The Key Difference Between a Cleanse and a Fast

If you are into cleanses then that is great, but do not confuse a cleanse with a fast. They are different.

Of course a cleanse is different from a fast in that many cleanses encourage taking in of some food or liquid and fasts generally do not. It is also true that there are some cleanses that call for fasting from food. I can list all the ways cleanses and fasts overlap or not, but beyond the superficialities, cleanses and fasts are fundamentally different in one way: what they embrace.

The promise of the cleanse is some combination of prolong life and/or health, greater energy, weight loss, better eating habits, etc. Be it the advice of Dr. Oz or any number of cleanses (liver, colon, juice, soup, coconut oil, sauna, etc.), there is a lot to be said for being more aware of what we are eating and how much of it we eat. There is nothing wrong to being healthy, and perhaps a cleanse is a good thing for all of us. However, the promise of the cleanse is that by practicing all these things you will stave off death for a little bit longer than you would otherwise. Cleanses embrace life.

green brown land.jpg

Conversely a fast is an intentional practice of limiting food for the purpose of coming face to face with your limitations and dependence upon others. It is purposefully entering into a state of limits in order to practice in order to be at peace with the limits of life. Fasts may have some physical discomfort but the intended discomfort of the fast is the discomfort we have with death. Thus the more we fast, the more we come to terms with our own deaths. Which is why fasts embrace death.

People are motivated to take on cleanses or fasts for a variety of reasons, and I am not in a position to dismiss these reasons. You may be a person who practice fasting and more power to you. However, if we embark on a fast that leads us to embrace life rather than embrace death, then we are really embarking on a cleanse by another name. 

The Word of the Lord Was Rare These Days

There is a little verse near the beginning of the book 1 Samuel that goes like this 

"Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." - 1 Samuel 3:1

Often we read "the word of the Lord was rare in those days" and assume it was because the most extravagant visions of God (flood, destruction of towns because of hospitality, pillar of cloud and fire, burning bush, etc.) were over. Perhaps this it is also true that the word of the Lord was rare because people were not able to access it. That is what makes something rare, our ability to access it. Diamonds were rare, now they are mass produced and much easier to come by. Eating oranges in December in the North was rare, but no more. Rare does not mean gone, just difficult to access. 

I offer up the reason the word of the Lord was rare then, and is today, is not because it is not present but because we do not access it. And we do not access it not because it is behind a locked door but because we do not want to access the word of the Lord. 

Throughout the Bible the word of the Lord was prophetic truth that was spoken from within a group to that very group. It is Moses calling the people to follow the law. It is the leaders of the tribes that Amos calls cows. It is Jesus having harsh words for the leaders of the religion he was a part of. 

Angry mob from wikipedia

Angry mob from wikipedia

Critiquing other tribes is easy and primal. Critiquing your own tribe is difficult and divine. 

Today we have "prophets" who are condemning other tribes. The left condemns the right and the right condemns the left. There is a place for critique of the powers and principalities to be sure, however what connects the prophet to the divine is the prophets willingness to critique their own tribe and even their own self. This is what contributes to the beauty of scripture. If you were going to decree a set of texts as holy and authoritative for a religion would you pick texts that decry your people's own failures or would you only select the texts that show your side as winners? 

The word of the lord is rare in these days. It is easier to rally the base with talking heads than to examine our own hypocrisies, deficiencies and sin. 

(This post was inspired by Phil Ochs' song, Love me, I'm a Liberal, introduced to me via this brilliant Intercept episode.)

The Time I Hear a Sermon in the Bathroom

This very hard working man violating two social mores in one moment: 1) the oft cited rule that socially acceptable conversation avoids politics and religion and 2) the unspoken rule that conversation between men in the restroom is restricted to dads coaxing their sons to aim properly. So when he said, “give me a word.” I was caught off guard.

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

I shared with him that I have been reading about Saint Moses who said that a monk should sit in his cell for the cell will teach you all you need to know. I said I have been reflecting on this as a need for silence and solitude in a hyper-connected and noisy world.

The worker smiled and grunted with satisfaction. So I asked in return “give me a word.”

The worker began to tell me the story of the rich man who avoided Lazarus their whole lives. He recalled how when they both died the rich man, from hell, asked that Lazarus would come, from heaven, to give him a cool drink. (Those of you who know this story from the Gospels can fill in the details.)

I smiled and grunted with satisfaction.

We “man hugged” (the handshake where you pull each other to bump chests and slap the back of the other two times before you disengage) and went our separate ways.

The life of the Christian is one that holds the call to action and the call to contemplation in tension. It is not sufficient for the social justice warrior to dismiss the need for silence and stillness. It is not sufficient for the hermit to dismiss the prophetic action need in the world.

You may think that action and contemplation are opposite ends of the spectrum, that they cannot coexist in one church much less in one person. We are led to believe that we must be either/or. Justice or worship. Action or contemplation. Left or right. Unity or disunity.

The deeper call of Christ is not either but both. Perhaps this is in part why the way of Christ is so difficult – you have to embody a constant and unresolvable mystery.

It is easier to take a side.

Uncomfortable or distracted in prayer? You may be doing it right.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Often prayer is taught in a way that gives the impression that some have the gift of prayer and others don't. We are disappointed when we are distracted in prayer and so we give up the practice. We beat ourselves up when we are not at ease with "praying from our hearts" because we are told that praying from our hearts should come naturally.

It may be helpful to remember that within Christian spiritual practices being uncomfortable or distracted in prayer may indicate you are on a good track. 

When we are uncomfortable in prayer it is because we know prayer is a vulnerable act. And being vulnerable is often uncomfortable for us. As such, if you are uncomfortable with the practice of praying it may mean that you are finally abandoning the false facade and expressing vulnerability. 

Additionally, when we are distracted in prayer is means we have allowed something else to take center stage in our hearts and minds. As such, we have a chance to return to God as the center. This returning, also called repenting, is the very type of prayer that Jesus elevated in places such as Luke 18. Just as there is great rejoicing when one who is lost is found, so too there is great rejoicing when we return to God at the center or our prayer. 

So if you are uncomfortable or distracted in your prayer life, the good news is you may very well be doing it right.