This is the sort of fast that pleases me: Remove the chains of injustice! Undo the ropes of the yoke! Let those who are oppressed go free, and break every yoke you encounter! Share your bread with those who are hungry, and shelter homeless poor people! Clothe those who are naked, and don’t hide from the needs of your own flesh and blood!~ Isaiah 58:6-7
Fasting is unnatural, nature demands the opposite, i.e. put on weight in order to do the necessary work. All migratory birds put on extra weight before and during migration. Some birds will actually double their weight so they have enough fuel for the trip. This explains why sometimes large flocks of birds, shorebirds, for instance, gather at abundant food sources at particular times. If you want to see a Red Knot or Ruddy Turnstone in May, there are a couple of small beaches in southern New Jersey where Horseshoe Crabs lay their eggs where you can see hundreds at once at the right time. Bird skin is so thin, that banders are able to determine if a bird is migrating or breeding by blowing on their bellies to move the feathers and then simply looking for visible fat. Fat is nature’s battery. It is how animals store energy for future use. In periods when calorie intake is insufficient, burning fat can make up the difference.
Unlike the birds, we sometimes put on weight unintentionally. Lots of money has been made helping people lose that weight. The industry has redefined the word “diet” from what is normally eaten for survival to something you “go on” to reduce weight. One problem is that in the extreme it can lead to opposite results. The body sometimes interprets fasting as a sign that food is scarce and so retains fat to be used later when things get really desperate.
Long before fasting became a weight loss plan, it was a spiritual practice. Self-denial was seen as a tool for making room for the spirit, which according to Isaiah, intends for us to loose the bonds of oppression and feed those who have been made poor. Sadly, what prompted Isaiah to remind us of God’s choices was the all-too-common practice of choosing ego. Even if we don’t flaunt our sacrifice on behalf of spirit, it is easy to turn our focus entirely inward. When we put ourselves first, even if for the sake of self-improvement so that we might be healthier physically or spiritually, we run the risk of neglecting our siblings. That is is why the fast of God’s choosing is one that integrates with the world around us to bring justice.
Prayer: Spirit’s wind, move aside what we thin-skinned people hide behind and show us what stores of energy you want us to use to serve you. Amen.