When the disciples asked Jesus why they could not heal the lunatic boy he replied (Matt. 17: 20), "Because of your unbelief," and then added, "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." A Christian Science lecturer in quoting this answer of Jesus' added, as one way of interpretation, "fasting from criticism." To one in distress, waiting eagerly for a rule for healing, fasting from criticism may seem too mild a remedy to meet his urgent need. Yet the more one wrestles with the habit of criticism in oneself, even if triumphing only in small ways, the greater the depth of meaning one sees in this interpretation of fasting.
Now criticism can be valuable, helpful, for example, in holding to a true standard of excellence in the study of art, music, and literature. It can be useful in determining logical and moral values. But the criticism we commonly apply to persons is not always motivated by an honest desire to preserve high standards in character and conduct for ourselves. It may even have its origin in an unconscious effort to exalt ourselves. Someone has aptly said, "We get the illusion of rising when we are pushing someone else down."
If the thought of the critic were truly selfless, he would have no sense of self to exalt, for there can be no lowering or raising of God's man, who is forever at the point of perfection. The realization of this truth brings the healing to which the lecturer doubtless referred when he spoke of fasting from criticism. To think only of the perfect man is to fulfill exactly the requirements given by Mary Baker Eddy in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (p. 495): "When the illusion of sickness or sin tempts you, cling steadfastly to God and His idea. Allow nothing but His likeness to abide in your thought."
"But," someone may say, "if I fail to point out the fault, the shortcoming, to my associates, am I not tacitly condoning it?" There are, of course, times when it is necessary to denounce error openly. Mrs. Eddy says (ibid., p. 447), "Expose and denounce the claims of evil and disease in all their forms, but realize no reality in them." However, in the great mass of nagging criticism voiced daily the world over, the question of taking a stand on ethical issues is not involved, and the duty of seeing the unreality of evil is all but forgotten.
It may be helpful to compare the way in which we view the seeming imperfections in character to the way we correct a wrong answer to a problem in mathematics. We are not dismayed by an error in addition which we detect in our own or someone else's work. We do not go about relating in shocked tones to everyone we meet that we do not have the right answer. We simply change or correct what is wrong as soon as we detect it and go joyfully about completing the problem. And we certainly would not say of Johnnie, who once said that four times seven is twenty-seven, "There goes the seven-times-four-is-twenty-seven boy." We simply disassociate the error from him and expect him to know the right answer henceforth.
How vitalizing is the friendship of a person who consistently applies this method of replacing error with the truth. If the world were to observe a period of prayer and fasting from criticism, the effect on nations and on rulers of nations might be revolutionary.
Clearly related to the belief that self-exaltation can be achieved through criticism is the feeling that there is a lack of something needful—love, goodness, talent, ability, or supply. It is often observed that one who has demonstrated great ability in a profession is quick to praise the progress of another who is working in the same field. "But he can afford to be generous," someone says, "for he fears no rivals." So can we all afford to be generous, for there can be no rivalry for the possession of that which is universally bestowed. We do not fear that a fellow student in mathematics will use up the rule for squaring a number before we can make adequate use of it in solving our own problem or that there will be a shortage of mathematical symbols for putting the solution on paper. No more need we fear a lack of goodness or of ways in which to express it.
The Psalmist declared (Ps. 139: 17, 18): "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand." With such an inheritance of riches is there any room for a grudging attitude on the part of one heir toward another heir of God?
The Christian who laments that he is restrained toward his fellows when he longs to be graciously loving may well find help in loosing himself through fasting from criticism, for such fasting is a liberating experience. It frees from the tension of sitting in judgment against which Jesus cautioned his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. It takes away the barrier of aloofness behind which self-righteousness places one who sits in judgment. It leads one toward the realization of a scientific sense of being which is reflected in a more loving attitude toward all mankind. It frees thought for the enjoyment of God's great goodness and the goodness of His ideas. Truly to fast from criticism is to know the Love that heals and the Christ, Truth, that makes free.
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