Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Heart for Hunger, Poverty and Fasting

According to scripture, a person's heart reveals his or her true nature and motivation.  Jeremiah 17:10 says that God "search[es] the heart and examine[s]  the mind" and then rewards people for what their conduct deserves.
This was one of the themes that emerged during the conference on Emerging Christianity, sponsored by at the Center for Action and Contemplation in April 2010.  Our relationships with one another are stronger when we are able to look at situations through the heart rather than through the head.  As Rev. Cynthia Bourgealt said:  The heart is an organ of spiritual perception.

This is the context by which I put together a meditation on hunger, poverty and fasting on the Saturday evening of the conference.

The setting was not what I originally envisioned.  I had hoped that we would have a quiet space indoors.  Instead, we had a small stage outdoors next to the blooming spring flowers of Albuquerque.  Instead of quiet, we had a sense of restlessness, as evidenced by the wind that kept trying to blow down the music by our wonderful cellist Sharon Barefoot.  And the wind also whispered with a sense of urgency on the microphones that had been set up.

So instead of retreating indoors, God wanted us to experience this meditation with a sense of restlessness.

I would like to use this space to share the words of that meditation/contemplation, along with photographs of some of the participants.

Part 1
Reader 1
We are here this evening to contemplate on hunger and poverty and our response as people of faith.

Before we begin, I would ask that we first center ourselves in God and consider the following verse from Matthew 22. A version of this account is also found in Mark 12 and Luke 10.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

This is the greatest and first commandment.

And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’


Reader 1
First let us ponder a bit about hunger and poverty.

Hunger. Everyone agrees that it should not exist. And yet, the statistics tell us that hunger is prevalent.
More than 1 billion people in the world go hungry.

In the United States, over 49 million people—including 16.7 million children—live in households that struggle to put food on the table. That means one in seven households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.

So what is hunger? I can give you a clinical definition.

“Hunger pains occur when an individual has not consumed food or drink for an extended period of time. Muscle contractions begin to occur when the stomach has been empty for several hours. As the contractions take place, the sensation may be somewhat unpleasant and interpreted as painful.”

Reader 2:

Very few of us understand what hunger really is.

Our concept of hunger is an image of starving people in Africa or Haiti.
Hunger manifests itself in many ways other than starvation and famine. Most poor people who battle hunger deal with chronic undernourishment and vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which result in stunted growth, weakness and heightened susceptibility to illness.

In essence, hunger is the most extreme form of poverty, where individuals or families cannot afford to meet their most basic need for food.

Reader 3:
The singer Bono from the Irish rock band U2 said in his prayer breakfast at the White House in February 2006.

“Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”

Please sit in silence and ponder this in your hearts.
Silent meditation and cello

Part 3
Reader 1:
God calls us to step outside our comfortable bubble and to recognize the poor and hungry among us. There are the poor who are visible, like the homeless man who greets us at the sidewalk or the television image of the victim of the devastating earthquake in Haiti who is wandering the streets of Port-Au-Prince in search of food.

There are people whose hunger is hidden from us because we are too busy with our own lives to look.

Reader 2:
Each year, 3 million under-five children die because they are undernourished. Far more children live with undernutrition than die from it. For infants and young children, the effects of chronic malnutrition in the early years of life are largely irreversible.

“Consider the case of Wambua Kangaa, who was brought to Kisesini Clinic in eastern Kenya by her mother because of weight loss. At 11 months of age, Wambua weighs only 12 pounds.

Her mother walked a long distance from her village to bring her to the Kisesini Clinic in the hope of a cure for her illness – the illness of hunger. The Global Health Partnerships medical team prescribed and dispensed the appropriate “medicine”: Food.”

Reader 3:
Countries in which a large portion of the population battles hunger daily are usually poor and often lack the social safety nets we enjoy, such as soup kitchens, food stamps, and job training programs. When a family that lives in a poor country cannot grow enough food or earn enough money to buy food, there is nowhere to turn for help.

In 2005, almost 1.4 billion people lived below the international poverty line, earning less than one-dollar-and 25 cents per day.

Among this group of poor people, many have problems obtaining adequate, nutritious food for themselves and their families. As a result, 947 million people in the developing world are undernourished. They consume less than the minimum amount of calories essential for sound health and growth. 8
Undernourishment negatively affects people’s health, productivity, sense of hope and overall well-being. A lack of food can stunt growth, slow thinking, sap energy, hinder fetal development and contribute to mental retardation.

Economically, the constant securing of food consumes valuable time and energy of poor people, allowing less time for work and earning income.

Please sit in silence and ponder this in your hearts.

Silent meditation and cello

Part 4
Reader 1:
God does not call us to be guilty. Guilt can be paralyzing. Or it can lead to one-time actions that often do not provide a lasting solution.

God calls us to examine our lifestyles and consider how we are contributing to the problem.

God calls us to fast, to clear our minds, our hearts and our stomachs so we can better show solidarity with those who are in need. But it’s more than solidarity, we must feel deep empathy.

Reader 2
God calls us to tears
Sister Joan Chittster says: If we do not allow ourselves to face and feel pain, we run the risk of entombing ourselves in a plastic bubble where our lies about life shrink our hearts and limit our vision. It is not healthy, for instance, to say that massive poverty is sad but “normal.”

Reader 3
God calls us to find practical solutions
We have the means. The financial costs to end hunger are relatively slight. The United Nations Development Program estimates that the basic health and nutrition needs of the world's poorest people could be met for an additional 13 billion dollars a year. Animal lovers in the United States and Europe spend more than that on pet food each year.

Reader 4
God calls us to social justice
Bono says.

“It's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.
Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.
But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drugstore. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature". In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. 

A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.
It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.”

Silent meditation and cello

Part 5
Reader 1:
And Bono says again:

“Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?”
Reader 2:
In Isaiah 58, God calls us to Fasting.

‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.

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,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Reader 3
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Silent meditation and cello

Part 6
Reader 1: Finally, God calls us to solidarity by sharing our Bread with each other

As Thomas Merton says:
“From the moment you put a piece of bread in your mouth you are part of the world. Who grew the wheat? Who made the bread? Where did it come from? You are in relationship with all who brought it to the table.
We are least separate and most in common when we eat and drink.”

People Share Their Bread

1 comment:

Redspect said...

"If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"! mawaddainternationalaid