Posted on Tuesday, June 14, 2011
[caption id="attachment_2135" align="alignright" width="258" caption="Banner from Colegio Nazareth for Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia, 2011"]
Sunday was the last day for the ayuno
, or fast, that Mamie and I participated in last week. We joined people in the United States and Colombia for this fast - an ancient tradition in the Jewish and Christian traditions - as a sign of protest, lament, and hope. So how does a week of fasting bring about protest, lament, and hope?
The Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote of the type of fast that God chooses in a time of crisis for the Hebrew people, and it is a clear call to us today:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Just preceding that passage, there are clear warnings about what type of sanctified religious displays are the opposite of God's desires, and a warning for all of us fasting this past week:
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? (Isaiah 58)
So do I feel like we loosed the bonds of injustice this past week? Undid the thongs of the yoke? Let the oppressed go free? Shared bread or clothed the naked? Or instead, did we serve our individual interests, continue in the oppression of others, or fail to be humble in this fast...
If the measure of a fast is to have stopped the Colombia/US Free Trade agreement, or to have taken the reigns of the debate in Congress, then we certainly did not accomplish that. Yet, I also think those goals would fall more in line with the second text from above, the ways that we humans can misinterpret sacred actions like fasting. Instead, I pray and hope this fast had a different but deeper impact; I am changed for it, and changed for good.
After a week of sunup to sundown fasting, I can say that it is very much an exercise of patience and deliberateness. For me there were no revelations, no in-breakings of the Spirit - only the constancy of my hunger. The dull ache of lack that I so often literally quench. But not this past week. This past week that hunger, that lack, was a holy symbol of God's hunger. God's hunger for justice and dignity for all of God's beloved creations.
Fasting is not an exercise to force something outside to happen as much as it is to steel your resolve, to examine deeply your commitments, and to fuel the simmering fire for justice that is somewhere in all of us.
Many of our readers joined us in fasting, and even more joined us in calling into the White House to voice opposition to the harmful elements of this agreement (and it is not too late for you to call...
). I am hopeful about the political impact of this witness. It is important for people who know some of the deeper impacts of these trade agreements to raise their voice in opposition. And thanks be to God, there are times when the political leaders in the US listen to this kind of witness. Raising our voice about this one policy is just the beginning of working for the much broader transformation of our political order, towards a world where the dignity and value of all of God's people, and creation, is the common goal.
But in the end, I am also hopeful about a deeper change. A change deeper than the many give and takes that this trade agreement is going through. A change deeper than the hope promised by politicians. I am hopeful for a deeper change in me, and in you. A change that we can truly join in the fast that God chooses. A change to align our whole lives in the work of God. Then we truly change this world.