The Common Good

Fast for Families: Reflections from Jim Wallis

(Editors Note: This post contains updates from Jim Wallis as he experiences the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," taking place on the National Mall.)

Dec. 10:

It was snowing in Washington, D.C., today. The federal government and local schools were closed, but the Fast for Families goes on — come rain, shine, or snow!

This is the eighth day of the water fast for me and the 30th day of the Fast for Families with many people coming to participate in the tent — almost 200 so far. 

This has become a very spiritual place, even a holy place. And when people come here, including members of Congress, senators, faith leaders, celebrities, heads of organizations, and so many “ordinary” people, and undocumented immigrants themselves, the stories being told are changing people’s minds and hearts.

I am feeling remarkably well, a little weaker, but strong in energy and spirit. This prayer and fasting is taking our movement to a deeper level that could ultimately change the politics of all this. And my role in the closing ceremony on Thursday when this fast will end as the Congress goes home will be the call to action as “commissioning.” We will commission the fasting and prayer for the families to the movement, the nation, and members of Congress from both parties who will be there — and pick it up again in January. We need to take this deeper than politics to change politics. Prayer and fasting changes us and ultimately will change the policymakers. After these days, I am more convinced than ever that spiritual power can change political power.

Every leader who comes gets to sit in a circle with the fasters and hear their stories. Then we hear their story and why they have come. We then ask them to join us in fasting, even for a day or a meal to be in solidarity with us, to act in the ways they can to bring immigration reform, to pray with us, and take a picture together. Every leader who comes is asked to lead us in prayer, which comes easily for the faith leaders but is new for some of our guests. One of my favorite prayers came yesterday from a member of Congress who has been very supportive of comprehensive immigration reform. We were standing in a circle and holding hands when he was asked to lead us in prayer. A person not usually short for words said, “Well, I have never led a public prayer before but, ‘Dear God, please do whatever you have to do to change those knuckleheads up on the Hill.’” Then he went on. These are all wonderful visits and I see and feel people going deeper — as we all fast and pray.

Dec. 9, 9 a.m.:

On November 12, I had the honor of commissioning the immigrants and faith leaders who began the Fast for Families and they honored us in return on December 3, by commissioning some of us to carry on their fast. After 7 days on only water, I am feeling very commissioned this morning and remarkably good despite a little weakness.

The tent where we gather every day, right across from the Capitol, now seems like holy ground after more than 5000 people have joined the fast for a period of time, hundreds doing so in this very spot. Joanne Lyons, who leads the Wesleyan Church, came to fast last week and told me she could feel the spiritual presence of this place as soon as she entered the tent. Many people have come to visit including members of both houses of Congress and today we’ll have visits with Congressman Jim McGovern. I have seen many members of Congress actually choke up and break down in tears after hearing the stories of undocumented people—especially when they talk about the pain of being separated from their families.

Last Thursday, I witnessed Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz connect mother to mother, on a very emotional level, with an undocumented immigrant woman who was weeping over being separated from her daughter. United by the bond of both having daughters, these two women held each other and cried together. I said to the Congresswoman that experiences like this is what could change the hearts of her colleagues up on the Hill. Debbie agreed but lamented the huge “layers” between this tent and the Capitol across the street. This fast is intended to help break through those layers with prayer, sacrifice, and real people’s stories. We hope to connect beyond and beneath politics and go deeper to into our hearts as parents, fellow human beings, and people of faith.   

This place represents what both King and Gandhi called “Soul Force.” We are praying that this soul force will ultimately change the political forces across the street—spiritual power changing political power. The politics of Washington won’t fundamentally change but those politics could make an “exception” with the urgent need for immigration reform.  We hope they will recognize that this matter is different from business as usual in Washington-- this is about people more than politics, about parents and children, and about our faith and deepest values. It is time to make an exception to our dysfunctional politics. Would you join us in praying for that? Pray for those of us who are fasting in the tent. Pray for those who are continuing our water fast. And pray for strength, health, and courage for us all.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His latest book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE . Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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