Fasting from Injustice (Again)

Farmers and their advocates protest outside a supermarket for fair wages. (CNS photo/Jim West)
Farmers and their advocates protest outside a supermarket for fair wages. (CNS photo/Jim West)

This year I’m not fasting during Lent. Period. Not because I’ve given up on the concept of fasting as spiritually edifying. Not because I’m the worst faster in the long and storied history of fasting (which, by the way, I am). Not because I have a tendency to be rebellious, defiant, and stubborn (me, me, and — let’s face it — me).

This year I’m not fasting because I’m pregnant with our fourth little one and, in her inspired and loving wisdom, Mother Church has given me a pass. I’m still practicing abstinence from meat… but it didn’t quite seem like enough. So, this Lent I’m retracing the steps of a spiritual adventure I embarked upon last year. I am aiming at the fast the Prophet Isaiah describes — a fast from injustice. I have a few new ideas. I hope you’ll come along with me — in addition to your Lenten fast, in lieu of a traditional fast (not everyone is obligated to fast), or in an “oh… fudge” attempt to salvage a Lent that to this point resembles one long, drawn-out, and regrettably decadent, Mardi Gras (no judgment… I’ve been there). Come. Lent is about self-examination, reconciliation and transformation. With some old-fashioned moxie and a little grace (ok — a lot of grace), we can change. We can deepen our friendship with God. We can be better to each other. Start small. Think big. Let’s go!

Put your money where your mouth is

I love tomatoes. I love tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This Lent, however, I will not buy tomatoes. In fact, I will wait until late spring/early summer. Here’s the thing: It’s next to impossible to buy a tomato in the winter that was harvested by someone who was paid a fair (or even legal) wage. In fact, chances are the tomato beckoning you from the misty oasis of the produce aisle this Lent was harvested by someone caught in the snares of human trafficking. Great, some of you are thinking. No tomatoes. I don’t even like tomatoes. That’s not my point.

As people living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we rarely stop to think before we eat. The dollars we spend on food count as our silent endorsement of the companies that bring them to the shelves of our local stores. Pick one item — a favorite item — on your grocery list. Make an effort to find out more about the company that produces it. Is it produced in a way that’s consistent with Catholic social teaching in terms of the dignity of workers, sustainability and respect for life? If it’s a fresh item like meat or produce, find out where it comes from, how it’s raised and who helped harvest/butcher it. Probably you’ll have to pay more for the good stuff… the stuff made in a way that respects the people who produce it, the land from which it’s cultivated, and, ultimately, the people (read: you) who consume it. It’s a sacrifice. Heck, it’s downright Lenten.

You’ve got a friend in me

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I’m not exactly a social butterfly. Actually, I’m chronically aloof. It’s something I’d sincerely like to change about myself. What does this have to do with fasting from injustice? Plenty. Friendships — even friendly acquaintances — we form in our communities help make sure nobody slips through the cracks in a time of crisis. We need to make a practice of inquiring after each other, of checking in on each other, of knowing each other well enough to know something isn’t quite right. This Lent I invite you to join me in making a new friend in your community. Invite someone to join you for a cup of coffee (or a play date, if you both have little ones). It might not end up being a deep friendship, but if we all widen our social circles just a little this Lent we can help ensure that everyone has the support they need when things get tough.

Make an evening of it

A lot of people make an effort to volunteer during Lent. Volunteering with friends and family can inspire you to do it more often. Do you meet regularly with a group of friends for dinner, drinks or a movie? Why not invite folks to gather earlier than usual to help out at your parish’s food pantry or soup kitchen? If you usually gather over the weekend, why not contact your local shelter for homeless women and children to see if you could visit for a few hours to entertain the kids? You don’t need to plan anything complicated. Try small stations for the kids to rotate through in groups like one friend with markers and a roll of butcher paper to make a mural to hang, another with stories to read aloud (check out your public library for an awesome selection), another with a healthy snack (think fresh fruit — homeless kids rarely have access to this), and another with songs to teach.

If, like us, you have a gaggle of little people who might be just a hair too young to come along to volunteer, check out volunteer opportunities from home. This Lent, The Pickles Kim are making these sweet little bunnies from recycled sweaters and baby blankets to give to a local hospice care facility. You can make knotted rosaries for prison ministries or for folks serving in the military. Make the night fun by putting on a favorite movie and sharing a pizza while you work.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. How are you fasting from injustice this Lent? I’d love to hear your ideas!