What are you giving up for Lent? That’s a common question among Christians who practice austerity in preparation for Easter. Many faiths observe fasting days, for a variety of reasons, such as to purify the body, to improve spiritually or to enhance concentration on God. This week’s clergy discuss how self-knowledge can be among the spiritual benefits of a fast.
The Rev. Adam Fischer
Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Baldwin
The spiritual discipline of fasting is present in every religion. Fasting is done during times of reflection, discernment, mourning and repentance, but what one gets out of fasting depends on what one is seeking. Christians typically point to Jesus’ fast for 40 days and nights as the pinnacle of the discipline. Throughout these 40 days, Christ was strengthened with resolve, efficacy and awakening because he spent time discerning the will of the Holy One. Most Christians don’t even entertain the idea of fasting. Those who do generally adopt a modified discipline of giving up a treasured treat or detrimental habit. Denying a luxury for any period of time, void of mindful reflection, is an utter waste. Without seeking greater understanding and maintaining a reflective spirit, fasting is a bitter chore whose only learning is likely to be, “Life is better with chocolate and wine than without.” However, if the deprivation indulges a transcendent contemplation of justice, the needs of the oppressed, or the deep power of love each time a pang of desire is felt, then there is much to be learned. Embrace fasting in such a way that life is enriched. Pairing temporary denial with the selfless introspection of one’s heart can transform the hunger pangs of the well-fed into the hunger for a world where all are fed. Then the treasures to be gained from thoughtful fasting are compassion, peace, justice, mercy, and love, of which the world remains in desperate need.
The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard
Presiding elder, Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches
Before the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, he was baptized by John the Baptist. As Jesus came up out of the water, the spirit of God descended from heaven and a voice declared, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) Jesus was then led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. There he fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights. The 40 days of fasting are still significant for Christians today as the Lenten season that leads to Easter. The fasting signifies the purging, repenting and rededication of the Christian to the faith in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fasting is a wholesome way to stir up the spirit and the soul to receive new opportunities for Christian growth and development. It fosters a soul-stirring opportunity to become resurrected from our own sins and be able to receive the benefits of the cross through Jesus’ saving power. Fasting, traditionally, begins our renewing and recommitment to the belief we have in the everlasting and eternal event of the Crucifixion. It also gives us a renewed love for God the Father, through his Son, Jesus. This love was earned on Calvary’s cross. It is this love that gives us new hope, new life, and a new determination to live our lives so that one day we will be caught up to see him for ourselves and forever live with him.
Member of the board of directors of the Multi-Faith Forum of Long Island, Melville
Hindu fasting is not just fasting of the body, but also fasting done by the mind. That is, fasting is more of a mental exercise than a bodily physical one, and hence any restriction to your physical body you employ during that fast is only to aid the mental fasting you need to do. Fasting is an integral part of the Hindu religion. Fasting is more of a faculty of mind. It is the mind over body. Discipline in eating and observing austerity in the manner of consuming food is the touchstone of Hindu faith-based fasting. According to the wisdom of Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, Lord Krishna elaborates that when the body is worn out, a new one is acquired by the self, as one abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones. It supports the reasoning that we are not the body, we are living in the body. This body is on lease from Lord Krishna. We have to return this body to him at the final departure from this planet Earth. Until then we have to take reasonable care and must not misuse and/or abuse it. Methods of fasting also vary widely and cover a broad spectrum. Fasting can also mean limiting oneself to one meal during the day or abstaining from eating certain food types. The fasting person is not supposed to eat or even touch any animal products (meat, eggs) except dairy products and fruits. Beef is strictly prohibited due to the sacred status of cows.