Last week we spoke about prayer - one of the three great weapons in our Lenten journey of self-purification. This week I would like to speak on fasting - a way to deepen our prayer, to make our prayer at a deeper level of our lives - joining more of our lives to our prayer.
When we pray we use:
- our lips - like when we say the Rosary or other vocal prayers
- our mind - when we concentrate and really think of what we are doing
- our heart - allowing ourselves to be moved by God and praying with devotion
- and our body - kneeling, joining our hands, closing our eyes
For our prayer to be whole and balanced and powerful we must pray with the whole of ourselves, the whole person - like a professional golfer who brings into each stroke all his faculties and gifts. In a very real way, each of his strokes can reflect what he did the night before and even what he ate, or didn't eat.
So maybe we can now see that fasting from food gives our prayer an added edge because it brings us into our prayer at a deeper level - it gives it another dimension - we pray with more of ourselves.
We see this in many ways but if prayer is at heart a desire to come closer to God we can easily see that the emptying of our lives of unnecessary things can contribute to our longing. There is a saying that it's difficult to pray on a full stomach and I think this is very true. The longing of a body which fasts can join itself more readily to the longing of the soul which prays.
That empty stomach can also give to our prayer a more genuine sense of solidarity with the poor for whom we are praying.
Fasting makes us more free - it purges us of bad habits and liberates us from areas of our life where we are bound up. These areas can involve all the many areas of human weakness and sin; any area, in fact, in which our relationships with other people or things have come adrift. Fasting discovers these areas very quickly and effortlessly.
Food and drink are common areas of human enslavement. But there are others - TV, computers, newspapers, alcohol, drugs, gambling, cigarettes. Fasting begins to set us free from these things. I remember my father who gave up smoking by going on a long water fast at the same time. He drank only water for 28 days and said it really helped him to give up smoking. However, I would get some medical advice, as he did, before I tried that.
One of the spiritual side effects of fasting in which we discover our areas of enslavement is - humility. This has got to be a good thing.
Fasting is also a powerful means of taking control of our subconscious life. Many things happen in us that seem beyond our control.
- Thoughts - angry thoughts, jealous thoughts, lustful thoughts, mad thoughts
- Words - blasphemies, gossip, unthoughtful and unhelpful words
- Deeds - habits of sin which are commonly called obsessive or compulsive
Fasting is taking command of our conscious and this brings us closer to taking a firmer grasp on our subconscious.
Fasting gives us self-esteem and a deeper peace and joy in our lives. It draws us closer to God and all that he offers by making our bodies participate in our love for him.
Fasting gives us a sense of well-being, not only physically, but most of all, spiritually.
Fasting can be difficult. Some people find it impossible. I would advise a little caution. There are some good spiritual books on the subject and it always helps, before you do something new, to get some good advice. I used to keep getting headaches and then discovered it was because I needed a caffeine fix, so I just added a spoonful of instant coffee to some cold water and gulped it down - no more headaches.
I've learned not to argue with people who say they can't fast from food or drink. I just ask "What are you able to fast from?"