(Editors Note: On Nov. 12, faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders launched the "Fast for Families: A Call for Immigration Reform and Citizenship," taking place on the National Mall. Leaders and immigrant members of the community are fasting every day and night, abstaining from all food—except water—to move the hearts of members of Congress to pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship. This post is composed of updates from Lisa Sharon Harper, director of mobilizing for Sojourners, as she experiences the fast.)
I moved into the fasting tent Wednesday morning, Day 16 of my Thanksgiving #Fast4Families. I’m now able to drink only water. Committed to fast as long as my body holds out.
The rain Wednesday mixed with snow pelted the tent from all sides. Sometimes the whole tent even swayed in the wind. The fasters sat in their chairs, some having just arrived, a few having lived in the same chair for 16 days now.
We’ve had multiple visitors; a Spanish language television station, a former senator’s top aide who is also the father of one of the fasters, another television station, and a crew of photographers that took our picture for a Thanksgiving Tweet. All that before 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
But the best part has been the fellowship and the discipline of silence.
We received a new faster, Armando. He hails from Arizona. He asked his union boss for time off to join the fast. His boss said, “Absolutely.” Armando shared his story and then we each went around the circle and shared our names, our stories, and our hearts with him — at the heart of our sharing was the question of why we’re here.
The most moving moment for me came from a woman named Vikki, from El Salvador—currently living in Los Angeles. Vikki shared her story entirely in Spanish with no translator. I grabbed bits and pieces here and there. Three years of Spanish class in high school and college have equipped me to understand words and phrases, but unable to speak the language beyond “Asi asi,” (which means “So so”), “Como?” (street language for “What?”) or “Yo no entiendo Ingles o Espanol” (which means “I don’t know English or Spanish”).
So, when Vikki began to speak and weep, I strained to catch words to piece together her story and glean understanding.
“El Salvador” … “Madre” (mother) … tears … “no familia aqui” (no family here) … “SEIU … solo familia aqui” (SEIU is only family here) … anger mixed with tears … she went on…
Vikki spoke with passion and strength in her own language for 10 minutes. Sometimes her words were mixed with tears; other times they were tinged with determination. What was most strange to me was how, though I barely understood her words, I understood her spirit and her broken heart.
The Discipline of Silence
There are long intervals when the fasters sleep, read, check their Facebook pages, reflect, staring at the ceiling. I am reminded of Richard Foster’s chapter on solitude in his book Celebration of Discipline. He talks of silence as being the way to connection with God. I don’t usually think of that way, but I have experienced it — especially here.
We sit and we wait.
And we know that answers will not come this week, yet we are here.
Sitting — and waiting.
Sometimes there are no words to fill the space.
Sometimes we are too tired to form thoughts to make words.
In those moments, we lay our heads back on our seats.
We look up at the heavens
And silence becomes our prayer.
We are enwrapped by prayer.
I find my own prayers full of thanks.
Thanks for this moment.
Thanks for these beautiful people — these powerful people.
Thankful for my family and colleagues who have blessed me to be here.
Thankful for all the friends who are covering me in their prayers.
Thankful for this moment of silence
To commune with the God who will bring resurrection.
But before resurrection
There is silence.
I am thankful for this silence.
Now God take this silence and move heaven and earth
Move Speaker John Boehner and his House in this silence.
And move our nation toward that moment when we look on 11 million trapped souls
And choose to live into our highest ideals,
Then we will all be truly
Read previous updates from Lisa's fasting here.