“Lent is a season of the Christian year when people are invited to simplify their lives to focus on their relationship with God in Christ.” It can also be a time when we become more aware of our place in this world. In other words, when we fast we realize how privileged we have been to have access to food. When we aim to be more disciplined about prayer we realize how self-reliant we have become, often forgetting to pray because we don’t recognize our need for God. When we stop spending our money frivolously we realize that we’ve had money to give to others, if only our priorities were right. In other words, Lent may direct us to God in Christ, but it also helps us recalibrate how we love our neighbor.
This evening I was reading a portion of Mario T. García’s The Gospel of César Chávez: My Faith in Action where he recounts Chávez’s work on behalf of those who were being mistreated by “the growers” in the Central Valley of California. García writes that after some initial success in the creation of a union the growers refused to renew. Chávez helped organize a successful boycott of the growers’ produce, but in spite of being hit in the wallet they stubbornly refused to allow for better wages, conditions, etc. García writes (pp. 13-14):
“Despite the success of the boycott, the union still underwent many hard times, and workers began to doubt that they could win. Some even began to consider more direct actions against the growers, possibly even violence. César got wind of these rumblings. Personally and politically committed to nonviolence, learned from his parents and from his attraction to both Gandhi and Dr. King, César decided that he had to do something to reemphasize the importance of nonviolence that he had early committed the movement to support. Further expressing the influence of Gandhi, he decided to go on a twenty-five-day fast in 1968 to suffer for the principle of nonviolence. He moved into a small shelter on the union’s property of the Forty Aces and fasted and prayed. Masses and interfaith services were held for him. Soon hundreds of farm workers and supporters came to visit and to join in partial fasting with him. César’s fast squashed what dissent had appeared. A weak and exhausted but spiritually strengthened Chávez ended his fast on March 10, 1986, at an outdoor Mass.”
In reading this I realized that Chávez understood something about suffering with and for others that is very Christian in character. Chávez ended any plans to revolt violently by taking violence upon himself, he suffered preemptively to remind the people that suffering is ugly and to draw their energies away from destructive actions toward constructive ones.
I’ve never been much of a faster, but I respect those who do commit to this discipline. I think there is something worth noting about fasts that are for others. We don’t stop eating just to stop eating. Maybe we stop eating for a meal to use $5 for those who are hungry. What do you think of the discipline of fasting for others? What do you think of Jesus’ forty day fast in light of fasting for others?