Mmmm, beer

One of my pet peeves is when a story gets reported and then dropped. I always find myself coming across some story and wondering how it all turned out -- only to find out that no one ever followed up. But Eric Marrapodi and the CNN Belief Blog followed up on a story I had been wondering about:

J. Wilson has survived his 46-day beer-only fast and found some unexpected spiritual insights.

Wilson, who lives outside Des Moines, Iowa, was emulating a Lenten tradition carried out by German monks hundreds of years ago. In keeping with tradition he ate his last solid food on Ash Wednesday and broke his fast on Easter Sunday.

“I made a bacon smoothie and that’s what I broke the fast with,” Wilson said.

The story includes lots of details, about the medical advice -- and spiritual advice -- he received prior to undertaking the fast. He'd done enough research to know that smoothies were the best way to ease back into food. We also learn that his wife's Easter dinner meant he ended up with a more traditional meal, too. The spiritual significance of fasting is explained and background about Wilson, too. He's a newspaper editor! Of course he is, who else would be crazy enough to undertake a beer fast?

CNN wrote an earlier story about the fast and he checked in with CNN's Carol Costello on the 31st day of the fast.

Here's the spiritual takeaway we were promised:

– "I just don’t think we give ourselves enough credit to accomplish difficult tasks. I think our bodies are capable of more than we ask of [them]. And certainly in relation to willpower - willpower related to food or willpower of how you’re going to conduct yourself spiritually - I think we can do more.

– "I noticed early on a difference between needs and wants. The first thing I noticed even in that first week, I got to the spot on day three when I wasn’t hungry any more, physically hungry. The aroma of food would kind of zap me and I would desire the cheeseburger that I smell or somebody’s chicken noodle soup across the office. So I didn’t need it but I wanted it. So there’s a difference between needs and desires.

– "The real challenge is it’s one thing to subscribe to beliefs, religion or otherwise, it’s another thing to apply them to your life every moment of your life. Part of that whole monk in the world philosophy I was exploring is can you live like a monk or believe like a monk and still navigate our crazy world? The ongoing challenge is you’ve got these beliefs, now fine. Live it."

The story is a delightful read and provides a nice template for other reporters writing about Lent. I sympathize with the difficulties of writing about annual religious holidays or seasons. But for every J. Wilson, there are thousands of others who are also undergoing fasts that are interesting in their own way. We tend to be attracted to stories about dramatic sermon series, the latest sex scandal, or other dramatic events. But the spiritual lives of individual believers can be interesting to a broader audience. It just requires a deft hand in how you handle it.

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