Faith, Fasting, Fire, Forgiveness…

In his book, The Fire In The Cloud, Father Francis Martin reflects upon fasting after referring to this Scripture, Isaiah 58:6-9: “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”

Martin says: “Self-denial means principally caring for others out of our own resources….Find ways of alleviating the suffering of those whose lives touch your own. Give to the poor, visit the sick and lonely, see what you can do to help those who are homeless and depressed, look someone in the eye (you will see Christ) and offer your love in a concrete and practical way. Then, as the Lord promises us, our own light will shine and our own wounds be healed.”

Martin further expounds on the idea of sacrificial, holy giving by promoting forgiveness as the ultimate method. He tells this story: “Once a woman religious, very sick from cancer, was praying with a group of her friends and asking the Lord for healing. Someone in the group said to her: ‘Sister, have your released everyone in your life from the bondage of your own unforgiveness?’ The answer was no, not everyone. In fact, she felt great rancor toward her own superior. With the help of those praying with her, the sick woman forgave her superior. Some weeks later, the doctors declared her free of cancer.”

I have personally found it a wondrous spiritual exercise to fast, and to devote some prayer time to the sole (soul!) intention of forgiveness. For me, one of the best ways is to write down names. In a kind of litany style, I forgive any and all people that I can think of. The more names I write, the more occur to me. These are not people who have committed grievous harm; their ‘crimes’ are usually teensy annoyances or – often – things that have never even registered on a conscious level. It’s okay, I have learned, to forgive people for “whatever!” Then, usually toward the end of my prayer time, God dredges up a scar from my past that I need to let him heal. By then, when I’m all warmed-up, that healing is so easy. It’s amazing (yet, not, when I listen to the Lord’s advice) how freeing it is to do this exercise. I have learned that I have to include myself on the list. I have to let go of my sins, to accept that Jesus died to save me from them and I am not to cling to them out of some misguided sense of duty, modesty, or piety. We must all forgive as he has forgiven us: completely, sacrificially, daily, eternally. Then, we are free to serve all His beloved children with generous hearts.

If you would like to experience the joy of such a forgiveness exercise, please join us on Saturday, November 21 at 6:30 PM in the church for “Fire of Love: Change Our Hearts, Lord.” We will join together in song, Scripture, reflection, prayer, and a ‘release’ ceremony to systematically let go of the hurts that keep us captive and block our spiritual healing and health. All are welcome!