ANTIGO — For a man with a family and job, tackling a 90-day spiritual exercise is an admirable, if difficult, exercise in prayer and asceticism. The idea that his 12-year-old son, a sixth grader who loves basketball and skiing, is joining him is amazing.
As the Lenten season is underway, Pat Meyer and his son, Mitch, are in the midst of a journey of spiritual growth. One that eschews warm showers, most types of music and many other trappings of today’s world – all designed to bring them closer to God and their own spirituality.
“We were thinking about some sort of retreat,” Pat said. “Mitch heard about Exodus 90 and seemed interested.”
“I just wanted to break my bonds with earthly things and get closer to God,” Mitch added.
Exodus 90 is a 90-day “period of purification,” or, as the program literature, found at exodus90.com, states, “a dying to self.” It was developed in 2013 by Fr. Brian Doerr and seminarians at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. Through perseverance, suffering and dependence on God, the goal is to allow participants to begin anew, according to the program literature.
Exodus 90 is based on four pillars: 90 days, prayer, asceticism and fraternity.
The Meyers meet regularly in a group led by Fr. Zach Weber, parochial vicar of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Antigo, where the Meyers are members.
“At times, when you are tempted, you can talk to the other members,” Mitch said. “You’re not doing it to fail. You have the encouragement.”
Through the fraternity, they also have “anchor partners,” who help one another through the inevitable temptations.
“You know you are not alone when you are doing it,” Mitch said.
The four pillars date to the traditions of the church and the Desert Fathers, who were early Christian hermits in the third and fourth centuries, according to Exodus 90.
With the encouragement of Patti Meyer, wife and mother, Pat and Mitch began their journey on Jan. 21. It will end on Easter Sunday, April 21.
“At first, when you start, you are pumped up,” said Pat, an auto body technician with Parsons of Antigo. “It’s the whole idea of trying something new.”
But soon, they admit, the program’s strictness became evident. Exodus 90 requires a commitment to a holy hour each day, with readings from the Book of Exodus, cold-lukewarm short showers, no alcohol, desserts, sweets or snacking, no television or movies, very limited computer time, and music that only “lifts the soul to God.”
It also demands intense daily exercise, seven hours of sleep nightly, and regular fasting.
“When it started, the hardest thing for me to give up was the sugar,” Mitch said. “Now it’s taking the cold showers. I knew I would fail at times and I have, because it’s pretty hard.”
“The hardest thing at first was setting aside enough time every day for prayer,” Pat added. “The cold showers haven’t been that bad. I don’t like it, but I have learned to manage it.”
“In emptying themselves of modern comfort, noise and vice, men dispose themselves greater to the voice and presence of God in their lives,” states the program literature.
Exodus 90 says it’s a program for men “who have difficulty finding God” and “who seek, together, to strive for a more perfect freedom.”
Pat and Mitch say this is true.
“I want to be more open and know what and why I am doing something,” Mitch said. “Before, I was always playing games and doing things blindly.”
Exodus 90 is for men only, although a separate women’s program is in the developmental stage. Its principles are designed to improve all relationships and the Meyers say it is having an effect.
“It was a big thing for them to take on, doing it together,” Patti said. ‘They are getting more open in their communication with each other and with the entire family.”
Although Exodus 90 will end next month, Pat and Mitch say they hope to continue many of the practices.
“I want to keep up with the prayer and the healthy eating,” Pat said. “I am gaining a lot of insights by being able to look outside of myself.”
“I’m not going to go back to the things I was doing before,” Mitch added. “I will keep more of these things up, although I will go back to warm showers.”
The father and son say they cherish the bond Exodus 90 has helped create.
“I would encourage other people to do it,” Mitch said. “You are going to fail once in a while but it’s a good challenge.”
“We do the exercises together and that leads us to do other things together as well,” added Pat. “Our relationship is stronger.”