Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflects on Kenyan Spirituality: Fasting

“Fasting deals with the two great barriers to the Holy Spirit that are erected by man’s carnal nature. These are the stubborn self-will of the soul and the insistent self-gratifying appetites of the body.” -Derek Prince

Today marks Eid, a Muslim celebration that concludes the month of fasting, Ramadan. 
Henna done for Eid celebration 
This marks the perfect day to reflect and investigate the role that fasting plays in religious practice. To fast is to abstain from food, or certain types of food especially for religious purposes. From a Muslim prospective fasting is “abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset with explicit intention of doing so for the sake of Allah” (Sakah-ud-Din, 2011). It was interesting seeing this practiced first hand in Kenya, as I have in Canada. Each meal time my Muslim friends would have to explain why they were not eating anything, opening up conversation about religion. In the Christian context fasting is similar, where fasting is done to build reliance on God, rather than our human selves. Many religions regard starvation and meditation necessary for spiritual growth (Sakah-ud-Din, 2011).

I attended a Christian fellowship meeting at JKUAT, where the students were studying a book called Ombi, (Swahili for prayer) a devotional book written by a local. I enjoyed reading the chapter on fasting, as the spiritual importance of food is quite fascinating to me. This chapter described how fasting can deliver more than just spiritual growth, it is also used as a means of intervention when seeking answer to prayer. In 2000 the president of Kenya, Daniel Moi called for a 3 day fast and prayer to ask God for rains after a prolonged drought. As people gathered at a stadium to pray and fast together heavy rains drenched the crowds (Mbevi, 2009).

In reflection on the concept of fasting, I can see how self-discipline plays in integral role in spiritual growth. Our desire to eat is physiological, emotional and social, thus multiple aspects of desire are being suppressed while fasting. If we can resist the physical and worldly desires that fasting denies, than that reflects our dependence on God. The celebration of Ramadan in Kenya, is not as private as Western parts of the world. TV stations will display local Ramadan fasting schedules, and local feast. Eid is also celebrated as a national holiday, which gives many workers the day off, including myself!

I also find fasting a reminder of how blessed I am to be hungry by choice, and for spiritual reasons rather than true starvation. Being in a country where 33% of people do not have access to adequate nutrition, it’s a scary reality that is now close to home (IFPRI,2012). Food even in its absence can have a role in spiritual growth, intercession, and even as a reminder of poverty. I believe each of these results of fasting can be co-related; we can grow our spiritual connection to the world and others, which guides us to intercede for those that need support. Overall fasting is yet another illustration of how fundamental food is to culture and spirituality.

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