The Power of Fasting

(Roy is co-leading the upcoming Holy Week Fast For Peace with Rev. Dr. Margaret Benefiel)

Fasting formerly was a common spiritual discipline dating back to Biblical times. The practice continued through the early church up to the Reformation. During the Middle Ages, however, fasting fell into disfavor as it became linked with excessive ascetical practices, involving rigid regulations and extreme self-mortification. Since the “Enlightenment,” reaction was severe to these excesses, and fasting became confused with mortification. In the last twenty years, however, there has been a renewed interest in the discipline of fasting. Since the famous Swedish fast marches, some medical doctors have begun advocating the practice of fasting for purely physical health reasons. Some doctors even prescribe “fasts” for the cure of specific diseases and ailments.

Along with the recognition of the many physical benefits of fasting, it’s important to return to its primary spiritual purpose – namely, as an aid to help us focus on God. Like the prophetess Anna, we need to “worship with fasting ” (Luke 2:37). The words “fasting, worship, and prayer” must be said in the same breath, as that apostolic band at Antioch did (Acts 13:2).

Whether we are aware or not, we all hunger for God. At times it is difficult to be in touch with this deeper spiritual hunger if we are consistently satiated with food. We may also stuff ourselves with food in a vain attempt to feed another kind of hunger that cannot be thus satisfied.

The example of Jesus, facing hunger and temptation in the desert, is an excellent one for us as we engage in this discipline (Matthew 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4). We become hungry when fasting in a way that is similar to our other cravings. When we are tempted to consider our life primarily from the perspective of eating and physical existence, Jesus invites us to a higher way of seeing — to a life inspired by every word that comes from the mouth of God. In fasting, we come to terms with our spiritual nature; we realize the proclamation that we “do not live by bread alone” with a renewed force.

Therefore, a sense of humility is central to fasting. In Psalm 69:10, David says, “I humbled my soul with fasting.” Many Christians, in following the liturgical calendar, enter a period of fasting during Advent and Lent. We recognize this as a time of self-examination and penance. I have found from my own personal experience that fasting is a time of self-discovery. Over the past three years, I have engaged in four- to six-day fasts, usually three or four times a year. During times of hunger and low energy, I often discover a darker side to myself. During a seasonal fast, such revelations need not be totally negative as the good news of Christmas or Easter is rapidly approaching. These festivals are truly feast days of celebration and rejoicing.

Another spiritual approach to fasting is to honor the deeper Self: The Self that is beyond our surface hunger and neediness. As Jesus tells us, “The Kingdom of God is within.” In fasting, the Divine gives us another opportunity to discover our inner wisdom, our inner resource of love made possible through Grace. Through prayer, meditation, or time set aside for quiet and rest, we are able to make the journey inward — possibly a journey into our own wilderness — to discern there the words from the mouth of God. Many people find that fasting enhances their ability to find quiet, reflective spaces in which to discover the incarnation of God in their own flesh. It can truly be an experience of joy and exhilaration.

I have been through both experiences in my longer fast periods. I have come upon my darker side and my own desire to seek power, status, bodily pleasure rather than the will of God. At other times, a lighter, joyously energized self has emerged, full of praise and thanksgiving. There were times of fasting when I was so energized and inspired, I would stay up most of the night in reflection and writing.

These are my own personal experiences with fasting. Your fasting will be your own. I encourage you to move through some of the difficulties and challenges of fasting to the point where it will be a gift for you.

March 03, 2024 by Roy Oswald 3 Comments
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Mary Koepke Fields
Mary Koepke Fields
25 days ago

We all hunger for God.

Aetna Thompson
Aetna Thompson
25 days ago

OK, Fr. Roy. You’ve convinced me. I’ll give it a try on Good Friday.

Beverly Emerson
Beverly Emerson
24 days ago

I’d love to find out more about Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills. but it appears the website has expired. As a spiritual director and having spent over 25 yrs in corporate, I share the same mission!

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