It’s not a good idea to tell anyone what you are giving up (the proper term is “fasting from”) during Lent. Through the centuries, the Church has encouraged fasting as a spiritual discipline but has insisted it isn’t to be a public display of religiosity. This is not some obscure canonical legalism but is rooted, instead, in what Jesus taught on the topic. That Jesus expected his followers to practice the spiritual discipline of fasting is beyond question.  In the liturgical year, this involves Lent, a wonderful time of preparation for the joyous celebration of Good Friday and Easter, of Christ’s death and resurrection.
I was raised in a tradition that rejected Lent as unbiblical (as well as the rest of the liturgical year for that matter). We still followed a flow of time over an annual cycle, of course, because all human beings are creatures in time. It’s not something we can escape. Each person has a sense of the yearly passage of time—the only question is which calendar shapes our consciousness of the year. So, growing up, instead of a calendar shaped by God’s gracious acts in Christ in history, by default we followed the secular one defined by our consumerist world.
I find Lent to be a good and helpful practice, and I’ve found this 2023 Lenten season so helpful, I’ve decided to write about it.
Jesus’s instruction about letting people know about our fasting is clear. “Beware of practicing your piety before others,” he said, “for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  He says our fasting should not be obvious to our friends and neighbors, but only to our “Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Those who ignore this, he says, have already “received their reward.” He doesn’t identify what the rewards are, but that only makes his warning seem all the more ominous.
And here I am going to ignore it. I am going to mention, in writing on the Internet, what I fasted from for Lent 2023. My reason is that what I gave up for Lent this year is helping me flourish so much as a person, I simply cannot not tell you about it.
So, assume I have already received my reward, and read on.
It hasn’t always been this way. A few years ago, I gave up alcohol for Lent—no wine at dinner, or beer with pizza, or bourbon in the evening in front of the fire while reading a book. And that, I tell you, was terrible. I’ll never do it again. To make matters worse, I was miserable enough I let my family know what I was fasting from, so I don’t even have God’s reward to look forward to. I think that may have also been the year I had a colonoscopy. Maybe there is a connection.
In any case, this year I gave up the news. Primarily this meant not reading the news. We don’t watch television news in The House Between, because it’s not a medium that prompts thoughtfulness. And not reading the news has been so wonderful I’m considering making it permanent. Or at least drastically changing how I encounter the news day by day. So, let me tell you what I’ve learned.
- It’s surprisingly hard to give up the news.
I mean this in two ways. First, I found it hard to give it up because reading the news was such an enjoyable routine part of my day. My practice has been to read the Dispatch (conservative) and the New York Times (liberal) daily. I found giving them up was harder than I expected. The reason is I like reading the news, like reading news from both the right and the left, like keeping up with events, like discerning what a Christian third-way perspective would be in having an overall sense of the state of the world and how I should think and live as a result.
I missed it but found that I missed it less as the days went by.
And second, I found it hard to give up the news because the news is everywhere. Literally. Every. Where. My Google homepage sprouts headlines. Walked into the dentist’s office and a TV is on in the waiting room. I tried not to focus on the news but found there is so much of it out there I would catch bits and pieces, headlines, and photos in my peripheral vision. We truly live in a media-soaked world. I began to feel there was a conspiracy raging against me, and as the days went by, became convinced of it. Algorithms work virtually at the speed of light to constantly feed me what is designed to provoke a reaction. “Feed” isn’t the proper term. I am assaulted. So are you, by the way. The idea that the Internet is a neutral forum of information is simply a colossal lie.
By the way, I wasn’t legalistic about all this but took it as a humorous chance to see clearly into the state of our society and social media. No wonder there is so much fear, anger, and violence around us. The algorithms are designed to whip it up.
- Once I gave the news up, I discovered I’m not missing it.
I mean this in two ways also. First, my spirit has been lighter. There has been less on my mind that I know but can’t do anything about. That’s what most of the news is: stuff I learn that breaks my heart but about which I am by and large impotent to do anything about. My prayer life hasn’t changed but I can pray for Ukraine and racial inequality in America without knowing gory details from yesterday. I like having a lighter spirit.
And second, I find I still learn a great deal about what is going on, while saving time. Besides stumbling across the news everywhere, people mention news reports that concern them. I find I’m about as up to date as I was before and am saving about 2 hours a day.
Yes, I read a lot of news.
- What I’m going to do as a result.
I’m not going to make this permanent. Lent has come to an end. And as I mentioned, I like reading the news in a thoughtful and discerning way. But I am going to read the news differently. Read less daily, concentrate on articles that provide background and deeper insight, and spend more time reading poetry and fiction, both of which are far more edifying. I am going to resist allowing editors and algorithms to dictate what I should read.
I only hope giving up my divine reward was worth it.
- See Matthew 9:14-17 for starters.
- Matthew 6:1.
- Matthew 6:18.
Photo by Mike van Schoonderwalt: (https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-stack-of-newspapers-5505718/)