Ramadan by Negotiated Agreement

My fast is closed but my heart is open.

Today marks the end of my fasting for Ramadan. My final Iftar took place in a pub at BWI before I got on a plane for a family vacation.  I broke this fast in the daylight with a beer and a bacon burger. So…not strictly speaking a traditional Ramadan success story.

ram-burger

I have written previously about my distrust of perfection further affirmed by my favorite sage, Sister Anne Patrick, who often said “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” I can acknowledge this is one of those truths I cling to, in part, because it’s convenient.

Sidenote: always distrust sage advice that is too easy for you to follow…not because it isn’t true for others, but perhaps not quite so true for you.

Here are all the ways my Ramadan fast was less than perfect:

I did not always wake by 5:30 to eat my breakfast before sunrise. Sometimes I did. Other days early morning runs, or yoga, or other forms of rationalization had me eating my breakfast in the guilty gleam of the morning sun’s rays.

ram-also
I found myself eating a lot of dessert for breakfast. Cue cannoli. 

Also,

I almost never waited to break my fast at Sundown. Instead I would break my fast in the evening (ahem) or late afternoon when I sat down to dinner (ahem) or stoop sitting with my family (ahem) or close neighborhood drinking moms.

ram-neighbors
Pilgrimage to St. Casimir’s street fair with the neighborhood crew.

This brings me to,

I often broke my fast with an adult beverage (drunken Monk style). My kidneys, turns out, did not appreciate this.

Ram-cocktail
Wine smoothie.

Which is why,

I drank water during fasting hours. It comes as a surprise to most non-Muslims that the Ramadan fast means you do not eat OR drink during the day. Not so, in Christian fasting. Thirst rather than hunger in my experience is by far the more difficult craving to stave off. Last Ramadan I was only able to pull it off a couple of days.

Date with date
“You got a date with a date!”

Speaking of which,

I may have taken a few days “off” from Ramadan. Sundays, for example are NOT counted in the 40 days of Lent. SOOOOO….I reasoned for this to be an ecumenical blending of traditions, maybe I just ate one less meal than usual that day. Who says brunch can’t be transcendent?

 

One might ask with all this “Ramadan by negotiated agreement” why do it at all? More importantly, might not all this compromise be viewed a disrespectful to all those devout Muslims around the world who adhere to these directives fervently? Perhaps. Though that is not their intent

This is my sincere confession. Forgive me.

Ramadan, I have learned, is not just about what you (try to) subtract. It’s about what you add.  Muslims read the entire Koran during the month, they do works of charity, they make amends to people they have wronged.

ram-food
Food drive at Brooklyn Park Elementary.

 

One of the most beautiful reflections about the multiplicity of meanings that emerge out of this Holy month come from “Ramadan Revealed” with American Muslims around the country, recorded by “On Being.” I listened to it last year and this year while I ran along the Baltimore Harbor in the early morning light. Please make the time for these beautiful stories. They are full of humor, generosity…and MacDonald’s French Fries.

Many of these American Muslims tell stories about how challenging it is to keep the fast in America…hemmed in by 24 hour neon signs for french-fries and doughnuts. One confesses, when she fasts in America she feels like the only person in the world not eating. Not drinking.

MeanBox
Haram in a box.

 

I can’t say I strictly identify. I can say I do feel different even when I do Ramadan imperfectly. I feel more patient. More loving. More grateful. More mindful.

 

Even when I do less, I feel more.

Maybe it’s because all that blood is rushing to my brain and not my digestive tract. Maybe because so much of consumption isn’t nourishing. Maybe because I have used the discomfort of hunger as an excuse to be grumpy or impatient.

ram-acrobat
Acro-Kip.

Maybe for some other mystical reason.

My hope is that one day I will do more and be more because of it. One day I will work up my spiritual stamina to 30 days of true pre-dawn profundity, alcoholic temperance, and sundown first sips.

ram-meditation
Me: Ivy what are you doing? – Ivy: Meditating. – Me: Who taught you to do that? – Ivy: Ninja Turtles

Until then, my fast from food is closed. (I’m on vacation and one of my former students told me you’re not supposed to fast when you’re traveling, so, another convenient truth for me to adhere to).

But my heart is more open.

 

Thank you Ramadan. I’ll open my fast with you again next year.

#TheRamadanStruggle is real…

My first day of fasting went pretty well…aside from that 3 o’clock beer.

No, I’m not TRYING to be provocative. (I didn’t have it with a side of bacon.)

What had happened was, I’d scheduled to meet with a local college professor BEFORE I decided to attempt this whole #Christians4Ramadan thing and I thought it would be weird for me to show up and WATCH him drink a beer.

So…cheers.

As my friend Annie often says “Barbara can justify anything…” and so, even as I sat sipping my way through #RamadanFail, I constructed a theological justification rooted in my Christian Heritage. It starts with Friar Tuck.

The icon of the drunken monk emerged historically because religious orders would have fasting days. The loop hole was that (unlike Ramadan) you can usually drink during most Christian fasts. So some monk somewhere along the way realized water was MUCH more satisfying when it had, say, BARLEY soaking in it. And hey, if it sat around a bit, started to ferment…all the better.

And so we have devout monks (and #Christians4Ramadan) wobbling their way through their meditations.

Pretty good, right?

Pretty bad.

Right.

It got me to thinking, though, how much easier is to struggle together. To be able to turn to the person next you and say “Is that a beluga whale in your belly or are you just happy it’s Ramadan?”

There becomes this communal support (or pressure) to make it through #thestruggle.  Friends of mine who did a teacher exchange program in Morocco a few summers ago were struck by how hard it was to find LUNCH (let alone beer) in a Muslim country during Ramadan. They weren’t expected to fast, but the social infrastructure was built to help them drop 10 pounds accidentally.

Cultural expectations are remarkable at priming us for success or setting us up for failure. Try giving up meat in Middle America and see what happens.

Breaking my fast at Bengies Drive in. Onion rings are Halal, right?
Breaking my fast at Bengies Drive in. Onion rings are Halal, right?

I became a Vegetarian for a week in the 7th grade. We were driving to church and we passed a truck full of chickens.

“Aww! Chickens! They’re so cute!” I exclaimed.

“They’re so delicious,” was my Fathers rejoinder.

Cue moral indignation. I don’t know why it had never hit me before this moment that creatures with which I could so easily empathize I could just as easily eat. I declared myself a vegetarian. This lasted all of a week until a church canoeing trip where all there was to eat was Turkey sandwiches.

Sigh. My moral imperative so quickly adrift down the stream of my good intentions. (wo)Man cannot live on Doritos and Wonderbread alone.

What I DIDN’T know was that all I had to do was wait for college where EVERYONE becomes a vegetarian…for at least a hot minute. Garbanzo bean salads! Tofu Burgers! Almond milk smoothies! Even our Rugby bagged lunches included hummus and carrots for Vegans. You can fall into Vegetarianism in Academia just as easily as you fall OUT of it when you return to the real world of American Carnivores.

I fell off the wagon and I fell hard. Maryland Blue Crabs were partly to blame. My Mother-in-law with her seafood bisque was not a huge help either. There was also a 50 mile hike in the Canadian Rockies (pursued by Grizzlies) that had me reasserting my claim at the top of the food chain with an Outback Steak House bacon burger.

 “If you become a Vegetarian but the only thing you have to eat is apples, you’ll be back to meat in a week.”

I explored this idea of the “Circumstantial You” during Lent this year. Some of us our born into faiths that are a good fit for our souls. Others are born into a faith too tight, too loose, too loud, too quiet. Some of us are surrounded by cultures that affirm our dispositions, others have landed in societies that seem only to offer constant critique.

Had I been born Iraq, would I have been a “good” Muslim woman? Would I have spent hours cooking the culinary delights that would reward my family members for their devotion to God and Family? Or would I have joined a diaspora who have pursued other horizons where there is more latitude to twirl?

For this Ramadan season, I will move through spaces who question my fast, others that would question my beer. I know myself well enough to know that when I choose to make compromises it will likely be an attempt to ensure my moral imperatives (or random spiritual impulses) don’t infringe on those of others.

I’d be a better #Chrisian4Ramadan in Morocco. A better #Vegetarian4Chickens in Mumbai.

But I am a decent #Human4Humans in Baltimore. I’ll do what I can in the circumstances I’ve been gifted.