I was honored last year to be included in Christianity Today's "Christian 
Vision Project." I was one of the subjects interviewed for their "intersect  
culture" video  http://www.christianvisionproject.com/dvd-2006.html (and the 
I wrote for it, "Loving the Storm-Drenched," 
(http://www.frederica.com/writings/loving-the-storm-drenched.html)   has been 
selected for inclusion in "The Best 
Spiritual Writing 2007").  
Here's an interview with Ryan Hamm, editor of the email newsletter for the 
As a writer and culture critic Frederica Mathewes-Green has landed stories on 
National Public Radio, in the pages of major magazines and newspapers, and in 
bestselling books on culture and Christian spirituality. Like all public 
figures who challenge the assumptions of mainstream culture, she has had to 
how to stay focused and humble in the midst of both success and hostility. 
There are few Christians who model grace and creativity better than this 
grandmother of four. In this interview she describes two basic spiritual 
that lead to a life of integrity in a fragmented culture.  
CT: How would you diagnose our culture?  
FMG: I find that when I'm speaking, to any kind of audience, there's one word 
that consistently produces a response. People just go silent-they hold their 
breath. The word is loneliness. 
You might not think that loneliness is such a big problem. Most of us are 
surrounded by other people everywhere we go. But the extreme individualism of 
age has made people focus more and more on their atomized single self: 
defining themselves as the unique person separate from everyone else. 
Our forebears defined themselves by what they produced. Now people define 
themselves by what they consume. And this undermines our sense of effectiveness 
in the world. No matter how much you define yourself as this important, 
significant individual, there's a feeling that nothing you do is going to make 
This is even harder for Christians. We have the mandate to go out and bring 
the gospel to the world. And yet it often seems like nobody's listening. So we 
are tempted to try things we shouldn't get into, because we think nobody will 
find out. That's the path to disintegration-when we are so isolated, lonely, 
and ineffective that we start to think our lives don't matter.  
CT: What's the remedy? 
FMG: I believe that the path to integrity requires going back as far as we 
can to the beginnings of Christian history, and adopting those spiritual 
disciplines that were used in the first few centuries. 
Saint Paul says that the life of a Christian is like an athlete's. Well, from 
the outside, I sure don't look like an athlete. But as I've learned the 
spiritual disciplines, especially the most basic ones of prayer and fasting, I 
see the change. I feel a bit more of the presence of the Lord. But that hasn't 
happened just by cultivating sentimental gooey feelings about the Lord! I've 
had to learn to follow explicit disciplines rooted deep in the history of the 
CT: So what does a spiritual discipline of prayer look like? 
FMG: The most significant form of prayer to me is the simplest and the most 
difficult. It's called the Jesus prayer, and it's very short: "Lord Jesus 
Christ, have mercy on me." Ever since the fourth or fifth century, Christians 
been using this prayer, repeated continuously, as a way of practicing what 
Saint Paul calls us to do: "pray without ceasing." 
So as I go through my day I'm learning to repeat this over and over: "Lord 
Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." It's a 
of calming the mind and unifying the thoughts. Most of the time, our minds 
are just dawdling around, thinking about trivialities, but if you can keep 
focused on the Lord all the time, it brings your whole life into coherence.  
The point of the Jesus prayer, of course, is not to get really good at saying 
the Jesus prayer. The point of the prayer is to encounter Jesus, in our 
hearts. The more you can look into your heart and address this prayer simply to 
in humility, in simplicity of heart, you begin to sense that connection 
I've been trying to acquire the Jesus prayer as a permanent habit about ten 
years now. I get a little bit closer all the time. Now, when a negative or 
disruptive thought comes into my mind, it's like someone threw a baseball 
the window. I pick it up and say, "This is not my baseball!" and throw it back 
out again.  
People get discouraged at first. You think you're going to sit down and do 
the Jesus prayer for five minutes and you do three or four of them-and you're 
thinking about your grocery list or a phone call you have to make. Don't beat 
yourself up about it. Don't stop saying the prayer because you do it badly. 
pick yourself up and start in again. 
CT: You also mentioned fasting-what does that mean as a spiritual discipline? 
FMG: The early Christians fasted on Wednesday and Friday. Many Christians 
have continued that Wednesday-Friday fast from the first century, and our whole 
family is among them. But we don't go totally without food. Instead we follow 
what the early writer Tertullian called the "Daniel fast." We eat the same 
kinds of foods that Daniel ate in the king's palace-essentially a vegan diet. 
meat, no dairy products, no fish. 
CT: So what do you eat on Wednesdays and Fridays? 
FMG: Well, at first you eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches! Then you 
discover this whole other world of cooking you never thought about before. 
food, Chinese food, hummus and pita-there are vegan dishes from all over the 
As with the Jesus prayer, the point isn't the discipline itself but what it 
cultivates in us. If I'm able to turn down a jelly doughnut a couple times a 
week, I can also resist getting angry at the person driving in front of me. I 
can learn to control my anger, my greed, my selfishness, because I've been 
weight-lifting with jelly doughnuts! I've been weight-lifting with these 
of the fast. Fasting strengthens self-control in any number of ways. 
CT: How have you seen these disciplines bear fruit? 
FMG: A number of years ago I was invited to give a speech for a group with an 
odd name: the Pro-Life Association of Gays and Lesbians. Towards the end of 
my speech, a group of thirty or forty women came in with protest signs and 
trailed by television cameras. They clearly weren't there to hear what I had to 
say: they just wanted to challenge me during the question and answer period. 
They were angry; they were mocking me; they were antagonistic. My heart was 
pounding, my stomach was clenching, my mouth was dry.  
But about halfway through this tense exchange I found this incredible peace 
spreading all through me. I was suddenly able to see each one of these hostile 
questioners as a beloved child of God, as somebody who was hurting and in 
pain. When I left that evening, I felt so much joy in the Lord, in what had 
been one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.  I thought, this must 
be what it's like for the martyrs-my little tiny experience, as much as I 
could bear, of martyrdom. I discovered that there is so much joy in loving our 
enemies-just as Christ loved us when we were his enemies. 
The spiritual disciplines enable us to be more that we could be on our own. 
If I had tried to approach that situation by memorizing a list of snappy 
answers, I could have won the debate, but I wouldn't have won any hearts. 
The spiritual disciplines equip us, they build us up, and they put us in an 
eternal community. We're not alone anymore. And they equip us even to love our 
enemies. We discover that we are never alone in this world-that nobody has to 
be our enemy, that we are always able to reach out in love.  There is nothing 
that anybody could ultimately take away from us, because we have everything in 
the Lord Christ. And when we live that kind of life, we become the presence 
of Christ, the fragrance of Christ, and begin to change our world. 

Frederica Mathewes-Green

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