Imagine a young couple in the labor and delivery room experiencing the birth of their first child. Hear her groans, see the sweat, and feel the anxious tension. Now place a bag of potato chips in the husband’s hands and picture him munching away as he watches his wife give birth. As if it were on TV. It’s just wrong!

Or picture a man standing in the baptismal with his pastor. He’s wearing a white robe and preparing to confess Jesus as Lord of his life as he publicly identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of his Lord in baptism. Then, out from the folds of his robe, he brings forth the bag of chips and starts munching. Never!

“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”

“Her mother and I.” Munch, munch.

No!

These are sacred moments. And in sacred moments, we do not eat. It seems wrong to eat. We don’t think about not eating in the moment—it simply feels unnatural and unthinkable.

Scot McKnight defines fasting as the “natural response of a person to a grievous sacred moment.”

McKnight emphasizes that fasting is a natural response. Like not eating during your wedding vows because the moment is too sacred. Like not eating as you look into the casket at a funeral because the moment is too grievous.

McKnight emphasizes that fasting is a response to a very serious situation, not a device to take us from a good level to a better level. Did you get that? Fasting isn’t an instrument to get God to hear our prayers or to help us master a primordial impulse or to accomplish anything. It’s something you do when circumstances are bad enough that you don’t want to eat, and it would seem wrong to do so. Or when circumstances are incredible enough that you don’t even think about food.

I am a Kansas State football fan. For decades, K-State had the worst record of any college team. Most losses, fewest wins—the losers. They were routinely trounced by other Big 8 (now Big 12) teams like Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. I will never forget being at the K-State versus Nebraska game on November 14, 1998, when we, the oppressed, ignited our revolution. Nebraska held twenty-nine consecutive victories against K-State, but the stadium Jumbotron boldly declared before the game: “Today one dynasty ends. And another dynasty...is born.”

K-State had not won against Nebraska for twenty-nine years—twenty-nine consecutive losses. So that message stirred a deep desire for vengeance. A growl in the gut. When the game clock hit 0:00 with K-State winning by a score of 40 to 30, the stadium erupted in an adrenalin-fueled roar of triumph. Everyone, myself included, could do nothing but scream, jump, and pump our arms in the air, high-fiving and hugging complete strangers as the thousands who could find their way onto the field simply ran in random directions in a continuous yelling swarm. Fans started climbing the goal post, clinging to it like ants, to bring it down (even though it was our own) in order to, what else, drag it around. It was a nearly unstoppable, bodily response to a sacred moment.

Our bodies also respond to tragic moments by natural, nearly unstoppable expressions of sorrow. My sister died when I was fifteen. When my dad told me, my mind reeled, and I was plunged into emotional turmoil. Throughout that day and for many days afterward, my parents, brothers, and I were doubled over, on our knees, pouring out unstoppable tears. I remember being on my knees, hugging myself, as I swayed with my head low to the floor. If you’ve ever lost a loved one or faced a terrible grief, then you understand what I’m describing. The body responds instinctively, almost uncontrollably, in grievous moments.

Whether it is as profound as the death of a sister or as trivial as winning a football game, when we feel a major experience deep in the gut, our bodies will be compelled to respond.