Here's the thing about fasting: You don't eat. The discipline is as humble and as ponderous as that, which is why, I suspect, we are oddly moved to do it. Scot McKnight's one-word title—Fasting (Thomas Nelson)—honors what is sacred; he adorns the word no more.
But for being such a straightforward discipline, our reason for practicing it still begs an explanation. What's really accomplished when we fast? Wouldn't it be better just to pray? Isn't it best to do all things, including eating, in moderation, so that we will have strength to serve? Who is going to be hurt if we don't fast? And who's going to be helped if we do? Isn't fasting an extreme ascetic practice made irrelevant by modern enlightened faith?
These are the questions that play around in my subconscious thought about 10 days into Lent. McKnight—a religious studies professor at North Park University, prolific blogger, and author of, among other books, The Jesus Creed—does not dismiss them, nor does he think so lowly of me as to assume these questions are no more than a front. He knows I don't need an apologetic for fasting as much as I need some pastoral reflection on an abstention I already crave.
"Fasting is a person's whole-body, natural response to life's sacred moments," he explains in the book's introduction. It's the "body talking what the spirit yearns, what the soul longs for, and what the mind knows to be true." Drawing from the example of the psalmist, McKnight points out that David's sadness was not "fully bloomed" until the body—clothed in sackcloth, and fasting—was involved. Turning forward to the prophet Isaiah, McKnight notes that far from being inwardly directed and pious, fasting is also the angry response to ...