And you will do also as follows. Having fulfilled what is written, in the day on which you fast you will taste nothing but bread and water; and having reckoned up the price of the dishes of that day which you intended to have eaten, you will give it to a widow, or an orphan, or to some person in want, and thus you will exhibit humility of mind, so that he who has received benefit from your humility may fill his own soul, and pray for you to the Lord. [The Shepherd of Hermas]
Much of today’s research and experiments in the field of medicine are focused on developing products, not necessarily cures. Even farther removed from scientific thought is the idea that spirituality is relevant to scientific study.
Scientific research on spiritual fasting should be encouraged and valued. Presently, however, such research remains suspect and uninvited. Most of the scientific world considers spiritual and mystical matters outside its field of study.
We pay scientists to develop medications, procedures and apparatuses that have commercial values. Few are paid to change unhealthy lifestyles, unwholesome cultural environments or debilitating thought processes. Even fewer can incorporate spiritual healing into their work.
It is difficult to conceive of a commercial research center concluding, after several years and millions of dollars of research and development, that a cure for a critical health problem is abstention. Indeed, it would be difficult even to direct resources toward such a hypothesis, in the first place.
Our investigations show a considerable lack of a uniform fasting definition containing all of the aspects addressed here. The lack is pronounced in local milieus as well as in the scientific literature. A standardized and evidence-based definition of fasting is therefore needed. Indeed, our findings indicate that, as a part of the STARD initiative (1), any clinical study should contain a comprehensive definition of fasting that includes all aspects important for the issue being addressed. [Mads Nybo]
Benefits of Fasting
We can, however pose many hypothetical questions regarding the benefits of fasting and how it affects the human body. Just what is the scientific definition of fasting, twelve hours, one full day, two days or more of fasting? Some food or no food, only water, ? Just what is happening to the body while we seal it from external nutrients? How does the mind respond? the muscular, the nervous and other systems? Are certain functions enhanced while others are inhibited?
Much of the spiritual discourse on fasting is based on subjective experiences of a personal, not scientific, nature. Little has been adequately documented to satisfy scientific scrutiny.
The spiritual realities experienced by mystics, ascetics and sages are not compatible with scientific study. Can we establish observable criteria, impose scientific restrictions or demand replicated phenomena when examining the domain of God?
An experience in which God chooses to manifest spiritual or mystical results is not one commanded by human will. It is not the result of exerting physical action or prescribing material protocol.
Faith is not at the beck and call of laboratory technicians. It belongs to a reality not encompassed by the current scientific process. However, let us hope for a time when academic research welcomes spirituality and aggressively expands its scope to include phenomena outside its physical and chemical worlds.
The right practice of abstinence is needful not only to the mortification of the flesh but also to the purification of the mind. For the mind then only keeps holy and spiritual fast when it rejects the food of error and the poison of falsehood. [St. Leo the Great].