Ash Wednesday is right around the corner. This year the first day of Lent begins on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. For Catholics, like myself, and other mainstream Christian denominations, Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence. Lent, in part, is a time for introspection and nurturing purity of heart.
Faith traditions of all stripes embrace some form of fasting as a spiritual discipline. Within the Jewish tradition, there is only one obligatory day to fast, on the Day of Atonement. In the history of the Jewish tradition, there are also days of devotional fasting. During Ramadan, observant Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Buddhists and Hindus also embrace the practice of fasting, as do other religions and spiritual traditions.
Typically, fasting from food is an observed self-discipline with the intent of moving toward purification.
The penitential practice of fasting and abstaining from certain foods, however, need not be reserved as a Lenten self-discipline. For example, fasting and abstaining can be an opportunity to embrace new sacred behaviors like sharing what has not been consumed with those who are less fortunate and hungry all year round.
Fasting can also mean abstaining from excessive feelings of guilt, shame, imperfections or ruminating about past disappointments and distress.
Right Relationship with God and purification may also mean abstaining from social media, computer games or excessive indulgences of any sort. Right Relationship with God may also be cultivated by Right Relationship with those around us, especially with those who disagree with us about politics or religion, be that family or friends. It may also mean fasting from posting provocative and mean-spirited opinions on Facebook or Twitter.
There is always a need to strike a healthy balance whether it be too much or too little prayer, too much contemplation or too little contemplation, too much meditation or too little meditation, too much practice of mindfulness or too little practice of mindfulness, or, of course, too much fasting or too much feasting.
Each one of us this Lent and through life has our own unique story to tell and our own journey. Deep within our hearts, we know that excessive indulgences could be an indicator of an unhealthy spiritual life that might cultivate inner purification. A healthy faith journey, on the other hand, is about learning how to live with the tension between fasting and feasting.
Just as January can be a new start for losing weight and cultivating a healthy exercise regimen for many of us, so too can Lent be a new beginning and a time to honestly acknowledge what or who encumbers Right Relationship with God and/or Right Relationship with family, friends, or co-workers.
Lou A. Bordisso, Ed.D., is a Roman Catholic, retired hospice spiritual care chaplain, licensed marriage and family therapist, author, public speaker, and member of the Desert Interfaith Council.