“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
-St. Augustine, Confessions
One of my favorite characters in The Chronicles of Naria is the valiant mouse Reepicheep. Ironically, one of the tiniest characters in the series has the largest spirit, the most courage, and unparalleled purpose.
He hungers to serve Aslan in any way possible and to ultimately make it to Aslan’s country. One of the greatest lines in the whole series centers on Reepicheep’s intense hunger to join Aslan:
My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me,
I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise...(Lewis, 1952, p. 213)
|Reepicheep illustrated by Pauline Baynes.|
In C.S. Lewis’s books, Aslan symbolizes Christ.
Reepicheep represents the best in all of us, the us that God created us to be. He hungers for Aslan, or Christ, with such ferocity that nothing else will satisfy him.
Because we believe we are made in the image and likeness of God, we bear the imprint of our Creator. As such, we desire something more than what can be found here on earth.
If we are honest with ourselves, nothing will satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts to reunite with our Heavenly Father. Things of this world point toward Him. We believe that God is in all things and that the world is charged with visible signs of His invisible presence.
But, no matter how great the best things of this world are, they cannot completely fill us.
Only God can. He is the only thing that can satisfy our hunger.
Our hunger for the best thing, God, propels us to greatness and is what draws us to this ministry. The more we grow in holiness, the more we desire to grow in holiness.
Because of our hunger for God, we yearn for greater accomplishments and strive for more heroic actions to make Him known, loved, and served as Catholic school leaders.
One problem with our plans to imitate Reepicheep and hunger for only God is something that also helps us in this effort: dopamine.
Famously known as the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine helps motivate us to seek things that bring us pleasure, and produce more dopamine.
Dopamine is triggered in anticipation of your favorite Thanksgiving dish. You’re welcome.
It is released after we bite into (insert your favorite Thanksgiving item here). Our bodies flood with this feel-good chemical. We help ourselves to seconds, thirds...fifths?
Dopamine is also triggered in pursuit of a goal. We set out to accomplish something. Arriving at small check-points along the way, we receive small hits of dopamine, propelling us toward our target. As we get closer, anticipation mounts and dopamine floods our brains when we arrive at our final destination.
The stronger the hunger for the reward, the more the reward satisfies us if/when we receive it thanks to dopamine. Having received the reward and dopamine, we hunger for more of both. This is both dopamine’s blessing and its curse.
We get dopamine from so many sources today, especially our devices, that we become desensitized to it. Social media provides a series of dopamine hits, making it hard for you in a moment of dopamine free-living - waiting, reading this reflection - not to pick up your phone and start scrolling or switch tabs to a dopamine-inducing stimulation.
The hunger we have for dopamine distracts us from pointing our noses to the sunrise.
Thanks to Silicon Valley executives, dopamine fasting is a thing. Dopamine fasters think that denying our brains the production of dopamine for short periods of time helps us achieve greater concentration and focus. Once the fast is over, we can return to the sources of our dopamine hits with greater awareness, enjoying them more than we did before the fast.
The science behind this trend is sound. Fasting can lead to greater concentration, focus, and awareness. As Catholics, we would be wise to take this centuries-old practice back.
Within our Catholic tradition, fasting does not just lead to greater concentration, focus, and awareness, it points us toward God, the source of our deepest longing, and helps us to recognize that nothing can fill the innate hunger we have for Him except Him. Fasting reorients our vision, gives us clarity about how to get there, and supplies energy for our journey.
Our fasting fuels us to hunger for the thing that really matters: God.
This awakens us to the mission that God has for our lives and focuses our efforts to accomplish it. It strengthens us to make Him known, loved, and served with even greater conviction, and more profound effect.
While dopamine fasters are returning to the source of their emptiness, let us fast so as to return to the source of our life.
In doing so may we, like Reepicheep, make plans to point our noses to the sunrise and hunger for only God.
-Lewis, C.S. (1952). The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. New York: Scholastic.