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 of 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.
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 cleansed 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 so 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; 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]