Fasting, a Common Thread

April 21, 2006
By The Rev. M.G. Alonso El Buen Pastor United Methodist ChurchFor Christians around the world, the Lenten season is a forty-day journey of mourning, penitence and preparation. Lent brings to many an opportunity to practice different spiritual disciplines through which one may find connection with the Creator and the inner self.Among the many spiritual disciplines practiced during this period of time, fasting is very popular. But fasting is not peculiar to the Christian faith. For centuries it has been shared by other cultures and peoples around the world. Fasting is mentioned in the Qu’ran, the Mahabharata, Upanishads and other sacred texts such as Jewish writings and in Christian scriptures. It is another ‘thread’ we find in common with different religions which seem foreign to us.In the Bahá’í faith, for example, fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset during the Bahá’í month of Ala (between March 2nd and March 20th). Those who have reached the age of maturity (15 years) are called during this time to fast and pray, to readjust their inner life and to refresh and reinvigorate their souls. Buddhist monks and nuns, following the Vinaya rules, commonly fast each day after the noon meal.In Islam, fasting is practiced from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan. Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It also means to abstain from falsehood in speech and/or action, from foul language, arguing and fighting.In Hinduism, fasting is a very integral part of the religion and varies according to personal beliefs and local customs. In Jainism, fasting is seen as a must for purification of the soul and is done at various times. During the Paryushan (eight days of fasting), the purpose is to purify one’s soul by staying closer to one’s own person, looking at one’s faults, asking for forgiveness and taking vows to minimize one’s faults.
The Jews observe seven days of fasting according to the Jewish calendar in relation to important events in their history. Their fasting requires complete abstinence from food and drink, including water. During the two major holidays, it is forbidden even to wash or bathe or to wear leather shoes.Fasting is also practiced by the different Christian denominations, including Charismatics, the Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Latter-Day Saints.In every case, even though the rules of fasting or the periods or times for fasting may vary, the purpose is similar. We are to take time to be in connection with the Creator and ourselves in order to be transformed and become better persons. This is, I think, the common thread. Despite our differences we all want to respond to the call to make our world a better place and we recognize the need to start within ourselves.

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