Christian Fasting: A Spiritual Practice for Now?
This is my first article for Spirituality & Health on fasting and spiritual growth. I would love to hear your responses to my new piece.
Christians (and non-Christians) can embrace fasting as a way to overcome our deep-rooted idea that the spirit and the body are separate.
When we fast as Christians, we do so not to empty ourselves, to exalt ourselves, or to change our physical being. When we fast, we do so not to create our own suffering. When we fast, we do so to mobilize the pain that will come as we attempt to follow God in a troubled world. Fasting is not for the spiritually elect. It is for the hurting.
I grew up in a household that fasted during Easter. My mother was pretty strict on herself about fasting from Good Friday to Easter, and though she didn’t expect a three-day fast from her daughters, she did expect us to fast on Good Friday.
It was a ritual.
I remember how hard it was to fast for one day. The morning was the hardest. By noon, I would start getting a bit dizzy. By 10 pm, all I could think about was the food I would eat at midnight. By 11 pm, I was just watching the clock. When midnight finally came, my sister and I had a simple meal to ease the pain of fasting. While we were eating, we guiltily looked up at our mother, who cooked for us without being able to eat.
As we fasted on Good Friday, we were meant to be praying and reading the Bible, but, for me, it was torture to do anything without any food. So I felt that fasting defeated the purpose.
Now that I have children, I don’t make them fast during Easter. So the ritual of fasting during Good Friday ended with me.
But in the last year, I decided to practice another kind of fasting: intermittent fasting. I allow myself to eat within a six-hour window while I fast for the other 18 hours. I do so most days, unless I am traveling.
Intermittent fasting has been wonderful for me. It has made me more in-tune with my body, allowing me to become more aware of my true hunger and desire for nourishment. And intermittent fasting has made me appreciate even more how spirituality is a body and spirit practice.
When Christianity emerged during the Roman Empire, it was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. Greek philosophy emphasized dualism. Dualism created a split, or a dichotomy, in how we view the world. There is a split between heaven and Earth, male and female, word and wisdom, etc. This dichotomy also impacted how we see ourselves. Rather than seeing the wholeness of our body and spirit, this view divided them. As a consequence, the body was viewed as evil and the spirit as good.
This has had negative affects on our practice of spirituality. We need to rid ourselves of such stringent dualism and embrace a wholistic understanding of ourselves and the actions we take. We need to embrace the idea that spirituality is not an either/or but a both/and. Spirituality deals with our body as well as our spirit. This is more of an Asian way of viewing the world. Asians (in general) do not embrace a dualistic view of the world, but more of a both/and approach. The spirit and body are not separate. They are one.
Practicing different forms of fasting, whether it be fasting on Easter, intermittent fasting, or fasting when our spirit calls for it, helps us become more attuned to our body and our spirit. It helps us focus on the spiritual growth of ourselves as we become more aware of our body’s needs, desires, and pains.
We humans are unique in the sense that we are psychosomatic beings comprised of material components (our bodies) and immaterial ones (our spirits). Our bodies aren’t merely a house for our spirits, but they are connected, becoming wholly integrated as one. When something happens to our spirits, it happens to our bodies. Conversely, when something happens to our bodies, it happens to our spirits. In our suffering and in moments of personal tragedy, we are all put into a space where we are more sensitive in our desperation for God. In those times, our spirits long to communicate to our bodies. Fasting is birthed spiritually, prompted from our spirits to seek direction and guidance from God.
Unless there’s a medical reason not to, I highly recommend fasting as a spiritual practice. Your body and spirit will thank you for it.
Please read my other articles for “Spirituality and Health” Magazine.
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