I’d hoped it would all get easier.
After I’d dove into the Exodus 90 program for the month — taking up ascetic practices like fasting, cold showers and time devoted to reading scripture, praying and meditating on higher matters — I’d expected there to be some habituation after a few days.
Habituation is where you become accustom to the “new” new. It’s how we adapt and integrate changes in our lives. It’s why we’re no longer amazed by the super computers in our pockets connecting us to everything written about human history and the stray thoughts of people who should maybe switch to decaf.
We’ve had smartphones for over a generation. Each new model that comes out gets less and less attention because they still just do what they’ve always done. They just do it a little better or look a little cooler.
No one will really get excited about new cellphones again until someone comes up with a death ray app that will only work on the new iPhone.
That might happen by summer.
It’s also maybe why we don’t get really excited (as a whole) about climate change. We’re used to weird weather now. Why worry about 82 degrees in January when we sometimes also get polar vortexes, bomb cyclones, freak windstorms and near Biblical flooding every couple of years?
Call me when the zombies finally show up.
About one week in
But after the first week with the program, I still shivered in the shower, though Father Derek Roberts — the pastor at Hope Church in Kanawha City and my mentor/partner in this month’s project — told me I didn’t have to just crank up the cold water in the shower and glare at the hot water knob hatefully.
He did cool, not cold water. The point was to not rely on comfort — not to see how much pain I could withstand.
I didn’t get used to the fasting days, either, which turned the hours into a grueling march to my one evening meal. But all of this was showing some results, I thought.
I didn’t feel as distracted.
Adjusting to the ‘new’ new slowlyAvoiding social media and the internet in my off time was thorny, but manageable. When I was idle, I still tended to compulsively reach for my phone, just like I always did; but, if I didn’t see a message, I put it down again.
I missed posting about reading to my second-grade classes for Read Aloud or mugging for the camera before working out at CrossFit WV, but I didn’t miss the noise.
I also generally stayed off social media during the day and didn’t keep Facebook up as background while I worked. That felt like an improvement, too.
I also didn’t miss watching television that much.
After “The Mandalorian,” there hadn’t been much I was interested in seeing. I hadn’t been out to a movie since October and hadn’t even gone to see the last “Star Wars” film, though I call myself a lifelong fan.
Instead, I read the newspaper every day, got through a couple of books on long-distance running and picked up a copy of James A. Michener’s “Hawaii,” a sweeping, blood-thirsty saga about the settling of Hawaii.
The book had been sitting on a shelf in my bedroom for at least five years, according to the dust.
Bill gets Bible lessons
After the first week on the program, I met Derek at Hope Church-Anglican, a former Presbyterian Church, located on 20th Street, a few steps from the Mountaineer Montessori School.
The Exodus 90 program is meant to be pursued as a group, as a fraternity of men supporting each other.
Derek and I were a very small fraternity, but I was interested in meeting, seeing how he was doing with the fasts and the abstaining. I also wanted to talk a little about the Bible passages that were part of the daily routine.
The Book of Exodus was familiar, followed the plot of the movie “The Ten Commandments,” but reading the book brought up questions — like why would God send Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go if he was also going to harden his heart, so that he absolutely wouldn’t until things got real and people died?
That kind of sounded like stomping on the brakes and the gas at the same time.
Derek didn’t have a ready answer. Trying to figure out the mind of God was beyond his pay grade, but he said there was a plan, which brought up the old argument about whether everything is predetermined or if we have free will.
I can never tell for sure. Some days, I feel like I’m driving the car. Other days, I’m pretty sure monkeys have taken the wheel and locked me in the trunk.
“We like to believe we have free will,” Derek said and moved his arm up and down. “I like to think that I am choosing to move my arm this way, and maybe I am,” he said.
Some things maybe matter. Some things maybe don’t.
Derek said, “Think of God’s plan as a destination. Everything is going to get to that destination, and we may have some say over how we get there.”
That was all details, though. Sometimes, it just came down to God’s way and the other way, which ended up getting to the same place, but tended to hurt.
I had no idea how that applied to my life.
Moses had the voice of God telling him very pointedly where to go and what to do. By extension, the Israelites had a guy who was on a first-name basis with God giving them instructions (Moses).
Through my life, I thought I’d always asked what was wanted and needed of me. The answers were elusive or inscrutable.
Derek said we could talk more about that. In the meantime, he agreed that I didn’t have to dunk my head in the river of Contemporary Christian music and drown in mild, marshmallow rock.
Exodus 90 called for me to listen to music that elevated my soul to God, not listen to music that put me in a diabetic coma.
“A lot of it’s not very good,” Derek acknowledged. “Not great lyrically. Not great as music.”
Some of my objections could be chalked up to taste, we agreed, and after discussing my particular inclinations — classic rock, Americana — Derek dug up some artists to try.
I promised to give it a shot, and we made plans to catch up in another week. I could text if I ran into trouble or something came up.
It only took a couple of days before it did.
Pride meet fall
I’d been proud of how I’d been able to stay away from in between snacking, sweets and alcohol, but I’d done that for long periods of time anyway.
Walking past the Friday morning doughnuts near the coffee pot in the newsroom or the freely offered candy at the receptionist’s desk at West Virginia Public Broadcasting was easy.
The trick to not eating the junk is to only take what you actually want, not what’s just lying around. But I’m a stress eater, too. If my mood takes a big enough dive, there’s a chance I’m going to try to dig my way out with a knife and fork.
Over the weekend, my mood plummeted. I took some news hard and spent the better part of a day stewing about it. What I needed to do was talk with somebody and work it out, but I’d let the noise in my head fester until it was late.
By 11 p.m. Sunday, I was tired, unsettled, and standing in the middle of my kitchen. Instead of making a call or sending a text, I ate a thick slice of fresh baked bread and then a big piece of cake, followed by a bowl of cold spaghetti.
There might have been some cheese. I’m not entirely sure, but a full dinner had been a couple of hours ago. I was the farthest thing from hungry. This was something else.
I might have grabbed the lone beer sitting in the bottom of my fridge or poured myself a bourbon, but I felt ashamed. I stopped and just went to bed.
Indigestion and a ragged night of sleep followed.
In the morning, I sent Derek a message, told him about the upset. We texted back and forth about that, and then I looked at the day’s directive from Exodus 90. Along with the readings, prayer and good deed, the program encouraged me to go to confession.
That sounded great, but Exodus 90 was originally intended for Catholics. I’m not Catholic, neither is Derek, but he said we could still do that, if I wanted.
He’d taken a vow. Anglican priests could listen to confessions.
No one had ever offered to do that for me before.
I said, “Sure.”