Far away historically from the ritualistic sources of our historical Christian religion, three habits have taken on the significance of the ritual; prayer, meditation, and fasting. What does it mean for a habit to become a ritual? It means that, unlike a habit, a ritual is done for its own sake. I do not meditate to become a more productive worker; I meditate because being in a state of meditation is a proper relation to the universe. I do not pray as a fulfillment of some role (although I am sometimes asked to do so publicly because of my role). Instead, the ritual of prayer is done for its own sake because living in prayer is an appropriate way to relate to God.
The intermittent fast is a marvelous ritual. By fasting occasionally (in my case, once a month), we put our bodies into the sharp relief of hunger which is a driving force of life. Fasting urges a realization that our biological reality transcends the boundary between natural and supernatural.
We tend to think that nothing in a human being’s ordinary life is supernatural except saying prayers and performing pious acts of one kind or another which gain their value precisely because they momentarily rescue us from our mundane routines. We, therefore, imagine that Christian social action is not Christian in itself, but instead imagine it as a kind of stepping stone to unworldliness and devotion to God. Apparently, we cannot conceive material and worldly things seriously as having any capacity of being “spiritual.” However, as a Christian, acting on the world conceives the work of human beings as a spiritual reality. More precisely, acting on the world can recover a certain spiritual and holy quality; it becomes a source of spiritual renewal as well as of material well-being.
Christian social action discovers God in politics, in work, in social programs for better wages or racial equity. Christian social action is not at all to “win the worker or the marginalized for the Church”, but because God became human; because every person is potentially Christ; because Christ is our sibling; and because we have no right to allow our sibling to live in want, or in degradation, or in any form of squalor whether physical or spiritual. Christian Social Action is a part of the redemptive work of Christ, liberating persons from misery and squalor, economic or political slavery, ignorance, and alienation.
That being said, we might begin to understand what it means to transform the world by political principles spiritualized by the Gospel. Christian social action is an attempt to elevate human beings, whether they declare as Christians or not, to a level of existence consistent with being a child of God and redeemed by Christ. Such a person is to be liberated from the powers that keep one in subjection, the old dark gods of war, lust, power, and greed. In this context, political action is a kind of spiritual action, an expression of spiritual responsibility, and a witness to Christ. But this is clearly distinguished from labeling political programs with religious clichés. Such social action requires three emphases.
First, we must emphasize the human individual as distinct from the mere collective, which is technological. Affirmations of a man or a woman, and not of the process of production, is vital. “Saving” is the resistance of one from becoming a cog in a giant machine. Liberation is of one from the faceless mass in which one is frequently surrounded without thoughts, desires, or judgments of her own. Such a faceless person is a creature without will or light, an instrument of the power politician or business person.
Second, Christian social action emphasizes the personal; if we merely respect one’s nature, which we must, we still do not go far enough. Personal values are those that are actually spiritual and somewhat inarticulate, and hence they evade analysis. To respect the personal aspect of an individual is to respect her solitude, her right to think for herself, her need to learn this, her need for love and acceptance by other persons like herself. Here, we are in the realm of freedom and friendship, of creativity and of love. It is here that our relationship with God begins to have meaning: for a mass religion of faceless ones delivers persons over to those who subjugate.
Third, Christian social action emphasizes wisdom and love, a more contemplative view of society. It allows persons in situations to see life in its wholeness, with stability and purpose – though not in a politically conservative sense. This is the view that prevailed in ancient traditional cultures that lasted for centuries. Why? They were rooted in the patterns of the cosmos itself, and they enabled a person to live according to the light of wisdom immanent in the world and in the society of which she formed a part.
Intermittent fasting brings to awareness the cosmos that is part of our bodies. It puts us again in a state of hunger, which is an experience many are becoming more distant from. It brings us back to the realization that what is supernatural in our organic life is something we once understood as a routine experience.