02 March 2011

Is This the Fast That I Choose? Reconnecting to Isaiah 58

In my previous post, I shared some whining about how difficult it is for me to imagine following the practice of fasting and sacrifice embodied in the Christian season of Lent, the Muslim Ramdaan, and in many other religions and spiritualities.  Normally, I embrace what I learn from our wise ancestors when they are teaching me about spiritual growth.

Not this year, not this Lent.  The idea of fasting - set as it is in the context of my fourth month on a really restrictive diet and curtailing of all pain medications - is ludicrous.  Particularly because it seems the regimen is not even working: the migraines keep coming.

So I cast the inward glance, acknowledge my fatigue, and find a small bit of compassion for myself.  Honestly, who wouldn't, in my same situation, be reluctant to think of yet more abstinence or sacrifice?  Of course Lent seems impossible this year.  It makes me more tired just to admit that, to sit for a moment in the reality of the fatigued pain that is daily with me.  Just for a moment, however, and no wallowing in self pity: wallowing is not the same thing as acknowledging, and is a trap that captures me in victim mode.

When I do so, the momentary stillness allows a bit of scripture from the Old Testament to float up into my mind.  These are words that were instrumental in bringing me to Washington, DC twenty years ago to take up a volunteer position in a residence for homeless, pregnant women.

Is this the fast that I choose?

It is from Isaiah 58: 6-12.  Click here if you want to read the entire scripture.

Those years ago, I knew in the depths of my spirit that God had chosen a particular fast for me, and so I moved to DC for what I thought was a year but ended up to be twenty (and counting); started a nonprofit residence for homeless women living with AIDS, living and working there until the migraines forced me to resign. 

Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,

And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
7“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

For those twenty years, my fast was my life, and although I lived it imperfectly and with plenty of difficult lessons to be slowly and painfully learned, it contained for me a wonderful and peaceful satisfaction.

So the question is not "how can I be expected to give up yet another food or activity this Lent?" but, "how do I live into this fast that seems to have been chosen for me?"

[Note: I am not of the belief that God "gives" us the circumstances of our lives, or that there is any entity at all who points the finger of fate and says, "You there ..."  My spirituality encompasses the thoughts and practices of several different religions, and I have no desire for doctrine, dogma or rigid systems of belief.  You can read more in this past post.]

The fast that is mine now is in many ways opposite to that which I was given for the past twenty years, when I was living my passion for social justice in active, immediate presence to those who are disenfranchised and neglected.  That is not possible any more.  I must let it go.  In its place is a fast that has to do with solitude and meditation, prayer and reflection, quietness and depths. 

Can I fast now with the commitment and passion that were mine before the migraines changed so much in my life?  That will be the subject of my next post.

I would love to hear from you.  Leave a comment below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

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