Fasting: A Spiritual Exodus
. . . 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 8:12 -14].
Our faith is not based on discipline or self-control. Discipline does not make us pious, compassionate or wise. Our faith is a personal oath to the Divine Reality, a spiritual contract.
… Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. [Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 39].
However, without self-control, it is difficult to maintain the loyalty, integrity or morality that true faith requires. Many of the virtues to which we subscribe demand steadfast determination in the face of worldly temptations. We must remain resolute in our fealty and impervious to material influence that may weaken our devotion.
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].
Fasting and Discipline
When we are unable to discipline our conduct, we often experience disappointment. Our procrastination can result in lost opportunities. Our inability to motivate ourselves can keep us from maximizing our potential. Distractions can derail us, so that we don’t finish what we start. In short, we find it difficult to be the person we want to be.
It’s not easy to satisfy an affluent mind. When we are physically satiated, we think and act in ways that reflect our comfort and security. A life of leisure can destroy our motivation to pursue higher goals. Glutted senses can deaden our desire to grow spiritually.
In our prosperity, we may see reality from a perspective that distorts our understanding of facts and situations. We may formulate opinions and reach conclusions quite different from those of an anxious, distressed or suffering person.
Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of sustenance beyond food. [Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, p. 166].
During a fast, our perception changes as we react to reduced glucose levels, and shift our energy source. Our body adjusts its mental processes and other functions that respond to nutrients. Our senses, the basic components of our worldview, adjust to reflect these new physical conditions.
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 Hallesby, Prayer, p. 114].
Fasting and Feasting
Our desire to remain in a perpetual state of festivity prevents us from initiating a fast. We prefer a life of entertainment and pastimes to a life of piety and devotion
Fasting produces a somber perspective. Most religions forbid their adherents from fasting on festive days because abstinence creates an unsocial state of mind, incompatible with the joyous nature of such occasions.
Catholic theologians determined that fasting during Easter and on Sundays 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 … he would not be free from sin … [St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, 2a, 2ae, 147].
In Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 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 (the two feast days) [Bukhari, Vol. 3, Bk. 31: 212].
Fasting against Social Excesses
The material congestion of a human society is a byproduct of its appetites. Without a foundation for discipline over its base desires, the society consumes beyond surfeit and becomes bloated in short-sighted thought and wasteful action.
The fire you kindle in your stomach is making your brain like a heated furnace . . . Your animal passions should be starved, not pampered and fed. The congestion of blood in the brain is strengthening the animal instincts and weakening spiritual powers. [Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 102, para. 1, Physiology of Digestion, Letter 142, 1900, 156e].
A prosperous society easily falls into myopic introspection, finding great value in trivial matters. Enchanting trinkets encase the intellect. Distracting novelties delight the senses. Everywhere opulent ornaments, physical and cerebral, offer entertainment that disarms reason and numbs self-restraint.
The society’s congested intellect is reflected in its politics, economics, arts and sciences. Creative and intellectual thought becomes blunted by economics and stymied by conformity. The society falls in love with itself, cultivating the status quo, while its scientists, chairmen, celebrities and scholars pursue vanities with ornate decorum.
During the last three decades, obesity has emerged as a big public health issue in affluent societies. A number of academic and policy approaches have been taken, none of which has been very effective. Most of the academic research, whether biological, epidemiological, social-scientific, or in the humanities, has focused on the individual, and on his or her response to external incentives. The point of departure taken here is that institutions matter a great deal too, and especially the normative environment of the nation state. [Insecurity, Inequality, and Obesity in Affluent Societies, Edited by Avner Offer].
The call to fasting exposes our addiction to adopted secular lifestyles. It unmasks our enslavement to a physical existence we call “reality.” Although we attest to a Divine Reality, we find it so very difficult to detach ourselves from worldly pleasures for just a few hours.
When we undertake a spiritual fast, we choose to withdraw from several aspects of our physical existence. Seeking a connection to the Divine, we temporarily sever our connection to the material world and renounce ties to pleasures of the body. We set forth on a personal exodus, a solitary “hijrah,” a private ashram — to flee from anxiety and grief to peace and security, from the profane to the sacred.
Whatever ye are given [in this world] is [only] a convenience of this life: but that which is with God is better and more lasting: [it is] for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord: [Quran 42:36]