Millions of Christians all over the world are rounding off their fast today and some on Sunday. It is 40 days of self-elected deprivation of food and water, and distancing of oneself from earthly pleasures, in memory of the Lord Christ's suffering which some authorities say is in commemoration of His fast for 40 days and 40 nights in the seclusion of the wilderness. It is universally called Lent, and the first day called Ash Wednesday--a day the Roman Catholic Church priests sprinkle ashes on the heads of penitent congregants. The fasting period is ever a sobering, reflective and penitent period.
Come 06 May, the sighting of the moon permitting, millions of Moslems all over the world will also embark on their yearly 30 days of fasting , patterned after the example of the great Prophet, Mohammed, who moved into the seclusion of the wilderness to do his fasting as well. It is a special season. When fasting begins expectedly on 06 May, mosques will be filled to overflowing with Moslems turning their gaze upwards in gratitude and supplication to our Maker. For nearly 40 days of retreat from the world by Christians, from the pulpits exhortations have been thundering across the globe for them to imbibe and internalize anew the Teachings of Christ and the concomitant good life as well as the warning: "Repent, the Day of Judgment is nigh!"
Lent is also a period of stigmatization when blood oozes out of the palms and feet of those afflicted. The stigmatics bear exactly the wound marks of the Lord Christ when He was crucified on the cross. They jerk, they are flogged by unseen hands and with unseen canes. It is a phenomenon that knows no gender, age, race, colour, tribe or country.
The most easily well-known stigmatics of our time were German-born Theresse Neumanne and the priest Padre Pio (Francesco Forgione) of Italy. Theresse Neumanne from Konnersreuth, Bavaria, Germany was only 20 in 1918 when her experiences began. She bore her fate for 30 years, bleeding profusely in the replica of the wound marks of the crucified Christ on many Fridays with her condition worsening usually in the last two weeks of every Lent. She passed away in 1962. These were similar to the experiences of 50 year- old Innocent Okorie of our own Orlu whose agony usually peaked on Good Friday. The language Theresse and others heard in the hour of their torments has been confirmed by philologists as that spoken around Golgotha at the time of crucifixion. In April 1989, the Sunday edition The Guardian did an elaborate report on the three cases in Nigeria. (What lies behind the phenomenon will be treated some time in future in the Ray of enlightenment granted at this time to humanity.) The essence of drawing attention to the yearly occurrence is that it comes with Lent and as in the words of another stigmatic, steel worker George Hamilton, once said to The Observer of London, "As Good Friday approaches, the blood flows more strongly. In Lent, it's pretty bad. If I walk across the carpet it feels like I'm walking on tacks or broken glass. I have to change bandage twice a day."
It was Palm Sunday this week, commemorating the triumphal entry of the Lord into Jerusalem. It was a mock re-enactment of the grand reception for the Lord Christ arranged by Resistant Movement in collusion with Judas Iscariot to entrap Him, wanting Him to lead a rebellion against Rome. Rather than war, the Prince of Peace addressed, in the Temple, the congregation that had come to do battle, but disguised as Passover pilgrims, preaching peace, submission to the Will of His Father and love for their enemies. Thus, the Lord disarmed them; and the crowd that shouted Hosanna yesterday saying "Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord"(John 12: 13), got enraged and felt let down; they shouted "Crucify Him!" the next day in response to the appeal by Pilate to their sense of compassion: "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him!" They had been worked up by the priests, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and members of Sanhedrin who were pressing for the death of the Lord Jesus.
All these are the sobering features in the run-off to Easter. In other words, when we go through Lent, there are the stigmatization experiences and there is celebration of Palm Sunday, we know that it is yet another Easter around the corner.
Given the fact that a substantial majority of Nigerians subscribe to both Christianity and Islam, it may not be quite out of place to assume that a wave of purifying flames or currents has enveloped the land and will continue from early May, at least during the period of fasting. Of course, in the ballooning population of materialists who may not believe in the Higher Hand that is at work in the affairs of man, a great many must shake their heads in pity, wondering what has befallen the world!
I do fast, and I enjoy doing so on two grounds. First, it affords me opportunity to give the body a break from its enormous workload. Withdrawal from food for sometime is like bringing the city of millions of trillions of cells to a standstill on the last Saturday of sanitation for the month. All the waste that the heavy work schedules have locked up in the closets are brought out and emptied as all energy is diverted to detoxication of the household. Thereafter, the body gets lighter, livelier, more radiant and youthful.
By far more important, however, is the benevolent effect of true fasting on the inner man, the man himself. True, a revitalized cloak or vessel, as a refurbished motor car is to the motorist, is an invaluable asset for spiritual mobility and outreach, it is in the capacity of a fast to loosen spirit from body for a while and connect man to his Maker that its greatest benefit lies.
We human beings on earth are a union of body and soul; the soul itself a union of the spirit, that is of man, and his non-physical, finer coverings. The unions are held together by a mesh of radiations to which each party makes a contribution. Full consciousness is a state in which each party generates its required share of heat for the union. When the current is low from any side, the uniting mesh weakens and the union loosens. This happens often as when the body is in a state of shock or illness, during sleep when the body goes to rest or when, at the other end, the inner man loses the will to live. This is clearly evident when a tired body falls asleep, its contribution to the uniting rays diminishes, and the soul, freed through a weakening of the union hold, soars away, in what the brain is later to remember faintly as a dream, having not fully and consciously participated in the experiences of the soul. It is the same principle that is enunciated by such alternative forms of medicine as acupuncture, acupressure, reflex zone therapy, foot therapy and iridology. Those channels of energy they speak about are nothing other than paths of energy flow.
Fasting may indeed have a spiritually composing effect, if it turns man away from all earthly trivialities and assists him to seek connection with His Maker. This will depend, however, on the deprivation of nourishment to the body compelled to weaken, the union with the soul thus freed, may easily gain necessary connection with finer, that is immaterial currents. Gratitude arises to flow to the Throne of Grace. With finer currents come blessings, clarity, guidance and more.
It need be pointed out, however, that not all fasting brings benefits. There cannot be blessing where fasting does not engender an awakening inwardly. In fact, many who fast in this expectation are inwardly dead and do fast only out of habit. For those who cannot fast for whatever reason or do not believe in it, that awakening is by no means unattainable through other agencies. Many souls are known for example, to open up in the woods, seashore or in the music hall. It is important for each person to find the key to unlocking the treasures of his own inner life.