Deliberate: from Despair, Denial & Doom to Prayer & Fasting – Bradley Jersak

As those who have read Out of the Embers will know, I regularly speak with my godfather, Davi Goa. And even more so when the burden I feel is heavy. Since Christ promised, “his yoke would be easy, and his burden light” (Matthew 11:30), I am suspicious when the load feels crushing.

Lately, I have felt the weight of an ill-fitting yoke and anxiety-inducing burden on multiple fronts. The factors involved are people and problems that are part of my life… and should be. But something about how I am bearing them felt “off.”

So it was that David Goa called me with words of wisdom. One example I shared with him was the current conflict in the Middle East. I have friends and colleagues who live and work there, who have loved ones in Gaza, hunkered down, surrounded, and starving in the rubble of churches. Because I’m just one degree of separation from children who live in the rubble of the shadow of death, I want to stay awake to what is happening. Love obligates me not to avoid their suffering by turning away in denialThat’s how the holocaust happened.

At the same time, staying in touch via social media also generates an algorithm on my Instagram feed that bombards me with photographs and video images of the ravages of war. Opening my phone to browse the death, dismemberment, and destruction of war in real-time and living colour quickly overwhelms my nervous system. Although I try to avoid reading the hideous comment sections, my peacemaking friends (Jewish, Muslim, and Christian) message me with bad news of the hate they experience every day. I want to accompany them on the path of co-suffering love. And NOT hearing from them is far worse, knowing what they face. But the whole package can lead to despairwhich leads to seething rage that can descend into hatred.

It also becomes addictive. When we start compulsively reaching for the phone to check for the latest images of tragedy, shock, and horror, what is going on? We are “doom scrolling,” which is not about trying to make ourselves feel bad. We already feel bad. Rather, we are ironically and unconsciously trying to medicate those bad feelings with a dopamine hit from someone else’s tragedy. I know it’s not our intent, but we can end up in the same pattern as porn browsing, but with a sense of self-righteousness rather than shame.

That is, “the flesh” (ego) may be groping to affirm itself (self-satisfy) as being right and righteous. We become complicit with evil, because, according to David, that is the “frozen realm of evil, where no further word can be heard.” We lose ourselves in a land devoid of grace and communion. The enemy-other is clearly identified and dehumanized, and a part of our soul withers.

My godfather sees that struggle in me and offers a third way. Instead of denial or despair, he calls me to deliberate (verb). I.e., “Become deliberate in what images you view, when and how often you view them.” He knows that my heart can only bear so much before it needs to hide in denial or it drowns in despair. Better, he says, that we learn the practice of fasting.

As we spoke, I saw that my eyes could fast from my self-defeating cravings for the gory images of war while also offering up that fast as intercession for those in constant peril of war. Somehow, I had fallen into the mistaken belief that doom scrolling actually works while prayer is powerless. That’s the addict talking!

Rather, what if every time I exercise an incremental act of impulse control, where I don’t hunt for the next terrifying headline photo, I sub in the one prayer I know that helps: Lord, have mercy? That’s not denial. It’s an invocation to the Prince of Peace. “Come, quickly. More quickly, please! How long, O Lord! Hear our prayers.”

We also have an invitation from the Instagram group, @JewishVoiceforPeace. They are good source, but instead of using them to doom scroll, they are inviting peacemakers of all faiths to join them in literal fasting from sunrise to sunset everything Thursday until the war ends. For those who can do this without feeding an eating disorder or spiritual egoism, it can be a good way to be deliberate.

Thanks for hearing my heart and my godfather’s wisdom.



Picture of Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More