Longing for God in Advent

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." (Isaiah 58:6-9) 

For four days last week I fasted and prayed in Solana Beach in solidarity with Fast for Family on the National Mall in Washington, DC. This created an opportunity for me to celebrate Advent in a new way. Advent is a time of waiting, of longing for God to appear as God-With-Us, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. 

In the past I have fasted for a day here or there for personal, spiritual reasons, but this time it was for a cause--to see immigration reform passed by the House of Representatives. Was this a political fast or a spiritual fast?

It was a political fast because we were praying and acting toward a reform to our broken immigration system. The movement has been non-partisan, favoring reform from either party that provides for an earned pathway to citizenship (not amnesty), keeps families together and secures our borders. Currently the Senate has a bill before the House, and the pressure has been on Speaker Boehner to bring it, or some other bill, to a vote. 

As a political fast it brings attention to the cause in a peaceful, humble, and sacrificial way, raising the awareness of the polis, the people, and the politicians: 1100 are deported each day separating families and leaving children to raise themselves; one or two die crossing illegally on foot or by coyote; and the system is too long, uncertain, and outdated. Most Americans and most of our lawmakers in Washington believe our system is broken and we need reform sooner than later. 

It was a spiritual fast because we prayed and told stories of immigration that cut deep to our souls. As I felt the hunger I identified with pain I have never and will never experience.  I have no sense of what it means to be a foreigner who crosses the border in desperation, lives in the shadows, and works hard to provide a better life for their children.  

I was born as a fifth generation Californian. I never thought twice about citizenship, and in sixth grade won second place in the "What America Means to Me" essay contest.  My mother’s ancestors came to New Amsterdam in the mid 1600s a generation after the Pilgrims, and my father’s Presbyterian ancestors came to Virginia from Northern Ireland in the early 1700s. They came for a better life, for religious freedom, to escape conflict in their home countries. 

I took time during the fast to remember the stories I have heard over the years.

Ana’s grandfather came across the border legally to the Central Valley with the bracero program, which invited workers to come to our country to work our fields. A generation later her father crossed illegally as a teenager to find work. He married and raised five children. Their home was a “port of entry” for many illegals, so growing up Ana would get up in the middle of the night to welcome and feed visitors. Ana is the oldest and first  to graduate from college. She is married, the mother of two children, works for the Navy in strategic planning, and volunteers in our literacy and citizenship classes. She is forever grateful for her father who worked hard to provide her opportunities he never had. 

Juan is  a young father in a small mountain village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Like many Oaxacan seventeen year olds, he left for work in Oaxaca City. Finding none, he left for Texas, crossing the border illegally. After eight years he returned. He told me he would never have crossed the border and risked his life if he were not desperate. He loves his country and always intended to come back. He is now married, has a young son and teaches Sunday School in his little Presbyterian church. 

Jorge lives in one of the developing colonias of Tijuana where he works in a factory and sells his paintings. He left his family farther south in Mexico for a better life for his children. After they saved to buy a lot, we build him a home the size of a one car garage. Their concrete floor and tar paper roof is better than the lean-to they lived in, and he and his wife are happy their children have a warm, dry place to sleep. They work multiple jobs, making $10 to $15 a day. Their children attend school and take care of each other while the parents work. Jorge loves his country and wants to stay where they are. 

Margarita and her sister clean houses and her husband is a handyman. They are family with the people who hire them; they are trustworthy, hardworking, and delightful. Together they have a son who is tutored two days a week while she attends the parenting class.  Her husband became a citizen last year. She visited family in Tijuana, but when she came across the border she was detained because she did not have documents. She was released on the promise she would not return to the US for ten years. She broke that promise to be with her son, and her deportation is a strike against her applying for citizenship.

Raquel came from San Salvador to Los Angeles with her mother to live with her aunt, who would help her mother with a sister to sister citizenship process. She was advised to not apply for a student visa, because it would hurt her chances of legal residency. At 21 she was automatically dropped out of the process and had to reapply as an adult. She met her husband at church and they married when she was 25. To prove they married for love, they have met multiple times with an immigration representative to process their case, providing junk mail, zoo memberships and magazine subscriptions. The process seems arbitrary, and after twelve years she has her green card, but no citizenship. 

Catalina's mother and father brought her to San Diego when she was five months old. Because of amnesty during the Reagan years, her whole family was able to apply for citizenship. Her mother told her stories of growing up in Puebla in a family of twelve where they would divide one egg among them for breakfast. She would roll up her portion in a tortilla and squeeze the grease out so she could taste it without eating it. Catalina was tutored from first grade through high school and she graduated from college. Now she works in our tutoring program and she and her husband send money back to Puebla to help their families survive. 

Jerico recently wrote to me: "Not sure if you know, but I was an illegal immigrant back in the 80s when you were my church youth director. It was a hard time for  me and my family. We struggled to fit in and keep up. I have since gained my citizenship through the 1985 Amnesty, graduated college, and I am now in a great profession for the last 13 years. We were never on welfare and never asked for a handout. But we are grateful for all the friends that made our journey easier. If it wasn't for Reagan's amnesty I don't think I would be in the place I am today."

Fasting gave me the opportunity to identify with the pain of those who struggle in our broken system, to be grateful for what I normally take for granted and to pray for families in our community who want what my ancestors gained centuries ago.

As people of faith we must we focus on the real human stories rather than stereotypes and fear. We must do something about what God cares about, and according to Isaiah,

             our light will shine, 
             we will be healed, 
             God's righteousness will go before us, 
             and we will hear him say, 
                                "Here am I."   

What greater longing could we have in Advent?


  1. Well said. If the churches would set aside denominational differences, we could change the world again...the early church was not devided into different denominations and look what they did!

  2. Well said. If the churches would set aside denominational differences, we could change the world again...the early church was not devided into different denominations and look what they did!


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