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Spiritual Disciplines Expose Our Sinful Tendencies

The spiritual disciplines … are so easy that any adult human being can do them. There are no particular skills required to be alone, to be silent, or to abstain from food. Yet on the other hand, they are so difficult, and so perfectly calibrated to reveal the true condition of our hearts, that no one can "succeed" at them. Indeed, the secret of the classical spiritual disciplines, and all disciplines that tame power, is how reliably they lay waste to whatever sense we may have of ourselves as competent agents in the world.

Take fasting and food, where I can offer a personal testimony to the humbling effect of the disciplines. My annual fasts during the seasons of Advent and Lent are darkly comical reminders of how completely undisciplined I truly am in my relationship with food. No matter how minimal the fast I set out to practice—one Lent it simply was leaving milk out of my tea—I find that I am almost never able to keep it to the end. Among the most pitiful moments of my life was that day, about two weeks into Lent, when I desperately and furtively opened the refrigerator, fully aware that I was breaking the most minimal fast conceivable but feeling completely unable to go on without milk in my tea. It was the sweetest, and the bitterest, cup of tea I have ever had.

When we practice the spiritual disciplines, we discover how deep runs our commitment to our own autonomy and comfort, and how addicted we are to the approval of others, the sound of our own voice, and the satisfaction of our appetites.

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