Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An Ash Wednesday Reflection on Fasting

Presbyterians for Earth Care Lenten Reflections 2014 
Advocating for Environmental and Social Justice
Isaiah 58:1 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! 

Grace and hope abound! Yet now particularly, there is a need for Advocacy for eco-justice!  During this Lenten season and through Earth Day Sunday (the first Sunday after Easter), PEC invites you to join us in sharing a series of Lenten reflections.  We invite you to engage in discernment, then re-engage in action- oriented measures toward caring for Creation. Isaiah 58 is our scriptural base, taken from a lectionary reading for Ash Wednesday.  Thanks to all who partake in this Lenten series and know that "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." (Isaiah 58:11) 
Diane Waddell, Moderator, PEC 

Fasting for Justice
On this Ash Wednesday, we receive an odd word for Lent from the prophet Isaiah. As we begin our own season of fasting, we confront a text that implies our spiritual discipline may be without meaning (or worse, concealing a greater injustice). Not exactly the encouragement we could use right about now!

We in the environmental movement, much like Isaiah’s own people, often think that if we just fast enough—or, in our case, eat enough local, organic food, recycle and compost, walk or use a bike, use alternative energy, and drink only from reusable water bottles—we can be holy and no longer complicit in destructive systems. But Ash Wednesday and Isaiah remind us that the path to holiness is marked not by the ways we extract ourselves from the world but by the ways we thrust ourselves into that world.

God’s complaint is not with fasting; it’s not with biking or growing your own food—these are noble acts. It’s that there is a world suffering—and it has far more use for troublemakers unafraid to walk through grime and sin to link arms with the rest of creation than for righteous churchgoers who perform their feel-good acts of piety from behind privileged walls.

So let’s not be discouraged in our own efforts to adopt spiritual disciplines that enable us to hear God’s voice more clearly or practices that align our lifestyle with our principles. Let’s rather hear a cry this Lent to do more. If we want to get closer to God, we must seek out the worker, the person who bears the brunt of environmental waste, the farmer imprisoned by GMOs, the uncle who vehemently disagrees with us, the person who has no access to fresh food or cannot afford to buy organic, and all of God’s children, human and not.

O Creator God,

You saved us by taking on flesh and walking this long, muddy road to Calvary with us. Inspire us to walk a little longer and not forsake the road for more pleasant pieties. But turn not also from our fasting; rather make of our fasting a more complete offering, as we find you yet again in our earthly midst.


Patrick David Heery is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the editor of Presbyterians Today magazine. An avid nature-lover, he helped found the Environmentally Conscious Organization of Seminarians at Princeton Theological Seminary and is currently involved with his local chapter of the Sierra Club.

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