Sobering Up by Fasting
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].
We are intoxicated by our existence, by what we eat, what we see and hear, and by what we think of ourselves and of others. This intoxication produces delusions common to the human mind.
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “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 to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. [Albert Einstein, The New York Times (29 March 1972)].
The arrogant person, intoxicated with pride and conceit, presumes to encompass the knowledge of the Divine and to understand the creation. However, the extent of such human delusions reaches only inches into the universe – and that’s on a clear moment.
A certain degree of physical harmony and comfort is necessary, but above a certain level it becomes a hindrance instead of a help. Therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion and a snare. [Mahatma Gandhi].
To fast spiritually is to abstain from intoxicating involvements in material existence. This fasting is the process of negating the predominance of the flesh and exalting that of the spirit.
Sincere spiritual fasting sobers the thought process. By removing the sediments of indulgence and the remnants of excesses, our fasting blankets the spirit with a solemn cloak of serious introspection. This state of mind, filled with sobriety, becomes the launching platform for our prayers and our spiritual meditation.
There are three principal wines, three principal intoxications: the intoxication of one’s self, the intoxication of one’s occupation, and the third intoxication which is what the senses feel every moment . . . And as a person advances in meditative life he may arrive at that stage where . . . he will become convinced that he can exist without these three intoxications. Verily, this conviction of existing independently of these three wines, which bring man the realization of external life, is the essence of the divine message and of all religions. [Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Way of Illumination, The Alchemy of Happiness].
Purification of Fasting
Purification, purgation and atonement are closely related. Fasting is intimately related to all three.
As a dose of voluntary self-deprivation, fasting often enhances our devotions and strengthens our resolve. By restraining worldly appetites, we offer a modest sacrifice that seeks to purify our spirit — a token expiation from a remorseful mind.
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, The Sacred Art of Fasting p. 164].
It is easy to see how fasting can serve as an atonement. Since fasting afflicts the body, it can serve as evidence of contrition and remorse. It demonstrates sincerity in our meager attempt at reparation, showing that we are truly sorry.
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].
Quiet Spirit of Fasting
As the body diminishes its mortal cravings for trinkets and illusions, our aimless scurrying no longer produces clouds of greed and pride. Our inner vision clears and our tranquil spirit seeks only to contemplate the Divine.
Fasting possesses great power. If practiced with the right intention, it makes one a friend of God. [Tertullian, On Fasting].
Within the limited time frame of a human life, our crowning accomplishments for good can be achieved only when all our spiritual resources are dedicated to doing God’s work.
God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission – I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. [John Henry Cardinal Newman].
We need to remain at peak physical, mental and spiritual condition to focus all our energy on Divine service. By continually escalating our devotions, we increase in virtues and grow in God-consciousness.
The Divine Reality is the pinnacle of our awareness, but it is high above our common thoughts and beyond our daily concerns.
Fasting involves choosing a sober life, which does not waste, which does not “discard.” Fasting helps us to train the heart to essentiality and sharing. It is a sign of awareness and responsibility in the face of injustices, abuses, especially towards the poor and the little ones, and is a sign of our trust in God and His providence. [Pope Francis].
Fasting relegates trivial entertainment to sporadic desserts enjoyed after a main course of Divine nourishment. A desire for spiritual awareness sprouts, while self-indulgence shrivels.
Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It withers 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“].
At the very least, a fast produces greater awareness of nutritional considerations, so our diet changes. At best, our heart is touched and fundamentally changed, as we contemplate our life from a different perspective, enjoying thoughts and insights not before conceived.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) 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…. There are two pleasures for the fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord; then he will be pleased because of his fasting.” [Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 128].