Controlling the Will
Fasting is a silent battle within our inner self for control of our will. It is a struggle against the seductive appetites and transient pleasures that take on the guise of essential and vital activities. And, as with all transient pleasures, after you give in and partake, you remorsefully wonder what made you lose you will, what made you give in.
When you are going to fast, observe it in this way: first, avoid any evil and desire, and purify your heart of all the vain things in the world. Your fast will be perfect if you do this. [The Shepherd of Hermas, Fifth Similitude].
Contemplating the essential relationship we enjoy with our Creator requires our undivided attention. Temporal materiality can dominate our thoughts and obscure the full dimension of transcendent reality.
Thoughts congested with transitory interests and laden with episodic concerns are hindered from spiritual flight. They remain mired in mundane trivia, reaching for momentary passions and circling recurring confusion.
The spirit needs to be so free and so completely annihilated that any thought or meditation which the soul in this state might desire, or any pleasure to which it may conceive an attachment, would impede and disturb it and would introduce noise into the deep silence which it is meet that the soul should observe so that it may hear the deep and delicate voice of God which speaks to the heart in this secret place. [St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, Stanza 3].
Fasting of the heart seeks inner peace by discarding self-deception and egocentric contemplation. The intellect is silenced while the soul listens for Divine instruction, submissive, obedient. It is for this that we fast: that we may remove distractions, dissipate illusions and vitalize the process of Divine contemplation.
Yen Hui: What is fasting of the heart?
Confucius: The goal of fasting is inner unity. This means hearing, but not with the ear; hearing, but not with the understanding; hearing with the spirit, with your whole being… The hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens.
There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind. Fasting of the heart empties the faculties, frees you from limitation and from preoccupation. Fasting of the heart begets unity and freedom.
Yen Hui: I see. What was standing in my way was my own self-awareness. If I can begin this fasting of the heart, self awareness will vanish. (Quotations from Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton)
Mysteries of Fasting
Fasting is an ever-present shelter available to the believer. When our sincere belief in God permeates the soul, our faith provides a shield that prevents external corrosion. Fasting of the heart reinforces our spiritual armor by deflecting material allurements and blocking sensuous intrusions.
The Fast of the [spiritually elevated] Elite means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. This kind of Fast is broken by thinking of worldly matters, except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the Hereafter and are not of this lower world. [Abu Hamed al-Ghazali, The Mysteries of Fasting the Month of Ramadan].
May Almighty God give us strength of will to fast. May our fasting be with our hearts seeking to please Him alone. May we grow in faith and purity from this fasting of the heart and may it bring us closer to our Lord.
The reward of God is best for those who believe and work righteousness: but this none shall attain, save those who steadfastly persevere. [Quran 28:80].