"Fasting, as we have discovered, has been a universal practice. There are a variety of seasons and reasons for fasting. But, unless one follows the observances of Yom Kippur, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Lent, or Ramadan, there are no rules. The challenge for each of us is to determine where we fit. If we decide to fast, how and when and why will we fast?

"Fasting is not the only — or even the primary — spiritual discipline. In Christianity and Judaism, fasting joined with prayer and almsgiving, is part of a threefold spiritual message. In Islam, it is one of the Five Pillars of holiness. We are challenged to keep fasting in perspective. While we cannot place it front and center, can we continue to ignore it?

"Healthy spirituality honors the body and soul. And a spiritually healthy attitude toward fasting also acknowledges the integrity of the human person. We are reminded of the words of Rabbi Bonder: 'God resides in a person who is a whole being.' Maintaining that balance — that wholeness — is our challenge.

"By exploring the practice of fasting across many traditions, we have attempted to augment our own perhaps sketchy knowledge of fasting. Catholics who thought of fasting only as tired prohibitions against eating meat might be energized by insights from those who fast for peace and justice. Those who have rejected all liturgical seasons might be touched by the eastern tradition of ahisma or the role fasting plays in deepening meditation. Now is the time to assess: how has our understanding of the practice of fasting been enriched? . . .

"Spiritual writers place the practice of fasting under the umbrella of the virtue of temperance. In all traditions, moderation is the key. Contemporary spirituality does not indulge in self-centered and punishing asceticism, slide into yo-yo dieting, or trigger a serious eating disorder.

"The difficulty of fasting — from food or any other compulsion — in a consumer-driven culture where instant gratification has become the norm is apparent. Fasting is counter-cultural: those who would fast will have to be highly motivated. They will do well to seek guidance and support — from prayer, from others, from spiritual reading. Recall the Buddhist principle of 'right association': by associating and imitating those whose spirit we see as holy, we can make progress along the Way."