Wednesday, the 18th of February marked the start of the season of Lent. It was Ash Wednesday. Currently, Christians are supposed to observe fasting and abstinence, in preparation for the greatest feast —–Easter.
“Fast foods” from McDonalds and KFC are fashionable. Simultaneously, there’s a fad to “fast from foods”. Fasting is “in”., especially among youth to downsize bloated bellies or develop hourglass figures. Besides, many people fast with myriad motives —- religious, political and economic.
Most religious traditions stipulate some form of fasting. Some Hindus fast monthly on Ekadasi, Pradosha or Purnima, while others fast weekly on specific days : Vaishnavites on Thursdays, Shaivites on Mondays and Ayyappa-devotees on Saturdays. Muslims fast during Ramzan.
Though fasting is commendable, it could induce a holier-than-thou attitude, when the one who is fasting expects admirers to exclaim, “Wow”. When one’s fasting is directed outward for recognition, it loses merit. Fasting is most meritorious when done for egoless motives, surrendering oneself totally to serve God, as a sign of penitence, to fortify one’s faith, as grateful acknowledgement of Mother Nature’s bounty are, in symbolic solidarity, with those who have little or nothing to eat.
The Bible berates those who fast while exploiting others. Acts of love like setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry and providing shelter to the homeless make fasting creditable.
When people fast to protest injustice, besides being “political”, fasting becomes a sacred duty, as in Gandhiji’s Satyagraha. Linked to this is fasting’s economic dimension ——- the “forced fast” of millions of poor who have no money to buy food. Why not donate what we save from our fasting towards filling their empty bellies ?
The Sanskrit “upvaas” for fasting draws the devotee to dwell in God’s presence and delight in God’s providence. That is sufficient reason to be happy, isn’t it ? And, if fasting decreases weight and waistline, THAT’S ADDED REASON TO SMILE.
—– Francis Gonsalves.