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What Fast Will You Choose?

February 8, 2020

Often times when we think of fasting, we think of dramatic efforts to forego food during a time of prayer. Ghandi was known to fast for days or even weeks. Some traditions call for a period of fasting during Lent. When we visited The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane this past October I thought a lot about the fast of silence. I have experienced times of silence in the past, but thinking about the silence of the monks and especially Thomas Merton, I was reminded that out of such fasts can come incredible insights. We need more silence in this world, that’s for sure!

The juxtaposition of the Isaiah reading and one of the more difficult of Jesus’s teachings is intriguing and challenging. In Isaiah we hear the Prophet challenging the people of Israel. God isn’t happy with the “offerings” of the people or the religious leadership. The fasts mean nothing to God without a change of heart. All that God is asking is for the people to treat each other with the same love with which God loves all of God’s children. Yet once the heart is changed, the tone changes dramatically.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am… If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. (Isaiah 58:8-12)

Life moves from darkness into light. Hopelessness turns into hope. Instead of being lone individuals, we become a part of the beloved community. What is the fast God required? How can we, from the perspective of Jesus, be the salt and the light? The answer is closer than we may realize.

All of the actions required by the prophet… the summary of the law and the prophets according to Jesus… fulfilled by Jesus… these are all encapsulated in the divine law of love… To love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength… To love your neighbor as yourself. It is at once that easy and that challenging.

This is the fast God wants… a fast from division… a fast from fear… a fast from hatred… then we shall be, in the words of Isaiah, Repairers of the breach.

Merton has some words for us to consider. Although the context was different when he wrote them, the vision is universal. Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.

May we be that love… May that love transform us… then the light of Christ will shine through us. Then the salt of our faith will not lose its flavor. That is my hope and that is my prayer, dear reader.

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