Fast Thinking: Thoughts Beyond Cognition

Fasting Minds

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.[Romans 12:2]

The material world doesn’t taste very good without food. A fast minimizes our mundane and frivolous concerns. It reduces trivial matters, once thought to be momentous, to their proper inconsequence. While fasting, we find our mind gravitating toward essential issues and towards questions of substance usually avoided.tele-wasteland

Fasting asserts the will against the appetite — the reward being self-mastery and the danger pride: involuntary hunger subjects appetites and will together to the Divine Will, furnishing an occasion for submission and exposing us to the danger of rebellion … Ascetic practices, which in themselves strengthen the will, are only useful in so far as they enable the will to put its own house (the passions) in order, as a preparation for offering the whole man to God. [C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 112].

Our thoughts are vehicles for approaching God. We ride them back and forth from the profane to the sacred, from material striving to spiritual consciousness.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. [Colossians 3:2].

In worldly affairs we rarely to find contentment. We easily lose our focus and wander around, longing for a meaningful existence. By contrast, our devotional exercises carry our thoughts to higher ground where we find rest and comfort in remembrance of God. wasteland2

Wert thou to cleanse the mirror of thy heart from the dust of malice, thou wouldst apprehend the meaning of the symbolic terms revealed by the all-embracing Word of God made manifest in every Dispensation, and wouldst discover the mysteries of divine knowledge. Not, however, until thou consumest with the flame of utter detachment those veils of idle learning, that are current amongst men, canst thou behold the resplendent morn of true knowledge. [Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 75].

Thoughts Beyond Cognition

Research in cognitive neuroscience has found evidence that states of mind have their corresponding brain mechanisms. This means that physiological conditions of the brain directly correlate with mental states, moods and emotions. In other words, peace of mind, anxiety and fear can be physically observed and measured.

… cerebral blood flow increases and decreases were observed in brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal, including ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal brain-raincortex. These brain structures are known to be active in response to other euphoria-inducing stimuli, such as food, sex, and drugs of abuse. [Anne J. Blood, Robert J. Zatorre, “Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion”].

Certain mental conditions generate heightened God-consciousness. These include fear, insecurity and physical needs. Often they produce a flight or fight response, but they also prompt spiritual attention.

He it is Who enableth you to traverse through land and sea; so that ye even board ships;- they sail with them with a favourable wind, and they rejoice thereat; then comes a stormy wind and the waves come to them from all sides, and they think they are being overwhelmed: they cry unto God, sincerely offering (their) duty unto Him saying, “If thou dost deliver us from this, we shall truly show our gratitude!” [Quran 10:22].

How Far Can You Think?

Just as a planet can appear to be at the center of a universe, though in reality orbiting around a sun, so too can affluence and material excesses produce illusions of self-importance.

We may speak poetically of the night sky, picturing large expanses of space and time. We may conceptualize the existence of life before birth and after death in metaphysical, scientific or philosophical terms. Yet, in our mind, certainty is absent, knowing that our thoughts are frail and our reasoning is incomplete.

Fasting can be a painful admission that I am not free, that my life is enslaved, obsessed or addicted to external things such as food, drink, codependent relationships, sex, television, privacy and the like. It can be a stern teacher, reminding us that we have severed the most basic of relationships, the one with ourselves.  [Albert Haase, Coming Home to Your True Self, 108].

Our thoughts are at a loss when they don’t incorporate spirituality. Permeating our mental processes is the tacit acknowledgment that our physical senses cannot fully perceive the human condition.  This inability to encompass our entire reality limits the range of our thinking.

When we ponder the spiritual unknown, we may theorize freely about anything hidden from us, but we cannot enjoy the same certainty that we can achieve in the physical realm.masjid-hallway2

There is no way to God that bypasses the call to let go. You may have many intellectual doubts, and it is really important to be honest about those, to talk about them and study. However, thinking and studying alone never remove the need to choose. The question of faith is never just an intellectual decision. [John Ortberg, Know Doubt, p. 212].

Filling Our Mind with an Empty Stomach

The state of “not-fasting” complements our normal, material consciousness. It needs little description, but it should be placed in proper perspective.

For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxed fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and despise me, and break my covenant. [Deuteronomy 31:20].

When the body is  indulging, the mind is immersed in mundane thoughts, giving little attention to the sacred. When our body fasts, our mind remembers God, for a fasting mind relishes Divine contemplation.

How greatly do we differ from the monks who lived in the time of Anthony! They … visited each other in the spirit of charity, received from each other the bread of the soul with such eagerness that, almost forgetful of the nourishment of the body, they passed for the most part the whole day with their bodies fasting, but not with fasting minds … [Rev. John Cumming, Lectures Young Men’s Christian Association, Luther and the Reformation].

Our thought process dramatically changes when we fast. Science can empirically observe the body’s biological response to food deprivation. Social interaction and relationships are also significantly affected by fasting. However, the most profound result of fasting is the spiritual transformation that takes place in our thoughts — a result proclaimed by all the great religions.

O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God …  [Quran 2:183].

Fast Thinking

As mathematics helps us calculate physical dimensions, fasting facilitates abstract perspectives which aid the mind in absorbing the Divine domain. Fasting expands our faculties to understand the unseen and become attuned to the spiritual aspect of reality. It provides points of reference for comprehension of the sacred.pigeon

… Christians who fast say that it sharpens and sensitizes their spiritual faculties to become more in tune with what God is doing throughout the world. [Bill Bright].

Fasting also leads our thoughts from literal legalism to heightened spiritual consciousness, removing dogmatic vestments of fossilized theologies. A fast can, thereby, open the mind to a panorama of mystical reflection that secular cognition neither contemplates nor appreciates.

Know, O dear readers, that there are three classes of fast. (1) Fast … to restrain oneself from eating and drinking and from sexual passion. This is the lowest kind of fast. (2) … besides the above things one refrains himself from sins of hand, feet, sight and other limbs of body. (3) Fast of the highest class. These people keep fast of mind … they don’t think of anything else except God and the next world … This highest class of people are the Prophets and the near ones of God. This kind of fast is kept when we sacrifice our self and all our thoughts fully to God [Abu Hāmed al-Ghazālī, Ihya Ulum-id-Din (The Book of Religious Learning)].


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How to Eat to Live: Eating with Purpose

Eating with Purpose

Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, but still not find contentment—do not all go to the one place? All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:6-7

As modern consumers, our lifestyles commonly include eating on-the-run and ’round-the-clock eating . We have adapted to overindulging, catering to our cravings, and ignoring long-term consequences of our stressful culture.   eating_on_the_run

Images on a screen have replaced real people at the dinner table. We prefer dining with technology. Our favorite eating companions emanate from electronics.

Wearing fine clothes,
Bearing sharp swords,
Glutting with food and drink,
Hoarding wealth and possessions –
These are the ways of theft,
And distant from the Way. [Tao Te Ching 53].

Nibbling Life Away

We sit at work or at home nibbling all day, lacking restraint and pursuing fleeting eating_on_the_run2pastimes. Our pattern of continuous eating, facilitated by modern conveniences, and  combined with meaningless entertainment, offers little nutritional value to our spiritual condition. We eat to live a life of frivolity and transient pleasures.

 If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.” [John Piper, A Hunger for God, p. 23].

About Feces

Reflect on this behavior: mounds of food continually entering our stomach then becoming mounds of food exiting as feces. Incessant consumption and defecation — time spent eating mirroring time spent on a bathroom seat. Are we living to eat, or eating to live?

Is our toiling merely for the toilet? What kind of thought process accepts such behavior? Where is self-control, discipline, purpose? This is not the best way to eat and to live.

One day, Abu Sa`id with a group of disciples passed some workers cleaning the public lavatories, taking out bags overflowing with feces.  This work seemed very ugly to them. They hurried to pass quickly, complaining about the sight and the stench. Abu Sa`id took the opportunity to teach them a lesson:

“Those bags of defecation are really talking to you, if you have the ears to listen. They are saying, ‘we were the scrumptious foods and delectable sweets that you humans craved, spending your attention and money on us. We spent one night with you and see what has become of us. You have no right to complain and flee from us. We should be the ones escaping from you.'” [Adapted from Under the Sufi’s Cloak: Stories of Abu Sa’id and His Mystical Teachings by Mohammad Ali Jamnia, Mojdeh Bayat, p. 110].

Eating to Live, or Living to Eat?eating-on-the-run4

From a scientific perspective, we may live longer by not eating as much or as often. According to the restricted calorie theory, our lifespan is an inverse function of our metabolic rate.

Restricted calorie intake may increase our life span. Aging is directly proportional to the oxygen we used for energy, for life. In other words, the less we eat, the longer we may live.

It is widely accepted that caloric restriction (CR) without malnutrition delays the onset of aging and extends lifespan in diverse animal models including yeast, worms, flies, and laboratory rodents. The mechanism underlying this phenomenon is still unknown. We have hypothesized that a reprogramming of energy metabolism is a key event in the mechanism of CR…. [Anderson RM, Shanmuganayagam D, Weindruch R, Caloric restriction and aging. Toxicol Pathol 37:47-51].

For some, restricting food intake to prolong life would seem valueless. What quality of life would we have without the joys of a satisfied palate?

Such a perspective values physical existence and its transitory pleasures above consciousness of a Divine Reality. Ultimately, our eating must reflect and complement our purpose for living.overeating

Sensation, as, for example, the sense of taste, is meant to be the guide to action; in this case, the choice of wholesome food, and the avoidance of poisonous and hurtful things. But if we rest in the sense of taste, as a pleasure in itself; rest, that is, in the psychical side of taste, we fall into gluttony, and live to eat, instead of eating to live. [The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Bk. 2:7].

Eating with a Purpose

Divine sustenance is nutrition beyond food, delights far above worldly cuisine. Temporal pleasures are mere by-products of a life devoted to compassionate service.

Long life is desirable only with a meaningful purpose. Eating is merely a precursor to piety. When we eat to live a life of faith, we taste the joy of Divine Pleasure and enjoy a spiritual satisfaction far greater than the palate can provide.nuns-eating

There is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this it is, and there is no other. [Confessions, Saint Augustine, XXII].

Our spiritual perspective should offer an understanding of our human condition and provide reason for our existence. Diet and exercise can maximize our ability to extend life and accommodate a Divine purpose.

From this point of view, we can redirect our lifestyle, sublimate our pleasures and purify our motives, all for pleasing God.

O CHILDREN of Adam! Beautify yourselves for every act of worship, and eat and drink [freely], but do not be excessive: verily, He [God] does not love the extravagant! [Quran 7:31]


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Nineteen Reasons for Fasting (Part 7/7)

Fasting: Divinely Approved and Rewarded

And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-affliction…For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you atonement-goat2.jpgof all your sins; you shall be clean before Yhwh. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-affliction; it is a law for all time [Leviticus 16:29-34].

19.  God Promised Reward

. . . But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. [Matthew 6:16-18].

As we have seen, fasting is a multi-purpose balm prescribed for our soul. From frivolity to solemnity, from spiritual dryness to heartfelt sincerity, from fear to tranquility, from pride to humility, fasting carries us ever nearer to the Divine Reality.dates-water-tasbih

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Allah said, ‘All the deeds of Adam’s sons (people) are for them, except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it … ” [Sahih Bukhari, Bk. 31, No. 128].

However, it is God’s promised reward that holds the greatest value. It is the expressed Divine approval of our humble efforts that motivates us to fast. God alone is the object of our spiritual fasting and only God can reward us for it.

The degree of proximity to Deity which they attain is regarded by some as intermixture of being (haloul), by others as identification (ittihad), by others as intimate union (wasl). But all these expressions are wrong . . . Those who have reached that stage should confine themselves to repeating the verse — “What I experience I shall not try to say; Call me happy, but ask me no more.” [Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, The Confessions of al-Ghazali].

The fasting slave is now nourished by remembrance of the Divine, an ineffable mixture of visions and awareness — an ecstatic taste of something intangible, a fragrance that permeates the senses.

Fasting is an exceptional virtue; it represses bodily impulses and gives strength to the soul to fight against the poisoning of the heart through the senses, and provides it with a remedy against any past poisoning. Fasting causes the mind to be bread-water-beadscleansed constantly. It whithers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts — holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor [Elder Ephraim of Philotheou Mount Athos, “Counsels from the Holy Mountain“].

True spiritual fasting is beyond the body or mind, for by our fast we have abandoned strength, cognition and intellect. We cannot describe, define or measure the fasting heart.

However highly works may be estimated, they have their whole value more from the approbation of God than from their own dignity. For who will presume to plume himself before God on the righteousness of works, unless in so far as He approves of them? Who will presume to demand of Him a reward except in monks-eatingso far as He has promised it? It is owing entirely to the goodness of God that works are deemed worthy of the honor and reward of righteousness; and, therefore, their whole value consists in this, that by means of them we endeavor to manifest obedience to God. [John Calvin, Book 3:11, The Institutes of The Christian Religion].

God alone is its measure, and His Presence can only be described as His Presence, there is nothing comparable unto Him.

If you observe fasting, as I have commanded you, your sacrifice will be acceptable to God, and this fasting will be written down; fasting-table-bread-and the service thus performed is noble, and sacred, and acceptable to the Lord.” [The Pastor of Hermas, Bk. III, The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325].

May our fasting be accepted and may God allow us to enter His Divine Presence. May He grant us the willpower to discard selfish impediments hindering and obstructing our awareness. May He guide us from our secular sobriety into sacred ecstasy. May the reality of God’s Presence be made manifested in the works of our hands, the words of our mouth and the thoughts of our mind.

And whoever does more good than he is bound to do does good unto himself thereby; for to fast is to do good unto yourselves – if you but knew it. [Quran 2:183-4]

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Nineteen Reasons for Fasting (Part 6 of 7)

Fasting to Overcome Habits, for Solitude and to Chastise the Body

Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. [St. John Chrysostom, On Fasting].

16.  Overcome Habits, Addiction, Gluttony

Fasting breaks the monotonous reenactment of habitual rituals to which we may be physically and intellectually shackled. A break in our eating patterns can lead to significant lifestyle changes.brain-cells

Habituation refers to weakened responses to continually repeated stimuli. Consciously and unconsciously, we become addicted to many activities, routines and habits that we perform like robots, having long forgotten their origins or purpose.

Fasting is not confined to abstinence from eating and drinking. Fasting really means voluntary abstinence for a time from various necessities of life, such as food, drink, sleep, rest, association with people and so forth. The purpose of such abstinence for a longer or shorter period of time is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things. [Ole Hallesby, Prayer, p. 59].

When our bodies demand the chemicals, or our minds insist on the customary cravings, we must begin by recognizing the lamentable state to which we have descended. To reestablish control and confidence, we must first abstain, even if for just one day.

Fasting can be a painful admission that I am not free, that my life is enslaved, obsessed or addicted to external things such as food, drink, codependent relationships, sex, television, privacy and the like. [Albert Haase].

Lent prepares us for this most important moment; therefore, it is a “powerful” season, a turning point that can foster change and conversion in each of us. We all need to improve, to change for the better. Lent helps us and thus we leave behind old habits and the lazy addiction to the evil that deceives and ensnares us. [Pope Francis]

17.  Separation, Solitude and Sanctity

Anything that is holy must be isolated away from pollution, and elevated above corruption. Under some circumstance, the only protection against spiritual contamination is self-imposed quarantine.

The Children of Israel were separated and made distinct from all the idolatrous nations surrounding them. Their spiritual and ritual purity was dependent on abstention and sacred restrictions: the “613 commandments.”

When some of these pious men occasionally went to an extreme by fasting, staying up all night, refraining from eating meat and drinking wine, abstaining from marital relations, wearing woolen and hairy garments, dwelling in the mountains, and secluding themselves in the wilderness, they did so only to counter the opposite urge and restore the health of their souls… Fearing that their own morals might be tainted by those around them, they removed themselves from bad people, as the prophet Yirmiyah said, “Oh, to leave my people, to go away from them. For they are all adulterers, a band of rogues.” [Moses Maimonides, The Essential Maimonides: Translations of the Rambam, p. 183]

When we undertake a spiritual fast, we choose to withdraw from several aspects of our social existence, including merriment, frivolity and material comforts.Merton2


I think the idea of fasting until sundown would be very practical in solitude. This would be practical too if some meal were taken before sunrise. It is unfortunate that fasting has become less and less practiced among Christians of the West, though the Orthodox are still very strict. [Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters, December 9, 1964]

Most religions forbid their adherents from fasting on festive days because abstinence produces a solemn, unsocial state of mind. Fasting is incompatible with festivities and joyous occasions. By contrast, serious reflection prefers the solitude that fasting promotes.

Catholic theologians determined that fasting during Easter and on Sunday is not compatible with the spiritual and mental states desirable on such days.

Accordingly the fasts appointed by the commandment of the Church are rather “fasts of sorrow” which are inconsistent with days of joy. For this reason fasting is not ordered by the Church during the whole of the Paschal season, nor on Sundays: and if anyone were to fast at these times in contradiction to the custom of Christian people . . . he would not be free from sin . . . [St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, 2a, 2ae, 147].

In Islam, Prophet Muhammad forbade the fasting on its two feast days.

Narrated Abu Sa’id: The Prophet forbade the fasting of ‘Id-ul-Fitr and ‘Id-ul-Adha (Islam’s two feast days). [Bukhari, Vol. 3, Bk. 31: 212].

By fasting, we seek a connection to the Divine. We temporarily renounce the material world and avoid transient pleasures. We set out on a personal exodus, a solitary “hijrah,” a temporary retreat from the secular to the sacred.

Solitude is central precisely because it breaks us free of the world in which we’re used to exercising power or having power exercised over us. Solitude and silence together, when adequately practiced, form a framework within which we can absolutely and constantly be aware of the movement of God in us, and know it is not us. This is why the disciplines are so essential, because they break away that competing world that we have identified with. We are often just puppets of our own egotism and that of others. [Dallas Willard, Dallas Willard is interviewed by Luci Shaw].

18.  Chastise the Body, Mortify the Flesh

You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires. [Galatians 5: 24].

Fasting, self-denial and abstinence are essential spiritual exercises in the gymnasium of the ascetic. In our effort to please God, we enter into a struggle against our animal nature. The goal is to subordinate our lower appetites and achieve complete submission to the will of God.

The necessity of the mortification of the flesh also stands clearly revealed if we consider the fragility of our nature … This exercise of bodily mortification-far removed from any form of stoicism does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which sons of God deign to assume. On the contrary, mortification aims at the “liberation” of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses. Through “corporal fasting” man regains strength and the “wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence. [Pope Paul VI, On Fast and Abstinence, Ch. II].

Fasting offers simulated affliction. It is a controlled sacrifice highly valued in the spiritual realm, a stressful exercise for the soul. It imitates the process of the real-world anxiety and grief.brain-arrow

Though it may only be a simulated adversity, this “artificial” state of need, produces a spiritual crisis that cries out for God’s help.

When R. Shesheth kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou knowest full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Thy will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before Thee on the altar, and do Thou favour me. [Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth, Folio 17a].

By discarding the stained garments of the soul, we dress it in new garments of righteousness and purity.

. . . John the Baptist was the great preacher of repentance, and his “raiment of camel’s hair,” his “girdle about his loins,” his meat of “locusts and wild honey,” tell of an inner man mortifying his flesh in the deepest humiliation of penitential sorrow. [Rev. T. T. Carter, The Life of Penitence].

Fasting tries to transform mere thoughts and words into action. Denial of the body becomes a testament to earnestness, a witness to sincerity. God does not need this, but we do.

The seventh sign of the learned man of the next world is that his main object of anxeity is to learn secret knowledge, observation of the heart, knowledge of the paths of the hereafter, to travel thereon and to have abiding faith in finding self-mortification and observation, because self mortification leads to “mushahadah” or contemplation and lets flow the fountain of wisdom through the intricate details of the science of heart. Reading of books and learning of sciences are not sufficient for it. But this wisdom appears as result of hard labour. It opens if one sits in loneliness with God with a mind turned with humility of spirit towards God and through self-mortification, observation and watching. This is the key of “ilham” or inspiration and the fountain head of “kashf” or secret knowledge.  [Imam Al-Ghazzali, Revival of Religious Learnings, Ch. 1:5].

At such times, we willingly punish ourselves for transgressing God’s commands and abusing the blessings bestowed upon us. A penitential fast thus manifests to the Creator our regret and contrition. By chastising our body, we offer a token gesture of reconciliation to restore the damaged relationship.

Let them, therefore, with fasting and with prayer make their adjurations, and not with the elegant and well-arranged and fitly-ordered words of learning, but as men who have received the gift of healing from God, confidently, to the glory of God. By your fastings and prayers and perpetual watching, together with your other good works, mortify the works of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit [Pope Clement I, Two Epistles on Virginity, Ch. XII].


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Nineteen Reasons for Fasting (part 5 of 7)

Fasting as a Catharsis, for Vows, and for Ritual Purification

Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness.  [St. Basil the Great, On Fasting, i].

13.  Purgation, Catharsis and Emotional Release

The word catharsis describes a purging that heals and restores the soul. It is derived from the Greek katharos, meaning “pure.” Medically, a catharsis is a purgation, especially for the digestive system. It also refers to relieving tensions and anxieties by consciously confronting repressed feelings and fears.

“Prove me, O Lord, and try me.” [Psalm 26:2]. Lest, however, any of my secret sins should be hid from me, prove me, O Lord, and try me, making me known, not to You from whom nothing is hid, but to myself, and to men. Burn my reins and my heart. Apply a remedial purgation, as it were fire, to my pleasures and thoughts. [St. Augustine, Exposition on Psalm 26, p. 120]

Spiritually, a catharsis is an emptying of negative emotions to cleanses away guilt, to purify ourselves and to reunite us with the Divine. A spiritual catharsis can be an emotional release, particularly when we need psychological and intellectual cleansing.

Fasting is dependent on the ‘law of catharsis’ (Virechan Siddhanta). We take purgatives (catharsis) to purge our body of its toxins and fall-out impact of indiscreet and imprudent eating. But fasting also purges difilements from our mind. [Shiv Sharma, Brilliance of Hinduism, p. 123].

Keeping stressful spiritual pollutant from staining our sanctity is a form of catharsis. A reclusive retreat that includes fasting can provide isolation and offers protection from debilitating influences.woman-drinking - bowl2

Acts of denial and simplification are traditionally called acts of purgation. These acts shape bodily desire through the denial or restriction of human actions. For example, the three most common, traditional acts of purgation are fasting, sexual renunciation, and bodily mortification….As the word purgation suggests, instead of simplification of life in order to enable response, what stands at the center of the spiritual disciplines as a whole is a world-denying asceticism. The duties and actions that come to mark and deepen the religious life are then prayer, meditation, contemplation, confession, and purgation. [Timothy F. Sedgwick, The Christian Moral Life: Practices of Piety, pp. 110, 132].

Fasting can also be a communal response to a calamity. We just do not feel very hungry after an occurrence of widespread destruction or distress. At such times, we discard transitory pleasures for sober introspection and self-analysis.

Fasting is consistent with such a traumatic state. The penitential fast offers an acceptable catharsis, expressing remorse for any personal culpability associated with the disaster. By acknowledging indirect complicity, we assuage our guilt and manifest true contrition by turning to God for mercy

Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords. Then the Israelites, all the people, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. [Judges 20:24-26(NIV)].

14.  Oaths and Vows

Fasting normally begins with an oath or vow, either directly or indirectly expressed. We must first form an intention to shun food and drink. We then becomes spiritually bound to hold fast to this vow or promise to God. For example, in the Bible, Saul commands his soldiers not to eat during a day of fighting.

Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food. [1 Samuel 14:24-44].

Similarly, enemies of Paul bound themselves, under a “curse oath” (anathematizo), to fast until they had slain him.

The next morning a group of Jews got together and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. [Acts 23:12].

The monastic experience, particularly in Christianity, often requires vows that, to some extent, amplify fasting into a way of life. Moreover, the celibate soon finds that fasting is the best remedy for curing lusty desires. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “the ardor of lust is dampened by abstinence from food and drink.”benedict-monks2

O Lord, I place myself in your hands and dedicate myself to you. I pledge myself to do your will in all things: To love the Lord God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength. Not to kill. Not to steal. Not to covet. Not to bear false witness. To honor all persons. Not to do to another what I would not wish done to myself. To chastise the body. Not to seek after pleasures. To love fasting. [Saint Benedict].

Fasting can represent attainment of spiritual merit and, as such, can be offered in exchange for satisfaction of a vow. In Islam, for example, the expiation of a vow may be accomplished by fasting three days:

Thus, the breaking of an oath must be atoned for by feeding ten needy persons with more or less the same food as you are wont to give to your own families, or by clothing them, or by freeing a human being from bondage; and he who has not the wherewithal shall fast for three days [instead]. This shall be the atonement for your oaths whenever you have sworn [and broken them]. But be mindful of your oaths! [Quran 5:89].

15.  Spiritual and Ritual Purificationpurification water

Purity has got Four Stages: The first stage is the purification of the external organs from excrements and filths. The second stage is the purification of the bodily organs from sins and faults. The third stage is the purification of the heart from evil traits and evil vices. The fourth stage is the purifications of the inner self from everything except God. This is the stage of the Prophets and the saints. [Imam Ghazzali, Ihyaul Ulum (Revival of Religious Learning), Ch. 3:The Mysteries of Cleanliness].

Be well assured that none can be illuminated, unless he be first cleansed, purified, or stripped. Also none can be united to God unless he be first illuminated. There are therefore three stages—first, the purification; secondly, the illumination; and thirdly, the union. [Theologia Germanica].

We overcome ourselves when we fast. Without this desire to go beyond ourselves, to reach for something beyond the ordinary, we would remain stuck in the realm of banality, never understanding beauty, wisdom, and the purity of things. We may have enough to live on, but much too little to live for. “The purification of the heart through fasting” is therefore seen as an important aspect of the quest for the meaning of life. It helps us to grasp something of our origin, which is greater than ourselves. [Peter Seewald, Wisdom from the Monastery: A Program of Spiritual Healing].

We must approach the Divine Presence in a pure state. Religious ceremonies and sacraments demand external and internal purity. The expiatory and purgative properties of fasting make it the consummate practice for such purification. .

Fasting relies on self-control which has recourse to the will and leads to the purification of mind and heart. St. Athanasius states: “Do you want to know what fasting does? … it raises the mind and purifies the heart.” [Synod of Bishops, XI Ordinary General Assembly].

Rites of purification use fasting to hold apart or separate a person for the purpose of spiritual cleansing. For example, Soto was the Isle of Penitence, where the Incas retreated for fasting and reflection. [J. Myres, R. Paredes, Pukara Influence on Isla Soto, Lake Titicaca, Peru]. Fasting prepares both the candidate and the officiator for important sacraments.

Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand. [Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)].

In Chinese, zhia or zia means “fasting” and also refers to the preparatory measures prior to a religious ceremony to ensure ritual purity. The Zhai Gong, or Fasting Palace, was where a Chinese emperor fasted for three days before being allowed to worship. In addition to fasting, he abstained from recreation, women, and handling of criminal cases.

The Sanskrit word for fasting, upvas, literally means sitting near or close to God. This represents a purified and elevated condition which allows connection to the Absolute.fasting bowl

Laity who receive and observe the vows known as the Lay Bodhisattva Precepts stop eating at noon on six days of each month . . . The fasting observance is related to several liturgical practices observed on the six fasting days: they recite their precept codes, recite scriptures and increase their hours of meditation on those days. [Rev. Heng Sure, Ph.D., On Fasting From a Buddhist’s Perspective].

… we ought not to be conquered by any lusts nor held in possession by any vices in order that the habitation of Divine power may be stained with no pollution. And this assuredly it is possible for all to obtain, God helping and guiding us, if by the purification of fasting and by merciful liberality, we take pains to be set free from the filth of sins, and to be rich in the fruits of love. [Pope Leo, Sermon 78]

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Nineteen Reasons for Fasting (Part 4 of 7)

Fasting for Discipline, for Protection against Lust and for Humility

Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself. [St. Augustine, “On Prayer and Fasting,” Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas].

Let lawful fasting have three ends: for we use the same either to bring down the flesh, or that we may be better prepared to prayers, or that it may be a testimony of our humility before God. The first end is fitter for private fasting, the second is common to both, and the third likewise. [John Calvin].

10.  Discipline & Self-control

Fasting helps us take back control of our life. When our intellect and our physical desires appear more important than our spiritual affirmations and take higher priority, it is time to fast. Through fasting, we control physical appetites and gain strength to dominate our rebellious intellect.quran-plate

A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting . . .  And yet, just as the first condition of a good life is self-control, so the first condition of a life of self-control is fasting. [ The First Step, The Works of Leo Tolstoy].

As our fasting progresses, we rearrange our priorities. What seemed essential before, now appears inconsequential in light of our changed perspective. Fasting promotes our spiritual thoughts by releasing them from the domination of worldly desires.

. . . fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.  [Martyn Lloyd-Jones, quoted in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, by Donald S. Whitney].

When our lower self becomes rebellious, dominating our attitude and perverting our personality, we must struggle to regain control. We need to revitalize our devotions and sanctify our daily life. Fasting is the prod.

Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting. [The Rule of St. Benedict, The Instruments of Good Works, Ch. 4].

We can easily become accustomed to comforts, and take God’s blessings for granted. We greedily consume our good fortune without appreciating it. Foolishly, we assume that we are owed our blessed affluence. Such spiritual ignorance and intellectual arrogance need the benefits of a fast.

Don’t spoil and fatten the ego by giving it the pleasurable experiences it desires, for this will only give it more power over you . . . Because when the “stomach” of the ‘commanding self’ [nafsul-amara] is filled and becomes comfortable, it becomes increasingly insolent and rebellious. Therefore, it is necessary to limit it to bran bread so that this ‘commanding self’ does not become strong, insolent, and rebellious. [Anqaravi, Commentary on Rumi’s, The Prince and the Christian Ascetic (Mathnawi V: 3480)]

To paraphrase Newton’s first law of motion, a body continues to do whatever it happens to be doing, unless a force is exerted upon it to make it change. Fasting offers such a force.

The pure heart is the best mirror for the reflection of Truth. So all these disciplines are for the purification of the heart. As soon as it is pure, all truths flash upon it in a minute. [Sri Sathya Sai Baba].

11.  Protection against Lustnun-cell

In our members there is a slumbering inclination toward desire, which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery … a secret, smouldering fire is kindled…. At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real … Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God … The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, p. 132].

Lust for sex, wealth, power, fame and glory often grow beyond our control. It then becomes imperative that we quell the emotions they arouse. How do we do that? We can start by fasting.

He who can afford to marry should marry, because it will help him refrain from looking at other women, and . . . save his private parts from committing illegal sexual relation; and he who cannot afford to marry is advised to fast, as fasting will diminish his sexual power. [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 129].

Our social environment, with its pastimes, entertainment and glitter, entices our appetites and prods passions. They often overwhelm our spiritual convictions leaving us groping for direction. We forget our basic beliefs while satisfying transient desires.

There is no satisfying lusts, even by a shower of gold pieces; he who knows that lusts have a short taste and cause pain, he is wise; even in the [supernal] pleasures [of the devas], he finds no satisfaction; the disciple who is fully awakened delights only in the destruction of all desires [The Dhammapada, Chapter 14:186].

Our appetites cannot be fully satisfied by food, pastimes or entertainment. If we continue indulging in a frivolous lifestyle, our mind becomes numb, a helpless observer that offers little resistance to wrongdoing.

Listen and hear the word of warning:  “Wide and spacious is the road of gluttony.  It leads to the catastrophe of fornication, and there are many who travel that way. The gate is narrow and the way of fasting is hard, that way leading to the life of purity, and there are few to make the journey . . . Fasting ends lust, roots out bad thoughts, frees one from evil dreams.” [The Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus, p. 167].

Reckless abandonment to physical pleasures produces an insatiable appetite for more and more. We continually increase the dosage, augment the volume and heighten the excitement. The results overwhelm us, destroying our restraint and enslaving us to our cravings.

Fasting may be difficult, but it provides the body with energy, activity, and resistance … Human life is a composite of two distinct powers: the spirit and the flesh. Although they sometimes act in harmony, conflict is more usual – conflict in which one defeats the other. If bodily lusts are indulged, the spirit grows more powerless as it becomes more obedient to those lusts. If one can control the desires of the flesh, place the heart (the seat of spiritual intellect) over reason, and oppose bodily lusts, he or she acquires eternity. [Fethullah Gülen].

Our unrestrained lusts are never quenched, not even when we consume beyond our capacity. No amount of indulgence can satisfy us, so we add new depravities, trying to attain an ephemeral gratification that always eludes us.

For by prayer we seek to propitiate God, by fasting we extinguish the lusts of the flesh, by alms we redeem our sins: and at the same time God’s image is throughout renewed in us, if we are always ready to praise Him, unfailingly intent on our purification and unceasingly active in cherishing our neighbour. This threefold round of duty, dearly beloved, brings all other virtues into action: it attains to God’s image and likeness and unites us inseparably with the Holy Spirit. Because in prayer faith remains steadfast, in fastings life remains innocent, in almsgiving the mind remains kind. [St. Leo, the Great].

Our intellect becomes an insensitive bystander, observing existence without true feelings, scavenging among the wretched, wallowing in arrogant indifference.

Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own lust? Wouldst thou then be guardian over him? Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle – nay, but they are farther astray?  [Quran 25:43-44].

12.  Humilityjesus-washing -feet2

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. [Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NIV)].

Fasting removes the hardened crust of pride and arrogance surrounding our bloated thoughts. The frailty of the body is spotlighted by fasting, as we perceive the true nature of our physical condition. This humbles us.

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God . . . [Ezra 8:21].

When we fast, our reliance on bodily strength and physical well-being is diminished. We become aware of our weaknesses, our misconceived vigor and miscalculated powers.

. . . I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. [Psalm 35:13].

Abstinence melts our hubris, dissolves the rust lining our heart and opens our consciousness to piety.

A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him. [John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion].

Fasting adds personal meaning to the rituals and liturgy of religion. It supplies an inner dimension to our faith, providing the mind with transcending cognition that penetrates into the heart.

Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love. [Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 100].

Sincere fasting conquers our pride. Empty and naked before God, we have no arrogance to nourish our ego. The costume of piety that adorned our public image vanishes into remorse. The fast has made the dress of humility fit us well.

Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God. [The Book of Mormon, Helaman 3:35].

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Nineteen Reasons for Fasting (Part 3 of 7)

Fasting for Guidance, for Help in Prayer and for Physical Healing

Under special difficulties, or when in great need of, or great longings after, any particular mercy, for yourself or others, set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone . . . [Jonathan Edwards, “The Young Professor”].

7.  Guidance

At any major crossroad, before a critical decision, when discernment, clear thinking and wise judgment are required, fasting is an indispensable companion.

Fasting is important, more important perhaps, than many of us have supposed . . . when exercised with a pure heart and a right motive, fasting may provide us with a key to unlock doors where other keys have failed; a window opening up new horizons in the unseen world; a spiritual weapon of God’s provision, mighty, to the pulling down of strongholds. [Arthur Wallis, God’s Chosen Fast, p. 9].


Avarice, envy and selfish ambitions are diluted, if not totally dispelled, by fasting. Fasting helps us find rational and intellectual solutions by filtering the material sediment clogging our thought process.

Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and . . . the Israelites inquired of the LORD . . .  They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” [Judges 20:26-28 (NIV)].

When worldly involvement clouds our judgment and the daily stress of physical existence blurs our spiritual awareness, fasting clears a path to light and provides a change in perspective.

Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . . [Deuteronomy 8:11-14].

After the fast, we should feel ready to act, to engage in a better directed life. Life’s purpose should be clarified and our intentions to act righteously affirmed. We should feel ready to dive into the service of God with renewed vigor and strength, if God so wills.

In regard, then, to the discipline of which we now treat, whenever supplication is to be made to God on any important occasion, it is befitting to appoint a period for fasting and prayer.  [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion].

8.  Help in Prayer

The Lord said to His Apostles about the evil spirits, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting (Mk. 9:29). … Fasting is acceptable to God when it is preceded by the great virtue of mercy; fasting prepares a reward in heaven when it is foreign to hypocrisy and vainglory; fasting works when it is joined with another great virtue—prayer…. It not only tames the passions in the human body, but it enters into battle with the spirits of evil, and conquers them.

How can fasting, which is actually a bodily “podvig” [ascetical labor], work or cooperate with prayer in a war against spirits? …  St. IgnatiusBrianchaninov2

The reason fasting works against the evil spirits lies in its powerful influence upon our own spirits. When the body is tamed by fasting, it brings freedom, strength, sobriety, purity, and refinement to the human soul. Our spirit can withstand its unseen enemies only when it is in such a state…. Fasting gives the mind sobriety, while prayer is the weapon the mind uses to drive away the invisible adversary. Fasting humbles the soul, and frees it from the callousness and inflatedness brought on by satiety; while the prayer of one who fasts becomes especially strong. Such prayer is not just external, but comes from the very soul, from the depths of the heart. Fasting directs and carries prayer to God. [St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)].

Fasting reinforces our efforts to connect to the Ultimate Reality, and helps us focus on what is important in our life. It numbs our physical cravings and isolates our soul in a spiritual dimension. Thus, fasting prods the intellect toward reflection on existence without regard for material reality.

The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things. [Ole Kristian O. Hallesby, Prayer, p. 117].

During period of spiritual dryness, when secular concerns blemish our prayers, fasting enhances the solemnity and sacredness of our thoughts and imbues our prayers with piety and God-consciousness.Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-11-26 15:06:37Z | | prŸcÂ8

Today, especially in affluent societies, St. Augustine’s warning is more timely than ever: ‘Enter again into yourself.’ Yes, we must enter again into ourselves, if we want to find ourselves. Not only our spiritual life is at stake, but indeed, our personal, family and social equilibrium, itself. One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. [Pope John Paul II].

Clearly, prayer should be the constant companion of fasting. A spiritual fast is not fully utilized unless a significant portion of the time is spent in prayer and supplication.

Be not neglectful of obligatory prayer and fasting. He who faileth to observe them hath not been nor will ever be acceptable in the sight of God. Follow ye wisdom under all conditions. He, verily, hath bidden all to observe that which hath been and will be of profit to them. He, in truth, is the All-Sufficing, the Most High.  [Bahá’u’lláh].

If we cannot control our passions, we will find it difficult to remain faithful to the worship our faith requires. Virtues demand determination in the face of temptations. When we are irresolute in our devotions and succumb to material influences, our piety weakens.

A fifth and more weighty reason for fasting is that it is a help to prayer; particularly when we set apart larger portions of time for private prayer. . . And it is chiefly as it is a help to prayer that it has so frequently been found a means in the hand of God of confirming and increasing . . . seriousness of spirit, earnestness, sensibility, and tenderness of conscience; deadness to the world and consequently the love of God and every holy and heavenly affection [John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions].

Fasting encourages a spiritual thought process that frees the mind from worldly distractions. We subdue our appetites and still both physical and intellectual amusements. Our passage through physical existence becomes clearer and our path toward Almighty God comes into focus.

What are the conditions under which the soul may experience the presence of God? In a word, purity. Consider Ephrem’s first hymn… “Fasting secretly purifies the soul / So it can gaze on God and grow by the vision of Him. / For the weight that is from the earth, bends it back to the earth. / Blessed is he who gave us fasts,/ The sheer wings by which we fly to Him.” [Ephrem the Syrian, quoted in Paradise and Paradigm: Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Baha’i Faith by Christopher Buck].

9.  Physical Healing

We understand the importance of sleep and relaxation to our physical and psychological health. Unfortunately, many of us don’t appreciate the peace and contentment that come from spiritual rest.

In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. [Pope Benedict XVI].

A spiritual fast can provide emotional recreation. Daily existence often finds us immersed in business, academic and social efforts that exhaust us. At times, we can find relief from such chaotic conditions by removing the source of much of our frenzy: food.

There is nothing more harmful to the believer’s heart than having too much food, for it brings about two things; hardness of heart and arousal of desires. Hunger is a condiment for believers, nourishment for the spirit, food for the heart, and health for the body. The Holy Prophet said, ‘The son of Adam fills no worse vessel than his belly.’ [Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, Lantern of the Path, Section 34].

Therapeutic fasting complements the beneficial aspects of spiritual fasting. They are distinct, yet share common ground. Depending on the intention, a fast may be considered an act of worship, a cosmetic endeavor, or even a hypocritical pretense.

Therapeutic fasting is not a mystical or magical cure. It works because the body has within it the capacity to heal when the obstacles to healing are removed. Health is the normal state. Most chronic disease is the inevitable consequence of living a life-style that places disease-causing stressors on the human organism. Fasting gives the body an interlude without those stressors so that it can speedily repair or accomplish healing that could not otherwise occur in the feeding state. [Joel Fuhrman, MD, in Fasting and Eating for Health, p.14].

The body, mind and spirit cannot be isolated into separate components of the total person. They are inseparably integrated. The Creator has established a natural order allowing for all three to be simultaneously nourished by fasting.prayer__muslim2

Penitential fasting is obviously something very different from a therapeutic diet, but in its own way it can be considered therapy for the soul. In fact practiced as a sign of conversion, it helps one in the interior effort of listening to God. [Pope John Paul II ].

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Nineteen Reasons for Fasting (Part 2 of 7)

Fasting for Repentance, to Petition God and for Refuge

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. [Ezra 8:23 (NIV)].

4.  Evidence of Repentance and Contriteness of Heart.

Teshuvah in Hebrew and tauba in Arabic describe repentance as “a turn” or “return.” The words suggest that we have turned from a path of error back to the path of G-d. The change of direction rejects a sinful reality and adopts the sacred path of obeying G-d.


Fasting complements repentance by helping us recognize our deviation and offering a return to right conduct. It prods guilt, increases awareness of errors and manifests sincere regret, sorrow, and remorse — signs of true repentance.

When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. [Psalm 69:10(NIV)].

Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered. [Psalm 35:13 (NIV)].

When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel was leader of Israel at Mizpah. [1 Samuel 7:6 (NIV)].

The righteous continually searcheth his house, To remove utterly (all) iniquity (done) by him in error. He maketh atonement for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and afflicting his soul, And the Lord counteth guiltless every pious man and his house. [The Psalms of Solomon, 3:7-10].

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. [1 Kings 21:27].

5.  Petition God 

Along with prayer and charity, fasting is one of the three essential acts of worship offering access into the Divine Reality.   All three devotional efforts have physical and spiritual attributes that work on the body, the mind and the soul.

They transcend physical and intellectual dimensions, allowing glimpses of God’s mercy and power. As Tertullian noted, if practiced with the right intention, fasting makes one “a friend of God.” [Tertullian, On Fasting].

David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. [2 Samuel 12:16 (NIV)].

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. [Daniel 9:3(NIV)].

There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. [Ezra 8:21].refugees5

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. [Ezra 8:23 (NIV)].

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. [Jonah 3:5 (ESV)].

6.  Refuge in Sorrow, Grief or Fear

Fasting lets our body and mind feel the sorrow of our soul. When we cry, our tears express the state of our soul. When we fast, our entire body symbolically cries. Our fasting and our tears evince our lament, demonstrating remorse and grief and commiseration with others.

They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. [2 Samuel 1:12 (NIV)].

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” [Esther 4:16 (NIV)].

Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar.” Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah [2 Chronicles 20:2-3 (NIV)].

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. [Nehemiah 1:3-4 (NIV)].

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” [Joel 2:12 (NIV)].dua

Restrain thyself along with those who cry unto their Lord at morn and evening, seeking His Countenance; and let not thine eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp of the life of the world; and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, who followeth his own lust and whose case hath been abandoned. [Quran 18:8].

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Nineteen Reasons for Fasting (Part 1 of 7)

Fasting to Obey God, for God-consciousness and for Purification

Fasting is primarily an act of obedience by which we seek to please God. We are asked to fast in every major religion. Since we believe God requires fasting of us, we fast.

However, the reasons for fasting are numerous. Since fasting for God is a personal exercise, we could find a different reason for each fast. In fact, Scriptures, prophets, scholars, theologian, sages and saints call us to fast and proclaim the many benefits of fasting.

Fasting as a religious act increases our sensitivity to that mystery always and everywhere present to us. It is an invitation to awareness, a call to compassion for the needy, a cry of distress, and a song of joy. It is a discipline of self-restraint, a ritual of purification, and a sanctuary for offerings of atonement. It is a wellspring for the spiritually dry, a compass for the spiritually lost, and inner nourishment for the spiritually hungry. [Fr. Thomas Ryan].monk in woods

Fasting kills the desire of the self and the appetite of greed, and from it comes purity of the heart, purification of the limbs, cultivation of the inner and the outer being, thankfulness for blessings, charity to the poor, increase of humble supplication, humility, weeping and most of the ways of seeking refuge in God; and it is the reason for the breaking of aspiration, the lightening of evil things, and the redoubling of good deeds. It contains benefits which cannot be counted. It is enough that we mention some of them to the person who understands and is given success in making use of fasting, if God wills. [Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq, The Lantern of the Path, Fasting].

When we read Scripture, we may read a passage ten times and find a deeper meaning each time. So it is with fasting. As we grow in purity, wisdom and God-consciousness, each fast takes us into deeper understanding.

Below are just nineteen reasons for fasting.

1. Divine Commands to Fast

The Mahabharata, Torah, Gospels and Qur’an prescribe fasting as a religious practice.

The man who teaches another the merit of fasts have never to suffer any kind of misery. The ordinances about fasts, in their due order, O son of Kunti, have flowed from the great Rishi Angiras. The man who daily reads these ordinances or hears them read, becomes freed from sins of every kind. Not only is such a person freed from every calamity, but his mind becomes Mahatma-Gandhiincapable of being touched by any kind of fault. Such a person succeeds in understanding the sounds of all creatures other than human, and acquiring eternal fame, become foremost of his species.  [Mahabharata, Book 13, Section CVI].

The LORD said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the LORD . . . This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. [Leviticus 23:26-32 (NIV)].

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. [Matthew 9:15 (NIV) ].

He [Jesus] does not . . .expressly enjoin either fasting, giving of alms, or prayer; but his directions how to fast, to give alms, and to pray, are of the same force with such injunctions. For the commanding us to do anything thus, is an unquestionable command to do that thing . . . Consequently, the saying, “Give alms, pray, fast” in such a manner, is a clear command to perform all those duties . . . [John Wesley, Sermon 27, Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount].

. . . when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)].fasting fajr

O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God: [Quran 2:183].

2.  Spiritual Awareness and God-consciousness

Perhaps the most esoteric and wondrous purpose for fasting is to come nearer to God. Though our stomachs and bank accounts may be full, we can still experience an insatiable spiritual appetites that cannot be quenched by transient pleasures and possessions.

Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven . . . And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance. Keep down the waves of inordinate desires. Repel the tempest of evil thoughts. Preserve the bark; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot. But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things. [St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises].

Something in the process of spiritual fasting elevates our consciousness, carrying us into closer relationship with the Divine Reality, and providing an extraordinarily satisfying encounter with God.monk in cell

As bodily food fattens the body, so fasting strengthens the soul. Imparting it an easy flight, it makes it able to ascend on high, to contemplate lofty things, and to put the heavenly higher than the pleasant and pleasurable things of life. [St. John Chrysostom].

3.  Purification of the Soul

Excessive indulgence in worldly pleasures increases irreverent frivolity, disregard of sacred matters,  and forgetfulness of our deeper aspirations.

The right practice of abstinence is needful not only to the mortification of the flesh but also to the purification of the mind. For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood. [St. Leo the Great].

. . .  every wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections. [John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on The Mount“].

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Resolutions to Please God: Changing Our Lifestyle

Resolutions Pleasing to God

What does it mean, then, to worship God? It means learning to be with him, it means that we stop trying to dialogue with him, and it means sensing that his presence is the most true, the most good, the most important thing of all. All of us, in our own lives, consciously and perhaps sometimes unconsciously, have a very clear order of priority concerning the things we consider important. Worshipping the Lord means giving him the place that he must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides our lives; worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God. [Homily, Pope Francis, 14 April 2013].

Resolutions to please God precede every sincere act of worship and good deed. We first intend to please God before we actually perform an act of devotion.

Our initial intentions document our conviction and evidence our purpose. The act may never be brought to fruition, for one reason or another, yet if the resolution remain firm, it is, in itself, a worthy and beneficial action.

“Smile on me, your servant; teach me the right way to live. [Psalm 119: 135].”… The smile of God is the goal of your life. Since pleasing God is the first purpose of your life, your most important task is to discover how to do that …There is nothing — absolutely nothing — more important than developing a friendship with God. It’s a relationship that will last forever  [Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Days 9;12)].

Resolved: To Devote Myself to God

When seeking to reform ourselves, to be more receptive and responsive to the Divine, we must formulate and understand the purpose of our devotional action or spiritual effort. The sacredness of our intentions must be paramount.

In the first place, in all our exercises (of devotion), let us seek God and not ourselves: if we seek our own satisfaction we cannot expect to receive any reward from God. And this holds good for all spiritual works. How many labor and exhaust themselves in preaching, hearing confessions, serving at the altar, and in doing other pious works; and because in these they seek themselves and not God, they lose all!  [St. Alphonsus Ligouri].

To resolve to devote our self to God means that we have consciously engaged in the process of true worship. The initial resolution to worship represents a step toward God. Our continuing desire to please God, in all things, furthers our spiritual formation into a life of piety, obedience and service.

Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it … [27th Resolution] Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution. [Resolutions by Jonathan Edward (23rd Resolution)].

Our resolution to please God is an intent to live in accord with the Divine Will. This commitment changes our perspective, and defines our lifestyle.

When we translate faith into action, the result is a lifestyle change. What we believe, deep within our heart, and forms our inner life. Our faith then becomes manifested in what we do in the material world. It refines our behavior and polishes our character.

Narrated By ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab: I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended. So whoever emigrated for worldly benefits or for a woman to marry, his emigration was for what he emigrated for.”[Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 1.1.1].

Resolved: To Trust the Divine

Implicit in any sincere worship is trust in God. When we engage in prayer, we ascribe to it a significance far beyond human comprehension. The same is true with other acts based on spiritual consciousness, such as charity, pilgrimage and fasting. Trust produces a transforming change of our reality. This trust is first established in our resolution to live a life pleasing to God.

… through the want of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions we fall into such irregularities of life as by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid … It only teaches us that the reason why you see no real mortification or self-denial, no eminent charity, no profound humility, no heavenly affection, no true contempt of the world, no Christian meekness, no sincere zeal, no eminent piety in the common lives of Christians, is this, because they do not so much as intend to be exact and exemplary in these virtues. [William Law, Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, Ch. 2].

Nothing is more satisfying than the conviction that we are pleasing God. Our greatest expectations, our most cherished dreams, have their fulfillment in the pleasure of God.

To persevere in an action until it becomes sincere is more difficult than (performing) the action itself, and sincerity of action lies in this that you should not desire anyone to praise you for it except God Almighty, and intention supersedes action. Lo, verily, intention is action itself. [Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq].

In our current perception of reality, we may not understand what pleasing God means. Nevertheless, as our mind gravitates away from the secular and toward the Divine, our human perspective broadens, until we see life as God wants us to see it.

True fidelity consists in obeying God in all things, and in following the light that points out our duty, and the grace which guides us; taking as our rule of life the intention to please God in all things, and to do always not only what is acceptable to Him, but, if possible, what is most acceptable; not trifling with petty distinctions between sins great and small, imperfections and faults, for, though there may be such distinctions, they should have no weight with the soul that is determined to do all His will.  [Francois Fenelon].

Resolved: To Be Spiritual Consciousness

Our prevailing consciousness should generate humility, penitence and repentance. However, anger, impatience, pride and other negative emotions, can infiltrate our heart. Nevertheless, the underlying resolution to please God restores the proper course.

… [O]bstacles cannot be wholly removed by man from his path, so long as he lives in this mortal body … hindered from always actually tending to God… [T]here should be in man’s mind an intention at least, directed to God without interruption; and the more the mind can be even actually fixed on God, the more perfect will man’s life be…  All the precepts and counsels therefore of the divine law go to furnish man with aids for fixing his mind on God and removing obstacles to such attention. [St. Thomas Aquinas, Of God and His Creatures, Ch. CXXX].

Refocused on God, we resume our quest for spiritual awareness. With this underlying consciousness, little room exists for other competing states of mind. We have started an eternal change to our life.

When one is completely free from all desires of the mind and is satisfied with the Supreme Being by the joy of Supreme Being, then one is called an enlightened person … [Bhagavad Gita 2.56].

May our heart be dedicated to Divine service. May our resolutions bear spiritual fruit and may we thereby find mercy and lasting peace.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. [1 John 2:16-17 (NLT)].

Taking Aim

A holy hermit, before putting his hand to any work, used to raise his eyes to heaven, and keep them fixed there for a short time; and when he was asked what he was doing, he answered: “I am taking my aim, so that I may not miss the mark.” Let us also do in like manner: before beginning any action, let us make sure of our aim, and say: “Lord, I do this to please You.”  [St. Alphonsus Ligouri].

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Life à la Mode: Fads, Fashions & the Latest Trend

Living from Trend to Trend  

And he said to them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. [Luke 12:15 (NKJV)].

Celebrities, technological innovations and glamorous possessions are among the trend-setting gods of our societies. For many, these modern-day idols serve as substitutes for the Divine. But, such devotion only disappoints, as the fads fade and the idols melt.

Individuals who reject the reality of God, particularly young adults, often embrace material objects with a zeal or passion that resembles worship. They become totally immersed in stylish trends promoted by Hollywood, Madison Avenue or other contemporary fashioners of culture.

The best cure for worldliness is not unworldliness, but other-worldliness. The best way of resisting the trend of people around us is to cultivate the speech, thought, and behaviour of that celestial world to which we are bound by the most sacred ties, and whither we are travelling at every heart-throb. [F.B. Meyer, Our Daily Homily].

Sports, movies and television programs keep our attention, while corporations, educational institutions and “interest” groups subtly mold our tastes, values and morals.

Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own lust? Wouldst thou then be guardian over him? [Quran 25:43].

More Wealth, Please

The branding trend in the expanding global economy now relies on intrusions into our psyche to sustain and increase profits. Byproducts of this trend include addiction to media, technology, pharmaceuticals and alcohol, infusing our culture with their aftertaste of stress, depression and suicide.

Surfing the Internet is now more popular than watching television, according to new figures. On average, adults in Britain spend more time online at their computers – 41.5 days a year – than in front of the TV. Government figures from the Office of National Statistics show that we spend just 37.5 days a year watching television … [Daily Mail].

We seek satisfaction and fulfillment from marketed fads and popular pursuits that lack significance or permanence. We become frustrated as the trend fades, becomes outmoded and fails to satisfy.

Eventually, we lose our motivation to exert ourselves fully or to become totally committed to anything. We hold back, fearing similar disappointments and failures.

The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways. [Szalavitz, Maia. “Does the Internet Really Make Everyone Crazy?”].

Our allegiance to moral and spiritual affirmations also vacillates with the flow of styles and trends. We have little resolve to maintain our integrity when our social status and economic position are threatened. When things get tough, we compromise and conform.

To give heart and mind to God, so that they are ours no longer – to do good without being conscious of it, to pray ceaselessly and without effort as we breathe – to love without stopping to reflect upon our feelings – such is the perfect forgetfulness of self, which casts us upon God, as a babe rests upon its mother’s breast. [Jean Nicolas (J N) Grou, The Hidden Life of the Soul, p. 62 ].

Life after a Fashion

Our passions for trends are clearly transient. They only provide temporary enchantment but continually mold our conduct. They momentarily entertain and titillate, then a newer trend or fashion, equally deficient, arouses renewed passions.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. [1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)]

Most of us affirm the highly desirable values represented by admired archetypes of past civilizations. We respect the teachings of the great spiritual teachers, though we may not seriously embrace them in our lifestyles. More often than not, we end up pursuing easier, more attainable goals, surrendering to prevailing trends and cultural values.

What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between him and any creature. It is a will pliant in his hands, which neither seeks nor rejects anything, which wants without reserve whatever he wants, and which never wants under any pretext anything which he does not want. When we are in this disposition, all is well, and the most idle amusements turn to good works. [Francois Fenelon, Christian Perfection, p. 17].

Dominant Trends

Our inclination to conform increases with the momentum of the moving average. Our leaders, our peers, our family and friends press us to be equally minded. Swept in the popular direction, clinging to the trending fashion, the faddish slang, stylish stars, we yield meekly to the latest craze with robotic servitude.

There are others who, being enlightened in their understanding and purified in their affection, always breathe after things eternal, are unwilling to hear of earthly things, and grieve to be subject to the necessities of nature; and such as these perceive what the Spirit of Truth speaketh in them. For it teacheth them to despise the things of the earth and to love heavenly things; to disregard the world, and all the day and night to aspire after heaven. [Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, Bk. 3 Ch. 4].

Popular thoughts convince us that deviant behavior is acceptable. We can indulge, enjoy our cravings for the material world, and find comfort in logical explanations offered by the dominant culture. We become adherents of the most common denominator, for good or for bad.

The will of God for your life is simply that you submit yourself to Him each day and say, “Father, Your will for today is mine. Your pleasure for today is mine. Your work for today is mine. I trust You to be God. You lead me today and I will follow.” [Kay Arthur, Speak to My Heart, God, p. 18].

Whether through self-deception or external persuasion, our ethical and moral compass becomes easily disoriented and misguided. Cut and paste philosophies cloud our judgment, while amusing perversions reinforce our commitment to disbelief. The result is trivial endeavors, pervasive negativity and a deficient spiritual state.

No soul can be really at rest until it has given up all dependence on everything else and has been forced to depend on the Lord alone. As long as our expectation is from other things, nothing but disappointment awaits us. Feelings may change, and will change with our changing circumstances; doctrines and dogmas may be upset; Christian work may come to naught; prayers may seem to lose their fervency; promises may seem to fail; everything that we have believed in or depended upon may seem to be swept away, and only God is left, just God, the bare God, if I may be allowed the expression; simply and only God. [Hannah Whitall Smith, The God of All Comfort, Ch. 17].


 Prayer: Giving Up My Toys

Father, I want to know Thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. [A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God].


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Does the Internet Really Make Everyone Crazy?

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Spiritual Exercises: An Eloquent Silence (1/2)

Silence: Language of Patience

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. [Psalm 62:5-8].

Being silent is much more than not speaking. To supplicate from the depth of our soul, we cannot rely solely on words.

The sanctity of our thoughts depends not on ornate language or rhetorical expressions, but on wordless emotions that sincerely seek the Divine. Our spiritual silence often communicates our feelings more effectively than words.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. [Matthew 6:7-8].

To grow spiritually, we may need to quarantine ourselves from the world — or quarantine the world from us.

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. [Ecclesiastes 5:2].

Impulsive Intellect

Silence helps us respond wisely to external stimuli. In stillness, we are able to scrutinize our thoughts before reacting. Often, our behavior can reply better than our words.

Words formed by quick-twitch reasoning and impetuous thoughts can casually escape through our lips to litter, stain and discomfort our consciousness and the consciousness of those around us.

God is our true Friend, who always gives us the counsel and comfort we need. Our danger lies in resisting Him; so it is essential that we acquire the habit of hearkening to His voice, or keeping silence within, and listening so as to lose nothing of what He says to us. [Francois Fenelon, Spiritual Letters of Archbishop Fénelon. Letters to Men, p. 179].

Our loud, pompous and empty talk lingers in our mind, distorting our thoughts and debilitating our piety.

Common people hold their tongues and only keep silent physically, while those who have certain knowledge of God keep control of both their tongue and heart, and so experience self-supervision in silence. As for the lovers of God, they keep their love and yearning within themselves and so represent the silence of faithfulness. [Fethullah Gülen, Emerald Hills of the Heart].

Intrusions into Our Thoughts

When our daily discourse is moderated by technologically generated impulses, when our intellect is steered by illusions and pride, when our desires are rooted in lust and greed, we cannot bring tranquility to our stressed soul.

No amount of technological progress will cure the hatred that eats away the vitals of materialistic society like a spiritual cancer… There is not much use talking to men about God and love if they are not able to listen. The ears with which one hears the message of the Gospel are hidden in man’s heart, and these ears do not hear anything unless they are favored with a certain interior solitude and silence… man cannot assent to a spiritual message as long as his mind and heart are enslaved by automatism. [Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, p. xii].

Many of our finest resolutions, commitments and vows succumb to the forceful intrusions of media persuasion, commercial marketers and our opinionated attempts to win worldly admiration.

Inner stillness produces serenity and promotes contemplation. Without spiritual silence, we have no private moments for reflection and no clear insight into our soul.

Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation. In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God. [Thomas Keating].

Worship and Silence

Silence enhances deep worship. In stillness, our calmed spirit can explore inner dimensions with greater clarity. Our thoughts reach new levels of self-awareness hidden beneath worldly clamor.

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence. [Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers, p. 19].

Our silence adorns worship with adoration and reverence. It barters words for patience.

Our patience is tinged with awe and veneration for we wait with hope and love. Our heart longs for this eloquent silence that opens us to the Divine Presence.

The literal translation of the words “pray always” is “come to rest.” The Greek word for rest is hesychia and hesychasm is the term which refers to the spirituality of the desert. A hesychast is a man or woman who seeks solitude and silence as the ways to unceasing  prayer.  The prayer of the hesychasts is a prayer of rest.  The rest, however, has little to do with the absence of conflict or pain. [Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, p. 69-70].

Eloquent silence is emptiness that fills us with the remembrance of God. It is God-consciousness that inspires stillness and permeates our thoughts with piety.

May the praise of God ever be on our lips, and may our tongue find eloquence only in glorifying our Lord.

Now, verily, it is We who have created man, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his neck-vein. [And so,] whenever the two demands [of his nature] come face to face, contending from the right and from the left, not even a word can he utter but there is a watcher with him, ever-present. [Quran 50:16-18].

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  • Spiritual Exercises: An Eloquent Silence (2/2)
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Spiritual Rest: Finding Peace in a Restless World

The Quiet Soul at Rest

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken …  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. [Psalm 62:1-2;5].

Rest requires struggle. Inner peace is a constant battle. We must be emotionally firm, unwavering in compassion, resolute in our commitment.

This means that we can become spiritually exhausted unless we find refuge in submission to God and delights in his will.

The quiet soul rests is incessant in longing for the sacred. Fear of Divine displeasure marks its steadfast faithfulness, its resistance to temptation and its staunch loyalty. It is always alert, avoiding betrayal of its beliefs and adhering to compassion.

Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee. [St. Augustine, Confessions, Ch. 1.1].

Signs of Contentment

We must remain in a state of constant thankfulness. Worldly challenges and preoccupations represent no more than spiritual reminders to us — signs that call us to trust in God and depend upon Divine mercy.

Peace does not dwell in outward things, but within the soul; we may preserve it in the midst of bitterest pain, if our will remains firm and submissive. Peace in this life springs from acquiescence to, not in exemption from, suffering. [Francois Fenelon, Selections from the writings of Fenelon, p. 247].

As faithful believers, we desire no more than what God provides. We are confident that whatever blessings God measures out for us is more than sufficient.

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:31-33].

Restless Lifestyles

Often, our lifestyle presents obligations and demands that we feel compel to address with our own wisdom. We chose to rely our own understanding of reality and ignore Divine guidance.

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. [Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 2].

Arrogant self-reliance can lead us into an endless loop of self-centered egotism that allows for no rest. We continually insist on carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, unable to pause for even a moment of relief.

Prostrate thyself before God. O my soul, know that the Lord He is thy God, it is He that hath made thee, and not thou thyself. O God, I am the work of Thy Hands; henceforth I will not seek to rest in myself, who am nought. [St. Francis of Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Ch. 9:4].

Lust for worldly affluence, transient pleasures and delusive ambitions, can prevent us from rejoicing in the fruits of our faith. When we are not content with Divine sustenance, we continually seek contentment in our own efforts.

Accept, O Lord, my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my will. All that I am and have thou hast given to me; and I give all back to thee to be disposed of according to they good pleasure. Give me only the comfort of thy presence and the joy of thy love; with thee I shall be more than rich and shall desire nothing more. [Ignatius of Loyola].

Spiritual Rest

To find rest, we need to separate ourselves from the lifestyle we have adopted — from our friends, job and family, even from ourselves. If only for just a few moments in which our mind can refocus, we must change our perspective of reality.

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. [Psalm 116:5-7].

We must find a balance between our physical activity and our spiritual reality. Each has its claim on us. Recognizing our obligation to both is essential to finding true rest. When our life is engrossed in physical activity, we actually try to find rest in more activities, in some sort of alternative action.

Here is, in truth, the whole secret of Yoga, the science of the soul. The active turnings, the strident vibrations, of selfishness, lust and hate are to be stilled by meditation, by letting heart and mind dwell in spiritual life, by lifting up the heart to the strong, silent life above, which rests in the stillness of eternal love, and needs no harsh vibration to convince it of true being. [Patañjali, The Yoga Sutras].

Temporal desires cannot rival Divine celestial blessings. When we are conscious of the Ultimate, what other pleasure can we seek?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. [Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)].

As our piety and righteousness grow, God, alone, becomes our reward. Nothing else has value.

He guides unto Himself all who turn unto Him — those who believe, and whose hearts find their rest in the remembrance of God – for, verily, in the remembrance of God [men’s] hearts do find their rest –: [and so it is that] they who attain to faith and do righteous deeds are destined for happiness [in this world] and the most beauteous of all goals [in the life to come]! [Quran 13:27-29].

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Silent Shouts of Joy: From Spiritual Pain to Divine Comfort (3/3)

Spiritual Pain and Divine Comfort

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. [James 1:2-4 (NKJV) ].

We understand how important it is to enjoy the rest and comfort of sleep. Our physical and psychological health depend on it. Unfortunately, many people don’t appreciate the peace and contentment that come from spiritual rest.

Physical pain can be excruciating, but spiritual pain can completely destroy us, if we are not equipped with patience and hope. Our faith, buttressed with perseverance and prayer, is a calming salve for our spiritual wounds. God does not burden any of us with more than we are well able to bear.

Pain is defined as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage and described in terms of such damage” (Mersky). However, any pain is a subjective experience and cannot be seen as a standardized, easily defined entity in spite of efforts to define, measure, or describe it … “spiritual” pain is just as elusive and difficult to quantify … [it] is described in NANDA (1994:49) as the “disruption in the principle which pervades a person’s entire being and which integrates and transcends one’s biological and psychosocial nature.” [Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development].

Spiritual pain brings intimacy to our prayers. It shocks our wandering thoughts into attention. Distractions no longer hover over our supplication. As we bow, crying, longing for relief, we need no other discipline or exercise to keep us focused.

Often it is the people closest to suffering who have the most powerful joy. [John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted].

Profits from Adversity

Trials and ordeals such as illnesses, injuries and disease are distinct from spiritual pain. Indeed, the absence of spiritual comfort magnifies and exacerbates our physical pain.

When we have no spiritual solace, no place for our thoughts to turn, our impaired physical condition can become unbearable.

For the believer all pain has meaning; all adversity is profitable. There is no question that adversity is difficult. It usually takes us by surprise and seems to strike where we are most vulnerable. To us it often appears completely senseless and irrational, but to God none of it is either senseless or irrational. He has a purpose in every pain He brings or allows in our lives. We can be sure that in some way He intends it for our profit and His glory. [Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, p. 89]. 

Our physical life offers us the opportunity to reach an eternally sacred state by striving in our faith and producing works of great merit. However, pain, suffering and grief are scary.

The process of growth — from a child to adulthood, from maturity to old age — presents countless moments when windows of possibilities are opened. But, we waver because they are surrounded by extremely frightening risks.

I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God. [Elisabeth Elliot].

Trust and Patience

Our ability to endure and accept both physical and spiritual pain begins with patience that flows from spiritual trust. When our mind is sure that the pain will eventually stop, when we are confident in our faith, we enjoy what can be called a spiritual placebo, an alleviation that comes from an intangible Divine comfort.

But [as for myself,] patience in adversity is most goodly [in the sight of God]; and it is to God [alone] that I pray to give me strength to bear the misfortune which you have described to me. [Quran 12:18].

Even in severe physical pain, we feel an easing of distress with the solace and consolation that come from reliance on the Divine.

The satisfaction we feel from having endured and persevered to please our Lord provides a soothing balm for the physical pain and discomfort.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all … [Psalm 34:17-19 (NIV)].

Fast-forwarding Pain

By contrast, when our beliefs have no ultimate destination, no spiritual fulfillment, then neither biological nor intellectual mechanisms can alleviate our pain.

Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you. [Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 58].

When we lose the ability to believe in any future comfort, when we cannot look forward to Divine relief, when we have no hope of an improved condition, then physical pain, combined with spiritual pain, can overwhelm us.

If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain. [John Henry Newman].

If our thoughts revolve around recurring anxiety, our mind continually seeks relief, but finds none. Without the comfort of the Divine Presence in our lives, we are flung into total despair, with no remedy, no ease possibly available. No greater spiritual pain exists than to feel absent from God’s grace.

… we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks … This certainty is often called “a sense of mystery”. It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit (cf. Jn 15:5)…. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted … Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time. [Pope Francis, The of the Gospel, 279].

Pain and Compassion

Another kind of spiritual pain is that which comes from our love–of God and of our fellow human beings. When our compassion and piety generate spiritual pain, we can be certain that God will respond.

Affliction is an adornment for the believer and a mark of honour for the man of intellect, because facing it directly needs steadfastness and firm-footedness, both of which confirm belief. [Imam Ja’far Al-Sadiq, Lantern of the Path, #87. Affliction].

We feel spiritual pain for a wayward child, we share the suffering of the oppressed, we feel compassion for the needy. These emotions evince spiritual pain of a blessed variety, pain that emanates from love bestowed by God.

When pain thus becomes a tool of our faith — an element of our worship — then pain no longer holds power to cause us fear, and our heart has awakened to Divine Comfort.

And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour’s] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity, who, when calamity befalls them, say, “Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return.” [Quran 2:155].

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Silent Shouts of Joy: Daily Thoughts of Praise & Thanks (2/3)

Joy in Our Daily Thoughts

Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God. [Job 37:14]. He will fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouts of joy. [Job 8:21].

What are the rewards of the devoted servants of God who pray late into the night, observe all religious obligations, fast often, avoid worldly temptations, and engage in frequent spiritual exercises?

Having avoided the pitfalls of transient reality, and persevered in worshiping God, do they hope that their efforts will bring material rewards. Do they expect a life more physically pleasant and enjoyable?

Should they not reap material rewards for their manifested piety? Or, should they only look forward to celestial compensation, happiness in the hereafter?

… and so it is that they who attain to faith and do righteous deeds are destined for happiness [in this world] and the most beauteous of all goals [in the life to come]! [Quran 13:29].

If the purpose of our devotions includes material prosperity and physical comforts, do we need to reevaluate our intentions? If we think that regularly scheduling abstinence, privately documenting kindness and constant efforts at piety are the only basis for Divine pleasure, should we redefine our understanding of a spiritual life?

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion … is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. [C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 1]

Daily Bread of Eternal Truth

How then are true believers compensated for a pious life? Is it a contradiction to seek material rewards for our faith? Can satisfaction of physical needs be part of our “wages,” to be enjoyed here and now?

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favour that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace make you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. [Martin Luther].

By renouncing material comforts, worldly ambitions and our very self, we hope to attain a higher awareness of what is “joy.” We seek to rise above secular illusions and deceptive enticements, to partake of a daily dose of eternal Truth.

A beam of God’s countenance is enough to fill the heart of a believer to overflowing. It is enough to light up the pale cheek of a dying saint with seraphic brightness, and make the heart of the lone widow sing for joy. [Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Sermons, p. 116].

Daily Dose of Divine Grace

Can we find joy, satisfaction and contentment even in grief and pain? Is there any shelter from the sorrow of regret and despair?

Daily we experience events that support our trust in the Divine, that prove God cares for us and protects us. They are fruits of our faith, providing  spiritual joy contentment. They mold our attitude. They transform loneliness into solitude, pain into sacrifice, and grief into patience.

I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord …when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord … Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord. [Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, 1st Week, 3rd Rule].

Suffering permeates existence, but we have found an internal resource that provides security and comfort. Our faith offers a place of refuge in adversity and a place of celebration in prosperity.

Seek, as a plain duty, to cultivate a buoyant, joyous sense of the crowded kindnesses of God in your daily life. Take full account of all the pains, all the bitter ingredients, remembering that for us weak and sinful men the bitter is needful. [Alexander MacLaren].

When we experience hardship, we find consolation and contentment in prayer and worship. When we receive blessings, we find expression of our gratitude in gratitude and praise.

Grace is available for each of us every day – our spiritual daily bread – but we’ve got to remember to ask for it with a grateful heart and not worry about whether there will be enough for tomorrow. [Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance, p. 29 ].

Every Day a Resurrection

Our spiritual exercises do indeed bring rewards that make our life more pleasant and enjoyable. However, it is not a product of our imagination or willpower, but solely from the grace and mercy of God.

Receive every day as a resurrection from death, as a new enjoyment of life; meet every rising sun with such sentiments of God’s goodness, as if you had seen it, and all things, new-created upon your account: and under the sense of so great a blessing, let your joyful heart praise and magnify so good and glorious a Creator. [William Law, Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life].

By maintaining our connection to God, we reap a constant harvest of contentment that we peacefully consume to full satisfaction. In our private spiritual domain, we delight in intimate knowledge of God, where we feast on true joy.

… extol thy Sustainer’s limitless glory and praise Him before the rising of the sun and before its setting; and extol His glory, too, during some of the hours of the night as well as during the hours of the day, so that thou might attain to happiness. [Quran 20:130].

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Silent Shouts of Joy: Finding Peace & Contentment (1/3)

Silent Shouts of Joy

Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!” [Psalm 35:27].

Where can we find real joy — joy that is lasting and completely satisfying?

To be always joyous is not to feel happy all the time, but to have an inner peace that maintains a constant smile in our heart.

When you have become penetrated with the joy of God, all of your sorrows will turn into joy, all of your trials will be graces; you will recognize your faults, you will be sorry for them, and they will be forgiven so that they may become happy faults. They will remind you only of the goodness, the tenderness, the joy with which God forgives them. [Louis Evely, in Living by the Fruit of the Spirit by Don M. Aycock, p. 38].

Moments of Joy

Emotions are such fragile things. A comment, song, a photo, a passing fragrance can quickly change our state of mind, producing sadness or happiness. To experience true joy, we need a deeper consciousness that is not so easily captivated.

Are there not periods of life when we feel so glad that we would dance for joy? Let not such exhilaration be spent upon common themes, but let the name of God stir us to ecstasy…. There is enough in our holy faith to create and to justify the utmost degree of rapturous delight. If men are dull in the worship of the Lord our God they are not acting consistently with the character of their religion. [Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Psalms,  p. 374].

Our joy must be immune to sudden, temporary and whimsical fancies. It cannot come from being dazzled by a celebrity or enchanted by technological wonders.

Our contentment cannot be arbitrary or irrational. Our state of mind cannot depend on the capricious changing of media channels. The reality of our joy cannot vacillate between comedy and drama, or sports and news.

Joy is that deep settled confidence that God is in control of every area of my life. [Paul Sailhamer, in  Donald E. Anderson, Keep the Fire!, p. 191].

We do not find joy by avoiding unpleasantness, poverty or hardships. Joy is not the absence of difficulties or the presence of affluence.

True joy is not an emotion evoked by physical conditions, by material success or possession.

Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God. [Robert Schuller].

Ceaseless remembrance of the Divine Reality shields our inner consciousness from being beguiled by trivial amusement and transient pleasure.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness … [Galatians 5:22].

Secret of Joy

Inner peace and true joy require that we reconcile our compassion and love with the injustice and suffering that appears to envelop the world. Our certainty that justice and mercy ultimately prevail under Divine sovereignty must relieve our grief and ease our pain.

… and this the secret of joy. We shall no longer strive for our own way; but commit ourselves, easily and simply, to God’s way, acquiesce in His will, and in so doing find our peace. [Lent with Evelyn Underhill, p. 83].

A miserable, chronically joyless life reflects a mind that has forgotten the Divine Reality. Remembrance of God liberates us from gloom and depression. It is a foretaste of God’s promise of peace and joy that we can relish in the present.

I cannot understand why those who have given themselves up to God and His goodness are not always cheerful, for what possible happiness can be equal to that? No accidents or imperfections which may happen ought to have power to trouble them, or to hinder their looking upward. [Francis de Sales, Letters, p. 152].

At times, we may actually choose to be miserable, as an option that wins us pity from others or as misguided self-affliction to show repentance. When we avoid joy by choice, we are indulging in egocentric mutilation of our soul, not in trying to please our Lord.

Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. [Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, pp. 120-1].

Joy beyond Consciousness

We must remember that our joy rests on consciousness of God’s presence and His guidance. Physical pleasures and material comforts are secondary, since their true enjoyment comes only when the Divine is present.

For there is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this is it, and there is no other. For they who think there is another, pursue some other and not the true joy. [St. Augustine, Confessions, Ch. 22].

To find the joy we seek, we must change planes. We must disembark and enter a new dimension. Our current reality does not contain what we are looking for.

. . . when the spirit is enraptured with the pleasure of observation, the tongue keeps silence, eyes are closed and ears no longer receive sounds; everything is voiced with the tongue of the heart. Pure thoughts and feelings envelop man as vapour of joy and excitement, and, in the face of such dazzling spectacles, the spirit feels as if walking in gardens of paradise. [Fethullah Gülen].

May God forgive our selfish desires. May He open our hearts to true joy, and may He, alone, be our contentment.

… He guides unto Himself all who turn unto Him — those who believe, and whose hearts find their rest in the remembrance of God – for, verily, in the remembrance of God hearts do find their rest. [Quran 13:27-28].

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The Clear Mind: Dissolving Regret, Guilt and Shame

The Clear Mind

In our members there is a slumbering inclination toward desire, which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery … a secret, smouldering fire is kindled…. At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real … Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God … The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, p. 132].

At one time in our past, we could find a quiet and untroubled retreat in our soul. However, as we matured from innocent childhood into independent adults, we gradually became spiritual felons.

Evil has a scent. It permeates our attitude, infusing our personality with a distinct odor. Our polluted thoughts are volatile and dissolve readily into our mind. They release their toxic qualities into everything we do.

I became evil for no reason. I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself. My depraved soul leaped down from your firmament to ruin. I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake. [St. Augustine, Confessions].

Spiritual Deprivation

Spiritual deprivation means that we lack God-consciousness, that we are without moral guidance. Deprived of the Divine Presence, left alone with only our mind for direction, we become corrupt, straying from our convictions and beliefs.

Our conscience accuses us, yet the judgment is ours. We admit our guilt, so our own mind convicts us. We sentenced ourselves to life without God.

When we realize that we have sinned and stand convicted by our own reason, we see life’s contradictions as part of our spiritual sentence. The more our intellect struggles in vain to understand existence, the tighter become the fetters around our mind.

The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul. [John Calvin].

Spiritual Chains

We feel guilt, regret, or shame because we know we have done something wrong. This disrespectful attitude toward ourselves shows up in our behavior.

The arrogance of our intellect accumulates rust that causes pain when we try to open our mind. We spend much of our time pacing our thoughts in reflection, yet find no solution. Our eternally recurring confusion forms an ever-tightening rope around our psyche.

I put the question directly to myself: “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?” And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!” [John Stuart Mill, Autobiography].

Through our conscience, our self-condemning spirit continually pours fear and guilt into our mind. Our thoughts whip us with psychological lashes whose mental scars grow thicker with time. We try to self-medicate our malady with amusements, but without the mercy of God all our efforts are useless.

Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. [C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed].

Spiritual Peace

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we remain confined within the limits of our mind – unless we turn to the Divine Reality for pardon.

There is no thirst of the soul so consuming as the desire for pardon. The sense of its bestowal is the starting-point of all goodness. It comes bringing with it, if not the freshness of innocence, yet a glow of inspiration that nerves feeble hands for hard tasks, a fire of hope that lights anew the old high ideal, so that it stands before the eye in clear relief…. To be able to look into God’s face, and know with the knowledge of faith that there is nothing between the soul and Him, is to experience the fullest peace the soul can know. [Charles Henry Brent, With God in the World: A Series of Papers, p. 59].

Achieving true mental clarity is part of the process of knowing oneself. It requires that we cultivate spiritual consciousness by faith, prayer and worship.

… but take care that God be with you in everything you do. Keep your conscience clear and God will protect you, for the malice of humans cannot harm one whom God wishes to help. If you know how to suffer in silence, you will undoubtedly experience God’s help. He knows when and how to deliver you; therefore, place yourself in His hands, for it is a divine prerogative to help men and free them from all distress. [Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, bk. 2, ch. 2].

Only God can make our conscience an abode of spiritual peace and dissolve shackles that bind us. Only God can quiet our self-accusing spirit.

Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness, the nourishment of the mind with his truth, the purifying of the imagination of his beauty, the opening of the heart to his love, the surrender of the will to his purpose. [William Temple].

We cannot purify ourselves. Only the Divine Presence in our life can heal our mind and restore spiritual innocence. Our submission and our devotion to God provide the only path to redemption and inner peace.

[But unto the righteous God will say,] “O thou human being that hast attained to inner peace! Return thou unto thy Sustainer, well-pleased [and] pleasing [Him]: enter, then, together with My [other true] servants – yea, enter thou My paradise!” [Quran 89:27-30].

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Depression & Faith: How to Escape from a Prison of the Mind

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Depression & Faith: How to Escape from a Prison of the Mind

Prison of the Mind

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. [Albert Einstein].

The prisons that we build around our souls are most difficult to escape.  The walls we create extend into every aspect of our secular existence so that freedom cannot even be imagined, much less attained.

Many people who are actually imprisoned or in chains remain free in their conscience and so do not feel their imprisonment. Many others, however, do not taste the true meaning of freedom although they inhabit the grand spaces of palaces and gardens. True freedom is civilized freedom. It wears the diamond chain of religion and morals, and the golden collar of sound thinking. [Fethullah Gülen]

No inside and outside to this institution – it is everywhere we are, in our home, in our job, in our play, even in our sleep. The guards are our family, our friends, our business associates, strangers and onlookers – all eager to impose restraints to assure that we remain confined.

     What had begun that summer as an off-and-on malaise and a vague, spooky restlessness had gained gradual momentum until my nights were without sleep and my days were pervaded by a gray drizzle of unrelenting horror. This horror is virtually indescribable since it bears no relation to normal experience.
     In depression, a kind of biochemical meltdown, it is the brain as well as the mind that becomes ill — as ill as any other besieged organ. The sick brain plays evil tricks on its inhabiting spirit. Slowly overwhelmed by the struggle, the intellect blurs into stupidity. All capacity for pleasure disappears. The smallest commonplace of domestic life, so amiable to the healthy mind, lacerates like a blade. [William Styron].

Where in the World is Light?

There are no time limits to our self-imposed sentences. When did we enter this mental prison? Can our thoughts remember a time when we were not prisoners of our own darkness? Where in the world is light?

Be not like those who forgot God, therefore He made them forget their own souls! [Quran 59:19].

When we left the Reality of God, we became prisoners of our illusions, our desires and our pride. The world we created now encases us, veiling us from our Creator, and transforming our thoughts into bars, chains, and shackles.

Everywhere we turn, everything we do, is done without purpose, without direction, because it is done without the intent to serve the Creator. Our striving, our efforts and struggles remain meaningless because they contain nothing Divine.

The most miserable prison in the world is the prison we make for ourselves when we refuse to show mercy. Our thoughts become shackled, our emotions are chained, the will is almost paralyzed. But when we show mercy, all of these bonds are broken, and we enter into a joyful liberty that frees us to share God’s love with others. [Warren W. Wiersbe, Live Like a King,  p. 113].

A Mind behind Bars 

Cruel and unusual punishment is that to which we have condemned our own soul. Our ignorance should exculpate us, were it not for Divine warnings from messengers and saints — and our own conscience. Our insanity should reduce our sentence were it not for our premeditated intent.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. [Romans 8:7].

We ourselves constructed these walls from lusts, produced by our ego, and molded with selfish arrogance. Our entire reality, devoid of Almighty God, is but our own fabrication, conceived when we willfully denied the authority of our Creator, disobeyed His commands and sought to satisfy our desires through our own will.

And how shall I ever have happiness If, in a net of attachment within my mind, There dwell the guardians of the prison of cyclic existence, These (disturbing conceptions) that become my butchers and tormentors in hell? [Shantideva, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, 4:35].

Spiritual Asylum

Is there a way out? Is there a door to this prison? Can we find refuge in another world?

As it was conceived, so can it be destroyed. If absence of God created this prison, then the Presence of God can dissolve it. If forgetting God produced the illusions which bind us, then remembering God can free us to return to the True Reality.

If our depraved thoughts transformed our actions into shackles, then repentance holds the key to our release. Our sincere contrition and regret commit us to personal change.  We must ask for mercy and forgiveness from the One who holds our destiny.

Sometimes you are in a cave, and no human action is able to get you out. There is something you can’t fix, can’t heal, or can’t escape, and all you can do it trust God. Finding ultimate refuge in God means you become so immersed in his presence, so convinced of his goodness, so devoted to his lordship that you find even the cave is a perfectly safe place to be because he is there with you. [John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat]

Divine Pardon

Divine amnesty is retroactive. It pardons spiritual guilt and releases us from remorse. It provided an inviolable shelter that protects us from our thoughts.

We open the door to freedom by walking in God’s path. No pride, greed, or selfishness accompanies us. God leads us out of the darkness of our mind and into the light of His mercy.

When all is said and done, we are in the end absolutely dependent on the universe; and into sacrifices and surrenders of some sort … Now in those states of mind which fall short of religion, the surrender is submitted to as an imposition of necessity, and the sacrifice is undergone at the very best without complaint. In the religious life, on the contrary, surrender and sacrifice are positively espoused … Religion thus makes easy and felicitous what in any case is necessary; and if it be the only agency that can accomplish this result, its vital importance as a human faculty stands vindicated beyond dispute. It becomes an essential organ of our life, performing a function which no other portion of our nature can so successfully fulfill. [William James, Lecture II, “Circumscription of the Topic”]

Eternal Immunity

The Divine Reality offers total immunity, providing complete protection from past and future prosecution. With a purified mind, we walk out of our mental prison into inner peace, with our hearts focused on the sacred.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. [Isaiah 26:3].

Our desire now is only to do His will, to serve Him and hope for His acceptance. His light guides us through our blindness. Though we may hesitate, stumble and fall, His mercy always supports us.

If you wish for light, prepare yourself
to receive it; if you wish to be far from God,
nourish your egoism and drive yourself away.
If you wish to find a way out of this ruined prison,
don’t turn your head away from the Beloved,
but bow in worship and draw near [Quran 96:19].

[Rumi, Mathnawi].

Our thoughts are now filled with His Presence. Our words praise and glorify Him. Our actions are formed to please Him. This is the freedom we sought, in bondage to the Lord of all the worlds. May God accept our service. May He count us among His slaves.

 A DIVINE WRIT [is this – a revelation] which We have bestowed upon thee from on high in order that thou might bring forth all mankind, by their Sustainer’s leave, out of the depths of darkness into the light: onto the way that leads to the Almighty, the One to whom all praise is due. [Quran 14:1].


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Spiritual Dryness: Renewing the Listless Heart

Spiritual Dryness

Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain. Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered. [Psalm 30:7 ].

I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me? Return, O Lord, and rescue me. Save me because of your unfailing love. [Psalm 6:3-4].

As believers, we all suffer from periods of low spiritual energy. Mystical moments may provide great joy at their onset, but they can produce agony and grief upon departure, sometimes failing to reappear during long periods of spiritual dryness.

…  [fears] become almost unbearable. Especially is this the case when such spiritual dryness ensues that the mind feels as if it never had thought of God nor ever will be able to do so. When men speak of Him, they seem to be talking of some person heard of long ago. [St. Teresa of  Avila, Interior Castle or The Mansions, Ch. I:17].

Spiritual Dryness: Definition

Spiritual dryness is a lack of consolation, comfort or relief in our spiritual life. It is a sense of desolation experienced in separation from God. Our prayers, worship and devotions no longer provide the sweet consciousness of the Divine Presence.

Al-Haakim reported in al-Mustadrak, and al-Tabaraani reported in al-Mu’jam, that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Faith wears out in the heart of any one of you just as clothes wear out, so ask Allaah [God] to renew the faith in your hearts.” [Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, Weakness of Iman (Faith)].

Our anxiety grows as God’s presence remains distant. Unable to do anything to restore it, our longing approaches despair. Spiritless, we lack energy and enthusiasm and are unable to exert ourselves as we wish. We lack the Divine vigor that gives life to our words and our actions.

Deprived of our spiritual connection, we experience symptoms of withdrawal. We feel emasculated of devotional desires, and are unable to find solace in sacred rituals.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “It [the heart] changes more than a pot of rapidly boiling water.” (Reported by Ahmad, 6/4; al-Haakim, 2/289; al-Silsilat al-Saheehah, 1772). The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The heart (qalb) takes its name from its constant changes (taqallub). The likeness of the heart is that of a feather at the root of a tree, being turned over and over by the wind. [Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid, Weakness of Iman (Faith)].

Spiritual Vicissitudes

No one is immune from this spiritual malaise. Changes are inherent to our natural condition. Our spiritual state can fluctuate from bliss to despair in an instance, without notice.

Spiritual dryness can plunge us into periods of sorrow and anxiety. When this happens, our devotional life becomes mired in inactivity and our worship becomes languid.

. . . the whole course of a spiritual life consists of perpetual changes, of elevations and depressions, and an extraordinary consolation is usually attended by succeeding anguish and desertion, so above all other times this so supereminent and so comfortable a divine visitation is commonly followed by a most terrible unexpected desolation, a desolation so insupportable to souls unprovided or unaware of it, that many not enabled or not well-instructed how to behave themselves in it have lost all heart to prosecute internal ways, and so bereaving themselves of the benefit of all their former exercises and, divine passive inactions, have returned to a common extroverted life. [Augustine  Baker, Holy Wisdom].

Rx for Spiritual Dryness

So, what is our remedy when we are suffering from a listless spirit? We may not be able to control the reversals that beset us, but we can anticipate them, always prepared to take refuge in remembrance of the unchanging mercy of God.

When I am in this state of spiritual dryness, unable to pray or to practice virtue, I look for little opportunities for the smallest trifles to please Jesus, such as a smile, a kindly word when I would rather be silent. . . . If no such occasion offers itself, I try at least to say over and over again that I love Him. [St. Therese of Lisieux].

Let the mind fluctuate in its cognition and rationality, but keep the soul centered on the Divine

My life is in many ways simple, but it is also a mystery which I do not attempt to really  understand, as though I were led by the hand in a night where I see nothing, but can fully depend on the Love and Protection of Him who guides me. [Thomas Merton, Hidden Ground of Love].

Throughout our periods of spiritual dryness we must stay conscious of God. Our frail and vacillating fervor may not perceive the Divine Presence, but our faith and trust in God should not waver.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. [Proverbs 3:5-8].

Patience and Perseverance

The mystical experience does not result in our shunning of physical reality or escaping into solitary isolation. Consciousness of the Divine prods the soul into immersion in works of righteousness.

The Servant.— But, Lord, if a man …  is often visited by spiritual dryness, how should he then behave himself?

Eternal Wisdom.—A man, provided only he does his part, should not withdraw himself because of spiritual dryness. For the salvation of that soul which by God’s will suffers from spiritual dryness is often accomplished as nobly in the light of pure faith alone, as in great sweetness. I am a boon which, turned to account, increases, but which, saved up, wastes away. [Henry Suso, Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, Ch. XIII].

Having experienced Divine comfort, the attraction of physical desires should be dim. Earthly pleasures should become expendable, happily exchanged as a ransom for ending our spiritual dryness.

Awareness of our dependence, of our frailty and of our limited understanding leave us without any intellectual support. Nor can our physical efforts offer a crutch. Spiritual dryness thus produces profound humility and self-reproach.

.. in the glowing springtide of spiritual consolations, the soul spends so much time in storing them up, that amid such abundance it performs fewer good works; while, on the contrary, when amid spiritual dryness and bitterness, and devoid of all that is attractive in devotion, it multiplies its substantial good works, and abounds in the hidden virtues of patience, humility, self-abnegation, resignation and unselfishness. [St. Francis of Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life].

We develop an  aversion to wrongdoing and flee from attachments that distract from remembrance of God. The spirit sheds sinful emotions such as pride, greed and animosity, and we devote ourselves to righteous deeds.

 … good works also, wrought in the season of spiritual dryness and hardness; this is the freshness of the winter morning, and what we then do for God in dryness of spirit is most precious in His eyes. Then it is that we acquire virtues and graces abundantly; and what we then acquire with toil and labor is for the most part better, more perfect and lasting than what we acquire in comfort and spiritual sweetness … [St. John of the Cross].

Seeking to regain spiritual zeal during periods of dryness, the believer can resort to ascetic practices, increase devotional rituals, and engage in charitable works. However, our ultimate refuge is patience and perseverance.

AND IF My servants ask thee about Me – behold, I am very near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me: let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might be led aright. [Qur’an 2:186].

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