Neighbors: Fasting for the City and the World, Part I

Dec 29, 2007

Fasting is a devotional discipline shared throughout history by the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and by some of the world’s other spiritual traditions as well.

In the Jewish faith, fasting is mandated for Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, at which time people strive to cultivate the heart of confession and repentance. Throughout the month of Ramadan, many Muslims the world over engage in ritual fasting in an effort to draw the mind away from the mundane, and into deeper and more continual communication with God.

A certain New Testament passage, Matthew 6:16, indicates an assumption on the part of Jesus that his own followers will fast as a matter of course, and there is ample biblical treatment of conditions, purposes, and the state of mind pertaining to this practice. But though there are several fasting days set into the Catholic calendar in connection with specific Church observances, habitual fasting as a Christian spiritual discipline seems a largely foreign notion in the present day.

That’s why I found it very interesting to speak the other day with a Christian who has incorporated a full day’s fasting into her weekly spiritual routine. She shared with me how this part of her practice came about.

This Poplar Bluff resident said that when she was younger, she began giving up an activity, like clothes shopping, during the Lenten season; eventually, she learned to track the money she would have typically spent on clothing during that time, and would then put that sum toward assisting the poor through church or charities.

But last spring she attended a workshop highlighting traditional fasting as an ancient Christian resource for ongoing growth in spirit. Since then, she and other local attendees have bonded through their shared commitment to refrain from taking food or drink, except water, for the same 24-hour period each week. Their goal is to bind fasting to prayer, after the manner of the Bible; their weekly fasting prayers are made for the healing of hearts, minds, and bodies in a difficult world, starting at home and working outward from there.

Predictably, fasting was…well, no picnic in the beginning, according to this striver. “It was a lot harder than I imagined it would be,” she admits. “In fact, during the first attempt, I thought I might give up altogether!”


Find out Monday what helped one woman to meet this very personal spiritual challenge, in Part II of Neighbors: Fasting for the City and the World.