Friday, February 26, 2010


The imposed quiet of a "snow day" today suggested the idea of following up on one of the ideas found in last weeks’ reflection by Paul Evdokimov.

Twenty-first Century Self-Denial

The first thought I want to comment on follows his idea that 21st Century self-denial must reflect and respond to the present age. Evdokimov wrote: “Today's mortification is that which sets us free from reliance on ‘doping’ -- high speed, noise, stimulants, drugs, alcohol in all its forms. Self-denial will consist in imposing quietude on oneself, a discipline of silence and calm, so that a person may recover the ability to call a halt for prayer and contemplation, even in the midst of the world's noise, on the train, in a crowd, in the city's public places; but above all, the ability to be sensitive to the presence of others, to every friend one encounters.”

The idea of “imposing quietude on oneself, a discipline of silence and calm” for Lent certainly must ring true for many of us who lead such rushed, over-crowded and non-reflective lives.

A Lesson from The Subway

New York subway riders are familiar with the odd-looking indentations about a foot deep and shaped like blank doorways that are spaced all along the subway tunnel walls. These are designed to be used by subway maintenance workers in the event that a train comes along unexpectedly and catches them on the tracks. A worker can just slip into one of these indentations and wait there safely as the train roars by.

Harried and hurried subway riders and all of us in fact could draw a useful lesson from those familiar safety spaces designed into the subway tunnel walls. Many of us have convinced ourselves that our frantic mind-numbing busyness is normal and necessary and that we can’t possibly slow down or find any empty, quiet spaces even though we sometimes feel as if an express train is coming down the track at us.

Lent is a good time to discipline ourselves by providing some regular quiet escape times in our lives. If fasting from our constant busyness takes some sacrifice, then so be it --that’s what asceticism looks like in 2010.

With Cheerful Hearts

Evdokimov then continues, “Instead of self-inflicted penances, this kind of fasting will demand the glad renunciation of whatever is superfluous in order to share with the poor, and the maintenance of a cheerful, peaceful, and natural equanimity.”

I’d like to concentrate on the last phrase, “the maintenance of a cheerful, peaceful, and natural equanimity.” If our thoughtful slowing down, our fasting from constant rushing were indeed to result in “a cheerful, peaceful and natural equanimity” then we certainly would be ready for the joy of Easter, and would have helped others to be ready as well.

I especially like the idea of this kind of 21st century fasting because it’s so obviously wholesome and good for us and for those around us; it points us again in the direction of living more truly human lives in the face of the modern world’s mindless rush toward impersonal materialism. Evdokimov puts it this way:

Going beyond the psychosomatic asceticism of the middle ages, we now strive for the eschatological ascesis of the first centuries, that attitude of faith which made the whole of human life a joyous waiting for the parousia; not a chronological but a qualitative waiting, with the gaze fixed on the one thing necessary; for according to the Good News the time is short, and the Spirit and the Bride say, Come! .

May we each learn how to fast in our fast-paced world!

.............Sushila Burgess, "Woman in Red Dress," paint on ceramic tile

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