Fasting is a spiritual discipline that takes many forms. There’s the most obvious fast- that is, giving up all food for a period of time: a day, daylight hours only. Sometimes it’s giving up a specific food that one considers to be especially enticing, even sinful, and doing that for the entire period of Lent, or maybe taking breaks from fasting on Sundays (the little feast days, the weekly celebration of the resurrection). Others choose to give up another type of vice: shopping, drinking alcohol, chocolate, what have you.
I’ve tried several different fasts over the years, but one in particular has stuck with me. The World Council of Churches designated the first decade of this century as the Decade to Overcome Violence. I think it was 2002 when their resources recommended a fast from violence, particularly in the form of media: tv, movies, and the like. At the time I was pregnant with my first child and had started paying more attention to everything I was consuming; so the idea of feeding my mind, eyes and ears with things were beautiful, pleasant, happy, glorifying to God made sense to me.
It wasn’t all that easy though, because, as my attention was heightened I began to realize how much violence dominates American culture. Our most popular movies and tv shows tend to focus on violence or even glorify it. And here I’ll have to admit, I was a big fan of Law & Order on NBC. I thought the writing was great, the characters were well developed and interesting and they usually settled their case in favor of justice. I also liked that they were able to convey the horror of heinous crimes without having to show the crime taking place. The fact that the show is still on and has even added different iterations is testimony to both the effectiveness of the writers/actors/producers/stories and the American hunger for this type of story.
But, when I decided to fast from violence, it was clear to me that to be most effective I would have to give up Law & Order in addition to the tv news and stories of violence via other sources. I didn’t entirely mind giving up the evening news, but giving up Law & Order was the stretching point. However, I started to think of how things, especially visuals, have a way of sticking with me. I have a very active imagination and can easily picture some very horrible things, but showing me a picture of the horrible thing is what I have come to call “an assault on my very soul.” I can’t shake things I have seen. They burn me to my core, my soul; and they have a way of damaging me.
While I believe my faith requires me to respond to injustice in whatever way I can, I also believe that God intends for me to feed my eyes, mind and soul with whatever is good (indeed scripture directs me to think on these things!). And as a parent, I am beholden to provide a safe and wholesome environment for my children to grow in. And that all means to me that I could not in good conscience continue to be a consumer of violence. For to actively, or inactively, consume violence, and particularly imagined or acted out violence, would be to support the perpetuation of violence and its industry. As a person of faith, consuming violence is antithetical to the beliefs I hold near, dear and to be supportive of Truth.
For the most part, I have kept up my personal fast from violence. I am daily challenged though, as a mother of boys, to make the fast for my family. I long resisted allowing my children to have tools of violence in the form of toys. And I have found that to be nearly impossible, because even if I don’t allow my boys to have toy guns, they inevitably “build” one with Legos, or even just shape their fingers into a gun. I nearly cried the first time a relative gave my oldest a toy rifle for Christmas, but that is what happens in families who hunt (deer, ducks and quail).
Being a responsible citizen of the world and person of faith calls me to be aware of the injustices of this world, and to do something about it. Being a person of faith and believer in the greater good, I can’t turn a blind eye to the violence in this world and pretend it doesn’t exist. Being a believer and a responsible citizen, I can be aware of injustice and act without allowing the all-out assault on my soul.