Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The importance of fasting in the Lent Season

The importance of fasting in the Lent season has been a most debated topic in recent times. In Ethiopia, where a large percentage of the population is made up of Coptic Christians, most of the people strictly adhere to a special menu during the Lent season. In a country which is mostly made up of meat eaters, no meat except for fish is served during the forty days of the Lent Season! My Hindu friends too keep fasts on specific days, although they would be allowed to eat only fruits during the day! I have known very close Christians who keep fasting prayers and  break their fast only in the evening! I am frequently reminded by my pastors, and some of the elders in my family that the Lent Season is not just about fasting, but a time when you try to overcome your weaknesses, don’t use harsh language, don’t do ill to others, and in general refrain from doing those things which are hurtful or harmful.
The tough regimen of fasting during the lent season, is not an end all, rather it is a way of trying to understand the significance of forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to his being Crucified on the Cross! This period of fasting should be seen as a means of Spiritual Cleansing where we try to resist temptation. We might forego the things that we enjoy most, and perhaps be more humble, modest, and meek. The avoidance of a boisterous get-together,  avoidance of eating meat, and for those who are spiritually and physically strong, there would be fasting which would be broken only in the evenings. The concept of abnegation,  self-effacement, or self-negation,  well known in the Hindu society with some ascetics going to the extreme forms of self-deprivation in order to reach Moksh is however  different from the Christian concept of fasting during the Lent Season. This is because fasting during the Lent Season  is meant to prepare us for Mukti, or freedom from Carnal desires, temptations, and all those material things which would distract our minds from understanding the significance of  the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and the pain and suffering he underwent for our sake ! Fasting  also is a time for introspection, a time for coming closer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! It is a time to develop empathy for those who suffer, those who are hungry, and most of all to understand the s suffering and pain that Jesus underwent as a human being for the forgiveness of our sins, and the redemption of all Mankind!
What is important during the Lent season, therefore  is not just about whether we are fasting or not, but rather it is a time for introspection and meditation, a time of looking within ourselves and trying to understand the significance of the sacrifice that Jesus had to undergo for our sake. Fasting and abstention should have the function or purpose of cleansing our minds of all the distractions so that we might prepare ourselves for meditation and introspection.
So, it is clear that it is not just enough to be fasting during the Lent season, but it is also important to keep our minds and souls clean from negativity, bad thoughts, and we should mind what we say to others, be very careful not to be spiteful and in bad taste! Moreover, fasting when undertaken as a duty or a forced regimen loses all its value. If you are not inclined to fast, and yet fast with ill-will and spitefulness then it is better not to fast at all.  The New Testament Book of Mathew, Chapter 4, verse 1 very clearly describes how, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil ”, and in verse 2 and 3 we are told how, “After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him…”. The Old Testament Book of Isaiah chapter 58 describes the meaning of “ True Fasting” and warns lest, according to the third verse, “your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists”! Furthermore   chapter 6, verse 16 in the book of Mathew clearly warns against hypocrisy while fasting. The 16th. verse reads, “When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.”

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