In May of 1991 I made the first extended retreat of my life at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. (At the time we lived in Montgomery, Alabama, so the monastery at Conyers was the closest monastic house to us.) I was very naive and had great ambitions for the five days, one of which was a three day fast. I was in the habit of fasting at the time, but never more than 36 hours at a time. When I met with the Retreat Master, Dom Augustine (or Father Gus, as he was more commonly called), I told him, with some smugness, that I was planning the long fast. He winced and said, “Don’t do that; just loaf with the Lord.” I inwardly rolled my eyes and thought, “What does he know? The path to holiness does not lie in “loafing with the Lord.” Indeed! So I went right along with my plan, informing the kitchen staff that I would not need meals for the next three days.
All went pretty much as expected for twenty-four hours or so–the usual slight light-headedness and diminished energy, along with occasional hunger pangs. By bedtime on that second day, however, it was really beginning to hurt. I ached all over and just generally felt miserable. After I went to bed, I kept glancing at the crucifix on the wall of the room to see if He noticed how miserable I felt. I repeated “If you can do that for me, I can do this for you…if you can do that for me, I can do this for you…” Then once, as I allowed my eyes to linger on him for a few seconds, the “thought” popped into my head: “Whopper with cheese, large fries, Coke.” Well now! All of a sudden, I’m wide awake and almost trembly with excitement (Actually I was sort of trembly to begin with.) “But wait!”thinks I, The doors are locked at 9:00.” It was 9:30ish. “Sneak out.” “Whoa! Hold on here; I decided to fast until breakfast.” “A Whopper with cheese, large fries, large Coke.” By now I’m almost giggling. The light clicks on.
“A Whopper, large fries, large Coke.” I went for it. I hurried into my clothes. I tiptoed down the hall shoes in hand so as not to make a sound, down the stairs. I pulled the mat halfway outside to hold the door open a little and keep it from locking behind me. I got in my car and drove to Burger King in Conyers, and I ate a Whopper with cheese, large fries, and large Coke on the premises. It felt like the heavenly banquet. Bless His name, I was alive. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies-” all set with recyclable paper products. Oh, it was good. Then I went back to the monastery and had the trots for a little while.
Fr. Gus was right. God didn’t want my petty suffering. In fact, all the fasting really did at that particular time was to divert my attention. God simply wanted me to “loaf” with him for a few days. He found a way to break in on my prideful agenda in a very unorthodox way. I was just vulnerable enough to obey. On the one hand, it’s too bad, I wasted the too days trying to impress God with my unnecessary hunger. On the other hand, if I hadn’t been so single-minded and arrogant, he might not have gone to such delightful lengths to get my attention…and I might have missed one of the singular spiritual adventures of my life.