Between Midnight and Dawn: A Kind of Fasting


Is not this 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
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    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 your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
Isaiah 58: 6-9


Is this a fast, to keep
                The larder lean ?
                            And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
                Of flesh, yet still
                            To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
                Or ragg’d to go,
                            Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No ;  ‘tis a fast to dole
                Thy sheaf of wheat,
                            And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
                From old debate
                            And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent ;
                To starve thy sin,
                            Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.
~Robert Herrick from Works of Robert Herrick , Vol. II  1891


The purpose of Lent is to arouse.
To arouse the sense of sin.
To arouse a sense of guilt for sin.
To arouse the humble contrition for the guilt of sin that makes forgiveness possible.
To arouse the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins.
To arouse or to motivate the works of love
and the work for justice that one does out of gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.

To say it again—this time, backward:
There is no motivation for works of love without a sense of gratitude,
no sense of gratitude without forgiveness,
no forgiveness without contrition,
no contrition without a sense of guilt,
no sense of guilt without a sense of sin.

In other words, a guilty suffering spirit
is more open to grace than an apathetic or smug soul.
Therefore, an age without a sense of sin,
in which people are not even sorry for not being sorry for their sins,
is in rather a serious predicament.
Likewise an age with a Christianity so eager to forgive
that it denies the need for forgiveness.

~Edna Hong from “A Look Inside” in the anthology Bread and Wine


Not even sorry for not being sorry for our sins.
No grief-rent hearts beating here.

It is time to fast a kind of fast that is not about our own deprivation
but about providing for others’ hunger and nakedness and need.
It is time to fast a kind of fast that sets the oppressed free
and turns away from hate and conflict.
It is time for our hearts and lives to be circumcised,
for thorns to pierce our smugness,
for us to forever bear the mark of forgiveness~

We need a kind of fasting forgiveness — badly, hungrily, guiltily.

Let Light break forth like Dawn.



During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn


4 thoughts on “Between Midnight and Dawn: A Kind of Fasting

  1. So timeless are these words. And I think of an incident with my young dog a few days ago. Dear husband wondering why Bear didn’t come in after his 5:30 am potty call. I tell husband, he’s just being a dog (on our 37 acre fenced farm), not to worry. But his not coming in when I whistled and called his name an hour later gave me reason for concern. I head out to find him, and just below the back of the house, in the orchard, standing so quiet, he is wrapped in blackberry trimmings…. the thorns wrapped the dried vines around his legs and belly hair. He looked at me asking, “what took you so long. I’ve been waiting.” I told him, “We didn’t know you need help. You were so quiet.”
    So many people forget that all we have to do is ask our Lord. He is always right there.
    Thank you for your blog. You are a blessing.


  2. Magnificent, Emily.
    And so timely, as we look about us and witness the suffering, poverty and injustices among our fellow human family.
    From the ancient message of the prophet Isaiah ca. 800 B.C. during the return of the Jewish exiles from captivity in Babylon (modern Iraq) to the very specific teachings of Jesus during His earthly ministry, and continuing with the messages being proclaimed to us by our modern day prophets ….

    One thing is strikingly clear:
    the Word of God has not changed. It is the same as it was proclaimed in ancient times before Christ to our time in history now in the 21st Century.
    That message is skillfully combined and reiterated in today’s posting through the exhortations of Isaiah, Jesus, Robert Herrick, Edna Hong, and you, Emily Gibson.
    How many times must we hear ‘the message’ before we finally accept the challenge that is inherent within it?

    We have today, as never before in the world’s history, the economic, technological, and spiritual opportunity to right wrongs and to make a difference in this bleeding, fractured world gone insane with hatred, greed, genocide, racism, economic deprivation and exclusion of ‘the other.’

    If not now — when: do we accept the Divine challenge issued by and through our loving, righteous Creator God? The time for spiritual introspection provided us during this unique Lenten season is an excellent place to begin . . . .


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