by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
French Benedictine Hermit, Adalbert de Vogue begins his little (rare) book “To Love Fasting” with his personal experience of “the regular fast…”
“Having risen at three o’clock, I first celebrated the night office for an hour and half, then attended to various occupations, the heaviest of which was four hours of study.” He continues to describe the day… communion, practical jobs, a walk, meditation, “and the little hours of the divine office. But no breakfast: I have not eaten breakfast for almost ten years” (de Vogue, To Love Fasting, 5). He travels in to the monastery to pick up a wooden tote with his food, some books, mail, and packages. This is his only contact with people. He returns to his hermitage. He does not eat lunch. Dinner is his only meal, and it occurs at 6:30pm after Vespers. de Vogue states that the further he gets from the one meal of the day the better he feels. “My mind is at its most lucid, my body vigorous and well disposed, my heart light and full of joy,” he writes. He walks almost ten miles a day. He is in bed at nine.
I decided to try this “regular fast” this Lent. My summary – it’s been more comical than anything else. Five days a week I eat two boiled eggs in the morning and drink coffee (I’m not crazy!) Then I eat only dinner. No snacks. Barely any water. Saturday and Sunday I can eat what I want. The comedy comes from watching myself throughout the day. At about 9:47a.m. I am hungry already. I want a snack. I NEED a snack.Where’s my snack? Snack Snack SNACK! I realize I am in a deep habit/ritual/liturgy of snacking all day long. Since I stopped snacking I realize everyone I am around snacks all day long. Food is everywhere. I feel we eat out of some scarcity mentality. Snacking is comfort. We snack because “you deserve it” as the Freddy’s fast food sign states with it’s picture of a delicious ice cream sundae.
As the day wears on de Vogue says he becomes more lucid. Okay. Maybe I become more lucid. Or maybe I just become more desperate – I am hungry! If dinner is after 6:30pm I get weird. But I don’t become sluggish like I thought I would. I think about God, I pray. For Lent’s sake, it works.
After the weekend Monday is difficult. My stomach growls. I had a lunch with someone last week and I got to eat a salad because Benedictine hospitality says you can break a fast if hospitality requires it. I thought about just scheduling a lunch every day
I feel better. I ate pizza for dinner one evening and I felt gross. (It didn’t stick around long.) If I eat anything greasy or overly carby then I feel bad (and it doesn’t stick around long). After I eat dinner I feel good. I don’t want to snack. Actually I have stopped wanting snacks.
I am much more grateful for food. My mealtime thanks if truly thankful. I think we Americans eat too much. Therefore we lack gratitude. We don’t earn our food. We think we deserve our food. My body now appreciates food. I appreciate food. We wait together. We have become thoughtful.
Scot McKnight called de Vogue’s regular fast “charming” (in his excellent book called Fasting.) Scot, I don’t think you’d think it is so charming if you tried it. It is severe. It’s itchy. And it is correct. Charming is not a part of this fast.
The brothers at Conception Abbey knew de Vogue (died 2011). One brother said he was very skinny. Another said that de Vogue sat down for dinner with four other monks and they had a bowl of salad and de Vogue ate almost the whole thing by himself!
I doubt I keep up the fast after Lent. de Vogue said that monks “live a life of Lent.” There are no special fast days. Everyday is a fast day, a regular fast. Sunday is special though (and Saturday). The regular fast focuses the mind. It strengthens resolve. It makes me feel better. And I don’t like it.