I have been attempting to walk alongside Christ this Lent by eating what the poor of the world eat as I consider Jesus' love for the hungry poor. Some of it has been hard just for the shear fact that meals play such a central role in our social lives. Besides the natural place of relationship with my family and household (some of whom are participating in this fast and some of whom are not) there is hardly a week that goes by where I am not sharing a meal with friends or colleagues. I've done what I can to capture the spirit without becoming a jerk or pharisee. Mostly this has meant limiting what I eat when I am with friends. The pain of turning down seconds when I am hungry shows me just what a slave I can be to my cravings.
At the beginning of March I was in Kolkata, India for meetings with leaders from Servants to Asia's Urban Poor. Perhaps the biggest challenge to my Lenten fast was passing the delectable tray of swiss chocolates from the Swiss delegates as it came around the room without drooling on them.
That week the Lenten fast was focused on the poor of Kolkata and I was supposed to eat rice and dal, which I did. But the most ironic part of this fast occured when I was fed by the poor.
We were paired up and sent out into the homes of the poor women who work with Servants for dinner one night. I ate at Shujeta's home. Her grandma moved into the two room concrete enclosure 40 years ago. What you see above is as much of the main room as one can see without using a wide angle or fisheye lens. It was probably a room about 12 feet by 12 feet. The room used for cooking was smaller. Shujeta's extended family has lived there for two generations and their hospitality and genoristy was amazing.
They brought out three courses of incredibly tasty food, and Shujeta (as most Bengalis) would not stop loading my plate each time it emptied until I made a huge fuss and pulled my plate away.
It is beautiful and disturbing that during my attempt to identify with the hungry poor during Lent that the one time I have eaten in abundance was the evening I was fed by the poor. I was humbled to be shown such extravagance by those whom I have been attempting to identify with by depriving myself.
No matter what extent we go to in order to stand alongside the poor, I am convinced that the wealthy can never outgive the poor.