Fasting can be considered an exercise for the soul. It simulates an “artificial” state of need, producing a spiritual condition that cries out for God. This is a natural process that God has established in every major religion. Thus, fasting produces a controlled environment for us to strengthen our spiritual awareness.
Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . . [Deuteronomy 8:11-14]
Fasting produces changes in how we sense, understand and respond to perceived reality. What we see and how we act changes when we fast. When we end the fast, we remember and appreciate the effects, but cannot easily reproduce the state achieved.
A spiritually awake person would see everything as gift, even suffering. We deserve nothing and yet we so often act as though we deserve everything. Nothing should be taken for granted. We should say thank you every day to God and to each other for all that is provided for us. This is one reason why fasting is such an important spiritual discipline. Not just fasting from food, but also fasting from cars, shopping centres, the news – whatever we have an inordinate attachment to. Fasting can help re-kindle our gratitude for all that we have been given. [Glen Argan].
Even more significant is the process of spiritual awareness that fasting can evoke. The manner in which fasting stimulates such God-consciousness is difficult to explain or even describe. A way of looking at this process is to consider human reality as extending to two extreme conditions, one of complete rebelliousness and one of complete submission.
Since we are always consuming and utilizing energy, we do not enjoy a constant, stable disposition toward our environment. For example, as we become satiated, then glutted, we often feel ever more independent, self-sufficient, even arrogant. Affluence, unchecked, can generate these states.
By contrast, as we experience hunger and extreme need, we may feel dependent, insecure, humble and submissive. How common it is for persons in need of help – food, shelter, safety, any basic need – how common it is for us to turn to God at such times of need.
Fasting produces physically measurable conditions. It also produces conditions not yet scientifically defined that we may describe as spiritual or mystical.
Fasting is important, more important perhaps, than many of us have supposed,… when exercised with a pure heart and a right motive, fasting may provide us with a key to unlock doors where other keys have failed; a window opening up new horizons in the unseen world; a spiritual weapon of God’s provision, mighty, to the pulling down of strongholds. (God’s Chosen Fast) [Arthur Wallis].
Perceived reality changes as the physical conditions prevailing within and around us changes. To enjoy something one day and be bored or even repulsed by the same thing another day is not unusual.
When we fast, our metabolism changes as the body responds to reduction in levels of energy. Mental activity and other functions dependent on nutrients are all affected. A nutritionally satiated person thinks in a particular way and formulates theories, understands facts and reaches conclusion quite differently from that of a fasting person.
Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may attain God-consciousness [Quran 2:183].