by Abbigail Hull, ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow – Washington, D.C.

The courage of a middle school boy stayed with me after my first opportunity as an ELCA Hunger Fellow to facilitate faith advocacy training and lawmakers meetings for a Lutheran youth group visiting Washington, D.C. from Massachusetts. During one of those meetings, he forthrightly told a policy-maker that addressing educational disparities is necessary to eliminating hunger in our country. “Shout out, do not hold back!” Like the exclamation of Isaiah 58:1 which we hear on Ash Wednesday, this student was calling out the sinful inequalities of the world.

During this season of self-reflection, humility, of fasting, what does it mean when we hear the Lenten verse from Joel 2:12-17,  “blow the trumpet of Zion…for the day of the Lord is near…sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people”?

When I initially think of fasting, I think of a personal spiritual practice – a personal decision and action that requires abstaining from some behavior. This can be a positive experience. However, when I view fasting in this way, I have the tendency to use it to punish myself for the things I do not like about myself. I often eat too much chocolate, for example, so no chocolate in Lent. This turns me inward and not outward to the world and my community.

This is not the fasting Isaiah is talking about when he proclaims:

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?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Isaiah 58:6-7

I believe Isaiah is calling me and other Christians to turn outward – fast and repent from the injustices seen our community. He calls us to envision fasting as a tool for communal reflection and action to better align ourselves with our neighbors and with God’s vision for the world.  It is an engagement of our hearts and bodies.

Last year, the ELCA participated in a campaign to #PrayFastAct with our Episcopalian siblings in solidarity with our hungry neighbors and in response to potential cuts in anti-poverty programs. When the pang of hunger is felt when fasting, we are reminded of the shared mortality of our human bodies. We are all from ashes and to ashes we shall return. We are also reminded that many of our neighbors have no choice in this fasting. We see the sinfulness of the world and are called to repent from the sinfulness in ourselves and our world.

In that solidarity, may we all have the same humble courage of that young man to gather together, shout out, and work toward justice in our society.