if you offer your food to the hungry…
Reflections by Rev. Diana Linden-Johnson
Before the pandemic, members of Peace Lutheran Church would gather on one night during the month of Ramadan with men, women, and children from the Raindrop Turkish House to learn about the Muslim practices of prayer and fasting, pray together, and share a delicious meal. I would try fasting for the day in advance of our shared meal. Used to regular snacks and meals, I always developed a headache around 1 p.m. and would then be unable to concentrate and generally useless for the rest of the day.
During conversation over the Ramadan meal, I always asked our Turkish friends about their experience of fasting and how they managed to do it every day for a month. They all reported that the first few days were hard, but that their bodies got used to the new rhythm of eating and drinking and it became less difficult as the days went on. They also articulated that their own sense of hunger increased their awareness of others who were hungry, so that the fasting encouraged them to be more generous to those around them, particularly to those who were hungry or in need.
In Isaiah 58, the prophet criticizes those he is speaking to because their spiritual practices of prayer and fasting are not helping to open their eyes to the reality and needs of those around them. Isaiah challenges his listeners, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free?” (Isaiah 58:6-7). As my Muslim brothers and sisters did for me over those meals, this reading reminds us that the true purpose of prayer and fasting is not to suffer or demonstrate our righteousness, but to open our hearts and minds to the reality and suffering of others and to increase our sense of compassion, connection and justice with and for them. Continue reading…
It is with great relief that we have begun to receive word that the United States will increase the number of asylum seekers allowed to enter and petition each day. Since well before the pandemic, immigration policies kept them in Mexico, waiting endlessly. Now, a door in that wall will be cracked open so that they may enter; it is with joy that we prepare to receive them.
Once again shelters will be open in El Paso to offer a place for them to stay while they figure out their next step. Hotel rooms, temples, mosques, and churches will be turned into houses of hospitality to receive these guests. Residents of El Paso, as well as those from far away will come to serve – to feed, to clean, to listen, to care, and to accompany. Once again, we will have the honor of “offer[ing] food to the hungry and satisfy[ing] the needs of the afflicted.” (Isaiah 58:10) Then, perhaps, the darkness of this past year of pandemic, and the gloom of turning away the stranger, will begin to fade behind us. The long fast will be over and we can hope to gather around the table once again.
During this season of Lent or of pandemic, what are the things that you hunger for? Does your own hunger make you more aware of the hunger of others? What has been the darkness and gloom for you this past year? What do you think it has been for those waiting to seek asylum, waiting to serve, or waiting to welcome?
Rev. Diana Linden-Johnson is the pastor of Peace Lutheran Church (ELCA), a small, vibrant congregation in El Paso, Texas that values inclusive community, authentic relationships, courageous compassion, growing in faith, unconditional love, and faithful service.
EMM hosts World Refugee Day interfaith conversation
In June 2017, EMM hosted an interfaith panel conversation to honor World Refugee Day, followed by an Interfaith Iftar, a shared meal to break the Ramadan fast. Read the Episcopal News Service article and watch the panel conversation.