The spiritual activity of fasting is important throughout scripture, yet the fact that it is really a simple physical activity has confused me. What is the point of fasting? When should we fast? And what good does it do? I’ve always wondered if it was supposed to accomplish something good in the world, or in me, or both. I’ve fasted in order to hear the Lord speak to my heart, and to build myself up for a spiritual trial, and frankly have never been quite sure I understood fasting.
So when Thomas Nelson offered Fasting as one of its books in the Ancient Practices Series, I jumped at the chance to get some of my questions answered. Thank you, Scot McKnight, for sensing the confusion in the church community and offering us a way out of it.
The author’s position is that “fasting is a person’s whole-body natural response to life’s sacred moments.” By that I assume he means that we lose our appetite because of intensely upsetting events or emotions. I agree that in a severe enough crisis, people are unable to eat, but possibly he means for us sometimes to go a step further than a natural response, to a willful fast.
I appreciate the discussion of how we in the Western world have divided our selves into the spiritual part (mind, emotions) and the non-spiritual part (body). I have noticed in scripture how a person’s devotion and faith were demonstrated physically in those times and places so much more than we do here (North America) and now. In times of grieving or crisis—spiritual or not—we read of some wearing sackcloth, tearing their garments, tithing living animals, and traveling many miles to join in a national religious holy day. In a way I have envied them for their culture which brought a person’s religious faith from the inside to the outside.
In reading this book, I did struggle a bit with the “body” terminology: body turning, body plea, body calendar, body hope. I think the text would have flowed a little more easily if I wasn’t interrupting my train of thought to wrap my head around what those terms really meant, and trying to chase away society’s current connotations of body image and body contact.
The idea of fasting as a response to a situation, versus fasting for a result, appeals to me as a purer motive, yet there seems to be no way of getting around the scriptural and traditional practices of fasting for certain outcome. In fact, one of the latter chapters, “Fasting and its Benefits”, seemed to conflict with the earlier chapters in the book. So I’m still gathering information and wisdom on my personal attempts to understand the practice, and this book is an important launch for that journey.
I would recommend Fasting to all who desire to follow completely the Lord’s multi-faceted plans for transforming us to be more like Him. I enjoyed some of the fringe benefits of reading this work, such as learning more about devoted Christians from the time of Christ to today, and about ancient and modern religious practices. I even learned a bit about myself, some of it disappointing. But I am grateful for the way Scot McKnight’s book very gently and subtly suggests that we take a close look at what makes us grieve, and what we truly yearn for. Any book that does that is of immense value to a believer.
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