Bahai News - A Hunger for God

A Hunger for God


FASTING PRACTICED BY MANY RELIGIONS TO BUILD AWARENESS

by Robin Gallindo

Fasting, the discipline of denying oneself food for a length of time to heighten spiritual awareness, is one of the most widespread religious practices in the world.

From Buddhists to Baha'is, world religions have long revered the practice as a way to qwell the distraction from the world and concentrate more fully on spiritual matters.

Among Christians, however, only a few denominations have maintained the practice of fasting to any degree. Catholics and Orthodox Christians, for instance, are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. It may mean abstaining from all food and drink or limiting the consumption of food to two small meals and one main meal.

"Fasting brings forth a certain hunger. It's directed at a more deeper love of God than at a hamburger and fries," said the Rev. Gavin Vavereck of St. Mary's Catholic Church. Though Catholics are obliged to fast on certain days, most will also refrain from alcohol, coffee, desserts or candy during Lent, Vaverek said.

"It's something to remind us of a change of habits, to focus our minds and hearts to be more open to God's love. It makes you appreciate what you do have," Vaverek said.

Episcopal churches observe a sort of "liturgical fast," where celebratory services such as marriage and baptism are not held during Lent, said Jennene Laurinec, parish administrator of Trinity Episcopal Church. "The general theme is pentinence and repentence. We don't observe a corporate fast, but individuals may choose to do so on their own."

For most evangelical Protestants, however, fasting has rarely been used for spiritual purposes. Except for periods of spiritual awakening in America's history, the discipline of fasting has been regarded -- like a vestige from another era -- as something that belongs solely to faith traditions of a more liturgical perspective.

That appears to be changing. Evangelicals are beginning to embrace the discipline for personal spirutial growth and to promote revival.

Dr. Harry Lucenay of First Baptist Church admitted most Baptists "haven't spent much time with" the discipline of fasting, but said he's found occasional three-day fasts to be very meaningful.

"I slowed my clock down and was able to practice the unhurried life. I felt more alive to what was going on around me. The hunger pains let me focus on the fact that I was doing it to meet with God, but not to manipulate Him," Lucenay said.

"We're a very fellowship oriented people. We just like to eat. But we're discovering life is out of control, and one of those places where we've lost control is eating. What does that say about what dominates us?" Lucenay said, adding he's felt a "nudging" in his soul to preach about it.

Fasting can expose what truly separates people from God, says author John Piper, who adds that taming the strongest appetite of food can strengthen self-control in other areas as well.

"The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts," Piper writes in his book, "A Hunger for God. "The most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable."

Christians who practice fasting say it's an opportunity to slow down and meditate on the presence of God. They see the sting of a hunger pang as a reminder to forego the temporal for the eternal.

The Rev. Russell Craft of Longview Christian Fellowship said a 40-day juice fast last year heightened his level of prayer. He encourages his congregation to combine fasting and prayer on Wednesdays, he said.

"My sensitivity to the presence of the Lord increased tremendously. It was like having a hotline to God," Craft said, adding he lost 35 pounds during the fast. "After three days, the hunger stopped. It actually increased mental sharpness."

Perhaps the leading national evangelical for fasting has been Campus Crusade for Chist founder Bill Bright, who says in his book "The Coming Revival: America's Call to Fast, Pray and Seek God's Face," that he was concerned with "America's slow slide into moral decadence" over the past 30 years.

"Fasting is a primary means of restoration. By humbling our souls, fasting releases the Holy Spirit to do His special work of revival in us," Bright said, adding increases in divorce, violence, pornography, drug addiction and suicide has happened in full view of the church.

Bright, who has used the $1 million he received as recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion to promote fasting, has teamed up with evangelical preachers like Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney to encourage participation in communal fasts. In the past five years, organizers estimate that close to 10 million Christians have fasted as a result of their efforts.

Last year, 3,000 people gathered in Houston's Astroarena and an estimated 2 million people from 40 countries joined them via the Internet to take part in a 28 hour fast. This year, up to 100 million Christians are expected to take part in a global Lenten prayer focus for world evangelization called "Prayworld! 2000."

Participants are being encouraged to fast a meal a day, during daylight hours or for longer periods, and to pray for revival, reconciliation and piritual awakening. Bright has talked about his 40-day juice fasts as a powerful way to humble himself and seek God for revival.

Though the Bible does not give specific guidelines, fasts undertaken by Christians today tend to be structured like those in the Old and New Testaments, lasting anywhere from one day, to three, seven, 21 and 40-day periods. Some are complete, others cut out only liquor and sweets.

Those who do fast cite Biblical examples, from Jesus to David and Moses. Before he began his public ministry, for instance, Jesus underwent his own 40-day fast during which Satan tried to lure him into giving up the fast, at one point urging him to turn stones into bread.

Although there are no biblical commands to fast, some say it's almost a given based on the context of Jesus' teachings.

FASTING INCLUDED AS RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY OBSERVANCE

While it may be new to evangelical Protestants, world religions have included fasting as part of the observance of religious holidays:
* Observant Jews fast from both food and water on Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Attonement, to humble themselves before God and seek forgiveness of past sins.
"It's not an easy fast. We begin at 6 p.m. one evening and go straight through til the first three stars appear the next evening," said Rabbi David Levin of Temple Emanu-El in Longview. "God opens His book of life and decides who will live and who will die, and He asks us once a year to repent of our sins."
* Muslims fast during Ramadan, a month of daytimg fasting from food and water. It's seen as a time of total submission to God, a time for prayer and repentence. During daylight hours all food and water are forbidden, and the fast is broken in the evening, after sunset.
* Baha'is fast from sunrise to sundown during their month of Ala, which this year is March 2 to 21. The fast is complete and is observed to create awareness, said Richard Hicks of Longview.
"It's symbolic of the need for spiritual awakening, to dedicate ourselves to detachment from the world, and attachment to God," Hick said, adding the fast is binding on those from age 15 to 65 years old.
* Buddhists fast periodically to clear their minds, emulating the Buddha, who, they believe, reached enlightenment 1,000 years earlier while engaged in a 36-day fast.
* During Lent, Catholics and Orthodox Christians are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and to abstain from meat on Fridays. The Orthodox Christian church requires additional days of fasting, including days during Advent.
Among most Protestant churches, however, fasting remains optional. Those who do fast cite examples of it in both the Old and New Testaments.
Jesus, for instance, underwent his own 40-day fast during which Satan tried to lure him into giving up the fast, at one point urging him to turn stones into bread. Jesus' response: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God."

---Wire services contributed to this report.


©Copyright 2000, Longview News Journal

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