Fasting brings me to the edge—physically, psychologically and spiritually. There are moments when I hate it, despise it and wonder why I ever entered into it. But, I must admit, fasting always transforms me in beautiful and unexpected ways.
Today, January 11, marks the beginning of the 12th year of the Guantánamo prison. Each year, on the occasion of this anniversary, a community gathers in the nation’s capital to engage in vigils, silent processions, public education and a Fast for Justice.
Today is the sixth and final day of this year’s fast—a call to end torture, close the Guantánamo prison and act in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners everywhere. Each day this week my physical nourishment has been three cups of juice and a lot of water. There are usually more than a hundred people, in D.C. and around the country, who participate in the fast.
A fast to close Guantánamo? What good will come from it?
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told his disciples a parable about the importance of persevering in prayer “without becoming weary” (18:1). In the parable, a widow remains persistent in crying out for justice, even though, for a long time, the unjust judge was unwilling to heed her call. Eventually, tired of the woman, the judge gives in. Jesus then explained, “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them?” (18:7). So we fast with the confidence that God—and maybe even the President—hears us and responds in ways unknown to us.
For those who have worked to close Guantánamo and end the practice of indefinite detention without charges and trials, there are many reasons to feel hopeless and powerless. President Barack Obama, on his second day in office, promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Four long years later, 166 men remain imprisoned, even though the majority of them have been approved for transfer or release from as early as 2004. Congress has blocked any attempt to close the prison, and the Supreme Court is refusing to hear any more cases. It is tempting to give in and admit that nothing will change.
But Jesus counsels us, nevertheless, to remain faithful like the persistent widow. Fasting helps me to remain faithful. It is not only a prayer, but a cry for justice. It is an act of desperation, a direct plea to God when all other options seem to have failed. It is prayer that involves my whole being—mind, body and spirit.
Does fasting have any effect beyond those who are doing the fast?
Fasting for six days is a public act, whether intended or not. It so radically changes our day-to-day habits that our housemates, coworkers, family members and friends inevitably ask questions about it. Fasting opens up so many conversations that would not have otherwise taken place. My beliefs about fairness, justice and humane treatment move beyond something merely intellectual. In fasting, I embody these convictions. Once in a while, someone will privilege me by sharing that my fast has affected them. Even though I might have said nothing, the fast itself spoke powerfully. Sometimes my fast challenges others to ask questions about what they believe and what they are willing to do about it. I cannot control this; it just happens.
Finally, attorneys for the detainees often remind us that our fast reaches the Guantánamo prisoners and brings them hope. More than a decade of detention without charges or trials has resulted in despair and hopelessness for many of the prisoners. It was too much for Adnan Latif, who attempted suicide on several occasions and then, last September, reportedly died from a drug overdose. Adnan had been cleared for release but remained imprisoned because of his national identity as a Yemeni. (There is a moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, regardless of individual circumstances.) This reality should sting our conscience.
During this fast I am remembering Adnan in a special way and begging God that the remaining prisoners will persevere, against all odds, until their day of freedom finally arrives.
Photo credit: Justin Norman / Witness Against Torture