When I was a small girl I had the privilege of living with my family among a semi-nomadic people group in Brazil. This people group had at one stage decided to ‘give something up’. The rapidly changing and insecure context they found themselves in had led them to choose to give up having children. The tribe was shrinking. They had let go of hope.
Sometimes our contexts seem so dark and lacking in hope; sometimes the pall of injustice which has enshrouded and implicated us all feels so great that we feel like giving up…
For better or for worse, this tribe changed its mind. The children of this tribe are my friends. Together we face the uncertainties of a globally challenging context and it seems to me that we are faced with two choices; either to give up on hope or to let go of fear.
The Christian season of lent, the 40 days which culminate with the celebration of Easter, is marked by many as a time to ‘give something up’. The season invites self-reflection and spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, can play an important role in helping us re-focus on the central message of Jesus-his good news for the poor. Amongst Jesus’ parting words to his followers were these:
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)
Letting go of fear and taking hold of hope…
During Lent this year a number of people in the UK who are concerned about the impact of welfare changes on the lives of vulnerable people in our communities are giving up food for 40 days. Rev. Dr. Keith Hebden shares his own reasons for fasting for 40 days here as his contribution to the UK End hunger Fast campaign.
Letting go of our individual freedom and taking up solidarity with the oppressed…
The Christian discipline of fasting is rooted in the biblical accounts which are themselves rooted in the wider context of ancient cultures, many of which practised fasting. Fasting in the Old Testament often linked the experience of disruption and oppression with the desire for restoration. As a sign of protest and mourning, fasting accompanied by deep reflection, repentance and prayer can be an intentional act of letting go of self-power which engenders humility and trust in God as the Sustainer- Provider.
It is this intentional letting go of self-empowerment which can mark the prophetic fast-for food gives power at its most basic level in the form of energy and strength. Jesus’ own season of preparation in the desert lasted for 40 days and is recorded as a period of total fasting. During these 40 days of fasting Jesus underwent a profound testing of his identity; he was tempted to take up a false (imperial) identity which would secure him on-tap resources, high level security to cover for risk and assure him of power and privilege in the form of a sovereign Lordship like the imperial rulers of his time! Jesus knew that, if he was going to be effective in bringing ‘good news to the poor’, he needed to let go of the selfish, imaginary identity which relied on self-promoting pride and power. In letting go of these fallen notions of establishing provision,security and power, Jesus emerges from the desert of testing humble and by all accounts, weak; yet there was a new-found strength in his weakness; in letting go of one identity he became free to take up what was genuinely his and in doing so, he became strong.
Letting go of fear of weakness makes us stronger
Letting go of insecure pride makes us stronger.
Letting go of manipulative power to have it our way makes us stronger.
May lent become a time of strengthening of resolve to become hopeful seekers of this humble and bold community of peacemakers.