“Don’t give into some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.”
We live in a world as power-hungry as it is powerless. We are enslaved to our baser desires for salt, sugar, bleached flour, alcohol, sleep, sexual satisfaction, and money, and yet we dream of (and often imagines ourselves being) all-powerful arbiters of truth, justice and reality. The former desires are bestial; the latter are still bad, but they are at least human.
Leaving aside the desire for power for the moment, let us do as Evagrius of Pontus recommends, and use a bad vice to attack a worse vice. Let us attack our desires for food sleep and satisfaction by invigorating (for a time) our desire for mastery of ourselves, the world, and others.
Let us be global for a moment… How many of the world’s great leaders, activists, and thinkers, Gandhi, Washington, Thomas Aquinas, Maximos the Confessor, Anthony the Great, Paul of Tarsus, Jesus of Nazareth, Socrates, or Buddha, displayed in their lives a remarkable degree of ascetic effort? Further, is it conceivable that they were only able to accomplish such great words and deeds because they were masters of their bodily desires?
Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before starting his ministry, a ministry that made him (whether you love him or hate him) one of the most famous men in human history. Would he have succeeded in the trials of the ministry that followed if he succumbed to the temptations that preceded? Thomas Aquinas had to spend hours upon hours a day in deep thought in order to become one of the most influential and important (and, in modern day scholarship, I am told, one of the most-studied) thinkers of all time. He gave up many, many drinking parties in order to produce his introductory textbook we call the Summa Theologica. As for Gandhi, would India be free, would anyone know his name if he could not resist the overwhelming pleasure of an apple or a pear?
Without spelling out exactly the connection between the superhuman ability to not-eat and the ability to accomplish other superhuman tasks such as moral reform, intellectual insight, or the nonviolent love of your enemies, can we not at least pause to notice the unnaturally high degree of correlation?
Think of your favorite leader, your hero, your example, anyone. Your pastor, father, grandmother, best friend, former president, apostle, reformer… Anyone you want to be like. Could they tell their stomach what to do? Did it obey? Or did their stomach tell them what to do, and they obeyed? If the former, then be like them, as they are like Christ.
After we have mastered the belly, of course, we will have another fish to fry, the love of power, the deep desire to be glorified for our own achievements. But, hey, baby steps to Jesus.