My mind is racing already after reading the lectionary texts today. I don’t know if I can settle on one topic emerging from the message of Isaiah. Perhaps it isn’t always necessary to be able to wrap my words up into a tight, cohesive package. I may just strive this morning for coherence and leave cohesion by the wayside. We’ll see how it goes.
Here is what Isaiah shouts today in God’s name on the topic of fasting that definitely reverberates down through the ages. Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!…This is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your wound shall quickly be healed. (IS 58:1-9A)
On Wednesday (Ash Wednesday, still an official day of fast and abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church – one of only two in Lent these days) I was so aware of my eating. Running through my mind was the rule that “two small meals equal the one main meal” and “no meat at any meal.” The challenge was not finding what I could eat to fit that description but in the second part of the stricture of no eating between meals. The issue was consciousness. Happily, I was on the road working about 80 miles away from home because when I’m home the challenge is always to notice when I pick up a cracker or a grape walking through the kitchen if I feel hungry – or even if not. But there was the moment on Wednesday when I stopped to fill my car’s gas tank at a station with a convenience store attached. I had to remind myself not to go in and pick up a candy bar or a small bag of potato chips, “just in case…” Food is so accessible in my life; I need to be more responsible to that fact.
Yesterday I read an article in the semi-annual publication of our province of Sisters of St. Joseph. Our Social Justice Coordinator was writing about a collaboration between two organizations uniting to fight hunger. One, Great Nations Eat, is using the technology of media like TV, radio, or even billboards and internet like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to raise consciousness. “We put a man on the moon. Feeding our people shouldn’t be rocket science” and “America can’t be great on an empty stomach” are two of their slogans aimed at making people think. The other organization, Share Our Strength, is similarly motivated to call on Americans to unite in the effort to fight hunger. “It [hunger] affects the life of one in six Americans. That doesn’t happen in any other developed nation. It shouldn’t happen here,” says founder and CEO, Billy Shore. “Ending hunger is possible. It will take public awareness and political outreach to build the necessary national will…”
So it isn’t just about eating or not eating; it’s more about consciousness that setting free the oppressed and unbinding the yoke of others in our midst or in our world can start with feeding the hungry. Here recent images on the news of emaciated children in war-torn places in the Middle East come to mind. It’s all connected and we are all responsible. My province of the Sisters of St. Joseph has committed us to address this issue in the following ways: 1. to promote and to advocate for the recognition and realization that food is a fundamental human right, and 2. to be part of developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to end hunger on the local, national and international levels. That is a big order and it is clear that we do not assume we can do it alone. Even small steps, tiny actions are important. On yesterday’s local news, for example, there was a report of elementary school children from Owego, NY – a rural area – collecting cans of soup last week in the run-up to the Super Bowl game to donate to homeless people served by the Tioga County rural outreach organization directed by one of our Sisters. These children gave Sister Mary 524 cans of soup and learned a great lesson of caring at the same time.
Enough! We all have our own work to do to respond to God’s call through Isaiah. Who will you notice on your Lenten journey who needs your help? How will you recognize his/her hunger? What will you do to feed it? And what about me? What will I do next time? It’s about each of us and all of us. May we walk together into a brighter, more caring future.