I am not supposed to tell you this, but I have not had a cup of coffee or any caffeinated beverage for the past eight days.
No I am not on doctor’s orders and this is not some strange diet. It is Lent.
Lent is the six week period leading up to Easter. In many Christian traditions, Lent is used as an opportunity to adopt some special spiritual discipline or act of renunciation.
Contrary to popular opinion, Christians do not give things up because we believe there is some particular virtue in suffering, or even because we believe that our bodies are evil and need to be punished.
Christians practice voluntary renunciation in order to assert our freedom and in an attempt to wake ourselves up to the deeper realities of life.
Even if my addiction is only to the warm glow of a caffeine-buzz, it is good for me to be able to remind myself for six weeks that I am committed to something deeper and more authentic than the good feeling that I get from a latte.
For the past eight days, even after the initial caffeine-withdrawal headache passed, I have been reminded frequently that I am committed to something deeper than the warm reward that a nice cup of coffee provides in my day. I am committed to nurturing the secret inner life of the spirit. And that is why I am not supposed to tell you about my virtuous discipline of forgoing my cherished daily caffeine fix.
You see, as much as I am addicted to caffeine, I also crave your approval and your affirmation. I want you to know how spiritual I am. I want you to be impressed with my commitment to the inner journey and to swoon at the disciplined nature of my spiritual practice.
I am sure that, if you think well of me, I will start to feel better about myself and discover a warm happy glow growing inside.
Of course, it never works. There is no affirmation out there adequate to the task. You will never be able to say enough flattering things about me to prop up the fragile little structure I so often mistake as myself.
This is why Jesus instructed his followers, not to tell their friends they had given up coffee for Lent. Well actually, the way Jesus put it was to say that his followers should
Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them. (Matthew 6:1)
You see, we are actually built for something deeper than the physical gratification of a caffeine kick or even an affirmation boost from the most well-meaning flattery. We are created to find deep inner gratification from the One who created us and who Jesus said,
sees in secret and will reward you. (Matthew 6:4,6)
The rewards we receive “in secret” are not loud and aggressive. They lack the powerful punch of our civilized addictions. The rewards we discover “in secret” are subtle and gentle. They will only be perceived as we sit in the stillness and silence of our secret place letting go of all those other treats the world so freely offers.
When I rest in the secret place of my spirit, I no longer need you, or even a caffeine jolt, to make me feel good. There is a warm well-being at the heart of my being, that goes much deeper than the fleeting gratification of adulation or caffeine.
Christopher Page is the rector of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay, and the Archdeacon of Tolmie in the Anglican Diocese of B.C. He writes regularly onhis blog www.inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE