Fasting is a standard part of many religions. Spiritual fasting is seen as a way of approaching the Divine. Also, spiritual fasting is essential in the lives of believers. Throughout the year, there are several fasts, two of which are considered more critical – Lent and Christmas. The fasting period is a way of spiritual purification, recollection, and prayer and includes abstaining from certain foods. The aim is the purification of body and soul. It can be a total or partial withdrawal from certain foods, long or short term, or intermittent fasting.
Spiritual fasting can be fasting for a short period or longer and involves voluntary abstention from certain foods or sometimes even all foods – (water) black fasting. Throughout the ages, fasting has been promoted and practiced worldwide by doctors and by many religions, cultural organizations, and others. Besides its spiritual importance, fasting can have benefits in terms of detoxifying the body, rebalancing, and eliminating certain toxins from the body.
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What is Spiritual Fasting?
For Orthodox believers, spiritual fasting means abstaining from foods of animal origin (meat, dairy, eggs). Christians may eat only on certain days when “fish disfellowships” exist. The fast for orthodox includes a total of 180-200 days of spiritual fasting per year.
For Roman Catholics, spiritual fasting means abstaining from meat and meat products. Fasting for Orthodox and Catholics includes abstinence from alcohol, licentious language, evil thoughts, evil deeds, lusts, lies, gossip, and other sins. So, the aim is to eliminate distractions for spiritual purposes. It is seen as a sacrifice, a turning away from certain foods, behaviors, ravings, and a way of purification.
Spiritual fasting in different religions
1. Spiritual fasting for Muslims
Spiritual fasting varies according to religion. For example, in Islam, we speak of Ramadan, which includes 30 days of fasting during which food is forbidden during the day (from dawn to dusk):
- the consumption of any food or drink;
- sexual relations;
- alcohol or smoking;
- licentious language, lies, gossip, slander.
It focuses on the purification of the soul and closeness to God. After sunset, it is considered that there are no more such restrictions.
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2. Spiritual fasting for the Jews
The Jews fast seven days a year, during which no food or water is consumed for 24 hours (from sunrise to sunset). Sometimes they fast from sunrise to sunset. Fasting differs according to faith, comfort, experience, and personal goals. You can practice it for general health and well-being. Some see spiritual fasting as a way to get through difficult times, strengthen faith, or reconnect with nature.
Some motivations include bereavement, renewing faith, seeking a purpose in life or direction, divine forgiveness, a significant decision-making issue, overcoming an addiction or crisis, and holistic health treatment. Spiritual fasting means physical fasting and involves focusing on faith, and it is for personal purposes, for physical and spiritual health.
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What is the main idea of spiritual fasting?
Spiritual fasting is a reasonable time for anyone to take a break from the organism and focus more on man’s spiritual and emotional side. Unfortunately, many people do not understand fasting in its spiritual sense and perceive this period as equivalent to a diet, a cure. And what do we do when we go on a diet? So we abstain from our favorite foods, and we are constantly frustrated. Therefore, this mixture of negative feelings and cravings turns a period that should be one of cleansing, introspection, and rebirth into a period of utter unhappiness.
All these things lead us to a more than unhealthy diet during fasting, even though it excludes animal products. Life means change and movement. Unfortunately, we know very well that changing our lives, especially our diet, is difficult. And when we find ourselves in a fasting period, we are caught in one of the three fasting traps.
The central idea of spiritual fasting is to avoid certain foods and physical needs and focus on faith and spirituality. It is considered an act of discipline and self-control. Also, spiritual fasting involves developing the ability to check specific desires and needs. It focuses on prayer, meditation, and other forms of spiritual contemplation.
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What are the benefits of spiritual fasting?
Spiritual fasting is mentioned in the oldest sacred texts of mankind. The ancient writings of the Upanishads, the Old and New Testaments, the Mahabharata, and the Qur’an bear witness to the religious desire for closeness to the Divine through the restriction of life-sustaining biological functions. The act of eating and drinking is of utmost importance, after the process of breathing, to keep any organism alive. It is why the great saints and mystics have revealed that by transcending these basic needs, their spirit would detach itself from the worldly, be cleansed of sin, and have a clearer vision of the Divine.
Modern research has only confirmed the known benefits of spiritual fasting. A host of diseases and illnesses disappear, toxins and fats are melted away, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and the aging process of cells are significantly slowed down and, in a few cases, disappear altogether. However, excesses should be avoided, especially those without the guidance and control of a spiritual master or confessor. Fasting for more than 25 days can lead to serious health problems. Only Jesus, Buddha, and the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church could do the full 40 days of fasting. Their divine vibration allowed them to achieve this impossible feat for ordinary men.
When it comes to “spiritual fasting,” the first thing that comes to mind is “restriction.” Much later, we realize that fasting means other efforts such as thinking, speaking, and behaving clean. Most often, people are frightened by all the restrictions imposed by the Church according to its rules: from food control to bodily and spiritual cleanliness.
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What happens at the energy level while practicing spiritual fasting?
Animals can sense on an unconscious level when humans are preparing to slaughter them. And usually, the thoughts of slaughterhouse workers are not of gratitude or thanksgiving for the poor creature to be killed. What the animals feel turns into fear, an energy program that remains at the cellular level and, through consumption, reaches and amplifies the fear programs at the individual level.
Through fasting and prayer, these programs are reduced to extinction. It is why the period of fasting can seem complicated, especially during Lent. But Lent is one of the easiest to keep because of its many “plague reliefs.”
The habit and practice of dietary restrictions during the season on Wednesdays and Fridays help to reduce the “harmful” energetic effects of damaging programs on the human being.
Similarly, damaging programs are transmitted through other animal products: eggs, milk, and cheese. Even if their production does not involve killing the source, animals, those bred for industrial consumption, are hardly treated as beings with a soul. The harmful programs transmitted by animal products to human cells amplify feelings of nervousness, inner aggressiveness, and physical or verbal fear. On a spiritual level, fasting implies sacrifice, and any form of spiritual evolution requires sacrifice. Fasting, coupled with an effort of will concentrated on one’s thoughts, feelings, and deeds, increases one’s inner value and the vibration of the whole being.
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Fasting is a means of being truly human, that is, fully Christ-like: it is a way of availability and inner freedom. As Benedict XVI said: “Christian fasting must be a liberating act.”
Fasting is inseparable from prayer and almsgiving. An attitude of faith and humility opens hearts to neighbors God’s love. In the Bible, fasting is often accompanied by prayers such as that of David before his sick son. Fasting creates a hunger for God’s Word; it aims to make us eat the right food, which is obedience to the Word as much as the Eucharist. In his message for Lent 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “fasting is offered to us as a way of renewing our friendship with the Lord.” A friendship can only come about through prayer and meditation on the Word.
Fasting calls for every Christian to “no longer live for himself, but for the One who loved him and gave himself for him and… to live also for his brethren” (Paul VI).
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Types of fasting
- Black fasting/ Water fasting – means abstaining from eating any food and consuming only water;
- Complete fasting – means abstaining from all food and liquids;
- Selective fasting – involves giving up certain foods and food groups;
- Partial fasting – means abstaining from certain foods from morning to evening;
- Intermittent fasting is a partial or complete restriction for a few hours to a few days at a time, followed by a regular diet for the next few days.
- The purpose of spiritual fasting is to overcome what is dead in us to let the Resurrection unfold. ” Don’t you know that at the stadium races, everyone runs, but only one wins the prize? Run to win it. All wrestlers impose a thousand privations on themselves, but they for a perishable crown, we for an imperishable crown,” St. Paul explained to the early Christian communities. (1 Corinthians 9, 24-25).
- Spiritual fasting makes possible the return to God, the renewal of an intimate relationship with the Father. As long as it is lived in secret, as we heard in the Gospel of the Holy Supper (Mt 6:16-18). So, far from being a spiritual feat based on pride, fasting is an offering of ourselves: “The sacrifice in its totality is our sacrifice,” says St. Augustine.
- God looks for our weak points to deploy his grace there. “The sacrifice that is pleasing to God is a crushed spirit” (Ps 50:19), sings the psalmist, and St Paul reminds us, “Therefore, My grace is sufficient for you, for in weakness it gives its full strength. ” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Spiritual fasting is a partial or total deprivation of food. It is practiced in all major religions, and the Catholic Church strongly encourages it on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. And throughout Lent, Christians are invited to fast: what to fast and for what purpose? Therefore, spiritual fasting can mean depriving oneself of food, the internet, video games, etc.
All spiritual traditions believe that fasting helps a person to focus on turning towards others in the process of empathy. To better open up to the “inner space” to get back to basics. To gain more openness to otherness, focus and listening, and a greater willingness to contemplate beauty, pray or meditate.