A few months back we were doing our study and the particular passage for that week was about how the Israelites fasted in response to their grief for their sin. We talked about how few of us fast and decided that from now on if one of us ‘failed’ with regard to accountability issues we would all fast together in response to that. I’ve come to appreciate fasting in ways I never had before (my only prior experience to fasting connected to spiritual growth was a 10th grade fasting retreat for two days).
I’m just part way into Scot Mcknight’s book called Fasting and it has some powerful insights for me. I’m starting to see fasting more clearly as worshipful response to events in my life or the life of my friends. I’m also seeing it less as a tool to achieve particular ends (although it does often have valuable effects physically and spiritually) and more as an activity of the soul which is natural and which has value as an activity in itself. In that respect it is like reading the Bible regularly—that activity may have positive effects, but if I start to use it as a magic means to particular ends, I am likely misusing it in some sense as a form of idolatry…
A few things Mcknight said are particularly powerful for me:
“We worship God and we love God in our bodies and with our bodies and in concrete, physical, tangible, palpable ways. Deep in the yearning of humans is the need to “do spirituality’ with the body.”
“The singular contribution of the ancient Israelites to understanding humans is found in Genesis 1:27:
So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them
Male and female he created them.
Humans, this text tells us, are “images” (I prefer the greek word, Eikon) of God. As God’s Eikons, we represent God on earth and govern this world for God. In addition, we engage in relationships with God, self, others, and the entire world. These roles of governing and relating are what it means to be an Eikon. And we do what God has called us to do in this world in a physical body.”
“Dividing the Eikon, or person, into two parts is what makes fasting so difficult today. Since fasting is a very physical thing, it must be assigned to the body. And since fasting concerns only the body, it can’t be that important, we think.”
“Our bodies and what we do with our bodies visibly demonstrate the very core of what we are made to do: love god and love others. For those with a healthy body image of an organic unity, fasting is a natural and inevitable response to life’s grievous, or serious, sacred moments.”
“…a unified perception of body, soul, spirit, and mind creates a spirituality that includes the body. For this kind of body image, fasting is natural. Fasting is the body talking what the spirit yearns, what the sould longs for, and what the mind knows to be true. It is body talk—not the body simply talking for the spirit, for the mind, or for the soul in some symbolic way, but for the person, the whole person, to express herself or himself completely. Fasting is one way you and I bring our entire selves into complete expression. The Bible, because it advocates clearly that the person—heart, soul, mind, spirit, body—is embodied as a unity, assumes that fasting as body talk is inevitable.”
Mcknight goes on to discuss different ways or purposes of fasting found in the body:
Fasting as body talk, as Body Turning, as Body Plea, as Body Grief, as Body Discipline, as Body Calendar, as Body Poverty, as Body Contact, and as Body Hope. He sums up his thoughts later in the book when he says that “Fasting is a natural and inevitable response to the following”: sin, death, disaster, lack of holiness, love and compassion, the impoverishment of others, the sacred presence of God, or the absence of justice, peace and love.
The idea of being a living Ikon is pretty cool. Ikons are normally used to remind us of those who provide examples of godliness for us to be encouraged by or remember. To think of oneself as an image bearer– an image of God– is very interesting.
I am just beginning to try to understand how to fast. I have fasted in response to sin, as a solidarity with others in simple free as they grieve and repent, and most recently as a response to personal grief and to aid me in gaining some clarity of understanding and vision. I do appreciate the discipline I am developing as well. I remember when I used to teach logic to my students at Marquette University I would tell them that one nice side effect of learning logic was that you would find yourself not spouting off logic formulas in conversation, but you would find yourself thinking more clearly and coming to reasonable conclusions more quickly and easily. I believe that fasting has helped me to have more clear vision on some things—even things that had nothing to do with my fasting to begin with.
I hope to continue to learn about fasting, and how to do it more and more for the glory of God. It is helping me to have a more unified sense of self, and to physically express my inner self in the world.