With Ash Wednesday just behind us and the start of the Lenten season for Christians, I thought I would talk today about fasting. Fasting – going without food for a long time – is not common today except for a few that use it to control their weight.
There are still some individuals that use fasting as a religious practice. This involves more than just not eating. It is also meditation and a thoughtful consideration of how to be a better person, including how to make amends for slights and grievances against others.
Have You Ever Fasted?
I actually practiced fasting on Ash Wednesdays for many years. Every time I noticed being hungry, I would pray to be a better person and take time to read a Bible passage. If nothing else, it made me mindful of my shortcomings and being thankful for the food I could eat the next day.
The Puritans Fasted Often
The Puritans held fast days often and for various reasons. The chief reason was repentance and reformation of life. The Puritans thought this was a method for exorcising the devil. They saw the devil is everything so they had many days of humiliation. Calamities were a classic example. Their belief that God was always finding ways to correct their lives, something like an earthquake, bad storm or failure of their crop, meant they hadn’t been living pure enough.
The Government Ordered Fasting
The government, wanting their public to atone for what they saw as a lack of Godliness, would call for days of humiliation for the colony. “To fet apart a Day of Fafting and Prayer, to entreat the Lord to caft out Satan.” This would include a church service with a lengthy sermon and a stop to other activities.
The First Thanksgiving
Since everyone was gathered at the church, the end of the day of humiliation and fasting would turn into a celebration. This was the reason for the first Thanksgiving. At the end of a day of fasting and prayer in thanksgiving for a good harvest and the help of the natives, the people celebrated.
Christopher Durston and Jacqueline Eales in The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700 state it this way: “For Puritans, fasting ‘was to inculcate an individual and collective sense of ‘humiliation’ by providing puritans with an ideal opportunity for length meditation upon the insignificance and depravity of humankind and the power and justice of God . . . . Puritans also saw fasting as a particularly effective means of assuaging or diverting God’s wrath.’ At the same time, a fast day was ‘an important social occasion.’”
Have you ever fasted? Please comment on why and how you reacted.