A Review of
40 Days of Decrease:
A Different Kind of Hunger.
A Different Kind of Fast.
Alicia Britt Chole
The more there is of us, the less there is of God!—Eugene Peterson
“What are you giving up for Lent?”
According to Morgan Lee at Christianity Today, a 2015 OpenBible.info twitter poll of more than 400,000 respondents (with serious and cynical tweets) cited “school, chocolate, Twitter itself, alcohol, and social networking as the top five fasts for Lent”[i] And when categorizing all tweets in hierarchical order according to the seven most deadly sins, the following list resulted:
- Gluttony (fast food, sweets, chips, coffee)
- Greed (shopping)
- Sloth (sleep)
- Wrath (being mean, swearing)
- Envy (complaining)
- Pride (cell phone, selfies)[ii]
Reading through the extended list of 100 varied fasts gives us reason to pause and question if this is really what Lent is all about. After all, what does giving up chocolate have to do with Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection? Is my giving up a sweet treat for six weeks a genuine act of penitence and self-denial, or is it more akin to a cultural following, in adherence to a liturgical calendar? Is my fast God-honoring—the kind of fast that God desires (Ps 51:16-17), or is it all about me? To state it more bluntly, if I were among the witnesses to Christ carrying the cross to Calvary’s hill on that Good Friday, would my shout to Jesus—that I am abstaining from chocolate in remembrance of what he has done (and is doing) for me—be attributed to a pure heart, clear conscience, and sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5), or spiritual hypocrisy? God alone knows each one’s heart (1 Kgs 8:39), but it seems there could be more. In our modern era,
“Fellowship with the Lord’s suffering seems to have given way to something more individualized and less strenuous”—Henri Nouwen (192)
Author Alicia Britt Chole valiantly responds to modernity with 40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast (W Publishing Group, 2016). The book is a collective of 40 different kinds of fasts—with readings and exercises meant to prepare the reader “to be truly awed by Christ’s resurrection by being daily available to daily crucifixion” (xviii). A devotional in every sense of the word, 40 Days of Decrease keeps the reader centered, engaged, and journeying to soulful places that might not otherwise have been traversed.
Chole re-introduces Lent and “encourages us to reframe unanswered questions, darker seasons, and spiritual disillusionment as the shedding of earthly illusions, and the gaining of God’s reality” (xviii). Her personal prayer for the reader is that Christ’s sacrifice be made clearer, and His resurrection dearer (217). With that central aim and focus, 40 Days of Decrease is quite successful.
The author definitely delivers in a unique, almost subversive way: Rather than focusing on a singular fast that is primarily physical in nature, a “feast of fasting” is spread out for the body, mind, spirit, and soul—a virtual buffet of 40 different daily fasts—each intended to open the eyes of our heart, to see Jesus more clearly. Chole achieves this by remaining faithful throughout the book to a daily vivid account of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. His suffering is made palpable.
Each day’s reading consists of six sections:
The DEVOTIONAL ESSAYS narrate Jesus’ journey cross-ward, as told from varied Gospel accounts. Especially moving are the episodes featuring a line-by-line scriptural emphasis of Jesus’ experience, resounding like staccato on the written page. The essays are also where Chole authentically engages with her audience.
Each DAILY REFLECTION suggests specific exercises or activities, ranging from reflective thought, to creation of an idea web (aka mind map), to prayer in solitude with a journal nearby. Warning: A few reflections may push readers beyond their comfort zones.
The 40-DAY FAST suggested by Chole differs from the typical Lenten season fasting of “turning away from a distraction” or “giving up a bad habit.” Through reconnection of purpose with practice, readers are encouraged to:
- Abstain from that which hinders honoring Jesus as Redeemer (217)
- Sojourn with our Saviour (3)
- Fellowship with Christ in His suffering (212)
- Willingly take the path of decrease…so Jesus can increase (Jn 3:30; 216)
ON LENT provides a brief but well-developed historicity of Lent when tracing the celebration from its mysterious beginnings to present day, inclusive of evolving meanings (baptismal preparation to Godly grief to personal soul-searching) and means (varied days, length, timing, foods, breaking the fast).
The hallmark SCRIPTURE READING is the Gospel of John, beginning the first day of Lent with Jesus’ anointing at Bethany (Jn 12:1-11), and ending with Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter (Jn 21:20-25).
Lined-space is also provided for daily JOURNALING.
Yet, for all of the positives, the book rates 4 ½ stars. Why not 5 stars?
Difficulties occur due to backward flashes and forward glances across daily readings, and the author’s occasional oddly-placed interruptions in the devotional essays to provide instruction, context, personal opinion, or experience. The movements are reminiscent of a movie that starts with the ending scene, and then pieces together the storyline with alternating glimpses of the past, present, and future. There are also misaligned readings (e.g., Days 33-35: Devotionals—Jesus on the cross; Scriptures—the empty tomb and Christ’s resurrection).
Fortunately, there are few problematic occurrences in the Devotional and Scriptural readings and there is a remedy for the On Lent—to alter the way the book is read. Some alternative suggestions for enhancing the reading experience of 40 Days of Decrease include:
- Read the daily Devo, Reflection and Scripture by morning, and On Lent by night (with journaling)
- Read On Lent throughout the book before starting the 40 days of decrease experience
- Read separately—morning, noon, and night the Devo and Reflection, Scripture, and On Lent
Furthermore, the reading of 40 Days of Decrease need not be limited to only individual reading. It would make for a great group study and communal fast experience anytime of the year, not just during Lent.
In conclusion, let us reconsider our response to the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” and take initiative to rediscover Lent as a time for true fellowship with Christ’s suffering.
May we decrease, so that Christ may increase.
Debbie Philpott is an assistant professor of human resource management at DeVoe School of Business, Indiana Wesleyan University.
[i] Lee, M. (2015, February 23). What to give up for Lent? Twitter reveals top 100 ideas for 2015 [Web log posting update]. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/february/what-to-give-up-for-lent-twitter-reveals-top-100-ideas-2015.html