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Fasting for Listening

March 21st, 2008 | 5 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

"If I could prescribe one thing for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, no one would hear it; there is too much noise. Therefore, create silence."

Soren Keierkegaard

Fasting is like silence for your body. Not-eating entirely, or restricted eating, is a way to give your body a break. Your digestion slows down, catches up, and breathes a sigh of relief.

Sure, the body fights back (for not giving it what you usually do), but after a period of pouting, it starts giving back (in the form increased energy, clearer skin, a cleaner colon, better sleep, better circulation of the blood).

Cramps, stomach aches, feebleness, light-headedness, these are the mild symptoms that your body might kick up at you to intimidate you, like a two-year-old testing your limits. But if you are in close communication with your doctor, then these minor symptoms can be treated as they are -- minor, and harmless. They must be pushed through for the sake of the clarity shortly to follow.

Similarly, our ears need a break. More so, our internal ears, our mental ears need a break from the endless snacks of chatter and ten o'clock news and passing fancies. They definitely need a break from the full meals of conversation, work discussions, regretful or nostalgic memories of last week, hopeful or fearful plans for next week.

Even "talks" with God must not be endless... Sometimes we must simply sit with him, and listen, and be. The internal chattering self will kick up intimidation, just like the body, but more subtle and seductive. "You forgot to email...!" "Did that bill get paid?" "Whose birthday is it this week?" "I can finally get that spot out..." The moment you sit down to silence you'll find a hundred and one tiny, useless, yet tyrannically-"urgent" thoughts that have been waiting for a chance to ambush you in a moment of peace.

The twin-disciplines of fasting (bodily) for health and fasting (verbally) for listening ought to be undertaken, if possible, at the same time. It's a two-edged sword striking the root with twice the force.

They stakes are by no means low, nor the rewards mean. For if we cannot listen well to our families, how can we love them well? If we cannot listen to our God, how can we follow him well?

Let's take inventory of our internal ears, this weekend. How well are we listening to ourselves? Not our surface chatter, but our deeper selves? Just as importantly, how well are we listening to our spouses, children, parents, and friends? How well can we if there is no background of silence in which to receive their words?
If the answer is "Not as well as I'd like," there are probably a hundred thoughts and a dozen unfelt-emotions stuck in the psychic system we need to get past. But remember: There is no way past but through. Like bad food in your long intenstine, crazy, out-dated, pessimistic, irrelevant, and distracting thoughts that clog our systems simply need to go their course, and get out. There is no shortcut; Time is the key. But with perseverance and faith, the storm calms, the thoughts quiet, and a beautiful clarity and openness begin to flower. In this openness and clarity one is able to hear God, the self, and other human beings.Take some time this weekend to fast from words, and if you can't hear the "still, small voice," speaking things so sweet and beautiful and true you can hardly believe it.

Here's a simple exercise I find immensely rewarding:

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