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February 19: Spiritual Shopping Cart

Used with permission by author. Source:

Luke 4:2b

[Jesus] ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

We live in a time of Supermarket Spirituality.

It is very cool to be spiritual but not religious. People want to push their shopping buggy around the aisles of spirituality and choose whatever looks appealing.

“I’ll take a little Tantric Yoga, some Buddhist meditation (because I like incense), a healthy dose of Kama Sutra (because I like other things too), and a slice of Native American Vision Quest.”

It is easy to understand this urge. Religions tend to grow arcane rules and self-serving bureaucracies. Spirituality is concerned with the soul instead of material or physical things. In this material world, people are desperate for something to feed the soul.

But there are a couple of problems with cafeteria style spiritualism.

When we create our own spiritual potpourri we become rulers of our own cosmos. The truth is that not many of us are created to be the Pope of our own little religion, or the Messiah of our own little movement. In fact, it is spiritually unhealthy to answer only to self.

Remember those spiritual ancestors we talked about a couple of days ago? God gives us those elders for a very good reason: we need them. It is spiritually healthy to stand upon the shoulders of giants. It is hubris to believe we stand on our own.

The list of American super saints and famous evangelists who have experienced a spectacular fall from grace is long and lurid. These sordid stories all have one thing in common: they are all about people who did not have to answer to anyone. Their spiritual compass was all out of whack and there was no one to say so.

But there is another problem.

When we shop for the parts of spirituality we like, we tend to leave the things we DON’T like on the shelves. We skip things like sacrificial giving, selfless living, boundless compassion… and fasting.

Oh, yes, I know: even fasting can be chic. If we call it a green tea cleanse, then the cool kids are all in. But that turns fasting into another self-serving way that I can make me the center of my spiritual universe.

Fasting and self-denial are part of spiritual discipline. They are the doorway to authentic vision quest.

The first thing to learn about vision quest is that it is not about you. It is about the Creator. You are not owed a vision. There is no spiritual coin that you put into the God shaped vending machine to get what you want. There is fasting. Waiting. And listening.

In our spiritual supermarket, this is an outdated box on the bottom shelf. It does not fit neatly into our buggy full of self-improvement devices. It is open-ended. It is patient. It is slow to speak and quick to wait.

It is not hip or cool or fun.

Don’t get me wrong. Feasting is also a spiritual discipline. Jesus embraced feasting and love and laughter so completely that the religious people said he was a glutton and a drunk. But Jesus started his ministry with fasting and self-denial.

Even in this time of Supermarket Spirituality, fasting is part of a balanced spiritual diet. Vision quest calls us to remember our spiritual heritage and follow our elders. The road to glory leads through humility and self denial.

Creator, I have a constant urge to take your throne, and make myself the ruler of all things. Today I honor the elders who have come before me, and so I honor you. Show me the sacred road of fasting and self denial. Today I wait for you.

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