Fasting Buy this book now »

Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites

by Lynne M. Baab
InterVarsity Press
ISBN 978-0-8308-3501-0;paper; 144 pp

Lynne discusses fasting from food and from things like

  • media
  • entertainment
  • shopping

Dozens of people who fast contribute their insights and practical suggestions. Fasting is presented as a way to experience freedom from many of the pressures of our consumer-based, materialistic culture in order to draw near to God with joy and simplicity.

*** Publisher's Weekly Starred Review
"This slender volume packs a surprising amount of content, with Baab (Sabbath Keeping) offering both spiritual guidance and factual information to those Christians who want to undertake, or deepen, a fast. One refreshing aspect of the book is its broad understanding of what constitutes a fast, which can range from a full abstinence from food and water to a more limited avoidance of one or more types of foods for a set period of time. Beyond that, however, Baab considers other kinds of fasts that Christians can undertake: refraining from shopping, elaborate clothing, jewelry, television, or anything that they have made into an idol. Fasting, she says, calls Christians into closer communion with God by creating time for spiritual discernment, adding greater urgency to prayer, and encouraging solidarity with the poor. Baab traces the practice of fasting through the Bible and the Christian Church, with an ecumenical openness that embraces Orthodox and Catholic practices as well as her own Protestant traditions. One particularly welcome chapter explores the idea of fasting in community, introducing practices like the round-robin fast and fasting with one or two partners. This excellent resource will help novice Christians dip into the ancient practice of fasting and more seasoned practitioners become more creative and intentional in its observance.

Now translated into Dutch and Polish.

Be sure to check out the "articles" page of this website, which has numerous articles Lynne has written on fasting.


Fasting Reminds Us We Do Not Live By Bread Alone by Monica McDowell »

Fasting Reminds Us We Do Not Live By Bread Alone

by Monica McDowell Elvig, Review published in "Presence" (a magazine for spiritual directors), June 2007

The ancient spiritual practice of fasting is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the spiritual disciplines. Our culture’s contradictory obsessions with dieting and consumption lead to all the more confusion about the appropriate place for fasting in contemporary lives. Won’t it contribute to eating disorders? Doesn’t it denigrate the body and deny God’s good gifts of food and abundance? Questions like these are at the forefront of Lynne Baab’s mind in her newest book, Fasting.

Baab deals with the controversy around fasting by first broadening its definition.

"Christian fasting is the voluntary denial of something for a specific time for a spiritual purpose, by an individual, family, community or nation" (p. 16).

By doing so, she defines fasting as more about our spiritual appetites, that is, our deepest desires for intimacy with God, than about our physical appetites. Offering examples of different kinds of fasting: fasting from television, shopping, information technology, and even social engagements or acts of service that have become routine rather than grace-filled, the author reframes fasting not as self-deprivation but as spiritually enriching. By deciding to give up activities and habits for a time that have become distracting to the most important things in our lives, we intentionally create space to experience God in new and fresh ways.

By then applying this broader and deeper understanding of fasting to the traditional definition of abstaining from food, she brings balance and correction to a practice that has been misused and abused throughout history. Moreover, by presenting a variety of partial food fasts, such as the "Daniel fast," she offers alternatives to those for whom full fasts are not practical. The author is also very careful to emphasize who should never fast from food, including those who have a history of eating disorders, those with certain medical conditions, as well as children, pregnant women, and others.

Using stories from scripture, church history, mystics, and Christians from different traditions around the world, the author compiles a wide range of experiences with fasting. She also includes a wealth of insightful quotes from people in our day and age who have experimented with fasting both individually and in community, as well as a helpful bibliography organized by subject matter. Spiritual directors will find this book an invaluable resource as each chapter ends with questions for reflection, journaling, and discussion along with suggestions for prayer.

Considering our over-saturated culture, Fasting is a prophetic voice calling us to remember that we do not live by bread alone. It is an invitation to create space for prayer in a world hungry for Spirit and a challenge to be in solidarity with those in our world who are often hungry for food. It should be noted that Fasting follows Baab’s previous book, Sabbath Keeping. The two books together provide a complementary spiritual rhythm of feast and fast. After reading both books, I am convinced like Baab that "in the Western world we need fasting today more than ever" (p. 140).

The Gift of Fasting for the Lenten Season by Rev. Catherine Fransson »

The Gift of Fasting for the Lenten Season

by Catherine Fransson, Pastor, Seattle First Baptist Church

Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites. Lynne Baab. IVP Books, 2006. 148 pp.

Lent begins on Wednesday, Feb. 21, so now is a good time to explore what you’d like to learn during this year’s pilgrimage. Our tradition doesn’t require us to do anything. But the seasons of our lives offer special gifts only if we attune ourselves and offer our attention to God in a new way.

Lynne Baab’s book, Fasting, is a good place to learn how “to step back from our culture and cross the doorway into God’s presence,” and to enter “a reflective place where we can listen to God and pray wholeheartedly for things that really matter.”

Not many Baptists would pick up this small volume, but I recommend it. The author, whom I know, is quick to explain that fasting includes not only abstaining from food, “but also from news media, entertainment, information, shopping, email and the Internet….” And she notes that fasting is about freedom, not self punishment.

Our culture urges relentless self-indulgence. Consumption is the cure for everything from low self-esteem to job loss. Fasting invites us to step back from our excess in order to pray. And since fasting is for short periods of time, not forever, it helps us enter into the rhythms of our lives anew: plenty, want; freedom, self-discipline.

Baab reviews the history of the use of fasting in spiritual practice. She notes the many biblical characters who fasted for specific purposes: David, Esther, Daniel, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Fasts were undertaken for the purposes of mourning, repentance, and preparing oneself for new duties or a special calling. Fasting was a regular discipline in the ancient church.

Her point, that fasting, at its core, is not a discipline of withholding; it is a discipline of making space for God, is brought home when she moves away from the topic of food and addresses our many other habitual distractions.

Fasts from the morning news, for example, helped some of her contemporaries realize how anxious and cynical the news made them. When they became more intentional about how to access news, they were able to lower their level of fear about what was happening in the world. Baab, herself, chose to leave the car stereo off on her long, routine commutes. Instead of speeding mindlessly down the freeway accompanied by loud music, she discovered a deeper appreciation for the landscape which drew her to prayer. She doesn’t do this all the time, but eagerly fasts from the car stereo when she especially needs to listen to God.

“When we fast, we step outside our normal habits.” As we do so, we discover how to take greater control of our life, to choose when to be mindless, and when—and how—to be mindful.

Fasting doesn’t have to be undertaken alone. Choosing to fast for a specific time for a specific reason can be shared with one or two others. Partners enhance the discipline, by sharing their learnings before, during, and after the fast. Indeed, some churches schedule fasts every season, specifying the intentions for which everyone should pray. Such a focus strengthens congregations and the clarity with which they discern God.

Fasting is something we can do when there is nothing to be done. We cannot fix everything. We are not in charge; God is. Stopping our futile busyness enables us to feel deeper compassion and companionship with others; it fosters solidarity with a cause, such as protesting the war, or ending homelessness. If a dear friend is very ill, it isn’t necessarily helpful to surf the net or to eat and drink to escape the pain. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to read Kathleen Norris or Sue Monk Kidd? Or work quietly in the garden, listening only to bird song?

The goal of life isn’t to eliminate pain in our lives or to find ever new ways of distracting ourselves from it. It is to be able to endure it with wisdom and gentleness, to realize all of us are vulnerable to loss and grief, and to help one another bear these burdens.

Baab concludes:

When we fast, we are free—briefly—from our needs for food or recreation. We are free to embrace discomfort for a short season. We are free from our need to be strong all the time, our need to control everything and our need to understand everything. Fasting strips away things that are extraneous in order to focus for a season on the thing that really matters, prayer and our relationship with God.