Today atrocities abound. On the heels of the kidnapping of 276 young women in Nigeria, there comes the kidnapping and murder of a boy and his Grandparent. Then there is a plane shot down as it flies over another country. Sadly, I could write more of such stories; I could fill this blog of with line after line of the worst brutality that humanity can think of.
Of course a blog post on the horrors of our world would not be complete without reference to the hellish situation currently taking place in Mosul. Reports are everywhere. Social Media sites link story after countless story about the devilish behavior of ISIS. Hashtags like #bringbackourgirls and #mosul trend on Twitter allowing people around the world to share information and echo statements of grief, anger, heartache and lament.
In the face of these atrocities we try to galvanize any action we can muster and lift whatever voice we have. There are campaigns which urge us to write letters to the leaders of our government expressing our grave concern over events, and our unified desire for action to be taken. Religious leaders call us to pray. Just recently, The Archbishop of Canterbury has called the international community to “challenge the culture of impunity which has allowed these atrocities to take place.” In addition, Archbishop Justine called for solidarity in prayer and love with the Christians in Iraq. In expression of this, he and countless of others have changed their social media profile picture to the Arabic letter for “N” (Note; this letter is the first letter in the Arabic word for ‘Nazarene’ – used as an insult to Christians in Iraq. Also, it is this letter that was painted on the doors of the Christians living in Mosul, declaring they were to leave, pay an impossible tax, or be killed.)
In the midst of all of this, what do we do? If you are like me, you feel a bit daunted through all of this. It’s great for leaders to call for international activity, and grand displays of aid, but what can we do on our local level? What can churches do in aid of the suffering? Many of my colleagues are expressing just this frustration; the frustration with desiring to do something, but not knowing what that something is. Some don’t know where to start; some may be wondering about the efficacy of a small localized peace forum; some may feel that the call to prayer by religious leaders sounds just a bit too hollow.
This post isn’t about a letter writing campaign. It’s not a post about entering the sphere of politics – or to urge for political aggression and legal prosecution for those violating people’s basic human rights. Those have their place, and people more experienced in such things can organize those things far better than I ever could. Personally, I believe the church is called to Fast.
Fasting is a biblical example of how the community of faith is able to come together and respond in times of violence and horror. Sometimes it’s a personal fast. Nehemiah states the he enters a time of prayer and fasting after hearing about the destruction of Jerusalem’s wall. Upon hearing about a plot to destroy the Jewish people, Queen Ester not only fasts for 3 days, but also calls the entire community to fast with her. Fasting is not only an action that enables us to go deeper in prayer; it is also an act of communal mourning. In fasting we bombard heaven with our groaning hearts and the sighs that can never be expressed by words.
If I may be so bold, on August 23rd I call the Church to fast.
If you have never had a fast, it is relatively simple. It is the going without food and beverage (beyond water) for a defined period of time. The purpose of the fast is to be able to spend time in deeper prayer, or to echo the mourning of God’s people around the world. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes ‘we must never forget that the major work of scriptural fasting is in the realm of the Spirit. What goes on spiritually is of more consequence than what is happening bodily. ‘
This fast is only for a day – three meals – although you can choose to fast longer if you wish. I have chosen this type of fast because if you have never done a fast before, it is best not to jump into something too big. Fasting for one day is extremely safe, even for those who have health restrictions. If you have concerns, talk to a doctor. I have also placed this fast on a Saturday in order to allow for people to (if they wish) break the fast with the celebration of Communion at Sunday service.
Will you fast on August 23rd? Will you fast as a statement of your faithful mourning over the violence occurring around the globe? Will you fast as a means an enacted prayer, pleading with God to ‘be not silent;’ and to “let the assailants be put to shame”; and “accusers be clothed with dishonor”? (Portions of Psalm 109).
Imagine what would happen if every Bishop, of every diocese, called every priest in every church, to encourage every parishioners to engage in this day of prayer and fasting. Imagine what would happen if the community of faith in the comfortable west willing engaged in a time of discomfort – so that we could plead with God to “let justice roll down like a river and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
So how about it? On August 23rd, will you #FastforPeace?
Note: If you plan to fast on August 23rd, I would invite you to email this blog-post to your own Priest/Pastor, and also to your local Bishop as a means to ask them to encourage a diocesan wide fast. Also, if you plan to fast, I would ask that share the article on your social media sites commenting that you will be fasting and encourage others to do so. Please use the hashtag #FastforPeace.