My apologies for not warning you. Put down that burger! Lower the Slurpee! Don’t even think about eating candy! Flex your knees and get ready to pray! Turn of the TV! Rearrange your Internet schedule!
The ascetic revival has begun! To read about the environmental benefits of asceticism, click here.
I’ve decided to take seriously the books I’ve read about simple living, prayer, and self-denial.* I’ve read a lot of them. But reading doesn’t mean learning. A person could read the entire corpus of ascetic and spiritual literature and conceivably come away unchanged. Or a person could simply hear the Gospels read once a week and be transformed from the inside out; or, like Abraham, someone could hear the voice of God without having any spiritual instruction or access to Scripture. Palladius writes:
Words and syllables do not constitute teaching — sometimes those who possess these are disreputable in the extreme — but teaching consists of virtuous acts of conduct, of freedom fro injuriousness, of dauntlessness, and of an even temper. To all these add an intrepidity which produces words like flames of fire. (The Lausiac History: Letter to Lausus 2, trans. Robert T. Meyer, ACW 34)
Therefore, a simpler life dawns.
I shall pray morning, noon, and evening. Morning shall follow the daily office and sometimes noon and evening as well. The flexibility will allow me to spend time using different forms of prayer.
I shall fast once a week. You won’t know which day, and this isn’t the bragging Christ warns of. It is, rather, an exhortation that we should all fast at least once a week. They say it accrues much spiritual benefit.
My eating shall be moderate. This includes no pop or Slurpees save in time of celebration. I guess that’s the old rule surrounding wine, but I’m already too cheap to drink wine. This also includes avoiding overeating and snacks between meals — this latter is practised by monks who follow Augustine’s Rule, such as Dominicans.
I shall spend time in Scripture-reading every day. This has been a lifelong discipline that every once in a while I fall out of for days, weeks, or months at a time. By God’s grace, I shall maintain this discipline.
I shall exercise my body. The Benedictines believe in hard, physical labour. I am an urban apartment-dwelling middle-class Canadian. I have no garden, no chickens, no building to maintain or to build. Therefore, I shall discipline my body through exercise, chiefly through my bicycle and through walking almost everywhere. I’ll ride my bike three to five times a week.
What else? Buy no unneeded stuff — books, CDs, DVDs. Don’t rent when it can be borrowed for free. Don’t waste time watching it or reading it when there’s a better option. Spend more time with people in pleasant occupation and company, less time simply entertaining oneself. Continue weekly attendance at church; possibly add an extra to ensure I receive Eucharist. Hunt down time for solitude. Talk with Jennifer about how we might be able to spend time in service to others.
Do you have any ideas how you and I can help start the ascetic revival of the 21st century? If you think it’s already begun, show us where and how!
*The Lessons of St. Francis by John Michael Talbot; Celebration of Discipline, Prayer, and Devotional Classics by Richard J. Foster; The Inner Experience by Thomas Merton; Flirting with Monasticism by Karen E. Sloan; Finding God: The Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal; Ecstasy and Intimacy by Edith Humphrey, and other moderns. The Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius; The Life of St. Benedict by St. Gregory the Great; The Institutes and The Conferences by John Cassian; The Sayings of the Desert Fathers; The Life of Moses by St. Gregory of Nyssa; The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila (well, most of it); The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross; The Letters of Saint Antony the Great; the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto; The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer by Evagrius Ponticus; The Rule of St. Augustine and other classics.