Book Review: Fasting (The Ancient Practices)

My church experience is primarily nonconformist, by which I mean that we weren’t big on liturgy or creed, pilgrimage or fasting. I have, however, always been intrigued by the ancient practices of the church and the spiritual disciplines that lie behind them.

It was with this in mind that I started reading Scot McKnight’s book Fasting which is part of a series of books called The Ancient Practices.

I must admit I was expecting this book to give me a set of working instructions on how to fast and a few reasons as to why I should fast. I’m not sure why I thought that because that’s not the way the blurb reads:

Fasting is the body talking what the spirit yearns, what the soul longs for, and what the mind knows to be true.

In one sense Jon does give a process for fasting, but his process of A > B > C that is used throughout the book refers to a sacred moment > fasting > results. Even then Jon tries to be very careful with not drawing a causal link between B and C.

In conclusion Jon summarises it like this:

We began this book with a definition of fasting, and as we close, I want to bring this definition to your attention one more time:

Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.

The elements of this definition should now be clear. Fasting is the choice not to eat or drink for a specified period. Fasting is not the same as abstinence, which is the choice not to eat or drink specific items even though one is still eating and drinking other items. Neither is fasting the same as dieting, which is the choice not to eat or drink various items for health reasons. Fasting, as we see it in the biblical tradition, emerges from an organic and unified sense of the whole person – body and spirit (or soul) acting in consort. For the unified person, fasting is both natural and inevitable when that person encounters sacred moments in life.

There is also a lot of good sound advice on the practice of fasting, it’s not all theory, but understanding the context for biblical fasting is very helpful. Like many people I suspect, I’ve regarded fasting, a bit like prayer, as something I should do more of without any real understanding of why. This book gives a really good description of why and in what context.

Having established the framework of A > B > C the main body of this book is spent in describing the different ways that fasting is a body (whole person) response:

  • Fasting as body talk
  • Fasting as body turning
  • Fasting as body plea
  • etc.

The book concludes with some practical advice about some of the physical effects of fasting and the dangers which, again, is very informative. I don’t think I’d really thought about the medical dangers before.

There are some book which I pick up and read through without really stopping to think too much. This book is one to take a little slower and to ponder along the journey. I suspect it will also be a book that I go back to from time to time to ponder some more.

I can’t say that this book has revolutionised my approach to fasting either, but it has put me in a place where I now what I would like to do and now just need to get on and do it.

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