Feasting, Fasting and Good Nutritional Balance Online

We have probably all been shocked by the sight of empty supermarket shelves, people squabbling over packets of loo rolls or loading impossibly large amounts of food and drink into the back of their cars, not to mention the heart-wrenching photos of an elderly man or woman standing forlorn in the midst of the chaos, shopping-list and empty basket in hand. It has been a powerful reminder of how selfish we can be, how easily we return to the law of the jungle — only it isn’t the law of the jungle, but something much worse. It is the law of fear and anxiety. We are afraid that we might have to go without; afraid that there might not be enough to go round; afraid of a future we thought we could predict and control but now find we can’t. What we have been seeing is literally panic rather than panic-buying. The results are the same, but the origins lie deeper and are less susceptible of rational control.

We, of course, do not panic. In fact, we are inclined to take a rather severe view of those who do. So, instead, we tell stories of acts of unexpected thoughtfulness and kindness — strangers sharing scarce items, neighbours offering help or leaving little gifts anonymously, postcards through the letterbox to ensure that people know whom to contact in case of need. It is all heartening and reassuring of the decency of the majority of our fellow human beings. We smile over the jokes and clever memes on social media, enjoy clips of the balcony performances of opera singers, and share links to enchanting Youtube videos intended to keep our spirits up. The religiously-minded rush to Zoom and other platforms to maintain contact and provide cyber-worship while we all become a little starry-eyed over the possibilities opening up to us. Then a bubble-buster comes along with an inconvenient question. Is it possible to be a ‘panic-buyer’ in cyberspace as well as in a supermarket? Is there such a thing as feasting, fasting and maintaining a healthy nutritional balance online? I think the answer to both questions is ‘yes’.

If, like us, you live in a rural area, where the Broadband service is at best slow and at worst patchy or non-existent, you will understand the point I’m making more easily than if you live where blistering upload and download speeds are obtainable. Access to the internet is a resource like any other. Over the next few weeks and months it is likely that demand will go up hugely — just think of all those educational establishments taking classes online, for example. It is to be hoped that supply will be able to keep up. Even so, we know that there is an ecological cost involved, and that streaming video and audio uses more energy than other uses of the internet — about 50% of the total before the COVID-19 outbreak. So, there is more to be thought about than just, can we do something. The question is, should we do something?

That is one of the reasons we ourselves have decided not to add to the amount of religious audio or video being put online at the moment (there’s still quite a lot available on our main site, www.benedictinenuns.org.uk) and why we don’t often listen to, or view, the contributions of others (another is the need for silence and recollection in the monastery, which we protect as well as we can).

Perhaps it would be helpful to think of our (your) own internet usage in terms of feasting, fasting and maintaining nutritional balance. I myself think that the internet is a great way for those finding the isolation imposed by COVID-19 difficult to keep in touch with others and maintain some sense of normality, including, for many, worship. That I would liken to maintaining nutritional balance and good health. I also think it is a great resource for learning, dealing with boredom, and stretching the imagination. It can be glorious fun. That I would liken to feasting. And fasting? That is where discernment comes in. For example, I don’t think it necessary for us to add to our online engagement at present, and I don’t think that every parish, congregation or community needs to livestream everything every day. Nor do I think it quite in keeping with Lent to be spending unlimited amounts of time online (in the monastery we actually have rules about that, so it is easier for us to maintain some restraint). But that’s just me and the community here.

I’d be interested to know what you think.


23 thoughts on “Feasting, Fasting and Good Nutritional Balance Online”

  1. Thank you. I have been thinking about live-streaming services in a rural area where few use the internet and when there is already a huge amount being streamed. I have to ask myself is it because I want to be ‘seen’.
    This has helped me clarify my thoughts.

  2. Once again you shine a light onto our own thoughtlessness. In my case there were two extremes yesterday. Our next door neighbours are both self isolating with two young children, so I looked out some suitable DVDs to keep them entertained while their parents work online. On the other hand I was impatient with a woman checking her phone whilst dog walking. She was standing still whilst I got off the path to maintain a safe distance whilst she passed, after she had been standing there for a while I shouted to her to get a move on. It seems that some ignore safe distance advice.
    We are blessed with fast Internet, but I’ll think hard about downloading when I can record programmes or watch things I’ve already got.

  3. Thank you. I had no idea of the energy cost! We were also considering streaming services but decided yesterday to sign post those already out there. What a challenge it is to do the right thing for the right reason and to keep everyone as safe as we can. But what a joy to know God is with us always ,and we know the end of the story, God triumphs. I am trying to keep focussed on that as things get stripped away, daily Mass and now simplified funerals. I had promised my Mum a full requiem mass , her faith is her bedrock . She is in a Nursing home after a major stroke and weak and vulnerable. I recognise if things happen thecpromise was made in a different time andGods welcome won’t have changed even if my goodbye has to. Thanks for your suppport. Love and prayers Maryx

    • I’m hoping that, if I die before Church services can resume as normal, there’ll be a publicly celebrated Requiem Mass sometime in the future, even though currently we all have to be buried without one. Praying for your mother, and for you.

  4. I lost my private care-giving job within a long-term care facility because of its fears of having COVID-19 brought in. Please pray for the religious for whom I cared … she needed my help … and I am, for the most part, isolated at home. I will confess, I sit in front of my computer an unreasonable amount of time. I am partly in shock and re-orienting, and am grateful for your sage advice to help me plot out a balanced day-to-day routine.

    • That’s very tough. We are praying for you, and for others in an analogous situation (have heard many sad stories in recent days). Where we live, there are many elderly people living in poor conditions and it’s easy for isolation to turn into despair. I hope and pray that, despite the difficulties you face, you will surmount them and find joy and fulfilment in what you do.

  5. There is a lot of good online stuff out there which may act as a catalyst for nourishing our body, mind and souls. For myself, I’m navigating which sources to uses as my ‘go-to’s’, hoping I have the wisdom not to flit from one to the other but settle on that which helps me go deep within, with God. It would be tempting to give examples but I think we all need to find our own way.

    • I’ve never doubted the existence of good things online. As I said in my reply to Eric, I’m not being prescriptive, simply putting a side of the argument that many may not have thought about yet. Those of us who do put content online (eg my blog posts, the community’s podcasts, videos, etc), we definitely need to reflect on our purpose. I’ve seen a few instances of self-promotion recently that made me curl up. Hope I/we don’t do that — promote self, I mean. Only time will tell.

  6. When what’s too much already should less is hard to judge : I’m good at pleading my own cause, with internet use as with so much else. Self-will being what it is, there’s sth to be said for being, if not ruled, checked, by a disinterested Other.

    • Judging is never easy, alas. As you know, I’m not being prescriptive, simply putting a side of the argument that many have possibly not thought about yet. I think it’s important not to become over-scrupulous in the bad sense.

  7. I hadn’t realised that the energy used was so significant, so thank you for letting us know! It occurred to me whilst reading, that many people see the internet as the answer to everything – which it isn’t, of course!
    Take care

    • Yes. Another thing we can all do to reduce our energy use online is to unsubscribe from all those newsletters/alerts we didn’t know we had signed up to in the first place. They all add a few grammes of CO2 to the planet — and it mounts up over time.

  8. No, indeed. You weren’t –you aren’t– prescriptive. I found your comments challenging in an entirely constructive sense, a thoroughly good thing !

    (As I’m prone to do these days, I left a word out, but you understood the accidental ellipsis — that I’d meant to write ‘When what’s too much already should BE less’)

  9. As part of Lenten discipline, I had tried to limit my social media use, especially during my workday. Well, now I have spent most of my days on-line as we shift to remote instruction and also to alternative ways of staying connected. I appreciate the teaching and your steady beacon from Howton Grove. I will use your encouragement for “discernment” in how I am using social media during these times.

  10. God bless and care for you and for all the other Sisters at Howton Grove.
    You mentioned that you would like a requiem mass at some stage in the future. I pray that it will be many years before your demise. Nevertheless, which music would you wish for your Mass?

    • Thank you, Tim. I would like the old Latin chants with which I am familiar, and the Suscipe by my grave. However, ever practical in these matters, we tend to include a hymn or two for the sake of those who are not Benedictines — in which case, anything the organist can play and the congregation can sing seems to be the rule of thumb.

  11. I think you should know that I’ve spent the past hour calming down my mother after she read this article. She’s isolated in quarantine and her computer is her only real connection to her family and the outside world. She was distraught over your comments about broadband and streaming services.

    • I asked a perfectly legitimate question. I am very sorry your mother was distressed by my comments, but perhaps you should ask yourself whether I should only write what you or your mother wish to hear. In fact, I wonder whether you have read what I actually wrote or only what you think I wrote. I made the point that the internet is a good way of keeping in touch and said that equated to maintaining a healthy nutritional balance. What I questioned was the rush to live-streaming worship or spending inordinate amounts of time online, etc.

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