40 Days of Decrease, Alicia Britt Chole. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016.
Summary: A collection of 40 readings, reflections, and different kinds of fasts that encourage us to “thin our lives to thicken our communion with God.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I first looked at this book. Would this be a collection of cheesy meditations and gimmicky ideas of what one might fast from? Having walked through the book, I would confess myself pleasantly surprised, as well as personally stretched, by the meditations, reflections, and ideas Alicia Britt Chole gives us in these pithy, thousand word entries, designed specifically for the season of Lent, but usable at any time of the year.
Each one of the days is designed as follows: a meditation focused around the journey of Jesus to the cross, a brief reflection, which leads into the fast of the day. These are followed by a more scholarly piece on the history of the Lenten fast, around which this book is organized. There is then a reading for the day taken from a passage in John 12 to 21 (consecutively) and room for one’s own reflections to be jotted down.
In the introduction to the 40 days, Chole writes, “As we experience this sacred season and the holiness of loss and less in Jesus’ journey cross-ward, may our hearts open vulnerably to a greater commitment to love and be loved by the Savior.” The aim of the “decreases” of the different fasts she proposes is an increase in our hunger for communion with God.
While she does include some of the more expected kinds of fasts from food, from speaking, and from sound, she also proposes a number of “fasts” one might not consider but in fact open us up to encountering God in new ways. For example, early on she encourages fasting from regrets for a day, recalling that our gospel hope is that Christ is “making all things new.” Another day, she challenges us to fast from “religious profiling” that underestimates the spiritual potential of certain groups of people. Another day, we are encouraged to fast appearances, and the ways we inflate or deflate, exaggerate or conceal who we are and come to Jesus to help us understand why we do this. I liked one of the later fasts, as one engaged in ministry, which was fasting from “God as job”, which involves “taking care of Jesus’ stuff but not attending to his voice.”
One of the last fasts was one of the most powerful. On Day Thirty Nine, we are encouraged to fast “guarding the tomb” of our past sins, shameful acts, and dead things. She encourages us that in rolling the stone away from such “tombs” that the grave is empty, forgiven by the Risen Lord who “is not here.”
The short pieces at the end, most of which focus on the history of Lent and how this came to be a forty day period related to the preparation of baptismal candidates, are quite informative. Providing a daily reading in John’s passion narrative leaves room for God to speak and meet us in the gospel narrative. All told, what Chole gives us are carefully crafted meditations and reflections, “fasts” that uncover many of the unhelpful attachments that accrete in our lives, and space to decrease that He might increase in our lives.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”