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Is this the fast that I choose?

April 17, 2012
By Gregg Brekke, guest blogger

I write this post as the Christian season of Lent is winding down. There are just three days until the Hallelujah is proclaimed and Christians everywhere recall the story of Christ's resurrection.

Lent is the time in the Christian calendar for reflection, repentance, personal sacrifice, and reception of new members into the church. Beginning with Ash Wednesday (or following the bacchanal of Mardi Gras if that's your thing), Lent spans 40 days until Easter morning.

One of the hallmarks of Lent for many Christians is the idea of fasting or "giving something up." Modern Catholics are most noted for abstaining from meat, and substituting fish, on Fridays during Lent. Other traditions recommend various forms of fasting—carbon (reducing dependency on oil/coal), coltan (reducing dependency on electronic devices), alcohol, desserts, etc.

Other religions have similar periods or "holy days" for fasting: Yom Kippur for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims, Durga Navami for Hindus, and an extended fast as the first stage of self-realization for Buddhists.

One form of fasting that has been largely lost in the Christian tradition is the fast of solitude. Biblical characters such as Moses, Elijah, and Jesus each spent 40 days alone at one point in their ministries. It was seen as a transformative point of their stories.

A quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh helped inspire this post and may serve to explain the desire for solitude, even in a social media driven world. It appears as a meditation for the first day of each month in the devotional Celtic Daily Prayer.

"It is a difficult lesson to learn today, to leave one's friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week. For me, the break is most difficult…. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before!"

Tracking down those fasting from social media via social media is not as hard as one might think. Fortunately most of them maintain email contact, even when fasting from Facebook and Twitter. The responses I received were varied and intentional.

Will, a pastor in Toledo, Ohio, says fasting from Facebook has freed up time for prayer and meditation and "to focus on real relationships." The act of discipline—not regularly checking Facebook—has helped him reconsider what are his "daily necessities."

Will also says he has learned "the real self, the perceived self and the projected self have much in common, but are also worlds apart," especially in social media where "the illusion of intimacy" is facilitated by immediacy.

Anne, who was my professor of pastoral care in seminary, says she has taken up to a month off of Facebook at a time, usually because of relational overload. As an introvert, Anne says she doesn't "take lightly" the personal interactions that seem flippant to others but are recorded for all time on some server.

I take it all too seriously, and care too much about what I've shared. I would rather invest that kind of attention in the fewer intimate relationships I would maintain anyway if Facebook did not exist," she says.

Finally, Mick, a musician in Florida, says he primarily uses Facebook for entertainment. Leaving it behind to focus on "increased works of charity and service" is a hallmark of Lent for him.

Learning "what is and isn't important" has made Mick more aware of how he spends his time online. All his Facebook friends are people he's met and interacts with, so Mick noted that rather than chatting or commenting on Facebook with these friends, his phone call volume went up.

We live in a connected world. Some of our jobs depend on social media interactions. Many great world-expanding, justice-seeking, and action-taking messages are relayed though social media channels—for which we are grateful.

But what would your world look like if you sought digital solitude for a day, a week, a month, or 40 days? Would life come rushing back into the void richer, more vivid, fuller than before?

The Rev. Gregg Brekke owns SixView Studios, a communications company dedicated to the art of visual communication and interpretation. An award winning photojournalist and writer, he serves as Vice Chair of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. Communication Commission, on the World Alliance for Christian Communication (WACC-NA) Executive Committee as the team lead for video and film projects, and as a board member for the Associated Church Press. An ordained United Church of Christ minister, Brekke blogs at http://revgregg.wordpress.com.

The New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmedia@uts.columbia.edu.


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