Talking to a Sunni Muslim women recently, I was curious about her practice of Ramadan. She shared that not drinking water all day was the hardest part; and that the fast in Calgary, is from 3:40 am to 9:40 pm. She explained that all Muslims are expected, once they reach puberty, to participate, but there are a number of exceptions such as health and pregnancy. I pointed out that Jesus anticipated that Christians would fast also. She was curious whether Christian fasting included not drinking water like Sunnis do. Oh, I replied Christian fasting is optional, people can do whatever they want.
This got me thinking about our Christian practices. Jesus spoke about fasting and prayer often but he also warned against basing our religion on external exercises. “When you fast Jesus said, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” (Matt. 6:16) All traditional spiritual disciplines whether solitude, silence, fasting, bible reading, prayer, worship, giving and others, can become forms that are empty of spiritual reality. Yet, without them, it is impossible to imagine a person will make much true progress in their Christian faith. Just as Ignatius had his “Exercises” and St Benedict had his “Rules”, we need our own set of practices tailored to fit the rhythms of our life.
Imagine playing for a sports team where workouts were optional. Or, suppose a dietician recommends a diet of chips and pop, where vegetables and fruits are non-compulsory. Picture learning piano from a teacher who said practice is elective. Have we turned the grace of God into freedom to do what I feel like? How often do you feel like taking up your cross daily to follow Christ?
James said, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (Jas 2:17)
In other words, every person whose life exemplifies what it means to be a follower of Jesus, develops a set of compulsory spiritual practices to follow.
How do you practice your Christian faith? What “rules” do you live by to give structure to your spirituality? Do you feel it is helpful to have patterns of daily spiritual practice?