Our Chosen Fast
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?
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.
Educator and poet Clint Smith began his 2014 TED talk by reminding the audience of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
As a high school teacher, Smith wanted his students to know about the importance of speaking up and the danger of not speaking up. Growing up as a Catholic, he had been taught to fast during Lent from pleasures like sodas, French fries, and French kisses. One year, he decided to give up speaking. But he quickly came to realize that in a larger sense he had given up speaking a long time before, telling people what they wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. When a friend was beaten up for being gay, he put his head down and walked on by. Seeing the lock on his locker, he realized the lock he had on his heart and mouth.
I must confess that I too have kept silent at the cost of others’ needs, dignity, and freedom. But on this Ash Wednesday, Isaiah is challenging us to consider fasting in a new way. Have we fasted from our fear of speaking up against oppression? Have we fasted from our privilege and instead challenged systems of injustice? Or have we diminished our light and hidden it under a bushel? Have we kept God’s desire “to loosen the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free?”
Silence allows injustice, discrimination, hatred, and environmental degradation to continue. “Shout out, do not hold back!” as the prophet says. “Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality and death. May we die to fear, complacency, and silence.
Dear God, lead us on this Lenten journey. May our chosen fasting, giving, and prayer be the light that break forth like the dawn. May we not fast from speaking up and living out Your bountiful vision for all in Your good creation. Amen.
The Rev. David Shinn was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the US when he was 11. Currently he serves as the Associate Pastor for Congregational Care at Westminster Presbyterian Church in beautiful downtown Minneapolis, MN. He is the proud father of two college age sons, Enoch and Ethan, and husband to Julie. He finds peace and joy in reading, opera, running and spending time with his family.