Ramadan 2009: Day 26 (or 27? Lost count …)

Several people have asked me what one thing I have gained from this experience so far. There have been so many that it’s impossible to single out one. Perhaps in retrospect in a few weeks, one will rise above the others. Today, though, let me mention two.
First, respect. I have gained new respect for the hundreds of millions of Muslim men and women and even children who observe Ramadan year after year. Many of my Christian friends see everything in other religions as efforts to “earn one’s way to heaven” (a misguided venture, we know), without realizing that this kind of earning isn’t everyone else’s preoccupation. For many people, this observance is an expression of love … a tangible way to express love for God and for one’s faith community. And it’s also a time-tested spiritual practice, which I’ll return to in a minute.
I’m sure that anyone who has trained for a marathon gains new respect for the millions of other people who have been through that experience. When they see a marathon on TV or when they meet someone who is a marathon runner, they have a greater respect than the rest of us for the sacrifice and dedication behind every step of every runner because they’ve run many miles in those same shoes (metaphorically speaking). In my own very small way, that’s what I feel now – much more than I expected. For the rest of my life, every time I meet a Muslim who has observed the fast even once, I will have a new and sincere respect.
Second … (after the jump)

I also have a new and deeper respect for the power of spiritual practices. Obviously, I’ve thought about this a good bit in the past – especially when writing Finding Our Way Again. But this experience has deepened my respect for the ways that practices translate values into life.*
I can say that I value self-control, but do I practice self-control?
I can say that I value compassion for the poor, but do I practice that compassion?
I can say that I value prayer, but do I practice prayer?
I can say that I value listening for God’s voice and guidance but do I practice that posture of receptivity?
Ramadan, as I have experienced it, is a powerful way of translating these (and other) values into practice for twenty-eight days a year, so they can be integrated into life more deeply for all 365.
So … maybe I did find one thing I’ve gained after all: respect. Respect for Muslims, and respect for spiritual practices. There’s more I’ll try to add after the fast is over.
*As I explain in Finding Our Way Again, sometimes people carry on a ritual or tradition – whether it’s baptism, the eucharist, Ramadan, Passover, whatever – having forgotten the value, purpose, or meaning behind it. Then the practice degenerates into “ritualism” or “traditionalism,” a dead and empty thing. Many of us need to rediscover the purposes, meanings, or values that lie forgotten (or undiscovered) beneath our observances, practices, traditions, or rituals. Something to think about …