Tag Archives: Fasting

On the Power of Guilt

Dearest Father,

As you well know, we are once again in the Season of the Fast. It seems like barely any time has passed since I wrote you about the last season, and I am certain that it won’t be long before I find myself yammering away about the next Season of the Fast, wondering what happened to the year in between. Such is the way of our childish minds; time seems to fly when we give it little attention, and appears to crawl when we focus on it most intently.

I almost missed the bells this time. So far have I travelled that the sound barely resonated in my ears. I was actually stunned by how little I was affected by the noise. There was a time when the sound of the bell would have evoked strong emotions in my heart, when I would have been compelled to face the Season with all the solemnity deserving of your trials in the wilderness. There was a time when I would have prepared for the arrival of the Season days in advance, eagerly awaiting the bestowment of ash upon my forehead so that I could mark time till the celebration of the resurrection of the Brother-Saviour. Such a time is long gone, dearest Father, for I almost entirely forgot about the Season this year, and I when I did hear the bells, it was with heavy reluctance that I dragged myself to a House outpost to participate in the receiving of ashes.

I am sure you are not surprised by this, Father. The past months have seen me devolve ever so slowly into condemning what I perceive to be the flawed and counterintuitive manner in which you have made and ruled our world. With my mind drawing farther from you is it any wonder that my heart has started to do the same? Among the greatest motivations claimed by your children for their worship is love. Where others claim to be cowed into submission by your awesomeness and power, or cajoled into acceptance by promises of paradise, your children say that they are with you because you love them and they you. They say that your love is the reason for everything around them, that your love is all that they need to live and breathe. As you can tell from the tone and topics of my letters past, I have looked upon your world and my poor eyes are finding it very difficult to see this song-inspiring love all your children seem to speak about. Perhaps if I were a child of the Crescent or the Star such an absence would have had no bearing on my closeness to you, but in a House built on love it is little wonder that it has left a sour taste in my mouth.

Of course the fact that my heart has been drifting from you did not prevent me from receiving the ash many days ago. And the fact that my ire has been raised towards you has not prevented me from wondering once again what to give up in these 40 days. Try as I may dearest Father I cannot shake off the biting guilt that I am doing something wrong by not fasting this holy season. I am angry with you, distant from you, unsure of whether or not I shall ever return to you. I have questioned everything in the doctrines that the House and the Family have told me about you. Even last year, when I was much closer to home, I pondered on the effectiveness of the Brother-Saviour’s sacrifice and in so doing drew into question the point of the entire season and the celebrations that it preceded. And yet, even as I tell myself that I owe you nothing until my questions are answered, I still cannot ignore the pangs in my chest from ignoring tradition. I feel as though I am betraying not just you by failing to observe the Season’s solemnities, but myself as well, and try as I may I cannot convince myself otherwise. My heart, it seems, is set in its guilt.

Perhaps it is my devout upbringing speaking. Perhaps it is the effect of years upon years of Universal Family training via the Catechism, and the host of prayers I had to memorise as I child. Perhaps it is in fact you that is talking to me, in one of the famously ambiguous (and quite frankly ineffective) ways many claim you speak to your children. Or perhaps it is the famed guilt all children of the Universal Family claim to possess, even those like me that have strayed far from home.

It matters not, dearest Father, for regardless of its cause this guilt has kept me up at night and caused me a lot of bother. I have considered simply defaulting to fasting from food as I did last year, but Doubt has warned that such a sacrifice would be hollow for I already go 12 hours between meals quite frequently. I do not know what to do, but I know that this compulsion will not cease until my guilt is sated.

I find it most strange that this guilt has had such sway over me these past few days. It would be funny, would it not, if my guilt ends up being the reason I remain close to you, if even when faced with all I cannot accept and all I do not understand, I end up back in your arms in a desperate bid to hush the disquiet in my chest. One must wonder how many remain in the House not because they truly believe in your power and your love, but because they feel too guilty to take a step outside the gates.

With a guilty heart,

Your Prodigal Son

P.S. Please forgive the lateness of the letter, Father. I was to send it shortly after the Day of Ashes but my earthly duties have kept me quite busy and I haven’t had the time. Hopefully it arrives before the Season ends.

P.P.S. Doubt has suggested meat, Father. Do you think that is a worthy sacrifice from a heart mired in guilt?

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On Successes, Greeks, and A Man From Numidia

Dearest Father,

I am proud to inform you that the fast has been a success. If you remember I ended my last missive with uncertainty, informing you of my plans to stick with a food-fast while my irresolute mind struggled with picking a sacrifice befitting a being of your stature. I admitted that my lazy, albeit occasionally busy mind, would in all likelihood simply settle on this choice and not bother to change it, and alas I was correct. They say no one knows us better than ourselves, and this case was no exception. I will not bother you with excuses, Father. Suffice to say that in the weeks that have followed I have spent no more than a few minutes thinking about fast-worthiness, and my initial decision to abstain from food during the sun’s journey across the sky has stuck, just as I feared. To say that this has been a bad thing is, however, is to do it a great injustice, and I will show you why.

As you know, this is not the first time I am engaging in a fast. It is, however, my first since my departure. And while my fast last year was important because it was done largely for the same reasons as this one, this year’s fast has had a much better effect upon my depraved soul. Perhaps it is because I have finally left the House, thus providing myself with the very different perspective of the Outside. Perhaps it is because I now write you with some regularity, forcing myself to communicate with you in a manner that has brought me much closer to you than any prayer has since my childhood. Regardless of reason Father, these past weeks have convinced me that sacrifices are never to be judged simply by attachment, by the pain they cause, or by the pleasures they deny.  In these weeks, every time the short sharp pangs of hunger rose from my small belly, every time the compulsion to eat assailed me, I was reminded of you and you alone. It mattered not that I had felt hunger many times before; it mattered not that with enough endurance and distraction the pangs soon disappeared. All that mattered was that my mind was drawn to you. Each time I felt the need to eat, each time I looked upon a simple snack that lay begging to be devoured, the question arose (and thankfully not from my friend): Why am I doing this? And the answer always came: Because of You. Through the simple virtue of hunger I found myself contemplating you more times than I have in recent months. I was reminded of you in more places, drawn to you in newer ways. I was forced time and time again to face some of the issues that drove me from home in the first place, and to remember some of the things that made me smile while I was there. And while I cannot say whether the fruits of these thoughts will bring me closer or push me farther from you, I think I can safely say that it is good that I am having them. In a wonderful way they are preparing me for the celebration at the end of the season, the most significant in the House; they have provided me with a deeper awareness of you, and with that I hope comes a deeper understanding of everything you and your House stand for. In that manner Father, I believe my sacrifice to be worth every uneaten morsel, however small and insignificant.

In other news, my quest for Sophie continues and I have found myself on an agreeable path. As I mentioned previously, I have decided to begin my lessons with the ancients. Your Book certainly falls into this category, but I have opted not to focus on it at this time. Do not ask why, Father; I have no concrete reasons. Besides I find that my winged friend becomes most annoying whenever I think about things that revolve around you. You do not know how angry I was with him when I wrote my last letter. He seems to feed on my uncertainty, and since my immense battle over worthy sacrifices he has grown bigger and fatter. He now rests upon my shoulder on occasion, perhaps because his wings aren’t growing quite as fast as his body. I am cataloguing his characteristics and am starting to hazard a guess as to his true nature, but that is a discussion for another letter. Suffice to say, for now, that neither your Book nor he is the centre of my attention.

On my quest, I trust you will agree that I am in good hands. I am currently studying the works of two great initiates of Sophie, and one of them is Greek. You must know that if ever a people were credited with paving the path towards the love and discovery of Sophie in a manner most remarkable, it is the Greeks. The insight provided by their civilisation has shaped the way a vast majority of the world has viewed and has come to know the great Sophia. Even those that do not care much for the nuances of her precepts have undoubtedly been influenced by the works of these masters of wisdom, and the House is no exception. Its culture, its very structure, bears the indelible mark of Hellenic influence, as do almost all peoples that have been touched by your House. This always struck me as an odd development Father, as Family and House doctrine has unequivocally stated that all that is good and wise and true comes only from you, and that you deigned to bestow only upon the leaders and elders of the House these good and wise and true things. By all standards the Greeks were, in their time of greatness, in the service of You-Know-Who, and yet even the most ardent of House members employs many a tool devised in their schools. Perhaps the purists within the House have a point. Perhaps the House has been in fact been corrupted, but that is once again, Father, a topic for another letter.

Among the greatest of these peoples is a fellow I shall refer to as Platocrates. Nominally he is called Plato, but it appears to me that the person disseminating his doctrines and postulations is a man known as Socrates, identified by some of the students I have met on this path as his teacher. I cannot quite decipher whether he simply documented the words of his tutor or whether he wrote in this manner to lend authority to his work, but I have decided, for the time being, to consider them a single person. It matters not, really; I am interested more in what they have to say and less in who they are. They are both among the most revered in the Hellenic tradition, and a famous, long dead elder of the Family is said to have been influenced by Plato himself. (Of course, very few lovers of Sophie can claim to have escaped his influence.) On initial perusal it seems the work I have selected tackles the issue of justice, a fact that I find most delightful. You are said to be justice itself, dear Father; perhaps Platocrates would help me come to a deeper understanding of this facet of your being. File this under one of the many things I shall be writing you about, hopefully in the near future.

The other fellow I have my sights currently set upon is one that hews closer to the House and Family I have left behind. Praises have been sung about this man for as long as I can remember; he is among the foremost of the elders of the House, and both current and past elders have been so convinced of his greatness that he has been elevated to the level of saint, a shining example for all we lost and weak children to follow. There is no doubt in the minds of Family leaders that this man is Upstairs with you. He is the great Numidian, Augustine of Hippo, and I have stumbled upon his Confessions. I must say Father that I really like the manner in which he writes. It is filled with the requisite humility of a child that has not only returned home, but has matured considerably in your service. The praise he offers, the questions he asks, all these resonate with this lost child of yours. In many ways Augustine gives me hope Father. I suppose he can be considered among those that strayed from the beaten path and left the safe confines of the House (it must have been so much smaller back then), but found you and eventually returned, transforming into one of your most influential champions. I have only just started to read his work, so I cannot give you full impressions, but as I mentioned, I feel a deep connection. While I have my doubts concerning the state of the House and my place in it, a spark still ignites in me whenever I am made aware of some of the majesty and rich history contained in its walls, and cracking open Augustine’s Confessions filled me with such a feeling. I suppose I really haven’t walked too far from home. It is quite evident from these past few weeks that in many ways I am still your child; from my participation in the season to my appreciation of the Numidian’s words of exultation, it seems to me that there may yet be hope for this your prodigal son.

Between Platocrates and Augustine I have my work cut out for me, but I expect it would be fun. I am, after all, embarking on this journey of my own compulsion and volition. Unlike some I do not pursue Sophie out of some perceived duty; I do so because I want to.

And so armed with hungry thoughts and a reverent heart I will continue to march down this reassuring path. I know not where it would take me, and I implore you, dearest Father, keep a watchful eye on your wayward son.

With a jaunty step,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Sacrifices and Their Worth

Dearest Father,

I was walking on an ill-seen path when I heard the bell toll. The sound was a powerful, familiar one; it was a sound I had heard many times in my childhood. When I left the House I had taken it for granted that I would hear the bell again, and lo and behold, with heaven knows how much distance between myself and the Gates of the Rock, I was greeted with its deep, rich, overtones. The pitch, the number of strikes, meant one thing and one thing only; the Season of the Fast had begun.

As you know, Father, not many in the House still pay attention to the Season of the Fast. Many years after the House was built it was beset by a number of scuffles, and where there had once been simple, amorphous groups, united under the same roof, monolithic Families began to sprout. As with all things, I assume you sat on your Holy Throne in the great Upstairs, watching in whatever inscrutable emotions you possess as your children squabbled over who had the right to make Families and who had the right to break them, each of them claiming authority from your lips and inspiration from your spirit. I, by virtue of birth, am of the Universal Family, a name so given because we trace lineage to the foundation of the House itself, when the House’s purpose was to serve all men upon this earth. I need not tell you how vehemently said lineage has been disputed, even to this day. The Universals, dare I say, are by and large the most popular amongst the Families, mainly through conquest and age, but also because the other Families were for a long time defined by their non-Universalness, and the disunity that came with it.

Regardless of reason Father, many of your children within the House do not observe the Season of the Fast. However, they can by no means ignore it. The tell-tale remnants of ashes on the foreheads of all Universals alert them to the beginning of the season, and the requisite festival at its end is one that no child in your House can claim to ignore. And then there are people like me, who, while no longer squarely within the boundaries of the House walls or the enclosures of a Family wing, still hear the bells and still feel the strong pull of years of instruction and indoctrination. This is the season, Father, the season in which we get ready to celebrate our reason for existence. But in order to fully appreciate this celebration we are told that we must suffer; we must find ways to come in contact with our limitations and our weaknesses. We must give up the things we value most, so that through our simple penance we may come to appreciate the greatest sacrifice of all: your sacrifice.

Per the aforementioned tradition, members of the Family are required to give something up in this season; by and large the most common I have seen is food. As I a child I was spared this choice; I was much too young to willingly give up the pleasures of a full stomach. Nonetheless my good parents made sure to instil the spirit of sacrifice in me and my siblings; the season was, and still is, marked by a universal absence of meat in my home. As a young man however, I am free to choose my object of abstinence, and it, quite frankly, is a very difficult choice. As you know, while I am not austere, Father, I am also not extravagant. I can go hours without food; oftentimes I find that the more occupied I am the more likely it is that I would forget to eat altogether. Sacrificing food, while a tad inconvenient, is by no means difficult.

I had spent the past few days of my journey wondering what to give up, when I was greeted with a message from the winged creature. His question was simple, and is one that has bothered me since: Why must I give anything up?

Now, this question came as I quite nearly discovered an apt item to fast upon in this forty-day period. As you know, my time on this green earth has been dubbed the Age of Networks, perhaps because your children have never been more connected, and in some ways more distant. It has oft been suggested in these times that we ought to give up the tools that facilitate these connections, freeing ourselves from the glut of information and embracing silence and solitude. I have never considered myself to be one of those bound by such admonitions; in fact I have many times looked down upon those that considered such tools fast-worthy. That one could be so attached to the network that liberation from it could take on religious significance is a phenomenon I have always found deplorable. And yet it was but a few moments before I realised that I relied on similar tools for my fill of news and information, which, while not centred around my person, had become intrinsic to my way of life. I immediately rejected the thought, telling myself that my habit was not a guilty pleasure, but a necessary one; it pays in my field to be abreast of the happenings of the time, payments that have come in handy in the past. It would be senseless to give up something that I, in my opinion, do not overindulge in. And in that moment my irritating friend had the audacity to whisper his first horrible statement: The fact I considered my sources important, but by no means indispensable, was the very reason I should let them go. As I turned to the fellow in anger, a random thought entered my mind: Shouldn’t an item’s worth in sacrifice be evaluated by how much said item drives me from you, instead of how much I rely upon it?

This thought calmed me. It seemed I had found a good counter to the irksome whisperings of my pest. My thoughts turned then to whether or not I could give up other things that this network provided, such as entertainment. No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than did the dastardly creature return, in his tiny, high-pitched voice, asking whether or not this consideration was an attempt to find a more palatable alternative to the immense sacrifice of my news sources. I was back in my ugly bind, with a tiny pang of guilt eating at my core. Was I trying to shirk my Universal responsibility by finding an item easier to give up?

I would spare you the back-and-forth between me and this fellow I have been cursed with, Father. As I brought new items that I could give up, he questioned their relevance, their position, and the weight of their sacrifice, each in a harsh and biting tone. Would it be true sacrifice if one such as myself could be made to feel nothing in their absence? Would I have to force myself to constantly wish for these things, only to be reminded that I could not have them, in order for my sacrifice to be made complete? I found myself wishing that the initial thought had not occurred to me, only to have the question put forth on whether or not my wishes were sound and just, whether I had the right to even think such thoughts.

It was at this juncture that he asked me the question I mentioned initially: Why must I give anything up? I have left the House, and while some parts of my being still lie within its confines, my behaviour, and the very nature of these letters, betrays my true position. Should I put myself through the stress and strain of deciding on a worthy sacrifice when the true question of my soul must be answered first, before the sacrifice would mean anything? Last year, when I told a friend of mine from the huge and segmented Family of Rebels about my fast, he frowned in what I felt was pity, asking how the elders of the Universals had convinced me that my place Upstairs was dependent on the timing of a few scraps of food. His pity was misguided, for I did not do it for my salvation, but his question has remained with me, resurfacing from the lips of my unwanted acquaintance. Where does this compulsion come from, and why is it so strong that I devolved into a bottomless argument with my acquaintance about worthy sacrifices and guilty consciences? Is any sacrifice worth it when I know that I will still indulge in other vices this season, when I know that nothing I give up would cause me to turn around and return to the House I was raised in, before my journey ends?

We are five days into the season, and I am yet to make my decision. I am considering simply abstaining from food by default, but even I know that that is by far the easiest of all my options, and that I run the risk of complacency in defining the actual sacrifice. The tendency would be to keep with the food-fast, all the way until the day that marks season’s end, ignoring perhaps more admirable choices for abstinence. If I do decide to fast, it would be for the same reasons that I did last year: in the hopes that by giving something up specifically for this season I would be constantly reminded of your role in my life, and perhaps come to see that to which I have been blinded this entire time, the impetus behind my journey. It is unlikely, in my humble opinion, but at least I would be able to say that I tried.

I will end here dearest Father, but before I go let me leave you with the question that has plagued my irresolute heart since I heard those bells many days ago: What would be a worthy sacrifice from this your prodigal son?

With indecision,

Your Prodigal Son

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