March 3: Friday after Ash Wednesday
Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? . . . This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; . . . Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; . . . Then . . . your wound shall quickly be healed . . . (Isa 58: 6-8)
Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are the three pillars of Lent. Today Isaiah warns us against reading fasting through too small a lens. In an older Lenten tradition we fasted from certain amounts of food. Now we observe the Friday practice of fasting from meat. My long-ago seventh-graders would ask, “Can you drink chicken bouillon from a mug since you’re not eating it?” They wanted precise rules. It was a seventh-grade question: What exactly do I have to do? What can I get away with before God will get mad?
Such questions are symptoms of spiritual astigmatism in adults. Keeping an eye on how we look to God as we measure out parsimonious penances keeps our focus on ourselves: How am I doing? God is much more interested in what we’re doing than how we’re doing. Penances like wearing sackcloth and ashes in biblical times or abstaining from meat today are not goals for us to be tested on. They are means to clear eyes clouded by looking so much at ourselves we can’t look around and see others’ suffering and need.
A touch of hunger opens the door into the streets of our world. A morsel of want lets us see more clearly there what Isaiah saw: human beings yoked and bound to others’ material or emotional profits, made invisible by filthy clothing or others’ disregard, destitute of resources or of purpose and of love.
Tend to these wounds and others like them, says Isaiah, and your own will be healed. Wounds? Yes, blinded eyes, hardened hearts, worries over our own standing before God that keep us from being what we are: brothers and sisters beloved by God and made one in Christ.
Remember one unhappy face you’ve noticed. noticed. What caused it? Want, hunger, loneliness, fear? What is one thing you could do to lessen it? Start now!
God of love, open our eyes to the suffering we never see around us; open our hearts to recognize our brothers and sisters in want; direct our steps toward help we could offer.
-By Genevieve Glen, Daily Lent Reflection 2017