Let’s begin this post by answering definitively the question:
Should you add a media fast into your spiritual practice during Lent?
The answer is a semi-equivocal:
Semi-equivocal, because you may not need to just use less media - you may need to use different media, or use media differently. If nothing else, you need to evaluate what media you use, and how you are using it. Even if you make no changes, you’ll have a purpose to your practice. You will be striving to “take every thought captive”.
There may even be media that you need to use more in order to have a good media fast.
We’ll look as some things to bear in mind as a media fast is undertaken. First, some concepts that apply to all media use, then some suggestions for regulating specific media types. These are in no specific order.
- Keep your eyes on your own screen. Just like “Keep your eyes on your own plate” with fasting from food, it is essential that you judge only yourself.
- Don’t substitute a public medium for a private one - for example, don’t quit browsing Facebook where you have more public exposure, and instead browse Tumblr or Twitter.
- If the primary way you communicate encouragement to and from others is social media, don’t cut it off entirely. We’ll look at some strategies for staying connected while reducing wasted time. It is especially important during a time of spiritual struggle that we seek to give and receive strength from our fellow pilgrims.
- If you have any doubts about what you are doing, discuss them with your spiritual director. You will have difficulty continuing on the path you have set for yourself if your steps are not firm, and discouragement will be the result.
Books?!?! Yes, books are media. You may have thought you were off the hook because you read all the time, and hardly even watch TV or surf the net, but, no such luck. If you are an avid reader, use that avidity to read some spiritual writings like The Way of the Pilgrim, The Lenten Triodion, the Church Fathers, or other recommended works. Perhaps you may need to get your nose out of the book and get it into somebody else’s business for a change, doing good works instead of reading good works. If you’re not sure where to start, as around - there are plenty of people willing to share with you what they’ve enjoyed. Maybe you don’t read at all hardly - consider working your way through a single book like The Lenten Spring or The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete as a substitute for some of the other media that you will be reducing.
For those with children, consider picking out something to read with them during this time. I don’t just mean the daily scripture readings, but something that will inculcate spiritual truths in a more casual manner, such as George MacDonald’s Princess and the Goblin, or The Chronicles of Narnia.
This includes a wide range nowadays. Cable, satellite, over-the-air broadcasts, internet streams, YouTube, Redbox, movies etc all fall under this general heading. Many cut this out entirely during Lenten seasons, which is not necessarily a bad idea, and probably the easiest to get along without. However, it may be helpful, especially for families, to watch some things that provoke spiritual discussion. That could be anything from Ostrov to Veggietales. The important thing is to select carefully, and spend the time talking. Use media events to engage rather than disengage.
Some practical ways to limit video media include:
- disconnecting the cable from the television, and only watching what you record
- suspending Netflix and Hulu subscriptions until Lent is concluded
- only watch things as a family - no solo video time
I’m not going to suggest here that you listen exclusively to Ancient Faith Radio during Lent. In fact, it may actually be best for you to spend a good bit of time in silence, especially if you’re a music (or especially a talk radio) fanatic. That being said, when you do listen to music, consider not using the radio or non-programmable internet streams. Take the control of what you let slip into your psyche.
I don’t know how many people just sit down in front of Google anymore and spend hours looking for, as Johnny 5 would say, “more input”, but unless you are a researcher, it’s probably not your best choice of Lenten occupations. Stumbleupon, Tumblr, even Pinterest can while away hours on trivia. So can “news” outlets like Huffington Post. You shouldn’t retreat into a cave for 6 weeks unless you are a bona fide hermit, but you can take control of how you use information media.
- Cultivate the need to know less. Events in the world will go on without you. If they’re important, you won’t be able to ignore them even during a media blackout, or they’ll still be there on Bright Monday.
Most of those in Gens X & Y are users of social media, but still see it as wasted time to some degree or another. Many feel like it is a substitute for real human encounters. I would argue that this is not entirely true. In fact, I know my brothers and sisters in Christ better, and have more interaction with them than I otherwise could, because of Facebook, not in spite of it. The same could be said for my extended family. That being said, using social media to connect in the modern public square does not have to be like watching advertisements on television, sifting through a glut of data hoping for a few gems.
- If you can’t moderate your usage, you may need to tune out. This doesn’t mean you have to entirely disconnect, however. With Google+ you can set up just certain circles of people whose update you want to follow. You can do the same with Twitter. Facebook goes a few steps further: you can choose those friends whose statuses you want to keep up with, download Facebook Messenger, close your main Facebook window, and still be able to keep up and connect with those you commune with there.
- If you logged into your social media outlet on Clean Monday, and each day since, and it’s been a graveyard because all your friends are fasting from social media, perhaps you should consider doing the same in solidarity.
- Unfollow non-productive feeds - joke pages, feeds that post questionable photos of various types, celebrities - at least for the duration of Lent. This will help clean up your media wall, and make it more trim and useful.
- Use your social media time to encourage others toward love and good works - be proactive, not just reactive, as is our usual mode in these venues.
Conclusion: Turn Out, Tune Off, Drop In
Timothy Leary said “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” is describing the way the counter-culture of the 60’s should engage with the dominant culture. I would suggest a slightly different course of action:
- Turn out: get rid of “every weight, and the sin that so easily besets” you. Take thoughts captive, and make a choice.
- Tune off: Many of our usual media use habits simply need to be put away for at least the Lenten period. The ways in which we avoid people by not using media need to be examined as well, and our reluctance to engage may need to be tuned off as well.
- Drop in: Seek to engage others, both in your media use and your media fast.
Lent is a time to evaluate every area of our lives, beginning with something as basic as food, and extending to something as pervasive as out media use. Ultimately, learning to function as the Body of Christ in union and communion with Him is the goal of these efforts. This means exercise, which requires activity, not passivity. Let us use these tools God has given us to build one another up and bear fruit in our own lives, through fasting, prayer, and giving, and may God grant you a blessed Lent.
Continue the ConversationDo you have other suggestions for a fruitful media fast? Ways that you have been able to use or limit media effectively? Please share them with us here - encouraging one another to love and good works is what this is all about!