Fasting and Repentance: Turning the Heart

Fasting and Repentance

… Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort … Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness. [St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5].

The symptoms of repentance resemble an illness. In the midst of our regret, we feel little inclination to socialize, or even to eat. Spiritually disoriented, we withdraw from our normal lifestyle, apathetic about pastimes and amusements.fasting-fajr2

When immersed in sin, drowning in lust, passions and depravity, we can use fasting as a rope to pull ourselves back to the safety offered by God. Then, we may continue fasting to stay spiritually conscious and well-directed.

Fasting helps repentance by augmenting our spiritual awareness and documenting our remorse. A fast may first prod guilt and generate consciousness of our misconduct. It also evidences heartfelt regret and sorrow, signs of true repentance.

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. [Joel 2:12-13 (NIV)].

Faith in Action

By expressing our repentance through fasting, we translate our thoughts into physical action, our emotion becomes a reality. However, the act of fasting does not constitute repentance. Fasting is only a manifestation of our sorrow, a demonstration of our regret.

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].

Repentance and humility are intimately coupled in the truly awakened conscience. Grounded in acknowledged guilt, they force the remorseful mind into correcting distorted thoughts. With sincere penance, we revise our attitude and behavior. We refocus the image we have of ourselves and of others around us.

It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved (Jer. 18:11, 25:5; Ez. 18:30, 33:11-15; Joel 2:12; Mt. 3:2; Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38). Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man. [Colin B. Donovan, STL. The Holy Season of Lent].

Follow Divine Guidance

The Hebrew word teshuvah and the Arabic tauba both mean “repentance.” Their literal translation is “to turn” or “return.” They express the scriptural process of turning away from a path of error back to the path of God.Repentance2

“Rebbe, I am a sinner. I would like to return, to do teshuvah!” R. Israel of Ryzhin looked at the man before him. He did not understand what the man wanted. “So why don’t you do teshuvah?””Rebbe, I do not know how!” R. Israel retorted. “How did you know to sin?” The remorseful sinner answered simply. “I acted, and then I realized that I had sinned.” “Well,” said the Rebbe, “the same applies to teshuvah, repent and the rest will follow of itself!” [Quoted in “The Dynamics of Teshuva” from the book Deep Calling Unto Deep, by Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet].

This turning requires a change in thinking. We must reject our wayward and delusional lifestyle and return to obeying Divine guidance.

The New Testament word for repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and lifestyle, motives and purposes, are all involved. Repenting means starting a new life. [J. I. Packer].

Turn Right @ the Light

Repentance is acknowledgment of shameful, deplorable, and wrongful action that shows disobedience to the Divine Will. Such disobedience, when deliberate, results in spiritual estrangement, separation from our sacred relationship with our Creator.

Surely God loves those who turn unto him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves. [Quran 2:222].

A mistake may be inadvertent, but evil is willful. The cognitive mind must understand that it has deviated from its proper course. It has transgressed beyond Divine boundaries.

The heart must then turn to the right. Even before we perform any penance, this turning of the heart is necessary.

The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin to be detestable and vile and worthy of abhorrence, but he really abhors it, and hates it in his heart. A person may see sin to be hurtful and abominable, while yet his heart loves it, and desires it, and clings to it. But when he truly repents, he most heartily abhors and renounces it. [Charles G. Finney].

Tears of the Fasting Heart

Penitential fasting symbolizes the crying of our entire physical body. When we fast, our tears come from our heart, then seep into every crevice of our mind.yom-kippur-verse-290

Crying helps us endure as we make our way back. Sincere tears purify us, clearing our clouded vision, and wiping away anguish and grief.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13].

Our fasting and our tears provide physical vehicles that bring our lament to the surface. They document our heart turning to God and relieve the burdens weighing our soul.

On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear; for it is (the benefit of) what it has earned and against it (the evil of) what it deserved: (Pray:) “Our Lord! do not punish us if we forget or fall into error! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear! Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith.” [Quran 2:286].


Jonah and Nineveh

Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. [Jonah 3:4-10].


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Mystical Experiences: Amplifying the Divine Silence 3/3

Divine Silence

. . . Divine silence might just be an expression of God’s preferred mode of interaction, and that we need not experience his silence as absence … if we live out our lives in the conviction that God is ever present with us, and if we seek something more like communion with God rather than just communication. [Michael Rea, Divine Hiddenness, Divine Silence].

Silencing our thoughts is not easy. Our intellect is always mumbling — muttering something, indistinctly yet loud enough to keeps us distracted, diverting us from the Divine. stress2

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “… whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should speak what is good or keep silent.” [Sahih al-Bukhari].

Spiritual Monologues

Often we hear ourselves explaining to others what we, ourselves, don’t really understand. Even more disgraceful is our intellectual efforts to convince ourselves of what we really don’t believe.

A (person) may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable. [Abba Poemen, 27].

Immersed in our spiritual monologues and self-centered introspection, we forget what inner silence sounds like. Even while acknowledging our inability to comprehend, we continue quoting ourselves and rewording our shallow worldviews.

There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence. [John Calvin].

Divine Language

Humans have convinced themselves that the rational mode of expression is the highest form of communication. We reason that God should express Himself in our language of reason and logic. We even demand that He be available for examination and submit to our academic interrogation.

Hence, do not utter falsehoods by letting your tongues determine [at your own discretion], “This is lawful and that is forbidden,” thus attributing your own lying inventions to God: for, behold, they who attribute their own lying inventions to God will never attain to a happy state! [Quran 16:116].

Prayer is not a conversation you can dominate or monopolize. We must come to God in submission as obedient servants, dedicated devotees and diligent students. The hallowed space we enter when we surrender our will to our Lord echoes the Divine silence.creek2

Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being, between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.  [Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, p. 83].

Amplifying the Divine Silence

By silencing our thoughts, we amplify the Divine silence that calls us to spiritual attentiveness. Dissonant thoughts become infused with pious apprehension as we muffle our mind and quiet our desires.

There is hardly ever a complete silence in our soul. God is whispering to us well-nigh incessantly. Whenever the sounds of the world die out in the soul, or sink low, then we hear these whisperings of God. He is always whispering to us, only we do not always hear, because of the noise, hurry, and distraction which life causes as it rushes on. [Frederick W. Faber, Spiritual Conferences, p. 408].

In mystical terms, Divine silence does not refer to the absence of God’s presence, nor to a silent or hidden God. It describes a sacred state which we cultivate to amplify our spiritual consciousness.buddhist-monk2

Divine silence is the medium in which communion is possible, it is the liquid in which our soul swims, the vacuum in which our spirit orbits.

We know well enough how to keep outward silence, and to hush our spoken words, but we know little of interior silence. It consists in hushing our idle, restless, wandering imagination, in quieting the promptings of our worldly minds, and in suppressing the crowd of unprofitable thoughts which excite and disturb the soul. [François Fénelon, Selections from Fénelon, p. 107].

When St. John of the Cross explains that “the knowledge of God is received in divine silence,” [St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, #26], he is not referring to the absence a response from God. He is describing the condition that prevails during Divine communion.

The spirit needs to be so free and so completely annihilated that any thought or meditation which the soul in this state might desire, or any pleasure to which it may conceive an attachment, would impede and disturb it and would introduce noise into the deep silence which it is meet that the soul should observe so that it may hear the deep and delicate voice of God which speaks to the heart in this secret place. [St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, Stanza 3].

Tuned In to Divine Silence

“Tuned in,” we respond to the signs of God by our conversion to Divine servitude, to holy obedience, to the natural order established by God and the essence of contemplative communion.Colorado fall

We need the prayers of words, yes; the words are the path to contemplation; but the deepest communion with God is beyond words, on the other side of silence. [Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water].

We have to listen carefully to hear the Divine silence. It is an intimate tranquility easily disturbed by the clamor of daily existence.

Immersed in Divine silence, we no longer hear clanging desires. Disengaged from profane phenomena, we are invited into the private chambers reserved for servants of God.

The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. [St. Teresa of Ávila, The Life of St. Teresa, p. 267].

Divine Frequency 

Through the Divine silence that prevails in our longing heart, anxious thoughts become still and we begin to hear in accordance with the amplitude, pulse and frequency of Divine communion.

Real prayer is communion with God, so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts, and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him. [A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God].

These mystical moments of Divine silence are beyond our comprehension. However, when they recur, each is uniquely recognizable by the Divine signature that authenticates their broadcast.

This involuntary nature of the mystical experience highlights our submission, requiring that God remain our only path to true perception.

[God has said] … when I love him [devotee], then I shall be his ears with which he listens, his eyes with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, and his hands with which he holds; if he calls Me, I shall answer him, and if he asks Me, I shall give him. [al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi].

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Mystical Experience: The Divine Presence 2/3

Divine Presence

So a man must be penetrated with the divine presence, and be shaped through and through with the shape of the God he loves, and be present in him, so that God’s presence may shine out to him without any effort. [Meister Eckhart].

The term “Divine Presence” is metaphorically Divine Presenceapplied to the manifestation of God in some place, or in some object, or within ourselves. It describes the sacredness of a place, (e.g., Mecca), the sanctity of an object (e.g., the Ark of the Covenant), or the overwhelming peace that at certain times fills the heart of a believer.

And God spoke thus:] “O Moses! Verily I alone am God, the Almighty, the Wise!” 27:10 [And then He said:] “Now throw down thy staff!” But when he saw it move rapidly, as if it were a serpent, he drew back [in terror], and did not [dare to] return. [And God spoke to him again:] O Moses! Fear not – for, behold, no fear need the message-bearers have in My Presence … [Quran 27:9-10].

“And the glory of the Lord abode” (Exod. xxiv. 16); “And I will dwell among the children of Israel” (Exod. xxix. 45); “And for the goodwill of him that dwelt in the bush” (Deut. xxxiii. 16). Whenever the term is applied to the Almighty, it must be taken consistently with the context in the sense either as referring to the Presence of His Shechinah (i.e., of His light that was created for the purpose) in a certain place, or of the continuance of His Providence protecting a certain object. [Moses Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Ch. XXV].

… God bestowed from on high His [gift of] inner peace upon His Apostle and the believers, and bound them to the spirit of God-consciousness: for they were most worthy of this [divine gift], and deserved it well. And God has full knowledge of all things. [Quran 48:26].

Entering the Divine Presence

We are given little knowledge of how these mystical transmissions and inspired thoughts function. Nevertheless, what is important is that we can establish an intimate connection with this Divine Presence and that we can enter into sacred communion with God.

Enter then, enter, my daughters, into your interior; pass beyond the thought of your own petty works, which are no more, nor even as much, as Christians are bound to perform: let it suffice that you are God’s servants, do not pursue so much as to catch nothing. Think of the saints, who have entered the Divine Presence, and you will see the difference between them and ourselves. [St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Ch 1.10].

Our initial contact with the Divine can be established by faithful worship, but how do we generate the spiritual energy that clearly perceives the Divine Presence?Prayer

For the sun meets not the springing bud that stretches towards him with half that certainty as God, the source of all good, communicates Himself to the soul that longs to partake of Him. [Selected Mystical Writings of William Law, p. 68].

How do we remove layers of secular interference distorting the Divine transmission? How do we purify ourselves to be able to receive such holy communion with the Divine Presence?

We pursue the sacred because a longing within us seeks to connect with and experience the Divine Presence. It is this impulse toward our Creator, often prompted by despair and grief, that ultimately produces change and corrects our lives.

The enfeeblement of my physical powers was such that the doctors, despairing of saving me, said, “The mischief is in the heart, and has communicated itself to the whole organism; there is no hope unless the cause of his grievous sadness be arrested.” Finally, conscious of my weakness and the prostration of my soul, I took refuge in God, as a man at the end of himself and without resources. “[Then God,] He who hears the wretched when they cry [Quran 27:63]” deigned to hear me. [Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, The Confessions of al-Ghazali].

We must recognize and welcome this impulse to seek refuge in God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is a spiritual urge, a Divine longing, that transforms the lustful into the faithful.deer-in-river2

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. [Psalm 42:1-2].

Communion with the Divine

Experiences have taught us that our receptivity to God is at its highest level when our emotions are passionately engaged. This happens when our feelings are painfully afflicted with fear, sorrow and suffering. “And when harm touches man, he invokes Us, lying on his side, or sitting or standing.” [Quran 10:12].

Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need: prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer … So begins a communion, a talking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer, yea, of existence itself in its infinite phases. [George Macdonald, “The Word of Jesus on Prayer”].

The Almighty Creator communicates with us in ways we do not fully comprehend. We can experience this communication as spiritual modulations, waves of inspiration that reach our deepest consciousness and produce the most sublime emotions.

After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines; and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they will be prophesying. And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. [1 Samuel 10:5–6].

Without divinely inspired enthusiasm, intellectual efforts and religious observances are ineffective in satisfying our spiritual needs. Only the infinite and eternal mercy of God can transform us.

And if My servants ask thee about Me – behold, I am 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 follow the right way. [Quran 2:186].


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