“Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
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?”
I gave up pants for Lent last year.
I’d been reading and chatting often with friends about femininity and the experiences of women around the world. Even before I began, I was well-aware that I enjoy an unprecedented level of freedom in comparison to women globally and historically: I live independently, drive my own car, work outside the home, feel valued by both men and women and have had incredibly opportunities for formal and informal education.
While skirts certainly don’t make me more female, they do serve as cultural symbol (and sometimes legislated requirement) for many women around the globe. Committing to wear them exclusively for a season caused me to ponder femininity in both its beauty and its socially-constructed mess. Plus, it’s Lent, a reminder to turn those reflections to prayer for my global sisters rather than dwell in angst.
I could have been a little holier with my Lenten fast: I showed my knees most days, and I took Sunday feast days very seriously, typically grabbing leggings and heading to the local ice rink. For the most part, it’s been so inconspicuous that I suspect even my roommates haven’t noticed. (Confirmed between drafting and publication). Aside from a few times I showed up a little overdressed- a walk at the lake, lazy Saturday coffee with friends, Friday Jeans Day at work- it really hasn’t caused any public ripples.
In my heart (and in my closet), though, the inconveniences have brought more than a little frustration. In some ways, these unwitnessed and unacknowledged moments of frustration are an aspect of any Lenten fast (turning down a brownie, spending the evening sans Netflix). The frustration grew, though, because it was a reminder of the poverties women experience around the globe- social, financial, educational, relational- that won’t be over in 40 days or even 40 years. Take a minute to consider these infographics.
As I reveled in my blue jeans, shorts, or leggings on Sunday afternoons, I consistently felt like I was physically embodying a freedom that I found spiritually through Christ. Beyond the most obviously and essentially freedom that, “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2), Christ’s freedom has practical implications for the church to manifest in the world today. Paul expounds on this in his letter to the Galatians, claiming that Christ’s freedom should then be exercised not for indulgence but to “through love, serve one another” (Galatians 5:12). Later in this passage, he expands to address social structures: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 15:26-28).
The role of the Church is to spread the message of the already-gained freedom bought with Christ’s death, shared through his resurrection, and celebrated on Easter. With that in mind, I am considering how I might entwine this year’s Lenten fast again with an area of genuine suffering and oppression in the world, forming my heart not just in contrition, but also toward compassion, justice, and resurrection-freedom.