Ramadan 2009: Day 10

The first week of the fast is completed … and it has been a good week – good in terms of prayer, good in terms of self-control, good in terms of a humbling awareness of my weakness and limitations, good in terms of being intensely mindful of those who are hungry and thirsty day after day after day. It hasn’t been easy: the thirst is tough late in the afternoons, I tend to feel a little sick and weak after about 2 pm, I’ve received quite a few amazingly nasty emails, and some of the blog chatter, I’ve been told, has included some predictable inaccuracy and depressing rhetoric. (I generally avoid those kinds of blogs.) But the negatives seem trivial and small in comparison with the blessings and encouragements. Two special encouragements …
My fasting partner Eboo Patel writes about interfaith solidarity as well as anyone on the planet, because he lives it through Interfaith Youth Core. He talks about our shared fasting experience here. Quotable:

I hope this interfaith solidarity during Ramadan is a sign of the times. I pray that we are moving towards a world in which people are rooted in their own traditions but find dimensions to admire and learn from in others, that Ramadan is a time during which people from a variety of backgrounds come together in the common purpose of growing closer to God and one another. That is the heart of Islam, of all of our faiths and traditions.

And Ben Ries, a new friend (whom I met at Ichtheology at Yellowstone in July), is one of several who felt the call to join in the fast after reading about it here on this site. He shares his beautiful experience in an article here.
Two more after the jump …

Here’s one of the encouraging notes that came in this week – really worth reading:

Mr. McLaren: I was reading my local paper online during lunch today and I happened upon an article about you and Ramadan. Now, I do not usually read anything in the religious section of the paper as I am a devote doubter…mainly because of all the people I have met in church and out who profess to be “Christians” and then go about their days hating, judging and generally living their lives quite hypocritically. But once in a while I happen up on someone that intrigues me. You, Mr. McLaren, are now one of those people. I had never heard of you before reading my paper today. However, I was impressed enough in the article I read that I wanted to write this posting (which I so very seldom do) to let you know that there are people out here in the secular world who applaud you and respect you for what you are doing.
I may not agree with your religion or your personal beliefs, however, your decision to participate in another person’s religious practice, such as fasting during Ramadan, gives me a new and hopeful perspective on some religious leaders. There is that chance that you are just doing this for publicity for your church and your book sales but I prefer to give you the benefit of doubt that you are truly attempting to practice what you preach..Kudos to you and those like you.
Who knows maybe because of your generous sharing of your faith to people like me, you may just get a couple of new converts….not me of course, but you never know……I do so agree with your apparent practice of respecting other religious dogmas and trying to see the best in other people. Believe or not I see that in the secular world all the time. Myself and my fellow doubters respect the fact that some people have deep and abiding faith in a higher power and this faith gives them comfort and hope..my wish is that those of all religious faiths would respect my decision to doubt that belief for myself. I find that so seldom in the religious world no matter what the affiliation. They all seem to judge me and my fellow doubters so harshly calling us heretics and worse. It is indeed refreshing to find someone in your world that maybe does not do that…Good luck to you in your endeavor to understand others that are different from you. I think you already know that we are not so different after all.

Here’s another response – this one from a Muslim bridgebuilder, Rahim Snow, who shares his thoughts about “religion 2.0” here.

Thank you for your bold leadership in observing the Ramadan fast. I know that you do it in the Abrahamic spirit of friendship and seeing oneself in the other. It’s a marvelous thing. So many of us who grew up Muslim in this country have been attending Christmas Mass and Easter services and various other functions with our Christian friends at their Christian churches for ages. We feel right at home there because Jesus is within our spiritual family and Christians are nothing less than our brothers. But the reverse doesn’t always play out, as you well know. That is why it’s so heart-warming and a powerful gesture of solidarity for you to embark on the practice of Ramadan. I myself have a more sublimated approach to the practice, not actually doing the physical fast itself, but definitely the mental, emotional, spiritual fast from ill-will, worry, and all else that distracts us from the continuous felt-sense and remembrance of the loving presence and inviting grace of God.
God bless you, your family, and every effort you make to build bridges,

“Seeing oneself in the other” is an important phrase. It recalls that quote from Protestant Reformer John Calvin which I’ll share again here … he might say “seeing oneself in the people who are most alien to us.” Rahim is spot on to refer to Abraham, because his calling was not to be blessed by God apart from the rest of humanity, but to be blessed by God on behalf of all humanity:

Since [God] has stamped his image upon us, and since we share a common nature, this ought to inspire us to provide for one another. The one who seeks to be exempt from the care of his neighbour is disfiguring himself and declaring that he now longer wishes to be a man. For whilst we are human beings, we must see our own faces reflected, as by a mirror, in the faces of the poor and despised, who can go no further and who are trembling under their burdens, even if they are people who are most alien to us. If a Moor or a barbarian comes to us, because he is a man, he is a mirror in which we see reflected the fact that he is our brother and our neighbour; for we cannot change the rule of nature that God has established as immutable.