Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
March 19th, 2012

Fasting from Injustice


I have a confession to make. I am horrible at fasting. Epically horrible. My Lenten fast usually devolves into me eating precisely that from which I have vowed to abstain in a shameful and ridiculous display of my apparent lack of self-mastery. And then (good Catholic that I am) I feel guilty. Epically guilty. There are some for whom this sort of fast (minus, of course, my aforementioned pre-Easter meltdown) is spiritually gratifying and meaningful. To you I say a hearty and sincere, “Huzzah!” It just does not suit me. It does not make me feel any more prepared to walk with Jesus on his way to Calvary and it does not call me to joyful anticipation of the Resurrection. It makes me feel cranky… and ashamed.

Fasting, I think, is meant to be transformative. Actually transformative. I think it is meant to operate like a controlled burn in the decaying and overgrown wilds of our hearts; letting what is broken and hazardous turn to ash so what is good can take root and flourish. Lenten fasting is an invitation to God. We are saying, “This is my heart. It is wounded. It needs tending.” God makes verdant the wrecked and jagged places, but we need to get down in the mire and participate. We need to see the bramble and the rot. We need to roll up our sleeves and clear it out.

The fast I am proposing is just this: a fast from injustice. In the Hebrew Bible, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s desire for us to abandon the superficial (and, dare I say, even religious) trappings of fasting and repentance… “Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6 NAB)

Cultivating the heart is serious business — not something accomplished by token acts of self-denial. What if the fast we embrace this Lent has nothing to do with chocolate or coffee or meat but instead calls us to pour over the everyday stuff of our lives and abstain from the ways in which we either actively or passively participate in injustice? The fast I am proposing is just this: a fast from injustice. In the Hebrew Bible, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s desire for us to abandon the superficial (and, dare I say, even religious) trappings of fasting and repentance. Sackcloth and ashes and self-denigration are an invitation for others to observe our piety and not an invitation for the Holy One to dwell in us, transform us, liberate us from our own brokenness. “Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6 NAB)

If we want to be liberated, we must do the work of liberation. If we want to be forgiven, we must practice forgiveness. If we desire healing, we must bind the wounds of others. Lent is ultimately about radical, scandalous, reckless love — God’s love for us laid agonizingly bare on the cross. Our Lenten fast should make it possible for this love to grow unfettered in our hearts until we are absolutely lush, unkempt and holy.

Where should we begin? Here’s a list we came up with for our family Lenten observance. Feel free to jump right in mid-Lent. Add, subtract, and edit as necessary. Once you get into the habit of fasting from injustice, keep going. Consider this Lent the beginning of your new injustice-free spiritual diet.

  1. Start at home

    I know. You were probably anticipating an exhortation to stop supporting retailers who take advantage of cheap foreign labor or to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or to recycle. All of these are honorable endeavors. By all means, do them… just don’t start there. Sometimes it is easier to look at how we participate in social injustice “out there” in the world. Start at home. Jesus teaches us to make things right with our sisters and brothers before we approach the altar of God. Doing the will of God is a hundred thousand times more beautiful than even the most poetic and heartfelt prayer. Start with those closest to you. God gave them into your care. Deal justly with them. Make amends. Uproot an old grievance. Unbind someone you know from loneliness or isolation.

  2. Call them by name

    My husband knows the name of every maintenance worker in every building he ever worked or lived in. He knows the name of the waitress who brings him his lunch. He has an easy, generous way about him. I do not. I am regrettably aloof. This Lent I am going to learn the name of the postal worker who brings our mail. I will finally learn the name of the nurse who has lovingly taken our children’s temperatures, administered their vaccines, and doted on them like they are the most beautiful and agreeable children in creation (which, of course, they are). I will learn the name of the guys who pick up our trash. Their work has dignity. They deserve to be noticed. We live in a world that makes it increasingly more difficult to recognize and experience our shared humanity. Think of the people in your life whose work and service benefit you everyday. Make an effort to know their names.

  3. Make a staple

    Instead of buying one of your grocery staples, make it. You can make your own bread, yogurt, condiments and cereal with little to no domestic aptitude or kitchen-related drama (no fooling). Nothing will make you respect your food like making it yourself. Put the money you save in a jar on the kitchen counter. Donate it to a charity that feeds the poor or give it directly to someone you know who is in need. Here’s our favorite easy little bread recipe. Or try your hand at making yogurt. Make a double batch. Share half with someone else. Nothing is more comforting than freshly made bread.

  4. Judge not… yourself

    Remember when Jesus tells his disciples to judge not? That means no judging yourself either. Sometimes the process of spiritual weeding can reveal to us that we have nursed poisonous and ugly growth where we ought to have sown love. Newsflash: you are not perfect. But — and this is infinitely more important — God made you. You bear the divine imprint. You may struggle and you may fail, but you will not be overcome. Know that God does not delight in self-centered self-abasement. God means for you to have life and have it abundantly. Living justly within our families, communities and world is about fulfilling our ultimate end: to live in friendship with God and to be happy. So, go ahead, be happy this Lent, because, “if you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday; then the Lord will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places, will give strength to your bones and you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:10-11 NAB)

The Author : Caitlin Kennell Kim
Caitlin Kennell Kim is a full-time baby wrangler, writer, and ponderer of all things theological. She earned her Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry and Theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She currently lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband and their four small children.
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  • Jhin Kim

    Had a Bacon Cheeseburger after reading your article.

  • Laura

    Thank-you so much for a wonderful article. All four of your suggestions are wonderful, and they are all pertinent in my life; so much more meaningful than “giving up” random things.
    Thank-you for sharing!

  • Jim

    What a great article! Where can I read more by this author? I love the part about the husband. I wonder if he’s catholic?

  • Laura

    I LOVE #2. This is something my father taught me early on, and I’ve tried to incorporate it into my life each day. There’s something so special about being called by name. It personalizes, humanizes, and connects us. Whenever I see a worker wearing a name tag, I always call that person by his or her name. The look of surprise on his or her face is priceless! It warms my heart and reminds me that we are all part of this great big human family. I’m so glad you included that in your fabulous list!


  • Emma

    An inspirational and enlightening look at what Lent is really about. We hear it every Sunday at mass during this time but you have really revealed a more profound purpose behind fasting, one that I think we often overlook. Wonderful job, Cait. I am so impressed. Love it!

  • ChristinaH

    Wonderful wise words. Where can read more from you?

  • Rose

    I agree with Becky that food fasting is just better to avoid until you have older children (and aren’t still having more kids so you aren’t pregnant or nursing). I think it is fun to get creative when it comes to fasting like fasting from other things you love but are not necessary. Plus as moms we all often fast from sleep which should not be overlooked – I think the sleep deprivation makes it harder to fast from food as well. We could always fast from something like browsing the internet and using that time to get to bed sooner which will make it easier to be patient and kind the next day. So no need to be down on the lack ability to fast from food, it might be great for a different season of life.

  • hmfrancis

    Lovely article! I love number one as well. A really good Priest told me to focus on being extra kind to my husband during lent and saying special prayers for him. I have found that it works wonders!

  • tacy

    your thoughts are poignant, convicting, and true. it is so much easier to fast “in the flesh” but completely ignore the purpose of it… to break every yoke. there is so much injustice, and just fasting from a certain food does nothing to end it.

  • Rosemary

    This really speaks to me, especially number 1. The most basic and most difficult for me. As my mom always said, “Charity begins at home.”

    Also, your thoughts brought this one up for me: Fast from anxiety, feast on trust.

  • Becky D.

    I feel that, as a post-menopausal 56 years old woman, I am just now learning something about fasting. I have tried at various times of my life before without, as you say, really learning anything. So far I have come to one firm (FIRM) conclusion, which is strongly seconded by every wise woman to whom I have said it- Do NOT try to fast when you are 1) pregnant 2) nursing or 3) taking care of young children even if you are not nursing them. Try some of these other ideas instead!

  • Kim

    Excellent discussion of the meanings behind our Lenten observances. I to am a dreadful faster…and in recent years have taken the approach you suggest and find my heart much more ready to celebrate at Easter than those times I failed to give up chocolate.

  • Julia Duin

    Really like the part about knowing the names of the garbage men, mail persons, etc. The crossing guard who helps kids go to school is another possibility. Also, for those of us in liturgical churches, don’t just say “the peace of the Lord be with you” in church. Ask that person’s NAME.

  • Kristina

    I love this article! I too cannot give up chocolate or pizza for Lent, though, I try every year. All of her suggestions make sense and seem really doable.

  • April

    Beautifully written, I have always been a proponent of making lent a time to take action to live more like Jesus…caring for others, service and simplicity.

  • Adam

    What a beautiful article! Challenging and comforting at once, great insights.

  • cherylann Buckley

    I understand where you are coming from with the food thing. I don’t do well with that either, although, I may give up coffee on fridays or a treat on a given day. But to do it throughout lent doesn’t seem to change me I just go back to my old ways. Your article gave me food for thought. It really seems more practical and there are so many ways we can give of ourselves to others. thanks so much.

  • Cp

    This is profound, deep, and life-giving. Just what I needed to read today.
    Thank you for sharing.

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