THE celebration of Easter follows the traditional Lenten season, which begins today with Ash Wednesday. During this period, many Christians engage in a kind of fasting in an effort to commemorate Christ Jesus' ministry and sacrifice on mankind's behalf. Religious fasting has often been associated with the desire to understand what spiritual, self-sacrificing love can accomplish. But our fasting need not be perceived as an observance done only at a certain time of year. In the Bible, the book of Isaiah speaks of a type of fasting that affects our inner being, our thoughts and desires, as well as our outward behavior. It tells us of God speaking to man and saying, ``Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?''
This puts the subject of fasting in terms of our relationship to God as well as to our fellow humans. For instance, ``the bands of wickedness'' could be temptations to sin -- to be immoral, to cheat others, to be hateful. ``Heavy burdens'' could be feelings of fear or depression affecting us or our friends and neighbors. The yokes that need to be broken may be limitations -- mental slavery, feelings of inadequacy, or fear of taking responsibility.
To keep such a fast would almost certainly bring about a profound change in our own lives and would also help those around us. It would have such an impact because it requires us to accept a spiritual basis for our lives, to draw closer to God. And in doing so, we reject the belief that we are merely material beings who are hopelessly locked in sin and limitation.
For each of us, the change comes within our own consciousness. Referring to a time when Christ Jesus was teaching about fasting, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, says in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany: ``Merely to abstain from eating was not sufficient to meet his demand. The animus of his saying was: Silence appetites, passion, and all that wars against Spirit and spiritual power.''
We silence all that wars against Spirit, God, by understanding our spiritual nature as God's sons and daughters. This change in our thoughts begins to free us from the belief that we are subject to materiality, with all of its appetites and passions. For instance, as we come to understand that we are each the child of infinite, divine Love, God, we realize that we can never be separated from Love, nor can we lose it. The practical result of this knowledge is that we are better able to deal with our own or others' burdens. Instead of being self-involved, we are more able to express love and thus to ease our own or others' loads.
A better grasp of man's inseparability from Life, Spirit, lifts us out of sin because we come to see that life is actually spiritual. Then the temptations of the material senses, whether these be toward immorality or toward greed, selfishness, anger, or other sin, will begin to lose their hold on us. It may not happen all at once, but our growing sense of the joy and freedom that come from spirituality will gradually show us how to be free.
As we accept the spiritual fact that each of us expresses Mind, or divine intelligence, we see that limitation cannot be a part of the infinite. And because Mind, God, is all-knowing, our prayers to understand this Mind and to follow its guidance will show us whatever we need to know.
Developing our trust in God and in our innate spirituality is a lifetime effort. Yet taking the first step toward the fast that God has chosen will do much to bring more harmony and health to our world.