“Fasting that does not lead to consideration of the poverty of others misses the whole point.”
Fasting by Scot McKnight is part of the Ancient Practices series from Thomas Nelson. In this helpful and interesting volume, McKnight emphasizes that in the Biblical tradition and in the early Christian church fasting was “a response to a sacred moment and not just an instrumental act used to get what we want.” He makes a convincing case for restoring this view, and renewing a powerful, embodied practice of responding to God.
Throughout the book, McKnight includes perspectives on fasting from Christian writers across the centuries, including Athanasius, Jerome, John Chrysostom, John Wesley, and many others. There are detailed footnotes for those who wish to read the original sources.
Thankfully, McKnight’s work does not romanticize a saintly vision of living without bodily needs. I am grateful that McKnight addresses some of the dangers of fasting, and that he repeatedly returns to the concept of holistic spirituality. We live in bodies created by God, and through our bodies we serve God and one another. While we should rightly resist gluttony and hedonism, we also must feed our bodies nourishing food.
McKnight writes with awareness of anorexia nervosa, a deadly disease rooted in unhealthy perceptions of one’s body, in which sufferers subject themselves to extreme fasting. He acknowledges that fasting undertaken for the wrong purpose is undesirable and potentially very harmful.
In McKnight’s understanding, fasting can be a valuable practice if undertaken for the right reasons, because it brings our whole selves into awareness and attentiveness before God. One might fast out of grief, a deep longing for closeness to God, a deep need for social justice and change. However, fasting cannot be the end of one’s practice. “If you go in prayer to the God who wants to bring justice, then you should be willing to spend your energies working for that same justice,” McKnight writes. Ideally one should come away from a fast with a renewed desire to love and serve others.
Recently I was made aware of the exciting work of 58, “a global initiative to end extreme poverty by living out Isaiah 58.” In this verse of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Isaiah calls upon listeners “to loose the chains of injustice….to set the oppressed free….to share your food with the hungry…to provide the poor wanderer with shelter….when you see the naked, to clothe them.”
May all of us find a way, every day, to think of the needs of others and to work for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision.
This review was based on a volume from my public library. Hopefully my library system will obtain some of the other books in this series.