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Friday, February 23, 2007

Isaiah 58:5-9
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

No, this is the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, to share your food with the hungry, to provide the poor wanderer with shelter ... when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood. Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear ... then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Spiritual disciplines are designed to quiet the ego. In his book Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster sorts them into three parts. There are the "inward" disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting and study. The "outward" disciplines are simplicity, solitude, submission and service. Finally the "corporate" disciplines consist of confession, worship, guidance and celebration.

But quieting the ego is not an end in itself. God makes that perfectly clear. My own peace and clarity means nothing to God. It may be good for me, but God notices only when I break open the barriers between me and his other children.

In Matthew 25 Jesus said about caring for those around me, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink." I don't think he was being particularly metaphorical: the poor are not like Jesus, the poor are Jesus. And not only are they Jesus, they are us. They are me. God seems to be saying that individual identity is completely secondary to our solidarity as his people.

I know I've got things turned around. I make gestures toward those around me, but I don't think of them as Jesus. And I don't share my best with them, not often anyway. This kind of standard is usually seen as heroic and rare, in Mother Teresa or Saint Francis.

God doesn't intend it to be rare. He intends it to be the lifeblood of his people, coursing through us all.

Lord your standard puts me to shame. Forgive me. I want to want to break open my life and give myself away. Be patient, Lord. And show me the joy. Let me glimpse the joy.

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