How to Make Fasting a More Meaningful Lent Practice
Fasting- an important Lenten tradition
Fasting and almsgiving are hallmarks of Lenten observance, a major season in the Christian tradition. The religious observer (since fasting is a traditional religious observance) has to willingly abstain from food, fully or partly, as a form of spiritual discipline. Instead, they are supposed to spend time in prayer to emulate and worship Jesus.
The duration of the fast may vary from one meal to one whole day to one week, but is more observed on Ash Wednesday (start of Lent), all Fridays of Lent and during Good Friday itself. The aim of fasting is to have a deeper union with God through self-denial and prayer.
Full day strict fasting means no food intake but water is okay. A tone down version of fasting is to go for meatless meals where only vegetables, fish and fruits are taken. In this respect, .the right practice of fasting can also actually help even the human body in terms of cleansing and/or right nutrition. Thus, fasting can be important both spiritually and physically.
However lofty is its intention and possibilities maybe, this kind of traditional fasting does not practically suit everyone, most especially, those who are sick or cannot do without food for health reasons like pregnant women, and the aged, among others. Considering also the fact that fish can be more expensive and an opulent fare these days. And it would seem also like a harsh joke or a scorn for people in regions where food deprivation is a regular fare. And let us not forget people who are in constant diet for whatever reason.
Making fasting more meaningful
In the light of this setting, how can this important practice be made more meaningful and can be rendered applicable to the vast majority at this point in time? This concern takes into account, of course, the natural way of things to evolve through time, to take a new form and to offer a deeper experience for its adaptation toward a deeper meaning and relevance. Hence, these suggestions, which, by the way was originally an idea advanced by a Catholic priest in a Sunday homily.
This suggested practice of fasting is designed for seven (7) days. You are encourage to adopt all or any day practice that can work best for you. The heart of fasting which is abstention is retained, yet, the object of fasting has been modified to adapt to current trends and lifestyle. Thus, they can be changed or interchanged according to one’s circumstance and discernment.
There’s really nothing so entirely new nor rocket science around these suggestions. As in any other spiritual practice, it is the inner attitude of the person that matters. In this context, and more importantly, the practice would require inner vigilance or watchfulness, openness, and truthfulness to oneself. Remember, the whole idea is to be in God’s presence, alone, stripped down to the bone of the usual; and while in spiritual communion with the rest of the community of the faithful in love and self-giving.
Day 1: Abstain from negative thoughts. Simply put, don’t entertain negative thoughts. Don’t be a willing host to negative thoughts today. Whereas before, any thought may come and go without your attention being focused on them, today, you will pay attention inside the mind, watching it by asking your self- what are my thoughts now? Just notice. Acknowledge, Then, don’t hold on to any of them; let go especially that of negative or toxic thoughts for they weaken not only the spirit but also the body. After all, toxic thoughts and good thoughts cannot occupy the same space at the same time, don’t they? Today, choose silence instead and/or allow only thoughts that will support and amplify. Experience how the spirit takes center stage in your life and not the critical mind.
Day 2: Abstain from gossiping or reacting to useless chatters. Gossips are seductive. They are juicy, crunchy and interesting. Buzz. Rumors. Layer upon layer of stories - could be hilarious , tearjerker , horrible , despicable, and intriguing ones. They can excite, hook , muddle, and distract you from what is basic and real. But today you will choose not to be seduced and not to be distracted. Probably, you already know the exact people who are fond of bringing you the latest gossips. Just for today, you may want to distance yourself from them. Or, if you are that person, you may want to refrain from gathering and spreading the latest gossips. At this point, and for some- did it ever cross your mind that may be abstaining from food is much easier, huh?
Day 3: Abstain from social media. This will be the toughest for someone whose life has been revolving around and is dominated by the cellphone, the internet, the facebook, the selfie, instagram, games, television, telephone, etc. See how your life can be transformed if you can live even just in one day a week without these gadgets and programs (except for work related engagements). No, you don’t need to go to the mountains or to a retreat house (but if you can, why not) to be able to do this kind of abstention. Be where you are and as you are; business as usual. But inside you, you are freeing yourself from the attachment to news, to internet games, text messages, etc. It can give you the faith experience to realize what is essential and real. This is a chance only you can give to yourself.
Day 4: Read any or all the four gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John). Listening to God’s word can expand the Spirit’s life within you listening through your heart, or through your inner eyes and ears. The Word of God has power to transform, if you allow it to do just that for you.
Day 5: Pray for fifty (50) people. You can use the rosary or any other tools of prayer you’re accustomed to. The idea is to pray for 50 person, naming each one bead by bead starting from your loved ones, friends and then including the intention of your enemies. This opens up the reality that no one prayer is for oneself alone. Every prayer to be a real prayer should include everyone, including those whom we despise or those we consider to be our enemies.
Day 6: Pay attention, smile and say hello to strangers. This is an ‘act of kindness' day- giving and sharing without expecting anything in return.
Day 7. Take a rest. Just be still. Even God rested on the seventh day. Yet, what if rest here means do all of the above? This is more like resting with God (not from God) which means an integration - being in an inner silence and peace, with uplifting thoughts, calm and happy feelings and right actions. And if ever and in the event, the opposite happens (which is most likely) such as untoward thought, feelings and actions happening- then, self- forgiveness and compassion will be the name of the game. After all, being holy is to become whole, able to accept both the good and the bad as one whole gift package and allowing this package to be transmuted by God’s grace. Practice. Practice. Practice. It's only through practice that anything, even spirituality, can be made perfect.
Tall order? Just show up through fasting (any form that you’d be feel comfortable doing) and let God do the rest to make your Lenten observance (and daily life) deeply meaningful. It may not be (or could be) materially or sensibly rewarding as earthly humans would normally expect but it will be definitely transformative and blissful.
Daily prescription: (1) cheerfully and willingly carry your cross; and (2) celebrate your Easter – your resurrection.