Fasting

W. John Murray
The Astor Lectures
Divine Science Publishing Assoc.
New York, 1917, 8th ed.

“This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
–I John 4:1.

[47] These words were spoken by Jesus on an occasion when some of his advanced students had failed to cure a case of epilepsy. A man in great sorrow, as is natural to parents who have children afflicted with so-called incurable maladies, had heard the rumors spread abroad of the things done by the Master and his students. Perhaps he had witnessed some of these cures, and in consequence turned to the disciples in order that his child might be restored to mental and physical freedom. It was the custom then as now, when all other means have been exhausted, to turn to spiritual means for aid. That is why we try every known system of therapeutics, every so-called patent medicine; why we travel; why we dispense with seemingly necessary articles of diet; why we exercise and bathe; why we do strange things to regain what we believe to be our divine right, health, and strength. Not only so, but when those who are near and dear to us, as this man’s son must have been to him, by reason of his very affliction, it is not difficult to understand how he could turn to the [48] disciples in the hour of his extremity and ask for help.

Undoubtedly it was disappointing, after hearing all the wonderful accounts of Divine healing, to learn that his child, of all children, was the one incurable. And so we find this parent turning to Jesus and saying, “Master, if thy disciples cannot effect a cure, perhaps Thou canst.” The importunities of the parental mind cannot be silenced, so we find him beseeching Jesus to heal his afflicted son; after admitting that he had taken him to his disciples and they could not heal him. Jesus said, “Bring thy son hither,” and the disciples brought him to the Master, and the result was an instantaneous restoration to normality.

The disciples said to Jesus, “Why could not we cast him out; who have sat at your feet, and have been taught the Law of Divine Science, and do, intellectually at least, realize that there is no power in the universe but the power of God, no presence on earth but His presence,–why could not we cast him out?” Jesus replied, “Because of your unbelief. This kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting.”

There are many methods of prayer and fasting, but we want to discover the particular method which Jesus recommended to his disciples as one of the essential necessities to spiritual healing. What could he have meant by fasting? Did Jesus himself fast, in the ordinary sense of the word? We have only to turn to the [49] New Testament for evidence on this important point, and so far as we can discern Jesus did not fast.

John the Baptist came praying and fasting. He was a past master in the art of abstaining. No one has ever lived a more abstemious life than the desert prophet. Locusts and wild honey and a camel’s girdle! Surely no one could live more simply than this and maintain existence on the physical plane! Yet we have no record of any healing work accomplished by this ascetic. He set forth moral laws, was a stern rebuker of spiritual wickedness in high places, a denouncer of hypocrisy, in short, a moral giant, but nowhere do we find any record whatsoever of any healing work.

Instead, we find Jesus of Nazareth living very much as other men lived; eating and drinking in the houses of the rich and of the poor alike, and laying no particular emphasis on the ascetic life. In fact, he seems to have been anything but an ascetic. He mingled freely with the city folk as well as with the country people, so that he was accused, by those who did not understand him, of being a winebibber and a glutton, and consorting with sinners; eating and drinking at the tables of publicans; permitting unclean women to wash his feet and kiss his hand,–a mixer of mixers, apparently; yet we find him recommending fasting and prayer!

Fasting had been recommended long before Jesus’ advent in the flesh. Long before progressive thinkers questioned the necessity of fasting, [50] Isaiah was in doubt concerning this Jewish rite: “Is it such a fast that I have chosen, a day for man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?” And Jesus later made reply, “When ye fast anoint your heads, so that you may not appear unto men to fast.”

Fasting means to abstain. Throughout all generations we seem to have limited the word “fasting” to abstinence from good things of the table; to the things we eat, and the things we drink. Some of us have abstained from meat on Fridays; some abstain from meat altogether; others from food for certain periods of time; and we call that fasting. Feeling that we could grow in spirituality by abstaining from material food, we have fasted until brought to illness.

Back of the idea of fasting is something infinitely more essential than merely abstaining from physical foods. There are two forms of fasting: that which is recommended by dietitians, eliminating from our menu such things as are considered injurious to the bodily health; that which dispenses with food for certain periods of time altogether, and the abstainer comes back rejuvenated, refreshed and invigorated. The machinery of the body has been given a rest in order that it may recuperate, and come back to its ordinary habit of life strengthened. These modes, however, have never resulted in healing work. Jesus speaks of prayer and fasting as essential to healing. Tolstoy was a remarkable [51] faster. No one ever lived a more abstemious life than he during the last twenty-four years of his life; yet it is not recorded that he did any physical healing. His was a remarkable philosophy, a life consecrated to the preaching of Truth. He showed the remarkable power of the Truth in converting a worldling, but we find no evidence of his doing the work that is inseparable from the Gospel of Christ.

If to fast means to abstain, we must at least know what it means to abstain from. Since mere abstinence from physical food did not confer upon John the Baptist the power that characterized Jesus and his immediate disciples, then it is a fair assumption that the mere abstinence from physical food is not sufficient to equip the student of Divine Science with healing power. There is more meaning in the term “fasting” than has heretofore been attributed to it.

It must have been in the sense of abstaining on the moral plane, from lust, wrath, anger, jealousy, envy, and evils of all character, that Jesus recommended it as an essential necessity to spiritual healing. This makes for the exalted life; for moral power, and great strength. It enables us to rise above the physical states of consciousness where fasting is not so much a fasting from physical food, as it is the fasting from thoughts that make for disease and decrepitude. When this plane of consciousness is reached, we learn that fasting is infinitely more spiritual, infinitely less natural than we have ever thought of it before, [52] for we learn that we now are to abstain not only from wrong thinking, from sin, and from sickly and poverty thinking, but that we are to abstain from everything that makes for unhappiness, disease, pain and death, as well. This form of fasting is that which Jesus praised, and if we grow in this, then we need pay very little attention to the things on the table. We grow naturally away from over-eating and intemperance, for as we grow in Spirit, we naturally rise above our appetites, passions, fears and anxieties; and as we come into the rarefied atmosphere of Truth, error becomes less potent and less powerful to us, and the Truth of Being ever present and more potent.

Jesus recommended the form of fasting that we in Divine Science are trying to practice. It is the form of self-denial. It is not denying the so-called pleasures, but denying that false sense of self which would suggest that we are material beings instead of spiritual entities. When Jesus healed the boy whom his disciples could not heal, he abstained from just one thing,—from believing that the lad was afflicted with an incurable malady. He abstained from believing the evidence of the senses–from the suggestion that man, made in the image and likeness of God, can ever be anything less than perfect. His fast consisted of closing the doors of the senses to everything that suggested imperfection, and clinging tenaciously to the Truth of Being. He persisted in seeing only that which was Real [53] and True. Therefore, his prayer was not a petition for recovery, but a declaration of Truth.

“Why could not we cast him out?” “Because,” said Jesus, “of your unbelief; because you believed that man, who was made in the image and likeness of God, could be diseased or demented, and through that belief you have given strength to error.” We cannot cast out except by true prayer and true fasting. As we grow spiritually minded, we naturally become less carnally minded. Our great attention must be to “seek first the kingdom of righteousness, and all other things will be added unto us.” We shall grow temperate; we shall grow abstinent, and that without any conscious effort. How often we find people denying themselves certain articles of food, in order that they may grow in grace! But spirituality and grace do not come this way. Seek first the kingdom of God. There is no necessity for other seeking, for these will be added. As we grow in Spirit, we become less conscious of the demands of the flesh,–less conscious of our so-called appetites and passions, and so grow into a larger sense of freedom.

Jesus had unfolded to such a high state of spiritual consciousness, that his fasting was not at all like that of John, and hence the people of his time judged him after appearances and said that he ate and drank as other men, that he even consorted with sinners and associated with publicans! They were indulging in criticism; they were stoning adulterous women; were criticizing [54] the motive of Matthew when he invited Jesus to his table, and were condemning the attitude of the people who were following Jesus when he was fasting; abstaining from condemnation and everything that would suggest to his mind imperfection on the part of any one.

To fast means to keep always the perfect mental picture of the creation of God. It means to abstain from any belief in that which God has not created. Thus, the mind is concentrated on the one supreme Reality, which is that which enables us to heal. To dispense with all the things at the table, to fast until one is gaunt and weak, will never enable us to do the work that Jesus did, for it is a knowledge of the Truth that enables us to do the works of that Master mind. We see that material fastings have not eventuated in the things that humanity needs so much, which is to be cured of its moral, mental and physical diseases. It is not for a man to afflict his soul, and to cover himself with sackcloth and ashes, to deny himself the necessities of life. These are negative virtues, while Isaiah tells us “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” The spiritual side of fasting is not giving up something, but it is doing something. John came doing; Jesus came consoling. John came thundering forth diatribes; Jesus came healing the sick. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Every day people come asking if fasting is not a means to a larger measure of grace, and would [55] not this lead them into a larger knowledge of Christ? Some tell me how they have deprived themselves of food, and how exalted they have felt after the first few days, and they seem to think fasting a necessary means of obtaining spiritual power. And so it is for these, for such is their mental view. It would seem, however, that there is another way–not a spasmodic sort of fasting, but an abstinence every hour of the day, every day and every week of the year, from thoughts that make for imperfection of any kind. This will lead us naturally away from the things that are not good, and be a source of strength to our moral muscles. It will elevate our aspirations, and will lead us into green pastures and fresh fields, where we shall overcome evil with good.

The question is, are we to be ascetics or useful members of society? There is a happy mean between gluttony and self-imposed starvation. Dietitians recommend abstinence from food for various physical reasons; moralists recommend it for various moral reasons. Jesus did neither. The life of John was abstinence from food, and from healing as well. Physical fasting in itself is nothing. It is ignored by the Spirit unless it is accompanied by mentally abstaining from such ephemeral sensual delights as tend to over-shadow the eternal, timeless, changeless joys of the Spirit. Such joy men and women feel when by their realization of the power of Spirit they are able to loose another from the bonds of appetite; [56] –one, perhaps, who has tried in vain to free himself from the lust of drink. What joy can compare to that of seeing such an one rise from his physical degradation to a free man of Spirit? This imperishable knowledge of God as the only Reality is the fact that enables man to free his brother from the shackles of sin, and send him forth intoxicated with the joys of the Spirit. Every effort at overcoming, on the part of one who is seeking to emulate the Master’s healing mission of mental and physical redemption, is preparing that one to partake of the possibilities that gleam transcendent above him, and which is to enable him to raise up the living Christ from what seemed a man dead in the marshes of sin.

In its largest sense, then, fasting involves tremendous personal responsibility, because it is setting a watch upon the lips. There are those who have fasted from physical food, and have not abstained from saying harsh things, or thinking unkind thoughts. Men have been known to abstain from certain articles of food in order that they might grow in grace, and they have only grown physically weaker. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” in order that the things that now control you will gradually disappear as you turn your face in the direction of God and His perfection;–which is your own perfectness as the son of God. It was said the other day by a woman, “The more I deny these things the more real they become to [57] my consciousness. I seem to remind myself of the very things I am trying to get away from.” Frequently that is so; hence the necessity of affirming the real, instead of denying the unreal. If in the past we have believed fasting from physical food to be an aid, an accessory to the spiritual life is the means by which these things fall off, just as the leaves fall off the trees in autumn from lack of sustenance, and through this natural order we shall grow into a larger comprehension of our divinity. We shall eat to live, but we shall live to one purpose only,–of abstaining from everything that is unlike God.

Our appetites will grow beautifully less. Our wants will grow beautifully fewer, because there will be but one great supreme need in our souls and that will be to know God and to know our own divine powers. When we know our divine powers, they will manifest themselves, they will demonstrate themselves without any conscious effort. The sun makes no conscious effort to shine! The godly man makes no conscious effort to rise above his appetites. He is godly and his appetites forsake him. He is spiritual, and carnality holds no charms for him. He is resurrected, and the sins of the flesh have no attractions for him. His mind is so filled with the beauty, grandeur and glory of God that the things of earth do not appeal to him. It is no sacrifice for the man of God to give up the sins of the flesh, for he has outgrown them. They [58] have served their purpose–if they ever had a purpose. His mind is consumed with the love of God, and his mental eye is filled with the vision of perfectness. He abstains from evil belief, and he heals as naturally as the sun sends forth its beneficent rays upon us. He thinks truly, and his mind knows no error. This is the true fast.

Let this be our mode of fasting. Let us abstain from every thought of error, and strive to keep our thoughts free from every sign of envy and malice and jealousy. Let us cease to see anything imperfect in form of disease, decrepitude or poverty. Let us hold the true picture of ourselves, and within a few days it will have resulted in a better order of things physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. We shall be eating less and drinking less, because this is the way the true fast works. It floods the soul with Truth, and the things of sense gradually disappear.

Let this, then, be our Lenten Week. There are men in the world who fast, but they are always longing for the feast that follows. This is the idea of fasting that obtains in the public mind. Abstaining from a few articles of diet does not suggest to them that they should also be free from criticism, and censure and condemnation. As such their fast will profit them nothing.

We in Divine Science know that such is not the real meaning of fasting. We know that it is to follow in the footsteps of that illuminated Master; to stand porter at the gateway of our [59] minds, and give admittance to that only which is like the true Reality of our being. This is the true abstinence. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Seek first the kingdom,” and this is the pathway that will lead us at last into our own Reality, of our unity with God–the Perfect Image and Creator.

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