What can we learn from fasting? | Thorpe Hall School

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What can we learn from fasting?

Fasting is practiced in various religions. Examples include Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur, Tisha B’av, Fast of Esther, Fast of Gedalia, the Seventeenth of Tammuz, and the Tenth of Tevet in Judaism. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan each year. The fast includes refraining from consuming any food or liquid from sun up until sundown.

Lent is the six-week period leading up to Easter. It’s one of the most important times of year for many Christians around the world, particularly those within the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions, held at a similar level of importance to Advent – the build up to Christmas.

Because Lent follows the liturgical calendar, the exact date that Lent falls each year changes. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is always held 46 days (40 fasting days and 6 Sundays) before Easter Sunday.

Ash Wednesday is the day after Shrove Tuesday, which in the UK is more commonly known as Pancake Day. Elsewhere in the world Shrove Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras (meaning ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French).

These days, Christians around the world observe Lent in many ways. Many from more orthodox and traditional denominations will still observe the fast strictly, beginning with the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday and abstinence of meat, fish, eggs and fats until Easter Sunday.

Others will choose to give up just one item for Lent, more commonly a ‘luxury’ such as chocolate, meat or alcohol. It is also becoming increasingly common for people to give up other things in order to refocus their faith during this time; such as watching TV, going to the gym, even social media. And, of course, more and more Christians are turning to the 40acts challenge as a way of doing Lent differently; using simple daily reflections and acts of generosity as a way of putting others first during preparations for Easter.

Shrove Tuesday comes originally from the word shrive (meaning “absolve”). As the last day before the Lent, Shrove Tuesday was a day of self-examination where Christians would consider what sins they needed to repent of and what changes to their life or spiritual growth they would focus on during the fast.

While Shrove Tuesday was a day for the purification of the soul, it also had a practical significance too, from which would emerge our modern-day tradition of pancakes.

In preparation for Lent centuries ago, those observing the fast would use Shrove Tuesday to also purify and remove from their house any of the items that they were foregoing for the 40 days. Traditionally this included meat, fish, eggs, fats, milk and sugar – so Shrove Tuesday became the final blowout before Lent began!

These ingredients combine easily to make pancake batter, hence why in the UK Shrove Tuesday is now synonymous with the making, tossing and eating of pancakes.

Alhamdulillah! The blessed month of Ramadan is upon us soon again! For Muslims across the globe, these few weeks are a sacred time for worshipping Allah (SWT). They offer an opportunity for devotion, reflection and celebration of the mercy and love of Allah (SWT).

As the Islamic calendar is based around the lunar cycle, the Holy month of Ramadan rotates by approximately ten days each year. This year, Ramadan is expected to begin on Thursday 23rd March 2023, depending on the sighting of the moon.

I fondly remember from my six years in Dubai the Iftars I enjoyed.  Iftar is one of the religious observances of Ramadan, and is often done as a community, with Muslim people gathering to break their fast together. The meal is taken just after the call to the Maghrib prayer, which is around sunset.

What do Lent and Ramadan teach us?

These months teach us to be more pious, disciplined, and how to maintain self-control, while shielding our souls from greed. They give us an opportunity to focus ourselves on reminding us to do good deeds such as providing food or aid to the needy, supporting charities and so on. Possibly supporting the desperate needs of people in Turkey and Syria might be a thought at this time.

Lent and Ramadan remind us to recognise our limits humbly, and to reform ourselves ambitiously. We should take time for ourselves, to look after ourselves, to meditate, to contemplate, simply to reflect on the way we treat our fellow human beings with respect.

These are also times when we can give up things to help us to consider others less fortunate than ourselves. Why not give up fast food for a month and donate the money to a local charity.  Why not give up driving to school and walk in or ride a bike instead. This will have numerous health and other benefits.

Whatever our beliefs, Lent and Ramadan are reminders that we should consider our own and the wellbeing of others, that we should live respectful and charitable lives, and that we should always strive to recognise how fortunate we all are compared to so many other less fortunate people locally, nationally and across the globe.  Many people are suffering financial hardship, the trauma of war and the destruction of communities from natural disasters. These special times of spiritual awareness should help us to endeavour to find ways to support others.