In preparation for his 40-day fast, which began on March 1, Ash Wednesday, Daryl Byler made a few changes to his recreational reading. This lawyer, ordained minister and executive director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University favors non-fiction and legal thrillers.
Recently, however, Byler has been meditating on the Presbyterian daily lectionary—the faith tradition of President Donald J. Trump—and listening to the thoughts and ideologies that Trump has expressed in his many books.
Listening is just one of a few simple actions Byler is focussing on during the 40 days of Lent.
Each day, Byler is publishing 140 words, based on the lectionary and the theme of healing justice. He is posting them to the blog and then tweeting a link to Trump, Trump’s spiritual advisors, and a host of others, conservative and liberal alike.
Readers can follow the fast on Byler’s twitter account (his handle is @jdarylbyler) or blog: https://healingjusticefast.wordpress.com/.
“I’d like to see President Trump begin to work collaboratively with our diverse leaders to heal this country’s deep divisions and inequalities,” Byler said. “The president needs to set the tone, but the healing that this country needs is everybody’s business. The justice issues are broad systemic issues. We can’t address one without working on the other.”
Byler says he turns to fasting, considered one of the great spiritual disciplines with prayer and meditation, when “action is uncertain.”
“Fasting for me is a way of centering and calling attention to important issues,” Byler said. “Typically in the Bible, fasting is used at a time when there does seem to be a lot at stake, as an expression of placing oneself in a posture of deeply listening to God and one’s self and to others.”
The listening is an important action as well, “which we don’t do enough of in this country.”
He hopes the letters will invite a dialogue. Included in his list are Vice President Mike Pence, and prominent evangelicals Paula White, Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson and Franklin Graham, among others.
“While the letters are focused on the president,” Byler said, “he alone is not responsible for the divisions in the country or to work at healing and justice. We are all responsible.”
This is not Byler’s first fast in times of inner and outer turmoil: he made a 40-day Fast for Peace in 2003, as the United States was building a case for engaging in the Iraq War. At the time, he was head of Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Washington, D.C., office.
His fast, shared on the MCC website, drew attention from Mennonites but also “moving letters” from others of many faiths around the world. “Particularly the people in the Middle East were grateful for someone paying attention to a war that was going impact their region, and doing this in a spiritual form they were familiar with.”
Byler already knows the effect of this fast on his body and mind: “Because I’ve done this before, I know that for me the process is one of great centering and focus, of seeking discernment and guidance.”
He invites people to join him for a day or more, and to share thoughts on his blog.