentionally give it up.  It starts out easy, but then you get withdrawals.  There’s moments where you question why you’re fasting and whether you can make it the whole time.  Experience alone teaches you that if you push through this part of the fast, you’ll get to the ” bliss” section where you realize you’ve overcome.  By this part of the fast, it’s usually over and then you wonder why you ever missed what you fasted from in the first place.

Besides Lent, and Advent, I’ve fasted from work and regular weekly activities and focused on church, friends, and family ever since I was a kid.  I never called it a fast. I just called it “keeping Sabbath.” Since I grew up with it, I wasn’t intentional about it; it was just the norm. However, in reflecting on my spiritual practices I realized that taking a day to do put away regular things and engage in intentional activities at church or with friends and family I am fasting, in a way.

Recently I’ve gone a step further.  I’ve started taking time on Sabbaths to fast from people. To be clear, not from ALL people, but from large groups or corporate entities.  The last few years I’ve entered into a new phase of my life where I’ve become more introverted than I have before, which is compounded by a diagnosis of depression and anxiety.  There are weeks that the usual Bible study-Church-hang out with friends routine has left me drained more than it has energized me.  I end up starting the week more run down than I was on the Friday before.

It was accidental at first, when I would just say no to church and friends and just stay home.  I would just read, reflect, relax, maybe not even leave the house from sundown Friday until Sunday afternoon.  These times left me feeling recuperated and ready to tackle the week on Monday. Reflecting on these people-fast days made me more intentional about when I scheduled them.  It’s too easy for me to let this become the new norm.  After teaching all week and going to the many after-school events, it would be easy for me to rationalize a people-fast every weekend. Instead, planning a people-fast at least once a month has given me the energy and the affirmation to fast from interacting with people when the time comes.

As with all of my spiritual practices, they change and they morph.  Some I retire, never to use again.  Some never retire.  Others I improve on each year and become even more meaningful on the repeat.  I’m curious to see what will come of this people-fast. Is it just a phase or the beginning of something new? Only time will tell.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in a future Southern California, “Parable of the Sower” is a dystopian (apocalyptic) view of what happens when politics and the economy unravel in the United States. Violence and poverty are rampant and it’s not if, but when you’ll have to kill to survive. The story almost in media res; we don’t know what has caused the collapse of the nation.

There’s an impending crisis in the form of pyro, a drug that makes the users turned on to fire. The users of the drug say that watching a fire, and lighting a fire, feel better than sex. This is where the apocalyptic element comes in. The users of pyro (and the other names for the drug we come across) take the users by storm, cause them to shave and paint their heads, a makes them extremely violent and vicious. It’s sort of the equivalent to the virus that sometimes overwhelms the worlds of other apocalyptic books.

I liked the main character, Lauren, because she’s a fighter and a survivor. She determines that she’s going to do what it takes to survive. She shuns the denial of many in her community and identifies the skills she’ll need to survive outside of her community’s protective walls. This comes into play when she does find herself out in the wilds. Some of her fellow travelers at first think she’s cold and vicious, but she’s not. She’s still humane in her actions, but she’s also driven by the drive to survive and conquer any conflicts.

What confused me is that she relaxes her survival instinct towards the end of the book and she starts trusting people willy nilly and there’s no consequences. There’s no explanation for this sudden shift in her character and it really feels like poor writing. I’m ok with her being trusting, but I think there should’ve been an explanation for this new development.

I’m disappointed that I took this long to read this book, but it’s really a precursor to books such as “Station Eleven” and should be included in the canon of dystopic/apocalyptic literature.

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Rising Strong

Brené Brown tackles the tough topic of what to do when we are faced with one of those I’m-a-failure-at-life moments, when you feel like life has thrown you into a pretzel in a wrestling ring. Ms. Brown uses personal experiences as anecdotal evidence that she builds off of using her expertise as a social worker and her research and shares how readers can face these moments head on, process and analyze, and then become better prepared to face what life throws at us next.Rising

There’s a lot about this book that taught me how to face these on-the-mat moments. She points out that many times when we are faced with that moment where you feel like you can’t do anything right, we tend to ignore the emotions and try and move on as quickly as possible. The problem is that when we move on quickly, it tends to be adrenaline driven-fight or flight. When we don’t process what happens and affirm what we are feeling we are building up negative feelings such as aggression, resentment, denial. When we have these negative feelings weighing us down, it’s hard to move on from these experiences and feel prepared to face these moments again.

Having faced a few of these moments in my life, I found that a lot of what was shared in the book was relatable. I also realized that some of the suggestions for rising strong I have been doing subconsciously, but now I can give them a name and know why I’m doing what I’m what I’m doing. She has a lot of useful metacognitive methods for dealing with confrontation and discussions with people in our lives who cause us to feel like we are worthless. I found these very useful especially as a teacher when sometimes it’s hard to validate my own feelings as well as having to model good confrontational behaviors for students (and, sadly, parents).

I liked the idea behind the book as well as the memoir aspects of the book. I got a little lost in the philosophy and research sections as I felt she was repeating the same information in different ways. That could also just be me as I tend to prefer more bare-bones non-fiction. Regardless, this is a valuable read.