Jummah Reflection: From Fasting, Consciousness
Jummah Mubarak, Shabbat Shalom & TGIF.
Last night I went to an interfaith iftar and listened to a Muslim teacher and a Catholic priest discuss the value of fasting. And they were in agreement that this particular spiritual discipline allows us to cultivate the spiritually essential quality of self-control.
Religion is a vehicle for our spirituality. It gives us a framework for exercising and cultivating the part of us that transcends the physical, emotional and intellectual. Religion does not exist to make us feel good (though sometimes it does make us ecstatic) or answer all the mysteries of the universe. (If anything, it raises more questions than it answers!) Religion is also not a destination which, once reached allows us to spend our lives taking a victory lap around the sinners.
Rather, it’s a lifelong journey that calls us to fulfill our potential as human beings who are each born with a capacity for so much for than breeding and eating.
I’ve spoken a couple times this week about the dangers of anger, and the need to control it. The priest last night reminded us that both anger and fear are both among the 7 deadly sins. He spoke of blessing bodies in the rubble of the Twin Towers at 9/11 and the anger and fear he felt. He spoke about turning himself over to a Spirit that let him transcend those things and perform his clerical duties with love and grace.
As people of faith, we are challenged at every turn by the circumstances of life and the actions of others around us. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to not let those things dictate our responses. To focus our attention always on what is righteous, just and good; and not to give in to the self-gratifying hate and vengeance that drives conflict, war and dehumanization.
This is not some hippy-dippy love-fest proposition. This is hard work requiring the kind of discipline that has driven monks and nuns, martial artists, gymnasts, sages, saints and masters of every kind to strive for perfection in their practice. It often hurts. It is exhausting. There are setbacks and frustrations. But there are also moments of sweet, pure truth that remind you why you are on this path.
Furthermore, learning self-control through fasting and other forms of spiritual discipline force us to remain conscious at all times, and this is the way to developing the virtue of Taqwa – God Consciousness; that is, a constant knowing of The Divine in every moment, every aspect of our lives.
I would argue that aside from intention, self-control is THE essential ingredient for developing Taqwa.
What do you think?
Photo credit: Ann Harkness