The body and the mind are intimately interconnected. To help shape the contours of one’s interior dialogue, one must work towards educating the basic instincts of the body so that they are in harmony with reason. To promote the health of the body, one must be attentive to one’s interior life in such a way as to cultivate stillness. Ultimately, it is a kind of rupture between the two which unleashes any manner of anxiety, stress, and in some cases illness.
This does not mean that all forms of illness and suffering are caused by a “lack of holiness.” We should never be so naïve as to think that there are quick fixes to the many things which plague our fallen human nature. That being said, there is a sense that through intention ascetical practices, one is able to gently guide both the mind and the body towards greater spiritual and physical health. Studies in areas such as mindfulness and psychology have shown this to be the case.
Thus, fasting is not simply a “spiritual” practice divorced from the rest of our lives, but is one among many strategies that help to mature the human person. By fasting and other practices, such as meditation, we can make space for our transformation in Christ by learning to see beyond discomfort and the pleasures of the body. While our full potential is only achieved through the workings of grace, our intentional efforts can help prepare the heart to receive Christ’s love.
As we practice regular fasting and asceticism, we begin to become less “reactive.” In this way, instead of responding immediately to every emotion that surfaces in our interior life, we develop a bit of distance between our surface emotions and the movement of our will. This distance allows us to be more intentional, more conscious of the choices we make and the emotions we give our time to. This does not mean that we repress our drives and emotions, but rather that we learn to see them with a gentle, loving awareness.
Today, let us fast. Instead of viewing fasting as obligation that we begrudgingly obey, let us cultivate a zeal which allows us to see the value in fasting, and to consider making it a regular part of our spiritual life.