Questions for Reflection
- How do you invite people into your mission? What stories do you tell?
- How do you incorporate giving into your litugrical seasons?
- In what ways are children and youth taught about faith and giving?
by Anne Brock, Lake Insitute Program Manager
Lent begins next week with Ash Wednesday, a time of remembering that from ashes we come and to ashes we return. Many Christians use Lent as an opportunity to give up something as a way of sacrificing during this season. I’ve heard anything from giving up chocolate or drinking to, more recently, social media fasts. However, I’ve also known people to take on a practice or spiritual discipline. A few years ago, I took time each day during Lent to send a handwritten note. It was an opportunity for me to say thank you, ask for forgiveness or reach out, depending on the person and circumstance.
The lectionary reading for Ash Wednesday comes from the Hebrew Bible and the prophet Isaiah, writing to a group of people returning from exile to rebuild their homeland. This passage from chapter 58 suggests responding to the second option of sacrifice during Lent: “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?” There may be some things that have to be let go of, but mostly these are commands – actions – that we are called to do. With each action suggested, light follows. Give food to the hungry and invite the poor into your home: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” When you offer food and attend to the afflicted, “then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”
Sometime near Lent each year, the youth group I led would fast for 30 hours. I was always surprised to see middle school and high school students eager to go without food for a weekend. They started after lunch on Friday and ended Saturday evening. We didn’t just fast, though. Before the fasting began, they raised money from friends, family and church members. They chose not to eat so that others could. I didn’t realize it at the time (because I didn’t have the gift of Lake Institute in my life yet!), but we were inviting people into our mission, and when we told the story, people never hesitated in sharing their financial resources. We shared that through our fasting, students in Kenya would receive lunch each day they went to school. One year the youth were able to raise enough money to provide school lunches for over 100 students!
We did more than fast – we learned about the issue. We took time to discuss and grapple with the realities of hunger, dirty water and lack of health care. Through games and activities, the youth received a small glimpse into the struggles of people around the world, and in our own backyard.
We did more than fast – we worked hard. We went to a greenhouse to plant hundreds and hundreds of produce seeds that would later be transplanted to a local community garden that would support a low-cost restaurant nearby.
We went to food pantries to stock, organize and clean. We helped families select their food for the week. Have you ever watched a teenage boy compassionately walk with a young mom and her children through the aisles of a food pantry and help her select food for her family? It’s a sight to behold.
One year we transplanted trees a community garden… remember we were fasting! Teens picked up shovels and started digging. We took water breaks and joke breaks and I’m-not-sure-I-can-do-this-anymore breaks, and then picked up the shovels once again and got back to work. We also prepared and served food at our soup kitchen… while fasting!
This is the fast they chose: to offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted. They gave up 30 hours to fast from food and take action to continue the work that the prophet urges us to do.
On Sunday morning, just a few hours after the fast ended, those teens would stand in front of the congregation to reveal how much money they raised, how many students would receive daily lunches, how much produce would be yielded in the coming spring, how many meals were shared, how many people were served. Even though the official fundraising was over, the next day I’d have more checks to process and thank you notes to write because more people saw the light. They saw the light break forth like the dawn and they wanted to be part of it.
by Rafia Khader, Lake Institute Program Manager
For Muslims, fasting in the lunar month of Ramadan, which is just a little over two months away, is an obligation. But fasting – from all food, drink, and marital relations – is encouraged throughout the year.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is believed to have fasted every Monday and Thursday.
But there is also a Prophetic tradition of fasting on what is referred to as the “three white days”, the 13th, 14th, and 15th of each lunar month.
There is also the fast of the Prophet Da’ud (rendered in English as David) (peace be upon him), who is said to have fasted every other day. Although I don’t know anyone living today that does this type of fast.
What’s so special about fasting?
On a personal level, I find it to be one of the easiest and also one of the most difficult things to do. Easy, because it does not require much effort. I can carry on with my day as usual and don’t have to make too many adjustments to my schedule (other than eating and sleeping!). But it is also so difficult because everywhere I go, I am inundated with thoughts and images of food. But as I have written about before, fasting on a metaphorical level never really was only about food. Once you peel away the layers, food is the first layer to be shed. Continue peeling and then you’ll see soon enough what you are really hungry for.
And while increasing your acts of worship – what I call the “esoteric” acts – are part of this rediscovery and reacquainting with God, there are more “exoteric” aspects to it as well, which come in the form of service to others – and without it, this re-acquaintance is not fully complete.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have said, “Whoever removes one of the hardships of a believing soul, Allah will remove from him one of the distresses on the Hereafter. Whoever solves someone else’s problem, Allah will make things easy for him in this world and the Hereafter… Allah is ever assisting His servant as long as that servant is helping his brother.” This sentiment, I would argue, can and should be extended to all of creation.
It’s a funny thing that when we willingly forgo food and drink for the sake of God, we are more primed to be selfless towards others. As Anne’s story about her youth and my own experience with fasting have showed me, it’s amazing how far we can go on such little fuel (literally). A physical fast really is an invitation to live on a more spiritual level.
Stewardship consultant Cesie Delve Scheuermann speaks with Lewis Center Associate Director Ann Michel about cultivating generosity through simple practices of gratitude and sharing the good that money can do in the church and the world.
Join us in Charlotte, NC July 11-14 for The Church Network conference. Dr. David King will be the Keynote Speaker on Friday, July 12 addressing the newest findings and application of the National Study of Congregations' Economic Practices.