Fasting provides a unique archeological perspective. Just as we can appreciate a historical site where patriarchs stood, so too can we can experience the physical process their bodies traveled. When we fast, our body stands where Abraham stood, walk where Jesus walked, climbed where Moses climbed, sat where the Buddha sat.
O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God: [Quran 2:183].
Fasting breaks down basic human fabrics to their most elemental state. The physical state experienced by the bodies of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad when they fasted is available to us. This is done when we remove the elements of modern reality produced by what we consume.
Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. [Matthew 9:14-17 (NIV)].
The physical act of abstaining from food and drink is perhaps the most accurate imitation of timeless worship we can achieve. We may not know the exact gestures and movements of prayer. We may not sound the correct words of supplication, or give the proper measure of charity. However, by simply not eating or drinking, we can feel confident that we are copying the actions of those human beings whom we most respect and revere.
Jesus has many lovers of His kingdom of heaven, but he has few bearers of His Cross. Many desire His consolation, but few desire His tribulation. He finds many comrades in eating and drinking, but He finds few hands who will be with Him in His abstinence and fasting. [Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ].
Humanity has shared fasting throughout history. It presents a reality where contemporary influences and modern adaptations are limited. Fasting expands the dimension of time to include thoughts, visions and ideas too broad and far-reaching to fit within the brief reality of transient cultures.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls . . . For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people . . . it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. [Leviticus 23:26-31 (KJV)].
Food consumed influences our perceived reality. In the same manner that we attempt to reproduce historical realities by recreating buildings, clothing and language, we can approximate a fundamental human condition by fasting. We can recreate a physical condition where contamination from modern society has been diminished.
In Shansi I found Chinese Christians who were accustomed to spend time in fasting and prayer. They recognized that this fasting, which so many dislike, which requires faith in God, since it makes one feel weak and poorly, is really a Divinely appointed means of grace. Perhaps the greatest hindrance to our work is our own imagined strength; and in fasting we learn what poor, weak creatures we are – dependent on a meal of meat for the little strength which we are so apt to lean upon. [James Hudson Taylor].
Our Inner Self
Fasting is a pilgrimage into a physical state hollowed within ourselves. We travel to a locale where many have come to rest, to find insight and awareness of God. We may not attain the elevated spiritual states of the great servants of God, but our bodies can experience the same unchanging process.
A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him . . . In regard, then, to the discipline of which we now treat, whenever supplication is to be made to God on any important occasion, it is befitting to appoint a period for fasting and prayer. [John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion].