Saturday, 22 November 2008

Fasting: The Personal, the Political and the Privilege

Growing up I had a limited understanding of why one should fast and little experience of it as something meaningful. As a child, I bought sweets with my pocket money. I remember being told at a certain time, I should stop eating sweets, and save them up until after the fast period. This took place within a religious convent and children’s home, where faith was practiced in a cold and routine fashion. This had very little positive impact on me.

The notion of fasting as a deeply valuable practice came much later as result of reading books such as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to oppression. When Gandhi witnessed structural inequality both in Apartheid South Africa and in India under colonial rule, he used fasting as a self-sacrificing ‘action’. Fasting was inflicting pain on himself rather than his adversary. The purpose to jolt the colonial consciences, wake them up to the effects of their actions and seek to influence a change in hearts and practice. It came from his values of social justice, purifying the heart and mind, simplicity and community. I’m remembering for the first time as I write this my Nigerian father who lived these values of simplicity, sharing and compassion.

Nurtured by a deeper inner reflection, I felt the urge to fast given the suffering of those dying of famine and hunger. I began to see how I contributed to a world where those with the economic and monetary wealth over consume and pollute. I underwent a process of realisation of the privilege I had to look away, to eat too much or be wasteful of resources, while our sisters and brothers elsewhere, withered and died. Fasting help me empty enough to deeply contemplate this process to cultivate awareness of the need to practice the nobility of my own and others humanness, to care for our environment and wholeness as global community. For me, ‘Fast for the Planet’ embraces these entire elements.