The British people never cease to amaze us with their crazy habits. For example, we recently discovered that the day before Ash Wednesday is called ‘Pancake Day’ here. They organize actual pancake races, whereby participants toss a pancake up and down in a frying pan while running. We are always in for pancakes, so tomorrow they will definitely be on the menu. And after that, Lent starts again, fasting time for Christians.
When I am looking for inspiration on fasting I always consult the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. He was well known for using fasting as a means to bring peace between different groups. There is even a Wikipedia list of these incidents. One of these stories is told in the movieabout his life. After the nonviolent and successful struggle against the British, there was still no peace in India. There was enormous tension between Hindus and Muslims, because both groups were afraid that the other would suppress them if they got the chance. Major riots broke out in Delhi. Gandhi could not control the people and knew that as their leader he would have to pose himself in between. He announced that he would not eat until the two groups would promise to stop the violence. Gandhi was loved by all Indians, whether they were Hindu or Muslim, and the fact that he could die if they did not behave, made an end to the riots within three weeks.
Unfortunately, even Gandhi was unable to bridge the gap between Muslims and Hindus. He was very sad to eventually see the Muslim Pakistan separated from India. This was followed by massive migration which led to much violence and many deaths on both sides. Until today, there is a lot of religious violence in India.
The example of Gandhi still shows what working for peace looks like. He broke down the walls of enmity, not by hitting them with a wrecking ball, but by making himself utmost vulnerable. This melted away the walls that people had erected in their hearts. In his autobiography, we find a few tips on fasting. For example, it is important that your mind cooperates with your body. If you retain a constant desire for the food that you deny yourself, fasting serves no purpose. It all starts with your thoughts and what you focus on.
During Lent I want to think about the power of love against hate. I’m still reading the book “Atonement, Justice and Peace” by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek. Following Belousek’s vision of reconciliation I will share some stories that relate to this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
For he is our peace: in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
Ephesians 2, 14
And — we are not Gandhi, so tomorrow we will first enjoy a pile of delicious British pancakes.