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Chaplain's Corner: Consider a fast to focus on spiritual needs

By Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Brian Musselman | 673d Air Base Wing | July 9, 2015


The "Chaplain's Corner" offers perspectives to enhance spiritual/religious resiliency in support of Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs.

Comments regarding specific beliefs, practices, or behaviors are strictly those of the author and do not convey  endorsement by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the 673d Air Base Wing.

"The dog ate my paper!" 

Ever hear those words coming from someone's mouth? Have you ever used it as an excuse ... uh, I mean, has it happened to you? It happened to me during my last year of seminary ... all joking aside.

I had finished my paper on fasting and it was 16 pages long. Printing out a hard  copy, my goal was to scan it and look it over for errors and punctuation mistakes - the normal things a student does. 

I had plenty of time and was confident that I had produced a good assignment. In my haste, leaving the house to run some errands and go out to dinner, I left this sixteen-page paper on the living room table. 

At the time, my wife and I were staying at her parents' house along with their two friendly, loyal yet puppyish, adult-sized golden retrievers. One was dominant, reserved and king, while the other one was a rambunctious queen who loved to chew all things in her path. 

We left and the queen went to work. She ate my paper. Yes, that's right. My paper was about one thing: fasting. (Please humor me a little.)

Needless to say, Gracie - the queen - could have practiced some restraint and self-control, although I didn't see this principle until after I stopped laughing at the irony.

So, why would I be writing to you about fasting? Before I answer that question, let me have you chew on something first.

I am reading through Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline." Sound like a militant title? It may seem it, but it is quite the opposite.

It is a book written from a Christian perspective for a Christian audience in order to encourage healthy spiritual practices, although this shouldn't prevent anyone from reading it.

For example, Foster encourages fasting and gives reasons for this from a biblical perspective.

The book moves me to think about the ways in which we celebrate discipline throughout our careers. Basic Military Training, enacts rigor, training, and discipline to produce growing leaders for our nation's military.

Once graduation happens, there is a celebration. Consider what college students go through as they work through two to four (or more) years of academic training, then graduation commences, and then there is a celebration.

The discipline of working hard to earn an associate's, a certification, an apprenticeship, bachelor's or other culminates in celebration. One celebrates discipline. 

But, what does a culture like that one look like? In one of many ways, we are doing this as a military culture. Physical training is a part of who we are - it is part of our identity. 

I have a good friend who has celebrated discipline as an NFL player after winning two Superbowl championships. Very few of us will experience this.

But Foster isn't talking about the discipline to become an NFL player, or to always get an 'excellent' on our physical fitness test. 

One day, I will not be a part of the military (I hope it is a long way off from now), so I can't pursue PT 'just' because I'm required to do so; I want to do it because it's good for me and I enjoy it.

Foster describes fasting as that which "refers to abstaining from food for spiritual purposes." I have practiced this spiritual exercise many times and, as a Christian, I have had to check my motives for why I'm doing it. 

Some may fast to lose weight, while others may practice it in protest of an event. My desire is to align my thinking with what is written by Foster - who said abstaining from food forces us to draw strength on the sustaining power of God, replacing this physical need (for a period of time with a beginning and an ending) with a spiritual need.

The great thing about this spiritual exercise is that it doesn't always have to be abstaining from food or drink.

What about a technology fast? How about a television fast? Maybe we could motivate ourselves to do a media fast? (A friend of a friend once joked that she did a fast from stairs.)

So, my final thought is actually a question: If you were to do a fast (i.e., to abstain from something in order for a greater good, or in my case, fasting to stretch my allegiance to, and faith in my relationship with, God), what would you fast from for a period of time? Why not do it now?