There are so many things I've wanted to write about on here for the past year. In fact, I started making list of blog posts that never were. But this, this is a response to the question several of you have asked me in the last couple weeks: "Why are you fasting for Ramadan?"
Ramadan is a month-long daytime fast observed by Muslims around the world. Because of the lunar calendar, the timing varies from year to year. This year it happens to fall in the summer, when daytime hours are rather long. One can eat and drink in the morning before it gets light and again after it gets dark, but during daylight, one must not eat or drink anything. I'm told it is a time of spiritual journey, of deepening faith, of prayer.
To clarify, I am not a Muslim. I am a follower of Christ and Christ alone.
And I am doing a modified fast. I am drinking water during the day (only water) and celebrating a feast day on Sunday.
The simplest explanation, which I gave a friend earlier today, is that this is an exercise in self-discipline, prayer, and empathy.
So what does that mean?
Self-discipline: I have never been good at fasting. Many Christians believe that God commanded us to fast regularly in Matthew 6:16: "When you fast..." The idea is that since Jesus says when and not if, it is not only expected but also a command. Whether or not one interprets the Bible this way, I agree that fasting can be very beneficial if you let it. For me, personally, fasting is very, very challenging. I love to eat. If you know me at all, you know I love to eat. Food is yummy. And I'm not a water-drinker. I have to force myself to drink water. Tea? Yes! Coffee? Absolutely! Soda? Duh! Crystal Light? Yay! Lemonade? Sure! Water? Um, not so much. So fasting from food and drinks other than water has been a real challenge for me. I'm on day four (should be five, but Ramadan began on Sunday), and while today has been easier than the first few days, it's still a challenge. I see the donuts someone brought to work and want one. I smell the coffeecake that someone else brought and want some. I want the bagels another person is sharing. And when I get asked, "What did you bring for lunch?" I have to cleverly respond without answering the question, as I haven't advertised at work that I'm fasting. Oh my gosh, you guys, it is hard to fast for 16 hours! But I'm going to do this! I need to learn self-discipline, and this is as good a lesson as any.
Prayer: I have never been a prayer warrior. I've always wanted to be, but I've never made a real effort to become fervent in prayer. Over this month, I'm making an effort at least to pray during my meals (as I usually eat them alone) and when I feel hunger during the day. Mostly this week I've prayed for my Muslim friends and others observing the fast, that they would find strength and sustenance in God. But I do also pray for specific needs of which I'm aware. The grumbling stomach is just a reminder to pray.
Empathy: Perhaps the most important reason for my fast is to develop empathy. While I grew up just streets away from the Muslim community of my hometown in Nigeria, I never tried to put myself in their shoes. I didn't wonder what their lives were like. I want to change that. I'm not a sociologist or a cultural anthropologist, and I'm no missionary in the traditional sense. But I want to have some idea what this fast is like. After all, it's a full lunar month every single year of an adult Muslim's life, and it's one of the Five Pillars of Faith. In other words, it's a Big Deal. A few months ago I was given the chance to wear a hijab for an afternoon. While I didn't observe a difference in the way people responded to me, I observed a difference in the way I felt: conspicuous but proud. It was very similar to the feeling I used to have when I wore my Nigerian clothes in college: "I know I’m different, but I'm not ashamed of it." Or maybe even, "I dare you to think I’m weird or treat me differently because of what I'm wearing." All that to say I want to know what it's like. I'm so far not brave enough to actually ask my Muslim friend if I can come over and join her for any of her Ramadan traditions, but I have told her I’m fasting, so maybe in a week or two I'll gather courage. Or maybe not. We'll see. But I love the Muslim people I know, and I want to connect on some level. Without knowing a good way to do so, maybe this will be a springboard. If nothing else, it might someday be a conversation starter.
Call me crazy. I don't mind. I think God has things to teach me, and I'm going to listen.