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J Wilson's Diary of a Part Time Monk

For Christians in a modern world, the season of Lent is still hailed as the most holy time of the Christian calendar. For many, it is a time of fasting, reflection, prayer and sacrifice. The idea of passing through Lent and emerging with a greater understanding of the power of God lives at the heart of this annual ritual. Many Christians today give up some pleasure for Lent – perhaps beer, candy, meat on Fridays, or smoking – while others offer meditation and prayer to gain a more centered life.

In churches of the past, it was not uncommon for Christians to fast. I’m referring to real fasting, not the modern-day idea of having a small bite for breakfast and lunch, followed by a more substantial dinner, albeit without appetizer or dessert. Real fasting was a true sacrifice, and was routinely practiced within the monasteries and churches throughout Europe.

Paulaner monks at Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Munich were the first to brew a strong dark beer for the Lenten season of fasting. It was high in alcohol, but had enough sugars and nutrients to sustain them, without the assistance of solid food. So pleasurable was this beer, however, that they needed a special dispensation from the Holy See in Rome. They transported a cask of this Double Bock, or Doppelbock, over the Alps, where it was joggled and bumped over the rocky journey and subjected to heat and cold. By the time it arrived in Rome, it had soured and had become quite unpalatable. The Pope, upon tasting it, agreed it was indeed a sacrifice, and gave the monks and their Doppelbock his blessing.

Is it possible to live on Lenten Doppelbock alone in a modern world? J Wilson, a newspaper editor for the Adams County Press in Corning, Iowa, launched his own campaign in 2011 to find out. As a husband, father of two boys, newspaper editor, and foodie, he suspected it would not be an easy challenge. His life was not on the same sedate level that typified the life of a monk, and he would need to function in all aspects of his busy life.

He thought about it for a few years, outlining the steps he would need to carry through such a project. He reasoned, “I wanted to educate beer people about God and I also wanted to educate God people about beer.”

He set up regular appointments and blood-work with his doctor to monitor his health throughout the duration of his beer fast, enlisted the support of his wife Michelle, received workplace approval from his boss, Jon Groves, and brought Reverend Ken Rummer onboard as his spiritual advisor.

He carefully calculated that he would need 1200 calories per day, and collaborated with Eric Sorensen, Senior Brewer at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in Des Moines, Iowa, who provided him with the casks he would need to sustain his diet of beer and water.

Wilson agreed that it was a personal challenge – one that involved beer, but had the structure of a stunt – and also acknowledged that there was a spiritual dimension to his project. Unlike the early Jews and Christians who were forbidden to fast on the Sabbath and only fasted for a total of 40 days, Wilson decided to uphold his fast throughout the full 46 days of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter.

Wilson found it was a challenge, indeed. He allowed himself 4 glasses of beer per day, but had the need to increase his intake toward the end of Lent. He felt the need to pee every two hours throughout the night, which created a weariness that made it difficult to concentrate at times during his normal daytime hours. He lost weight. His potassium level became elevated. Keep in mind, potassium is generally good, but too much can cause arrhythmia due to a change in electrical impulses of the heart muscles. He learned about creatinine and its relationship to kidney function and about the importance of water in the diet. He also found that drinking one beer, however good it is, becomes a mundane practice when variety is not a part of the human condition.

He kept a log of his experience at Diary of a Part Time Monk, and created several videos in which he gives his own honest observations at different points in the cycle. His journey through this Beer Fast also took him to the Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri, where he observed monks in their daily lives of prayer and sacrifice. And he succeeded in his goal. J Wilson summed up his experience: “ We sell our resilience short. We’re capable of more than we think we are.”

Read J Wilson's blog at:


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Content copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Smagalski. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Carolyn Smagalski. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Carolyn Smagalski for details.


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