I have a problem with fasting. I refer to that kind of fasting being done to seek God’s favor on a certain intention, usually spiritual in nature. My qualm is not that if I fasted, I’d be deprived of my favorite dish for lunch. It is that if I fasted, it’s as though I was using my own power to further something spiritual, as though God’s grace alone is not enough. Why do I have to bribe the Lord with death-defying fasts? I feel it’s intrinsically wrong to have to earn my way into His favor, much like doing this and that pilgrimage to gain a plenary indulgence.
To further border on what seems like a heresy, there was a point in my life as an active, practicing Catholic when I was being asked to fast more than I could chew my favorite meat. It was a time I was beginning to feel too mortified for comfort until such time that I gave up altogether, particularly fasting on bread and water, which I find particularly debilitating. It was too much against my voracious nature. If I deprived myself too much, then what is the use of living, making a living, struggling to be alive?
And so for the longest time, I shunned the practice of fasting. I feasted instead. What I offered the Lord were good works and the more convenient way to fast – self-deprivation from TV, radio, movie, etc. I knew I was deceiving myself, though. I was defying the spirit of fasting, I was depriving myself of something I can easily do without. I have long proven that fasting on bread and water or on nothing at all was the most effective way in seeking God’s favor, in bribing God.
But it didn’t escape me either that whenever I splurged on food, whatever my intentions were at the moment went less than smoothly as I fervently hoped. And I am attacked by the enemy in a special way right after: I get awfully drained and irritated, I feel spiritually sapped and spent.
I realized that fasting is for my own protection as well, not just for the benefit of my supposedly selfless intention. I realized that there’s this annoying opposition watching behind my shoulder, looking out for that single moment of weakness. Fasting, I realized, is stocking up on some positive spiritual reserve and because that energy is spent again and again in the daily struggle, it needs to be replenished, the thirst has to be quenched - and right away, too. Fasting is essentially a spiritual undertaking, and it protects against spiritual weakness and the devil’s attacks; foregoing fasting is therefore especially dangerous when you are about to embark on special spiritual missions. If you are vigilant, the enemy is certainly just as vigilant; it wastes no time in jumping at the chance.
All spiritual activities are sheer grace, it’s true; but it would do well for those who serve God to sacrifice a bit for a certain period of time in the form of fasting, especially from food. Being vessels of grace, servants are special targets of hatred and fury from the enemy, and fasting is a potent weapon against it. I believe it’s because, through fasting, we servants open ourselves more fully in terms of being spiritually attuned, which the devil fears so much it weakens him.
Those are just my thoughts and presumptions about fasting.
An even more straightforward explanation on fasting can be found in the Lent 2004 issue of The Word Among Us:
“Fasting is not meant for trying to motivate God to do something for us. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s about learning something from him, rather than earning something from him. … Our role is to find our delight in the Lord. The rest is up to God.
“This is ultimately why Scripture urges us to fast: not for the sake of making our voices heard on high but so that we can love the Lord and give ourselves in service to his people… “
“Fasting that pleases God involves fasting from our fallen nature.”
Moreover, fasting has a social dimension. “…[S]etting free the oppressed, sharing our food with the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the poor…”
It took me years of observation before I was able to understand the mysterious whys and wherefores of fasting. I still find it unsettling, though, that fasting is akin to telling me that Christ’s suffering is not enough, that we his followers also have a part to do, to pinch in. That's my basic problem with fasting, and it is still unresolved up to this day.
Updated Feb. 27. 2004
(Here's another take, a tongue-firmly-in-cheek one.)
Fasting or feasting?
Fasting and abstinence, I've found, is easily the hardest thing to do in my newfound spirituality. Every now and then in my community, we find ourselves being requested to fast for this and that intention and every time, my knees wobble.
The first time I fasted on bread and water from 12 AM to 3 PM, I felt like dying. It's my closest brush with death, really. I become so irritable when I'm hungry, I’ve found. Because one is told not to put on a Pharisee's face (frowning and all) when fasting, we ‘fasters’ resort to jokes to feed our funny, hungry bones.
"I'm fast-eating'" one says in mock agony.
"I'm on a seafood diet. Whenever I see food, I eat," another deadpans, stealing a joke from somewhere.
We ‘fasters’ end up becoming ‘fast eaters.’
Why on planet earth should we fast? The answer to this question, they say, is symbolism. Whenever we fast, we declare that there are more important things other than our mortal bodies which always pine for three square meals a day, not counting refreshments. Whenever we fast, we declare that man does not live by bread alone. It's the most practical way of getting close to something spiritual.
Jesus Himself fasted and so must you and I.
It's simply going against the grain of human nature to fast, but, as they say, why should we be afraid of those things that harm the body, (although people say fasting is actually good for health)? We are told to be afraid instead of the things that harm the soul.
After all, fasting can also be seen as a matter of attitude, a test of one's emotional intelligence.
Or it can also be a form of cunning. The idea of a Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), it seems, is "Eat All You Can't": fatten yourself with meat so that by Wednesday, you feel nothing but revulsion for it.
One further funny thing about fasting is the attending anticipation of a saturnalian smorgarsbord after a day of successful deprivation. Even before the next day dawns, everybody is into imagining the next fare (hotdogs! corned beefs! roasts! steaks! fried chickens!). Meat, or food for that matter, never tastes so much better as right after a day of a fast.
It would therefore be easier if all carnivores turned vegetarians, right? Wrong. That defeats the very purpose of fasting and abstinence. If you are semi- or incorrigible vegetarian, you are not exempted, for fasting in your case would mean doing without your beloved soups, salads, and favorite fish dish. It could mean forcing your teeth into that yucky burger or..ugh...dipping into that barbecue sauce.
But there is greater wisdom in fasting other than this, especially total fast (absolutely nothing taken in), and I cannot explain it up to now. I just notice that after bouts with terrible pangs of hunger, dizziness, physical weakness, and irritability, what I do get in every fast is this undeniable perception of spiritual strength - a strengthened line to heaven, a greater openness to the Spirit's leading, and a better power to scare the devil away. Yes, instead of the devil scaring me, it's the devil who gets scared! You've got to try it to believe what I'm saying.
Fasting is not mere symbolism, after all! It is a potent ammunition in spiritual warfare, perhaps even more potent than prayer.
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