There is something about the early saints and mystics that prods me to ponder the comfortable slumber of my soul. Francis of Assisi lived his life, feet firmly planted on the land with his heart soaring to heaven. Rumi, the Sufi poet, wrote “the Song of the Reed” which is a lyrical metaphor that speaks of a soul yearning to be complete. Then, there is St. Simeon the Stylite, from Syria, the ‘pillar hermit’ who lived in silence at the top of a pillar for about 30 odd years, fasting, praying and writing. They are the ascetics, monks who lived simple, disciplined lives in deep pursuit of God.
As I read and contemplate the work of these saints, I feel like I am starving. My soul thirsts for that matrix of spirit that is so evident their lives. Their stories are full of intensity and their lives fully devoted in faithful pursuit of God through prayer and fasting. My efforts seem a bit half-hearted at best, no matter how intentional I am.
I think of the two disciples who followed Jesus and he turned and said to them “What do you want?” (John 1: 37-38). What do I want? What am I looking for? What is my heart’s deepest desire? We live in a world with a myriad of temptations all set to fill and satisfy anyone’s thirst or hunger. And yet… And yet, there are echoes of that old Rolling Stones classic, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
Still, the heart and mind are persistent. Saint Augustine said that our hearts are only satisfied when they are satisfied with God. David longed for God’s touch. He writes in Psalm 63, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (NIV)
This is the essence of fasting, I think. We thirst to know more of all that God is for us. We hunger, not because we are seeking something we don’t have. We fast because we know the new wine of Christ’s presence and our souls ache to know more of His presence and power in our midst. A fast is really an opportunity to feast on God’s word. To earnestly seek Him.
As we begin our 21 days of praying and fasting, I pray with Paul, “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 17-19)