‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but it finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first."
Amongst the sayings of Jesus , this one has always intrigued me - in part because it can be understood in so many ways. [Like all of Jesus' stories it is Universal, and thus meaning is continually opening up in it. We must beware of the Closure that says "this means . . .". Rather as we are open to the Spirit, it is perhaps better to say "God seems to be saying This to me through this story at present . . ."]
Amongst the sayings of the Wise there is one which seems apposite to this subject of fasting and especially, if you have been reading this series, my avoidance of the subject of Prayer. In the Philokalia we read that to fast with out praying is the work of the devil. In part this is because it is to see the Disciplines as Ends in themselves. It is to substitute our Spiritual Fortitude for the very Life of God. So we fastidiously Clean out our house by fasting - we ward off our sins by almsgiving, we deal with our Sloth by rigorous studies, we deal with pride by Finding some Lowly service, but we do not Pray. So there is nothing to replace what we have cleaned out, which leaves plenty of space for other spirits.
We are so determined to make ourselves better, to make ourselves Good - that we reject the Life of the Healer, the One who is Good. We clear out the house so it is fit for Our idea of the Perfect guest - but we do not come to prayer. To allow Him to reside there and now all we have is the Pride of our spiritual accomplishment, which is the Worst kind, for it most readily counterfeits Life in our understanding (although in reality there is No point of correspondence)
But of course, Our idea of the Perfect guest is of course Ourselves and of course the presence of Our Spiritual accomplishments is far more amenable to us than is the presence of the living God - indeed we all too readily confuse the two - we need to ask ourselves over and over - What do we Really want? Do we Really want Him? Will we Empty ourSelves to receive Him?
The Carmelite, Ruth Burrows in her book, 'to believe in Jesus' - puts this in terms of a fast.
"Faith is a fast", she says, "it is a refusal to put anything in the place of God, and an acceptance of the consequent sense of deprivation. Faith refuses to seek sensible assurances our nature craves for, and insists on looking beyond, reaching out to Him who cannot be savoured in this life. For the one who had given his heart to the Lord there is a perennial fast whilst this life lasts"