On Ash Wednesday (this year on February 10) both places cited the same scripture: Isaiah 58:1-12 (the fasting scripture).
Isn't this the fast I choose; releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isaiah 58:6I'll be honest. I have never been able to get behind the concept of fasting as was presented to me by my Catholic friends when I was growing up. They would give up chocolate or candy or something bad in the name of being a good Catholic. I felt quite righteous in my Protestant beliefs that we don't do that, just as we don't offer animal sacrifices or refrain from eating meat on Fridays. To me giving up something sweet sounded to me as if they were putting themselves on a diet. How did that help God?
As an adult I heard more explanations that made sense. Fasting can also mean taking on a spiritual discipline. The idea of a fast is to become closer to God, not to go on a diet.
The person at Nassau Church who wrote the devotion took in a step further. He said to look for ways to "identify some need we can address in a helpful way and then take action?"
This is the thought that lingered with me:
what need do I see and what can I do about it?
I pondered this while taking a walk in the woods near my house. The thought that came to me was a fairly simple one: ask my neighbor if I could watch his house while he went to his son's funeral. He may have already had someone lined up, or he may not have seen the need. Instead I caught him when he was outside moving cars around the driveway (he does that a lot) and he said he was going to ask me if I could watch the house for them. It turns out someone ransacked his in-laws' house while they were at his father-in-law's funeral (something we had thought was urban legend, but has a foundation in reality).
I sat in their living room with a book and their dog for about four hours. Trust me, it was not hard.
The experience is encouraging me to look for other ways in which I can be a help to someone. What are ways you can do something nice for someone?