“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.”
- Isaiah 58:8
So begins the most beautiful and mysterious part of the liturgical year.
Fridays in particular represent an aspect of Lent that we have likely been familiar with since we were very young, fish in tandem with the classic Lenten penance of “giving up” something. I remember thinking hard about it in grade school, “should I give up sweets or maybe television? What about video games, as hard as that would be, or picking on my little brother?” Funny how, in retrospect, those possible personal injunctions were usually about little things that I somehow viewed as iniquitous. They were all ways that I could try to turn a little more from myself and towards God.
As I have gotten older and my supposed naïveté has dissipated somewhat, I have come to realize more and more the tremendous amounts of things that I do not know. Included in that vast morass is my understanding of God’s will for myself and for this world and her people. We cannot pretend to know these things. However, reason, conscience, role models, and Scripture are there as lighthouses for us to make our way on these stormy seas. I see this passage from Isaiah as a genuine example of the heart of God.
Herein lies the true sense of fasting. Herein lives the true love of Christ. And, herein dwells a code that we can all set as a true north. Fasting, “giving up,” is not just about us, that can only get us partway there. We are asked to rise up, give up the things that strangle our lives in our attempts to reach God, and give more fully of ourselves to the making of God’s Kingdom here, now, by fasting away from ourselves into the joy of life with and for each other.
Let us pray for each other this Lent, that it may be a time of joy. Joy in freeing ourselves from the bonds that keep us from each other. Maybe we can find some small ways to love each other better, slow steps towards the love Christ modeled for us on the cross.