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Fast for Families

For centuries, Christians have been fending off a certain heresy that the early church tried to put away– a heresy called Gnosticism that said that bodies and souls are separate, and not equal. This lie tells us God cares about our spiritual lives, but not about our physical lives.

Scripture tells us that we are whole people – body, spirit, heart, mind – and that all of this is what makes us image-bearers of God himself. God is not interested in just our souls. For God, dualities like that don’t exist. We are whole people – body and soul together.

Fasting is part of a whole-person response to God. As whole people, we don’t separate the spiritual from the physical, but instead integrate them. And that’s what we see in Scripture when we take a look at fasting. In Biblical times, we see people fasting in response to sacred and painful moments in life.* When people repented, they marked the moment of turning from darkness to light through fasting and prayer. When people were worried, they marked the moment of trusting God in spite of what might come through fasting and prayer. When people saw injustice, they marked their joining with God’s sadness over injustice through fasting and prayer.

Fasting was a way to allow their spirit to cry out in the same way as their body. They fasted and prayed.

Sometimes they got it wrong, of course. Losing sight of this unified body and spirit, the people of Israel would get all lop-sided. In Isaiah 58, we see God’s response to the people of Israel during a period when they had started to emphasize only spiritual matters and brush aside the importance of bodies.

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?

When the Israelites started to think of themselves in dualistic ways – that their spirits were more important than their bodies – then they started to treat others in that way, too. So these faithful people would turn a blind eye to the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor – the real, bodily, material concerns of people around them – focusing instead on the spiritual practices that set them apart as good. And that kind of fast made no sense at all to God.

In Isaiah, God pleads with the Israelites to do a new kind of fast – one that would loose the chains of injustice and result in a wave of goodwill toward those who were poor and vulnerable.

We have the opportunity to take part in just such a response to a sacred and painful moment in our time. As lawmakers continue to stall, immigrant families are being torn apart. US citizens’ children are coming home to empty houses because of a deported parent. Marriages are being strained by the trauma of a border between spouses. Our immigration system is broken – everyone agrees. And political posturing is getting in the way of fixing it, in spite of the unfathomable pain it is causing in all our communities.

Consider joining the Fast for Families as a way to mark today’s sacred and painful moment – a moment when immigrants have been reduced to “an economic benefit” or “a drain on the economy” instead of those bearing the image of God.

As you give up a meal, let hunger do what it did for those in Biblical times; let it call you to a more fervent and constant prayer. Recognize that provision comes from God alone, not from your own goodness. Bring your own body in line with your spirit, and allow yourself to remember the great value, body and spirit, of the vulnerable in your world. And let your fasting give you space for prayer – prayers for kids who deserve to be raised by their own parents. Prayers for mothers who deserve to watch their kids grow up. Prayers for husbands who deserve to come home to their families.

This is, I believe, the fast that our Lord has chosen – the kind of fasting that leads to justice.

(You can find more opportunities to advocate for immigration reform with the CRC's Office of Social Justice.)

*Scot McKnight's insightful book, Fasting, calls this a "grievous sacred moment." I'd recommend this book as a resource for those interested in exploring the discipline of fasting further.

[Image: Flickr user Victor Bezrukov]

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