One of the most significant things in the church which many a time is kept under wraps is that women in the church fast and pray more than men. Even though priests give the call to fast and lent, it is women in the church who give heed to the call more sincerely. This they do despite the usual responsibilities of house work, child rearing and jobs. It is therefore surprising that during lent we do not consider women as a model for lent.
Yesterday being International Women’s day, it was celebrated all over the world with messages praising women. What I noticed in whats app and facebook though was that these congratulatory messages were followed by messages which indirectly and directly demeaned women. It was as if to suggest that a majority of the men were just being politically correct for women’s day and they did not say it from the heart.
Religion has a lot to do with the plight of women in our society. If the religion that you and I are a part of does not respect women, then there are high chances that you and I will follow suit. That is why it is important for us to see if there is any connection between women and lent. It is because we can accept women during the entire Lenten period and continue to do that, being strengthened by the lent we observed.
Nursing mothers and women who take care of all the house hold work need more nutrition and yet they take up the burden of saving the household primarily because the good fortune of the house is linked with the woman and because by themselves they are more responsible than men when it comes to matters of the house. It is because of this that we have to take a look at women in the bible who fasted. Every lent we always hear that fasting or lent is because Jesus fasted, Moses fasted and Elijah fasted. Women never come into the picture. Why so? Lent is a God given opportunity to realise that we have knowingly and unknowingly ignored women who were, are and should be an integral part of any lent we observe.
One of the strong examples that we have is of Esther. Mordecai informs her of the impending danger and the seeming end of their community. He sends her a message that she cannot keep quiet in such a time as this. He says in Esther 4:14 “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” The future of her community is on the shoulder of Esther. Mordecai knows that Esther is the last straw of hope. Now what happens to Esther is the interesting part. She does not say no or that she would think about it. In an almost transformative trance she replies to Mordecai in verse 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Ah, what a bold statement from a young woman? She chooses to be proactive in such a time as this and declares a fast for the entire community knowing the responsibility of their lives rests on her. It is also typical of men as to how Mordecai puts the responsibility on Esther even though he is the more seasoned and experienced campaigner. Esther like all women does not shrink from the responsibility but takes it on.
Esther’s fast which lasts three days is a sign for us on how to fast and lent. We must see the signs of our time and we must know the dangers lurking. When communities are in danger and when people can be killed, communities should come together in fasting and prayer. Our fasts and lent today have no consequences. But Esther’s call to fasting shows us that our fasts and lent can indeed have consequences, and good ones at that.
This lent, let us look at the fast of Esther and create our own fasts for justice and peace. When the refugee crisis and wars in the Middle East and other parts of the world rage on with no solution in sight, let us get together like Esther’s community and fast for a solution. Esther shows us the power of fasting. It has the strength to overcome evil and bring about justice. It is interesting for us after Women’s day and knowing how diligently women fast in the church, that Esther and other women like her in the bible offer us a credible model of fasting and lent. It is also important for men during lent and after women’s day to see how thinking like women can bring about a more meaningful fast and lent in which the responsibility and the future of the community become important life and death issues. Amen.