In recognition of Dr Mike I wanted to share what I wrote to him earlier this month – a brief expression of my deep appreciation for his life and his ministry. I am a student of his theology school and the school administration kindly passed on these words to be read to him by his family shortly before his graduation ‘to the unseen realm’. Dr Mike was a tenacious bible scholar and an excellent teacher, one of a tiny number of individuals whose influence on my walk with God has been profound.
I can think of no other biblical scholar who has managed, as you have, to reach into the hearts and minds of fringe dwellers and perennial questioners like myself – those who really want to know the truth but have found themselves dislocated from mainstream Christianity. You helped me to see the full technicolour glory of the scriptural picture, and to grasp the astonishing reality of what it means to be an ‘imager’. Your wisdom and insight are an inspiration.
God bless you.
If you’d like to know more about the theology school that Dr Mike founded, please see this website:
An agent of God in unusual form,
he came with intent and sailed into the storm.
He adorned those he chose with ineffable traits,
true kindness and patience, from good into great.
Slow movements could not veil the bright fire inside
as he gifted humility, freedom from pride.
While his wings were concealed from most human eyes,
for those who drew near we saw through the disguise.
- With eternal gratitude to N & love for his family
We never know how high we are
Til we are called to rise;
And then if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.
The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king.
To know the Cross is not merely to know our own sufferings. For the Cross is the sign of salvation, and no man is saved in his own sufferings. To know the Cross is to know that we are saved by the sufferings of Christ; more, it is to know the love of Christ who underwent suffering and death in order to save us. It is, then, to know Christ. For to know His love is not merely to know the story of His love, but to experience in our spirit that we are loved by Him, and that in His love the Father manifests His own love for us, through His spirit poured forth in our hearts.
I have practiced various forms of fasting on and off for just over a decade now. I have become more committed to this process in the last three years, and have just completed a 180 hour water fast. Privately, I am increasingly convinced that fasting is the God-given way to invite bodily repair in the most simple, natural manner. No potions, no pills, no tinctures, no treatments, no healing modalities. Just pure rest.
Practically speaking, fasting requires nothing more than time and space. However, I began doing longer water fasts only when I felt certain that my body knew that this was a time of care and not a form of punishment. Fasting is a practice, and having exercised this muscle consistently I now feel confident that I can handle whatever arises on my own. I eased myself gently into and out of the fast by eating very lightly and minimally for at least a week on either side. For the fasting period itself, I took time off work, cleared my calendar of anything strenuous, booked myself a massage and bought copious quantities of bath salts. I vowed to do no reading, no studying and no listening to lectures or audiobooks. I wanted to steer myself away from the usual safe, diversionary harbours.
Once the fast was underway, I gave myself simple, physical tasks that mirrored the internal work taking place. I tidied cupboards, cleaned shelves and quietly sorted and ordered my cloister-home. I went for slow walks and did gentle stretching routines. I permitted myself family-friendly viewing in the evenings if my energy was waning, but otherwise I maintained a low-to-no info and media diet. Mostly, I did nearly nothing. I sat on the sofa, drank warm water and looked out of my window at the shifting mists and clouds. I listened for the owls and the peregrine falcons nesting nearby. I watched the birds and the squirrels competing for their portion of food on my patio.
Although tangible physical repair and the purging of junk and poison from the body is very much welcomed, fasting yields so much more than this. Without fasting, when would I truly let the tide to come in? When would I allow the rhythmic swing to reach its furthest apex? When would my mind and body entirely cease from churning and digesting? It has taken me a long time to recognise that there is a special kind of inertia in constant striving. Equally, there is an evasion in relentless production and achievement – a futile exercise, for as Thomas á Kempis states “wherever you go, there you are”. I fell into these habitual patterns of avoidance and simulation for much of my life, and fasting now forms a key part in my recalibration process. It helps me to place value where it abides naturally: in stillness, presence and being.
In the quiet sacrifice of foregoing the pleasurable lull of a full belly and the sensory satisfaction of taste and texture, there is a balancing point to be explored: the locus between the power and clarity of a disciplined self, and the humility and dependence of a frail body. I still lack the words with which to expand on this notion, but I know that on the sixth day of my fast when my muscles ached and my head was sore, I found consolation in identifying with Paul’s depiction of strength in weakness:
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Cor 12:9
The establishment of the fasting state is a particular blessing for an individual like me who is prone to be a thought-in-a-box, with a brain that is constantly juggling ideas and articulations. Over the course of the first three days, my mind gradually went into standby mode and my vision softened. The familiar laser beam honing in on fine details gave way to a more gentle overview. I was brought into a wordless space, a zone of neutrality and receptivity. Thomas Merton describes the art of contemplation as “learning to rest in arid quietude”. Fasting is a very literal way of playing out this aridity by creating a temporary wilderness in which you are compelled to face your own void while the vessel quite literally empties. In this sense, I experience fasting as a gentle exercise in learning how to suffer, how to accept transient aches and passing anxieties without fuss, how to not get what I want and still be ok. The more willingly and frequently I enter this state, the more at ease I become with my own inevitable discomforts. There is less fighting and more simple observation. As the surface fluctations ease and the flesh ceases “lusting against the Spirit” (Gal 5:17) a feeling of underlying harmony arises.
Eventually, there is acceptance. With yielding detachment from the appetites, the volume is turned down on the voice that likes to shout “my will”. The departure of this desirous chatter creates space, and in this space the well-buried but ever present peace of divine security feels closer to hand.
A brief caveat: clearly there are numerous situations in which fasting would be unwise. For some individuals, abstenance from food is ill advised under any circumstances. I am not here with the intention of dishing out recommendations. I am simply sharing my passion for a practice that I have found to be beneficial.
EXULTATION is the going
Of an inland soul to sea, -
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity!
Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?
In the land of his affliction
the wise man bows down low,
glad in humble posture
that the inner light will glow.
As darkness smothers senses,
so the heart must guide the way -
the furnace howls, the errors burn
the smoke of doubt holds sway.
Acquiesce? No, persevere
he turns within anew,
takes up the cross and drinks the cup,
walks like the faithful few.
On route he knows the refuge is
to share the gifted load -
in sorrow poured out prayerfully
a lighter yoke bestowed.
25th July 2021, Wiltshire, England.