Reprinted from DIVINE PRINCIPLES, pp.61-67
The principle of fasting is widespread among the cultures of mankind, but its metaphysics is frequently misunderstood. Essentially, fasting has two purposes. One is to cleanse and purify the body from the effects of ingesting impure substances, which is inevitable while in the mortal condition. The other is to strengthen the spirit, giving it greater control over the physical body.
Fasting is not a method for manipulating the Divine Ones into doing what you want them to, as many people try to use it. Neither is it a way to make yourself suffer as an expression of grief so that others, mortal or divine, will notice your unhappiness. This was pointed out 25 centuries ago by the Prophet Isaiah. Speaking for Jehovah, Isaiah said,
"Why do you not notice when we fast?" they ask. "Why do you not realize how we suffer in order to establish our relationship with you?"
This is one of the problems. You do not rejoice at the spiritual powers which flow into you when you fast; instead, you become short-tempered, and snap at each other. You fight and contend because you are not happy in your fasting; this wrongness results from your improper motives, for you think you will be able to manipulate the Eloheim by the suffering of your deprivation. This is not how you should fast! Do you think that this is the reason I have taught you to fast? Is it because I like to see you suffer? Do I want to see you weak and in pain? Is this what you call a fast? Is this what you perceive as a proper use of your time in Jehovah's eyes? You misperceive what I have taught you!
This is the kind of fast which I have appointed: to cast off the chains of darkness, to relieve the burdens of others, to release those whom you have oppressed in any way, and to help those who are oppressed by others find their way to freedom. True fasting is sharing your food with those who are hungry, assisting the homeless, sharing your clothing with those who do not have enough, and seeing that your relatives have what they need.
If you do these things, you will be filled with Light and Health, which is what you desire when you fast. (Book of the Prophet Isaiah 58:3-8)
Isaiah, then, was teaching fasting as a means to metaphysical and physical development ("you will be filled with Light and Health, which is what you desire when you fast"). Psalm 69 also speaks of fasting as a tool for purifying the "soul." (verse 10) Remember that in gnostic theology the term "soul" refers to the united body and spirit, so the psalmist is also suggesting the use of fasting for metaphysical and physical development.
JESUS' TEACHINGS ON FASTING
We have three references to fasting in Jesus' teachings. The first suggests that we don't need to worry about fasting unless we are seriously trying to overcome the illusions of mortal existence.
The disciples questioned Jesus concerning the Way of Life: "How should we fast?" *** Jesus said, "I will instruct you in all these matters, but first you must put off your love of the lie, the false way of life followed by the children of this plane of existence, and be converted, changed so that you hate that which you have previously loved, and love that which you have previously hated. Then I will be able to show you all things, for there is nothing hidden which will not be manifested when you have put on the mind of Truth." (Sayings of Jesus 1:11)
Jesus is saying that fasting is something we should know about, but only if we are intent on rising above the limitations of the mortal condition, "put[ting] off [our] love of the lie, the false way of life followed by the children of this plane of existence." Then we are ready to explore the intricacies of fasting so that we can use it as a tool in our metaphysical growth and progression.
The second thing Jesus taught about fasting was that it is a private matter. We don't fast to demonstrate our holiness or our dedication to the Way. We fast because it is a means of accomplishing our objective of spiritual growth. He also pointed out, like Isaiah, that fasting is not a matter of suffering; we are not centering in deprivation, but in joy.
"When you fast, don't act like those hypocrites who go around looking as if there were something wrong with them when they're fasting, for they do this to display their fasting before other people. They do get other people to admire their apparent spirituality, but this is the only result of their fasting. You should comb your hair and wash your face when you fast, just like at other times, and act normally so that other people do not even realize that you are fasting. Your Father and Mother on the heavenly plane know what you are doing, however, and the powers with which they bless you through your fasting, will be evident to everyone, even though your fasting wasn't." (Testimony of St. Matthew 6:17-18)
Jesus also suggested the use of fasting for growing in spiritual power to use in combating the forces of darkness. When his disciples asked him why they had been unable to drive a spirit of darkness out of a child, Jesus replied, "A spirit as potent as that one can be driven out only after you have developed sufficient power through prayer and fasting." (Testimony of St. Mark 9:26) Psalm 35 suggests the use of fasting and prayer as tools for dealing with sickness in general. "When they were sick, I fasted and prayed for their recovery." (verse 13)
FASTING FOR PHYSICAL PURIFICATION
The use of fasting in physical purification is explained in greater detail in the Book of Covenants.
It is appropriate for you to continue and complete your fast for seven days, but because of your faith, I will show you a more excellent way. It is good to purify your bodies as you have commenced to do, by taking only water into them, for water is the beverage of the Gods; it is pure and holy to your bodies, and is a purifying and sanctifying element. Drink much water always, for you will be blessed by doing so. It is appropriate that on the evening after the second day of your fast, you should eat a little fruit, for this will aid in purging your bodies of the toxins which have accumulated in them. This you could continue doing, eating a little fruit in the morning and evening, throughout the remainder of your fast. Commencing at the end of the fifth day of your fast, and continuing through the end of the seventh day, it is appropriate to eat a few vegetables in the evening, for your bodies will be sufficiently purged by then, that the toxins which remain in them will not react with the vegetables to your detriment. It would be well if these vegetables were uncooked, in their natural state, for then their life-giving forces will contribute life to your bodies. Nevertheless, I, Jehovah, tell you that it is all right to eat some cooked vegetables, for if they are very few, their harm will be slight. *** Be certain to eat no animal products and no starches, for these will be like poison to your souls during this fast. (Book of Covenants 1972-4:2)
These instructions on fasting are followed by others relating to how to eat when not fasting so that the physical purity achieved through fasting can be maintained.
Now I will speak to you regarding your food, so that you can keep your bodies pure after this fast, sanctifying them before me. *** Eat meat sparingly, primarily in times of cold or famine. Eat your vegetables and fruit raw as much as possible, so that their life-giving properties can be transferred to you. Avoid those meats which I instructed my people, through my slave Moses, not to eat. Wheat is for humans, as are all wholesome grains in their natural state. Eat many fruits and vegetables, for these will turn to health in your navels, and milk and cheese, for they will become marrow in your bones. Eat organ meats for your blood, and fish and fowl for your brain, and you will be blessed with health and strength, with mental acuity, and vigor to pursue your labors. Nuts and beans you can eat in abundance, so that your bodies will be robust and attractive. (IBID., verse 3)
METAPHYSICS OF FASTING
These apparently physical guidelines are then put into a metaphysical perspective.
Add to all these dedication to the word of the Eloheim, and fidelity in prayer, and you will be blessed. *** Use wisdom, for this is a word of wisdom for you. Be faithful to all my word which you have received, and more will be added for you. (IBID.)
Instructions were given for continuing this pattern of fasting on a monthly basis.
Continue to fast often, at least once a month for two days, eating a little fruit on the evening of the second day, according to the pattern which I have shown you. Three times in the year, the first week of the Second Month, the first week of the Sixth Month, and the first week of the Tenth Month, you could observe a week-long fast, as I have shown you. (Book of Covenants 1972-4:3)
An exception is to be made twice a year when days of celebration fall on the first day of the month. In those cases, the fast is observed only on the second day.
The only exception is that on the first day of the First Month, and on the first day of the Seventh Month, you should not fast, says Jehovah, for these are days of rejoicing before your Gods. (Book of Covenants 1979-2:4)
This practice of fasting at the beginning of each month came to be known as the New Moon Fast, the term "New Moon" referring to the beginning of the month on the Divine Calendar used by gnostics to regulate the flow of their lives. The Book of Covenants suggests,
You should divide the year into twelve parts of equal length, each having thirty days, so that your lives can be orderly. The beginning of each thirty day period should be the Fast of the New Moon, when you should purify yourselves before Jehovah, and rededicate yourselves to living perfectly and peacefully before me, according to the principles which I reveal. This is a time of sanctification for you. (IBID.)
This form of fasting became closely associated with the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
...I have unfolded to you the principles of the Fast of the New Moon, line upon line, over a period of many years, because you have diligently sought greater understanding on these matters. Therefore, in answer to your meditations during this New Moon Fast, I will show you a still more excellent way to observe the New Moon.
The Fast of the New Moon is also a feast to Jehovah, as it is presented in the account of Saul and Jesse, who observed the feast, as well as the fast, at this time. At the end of the first day of the fast, when you gather at sundown in your temples and sanctuaries to partake of the Sacrament of the New Moon, gather around your Sacrament Tables, as you do during a Sacramental Feast, each person who has been immersed having before him a loaf of unleavened bread, and a small cup of wine. This should be a small cup of wine, for a little wine is good for your stomach, but much wine will be drunk to your harm. ...one of the priests, who should be designated by the Spirit, through the one who presides, should stand up and, under the Sign of the Aaronic Priesthood, should bless the bread. Each person should then break the loaf of bread which is before him, and partake of one piece of the bread. A second priest, appointed in the same manner by the Spirit, through him who presides, should stand up and, under the Sign of the Aaronic Priesthood, should bless the wine. Each person should then drink from the cup of wine which is before him. The meeting should then proceed under the direction of him who presides, as he is moved upon by the Holy Spirit, ...the remainder of the bread and wine being consumed during the meeting.
At the end of the second day of the fast, you should also gather at sundown in your temples and sanctuaries, to partake of a Sacrament of Fruit and Ale in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. The meeting should proceed as at the end of the first day of the fast.... [Instructions are then given for consecrating the fruit and ale.] *** Each of them should then partake of the ale which is before him. The remainder of the fruit and ale should be consumed during the meeting.
At the end of the seventh day of the fast, you should again gather at sundown in your temples and sanctuaries, to partake of a feast of fruits and vegetables before Jehovah. *** At the end of the meeting, ...one of the priests, who should be designated by the Spirit, through him who presides, should stand up and, under the Sign of the Aaronic Priesthood, should bless the brandy.... The small cup of brandy, which should be at each place at the table, is then to be drunk. In this manner, the fast will be consecrated to you for both physical and spiritual blessings, to the sanctification of your souls. (Book of Covenants 1980-15:1-5)
Gnostics generally do not consume much alcohol. The Book of Covenants says,
In consequence of the wrongnesses and schemes which do, and will, exist in the hearts of conspiring mortals at the end of time, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by revealing to you this word of wisdom. If any of you drink wine or distilled drinks, it is not good, nor is it appropriate in the eyes of your Parents, except when you assemble to offer up your Sacraments before them. (Book of Covenants 1833-2:1)
Like all principles outlined in the scriptures, this is not a commandment. The word "commandment" has taken on meanings never intended by those who wrote the scriptures. Their intent was to teach principles which individual disciples can apply according to the Light which is in them. They were never meant to be rules which someone else could use to judge us. Thus, this revelation says that it is "a word of wisdom," a principle to be applied with wisdom. A definite exception to the suggestion against drinking alcohol is provided for "offer[ing] up your Sacraments before [the Parents]." (IBID.) Another section in the Book of Covenants elaborates this principle.
In addition, a little wine at appropriate times is good for your stomachs, because it cleanses them. Consequently, you should use wine in the Sacrament of the New Moon, in all your Sacramental Feasts, on Sacrament Day, and in such other ordinances as I have suggested the use of wine, but otherwise you should not drink it. I am speaking of fermented grape wine.
On the second day of the Fast of the New Moon, you should drink a glass of beer or ale with your evening meal for the cleansing and purifying of your internal organs. Beer and ale are not strong drinks, but mild drinks. Nevertheless, their overuse will harm the body as their proper use will bless it. Consequently, you should drink them only in connection with the Fast of the New Moon.
On the evening of the last day of the Seven Day Fast of the New Moon, you should drink a little brandy with your evening meal, for this will stimulate your systems after the fast, and tone their parts so that you can go forward with greater vigor.
As I said, these are principles, not "commandments." An alcoholic might know that drinking a little wine, beer, or brandy would produce more negative effects than any good that could be gained. In that case, he or she should determine how to modify that part of the fast to meet his or her individual needs. The same could be true in relation to other aspects of fasting for persons with other physical or health problems. Everyone who has learned to listen to his Inner Light will know if it is necessary to modify the general principles of the fast to fit his personal needs, as well as what form any modifications should take. For example, an article in the VOICE OF ZION, a gnostic magazine, suggests,
An exception is made in the case of pregnant and nursing mothers, and children who have not reached their maturity. Such mothers, as well as children under the age of accountability [8 years old], should observe the fast by abstaining from meat (including eggs) and carbohydrates. They should, however, continue to consume fruits, vegetables, and dairy products in sufficient quantities to keep their bodies well nourished. Children between the age of accountability (eight years) and the age of maturity (fourteen years) should be encouraged to fully observe the first day of the fast, thereafter following the same program as children under the age of eight. It is important to remember that these instructions are to be followed by each individual according to the workings of the Holy Spirit within him. No one is to judge another individual as to the manner in which he observes this fast. Rather, it is for the benefit of the individual in purifying his soul--body and spirit--and sanctifying himself as part of his preparation for returning to the presence of his Parents on the heavenly plane. (VOICE OF ZION 2:114)
BENEFITS OF FASTING
The general benefits of fasting have already been stated. Through following this principle, the body is purified and the spirit is strengthened. You gain greater control over your body and its demands. It should be evident that fasting is an important tool to use in the sanctification of the body, which is an essential part of the sanctification of the soul. It would not be inappropriate to apply to fasting the promises given in a revelation concerning the effects on us of what we consume.
All saints, who remember to observe and follow these suggestions, guiding their lives by the instructions which I have given, will receive health in their navels, and marrow to their bones. They will find wisdom, and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures. They will run without feeling weary, and walk without getting weak. I, Jehovah, give them a promise, that the destroying angels will pass by them, as they passed by the descendants of Israel, without slaying them. Amen. (Book of Covenants 1833-2:3)