The following is an excerpt from Dr. Mark Jensen’s Keynote Address at Set the Table, a celebration of Second Harvest’s CEO Clyde Fitzgerald on his retirement. These astute words from Dr. Jensen served as a gentle call to action, a reminder as to why it is we do the work we do. Dr. Jensen, a professor at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity, researches and teaches the intersections of faith, health, food systems, sustainability and community. You can learn more about him here.
A few years ago, friends in Nicaragua taught me a brief musical blessing to be sung before or after a community meal. Nearly all of the great wisdom traditions have prayers or rituals that express gratitude for the gifts of earth that become bread to nourish body, spirit, and community. The English translation of this deceptively simple song says this:
“God bless to us our bread,
And give food to all those who are hungry,
And hunger for justice to those who are fed,
God bless to us our bread.”
If we had more time, I’d teach it to you. It’s lovely. I know that we don’t all name the sacred in the same way. But what I want to point out about this little verse is that it makes different kinds of hunger the subject of earnest and honest longing. The prayer-song names two scandals: some among us are too hungry, and some of us are not hungry enough. There’s too much of one kind of hunger, and not enough of the other, and those problems are related.
We’re in Ramadan, when our Muslim friends fast. Fasting, in all of the great religious traditions, is a way for us to re-set our moral and spiritual compasses, a way to ponder how we’ve become too hungry for some things, and not hungry enough for things that matter more. Fasting invites us to cultivate a hunger for mercy and justice, a hunger for change in the status quo. To risk moving from the sublime to the ridiculous– a beer commercial of the recent past instructs us to “stay thirsty.” Let’s stay hungry, friends. Let us be full of compassion, but hungry for mercy and justice.
One more text, also originally written as a song.
New Zealand song-writer Shirley Erena Murray wrote a hymn entitled “For Everyone Born,” published first in 2000. I was introduced to this song by Sally Ann Morris, a wonderful composer in her own right, and the chapel musician for WFUSD. The first stanza and refrain say this:
For everyone born, a place at the table.
For everyone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place for growing.
For everyone born, a star overhead.
And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace.
Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice—justice and joy.
Murray starts her text where Clyde started his recent editorial: “For everyone born.” Again, there is the “value audition” for a seat in this choir. Murray envisions that everyone born has a place at the table. That table includes bread and clean water. But the table she invites us to create also includes shelter, space, safety, and in a cosmic gesture, a sense that there is a star overhead. But Murray is not done there. The chorus proclaims that God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace. What strikes me in this text are the words delight and joy. Compassion and justice are not carried out by grim-faced people doing a stern, charitable duty. Yes, the work can be hard, complicated, messy. And all of the human virtues, including courage, are called for. But the delight of the Divine and the joy of human community are found, are created when we work to make sure that everyone born partakes in the commonwealth of creation. Clyde has stood for those values, and worked to create that kind of community.
Friends, that is a song we can sing, and work we can do.