Odd friends of Ramadan

Transformed by curious couplings during #Christians4Ramadan

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Tonight, on Ramadan Eve, I finished two books, both of which were given to me. One by my daughter. One by a first year teacher.

A month ago, my daughter came home from Pre-K4 with I am Malala in her Ninja Turtle backpack.

Holding it up to me in two hands, like a stone tablet.  She said earnestly, (Ivy says most things earnestly) “Mommy I want to read this!”

She’d found it in the fourth grade classroom and I can only assume connected immediately with the tranquil gaze of Malala on the front cover.

“Umm…I want to read that too, five year old,” I said bemused. “Guess this is our first mother daughter book club.” We let Kip join too because…top bunk privilege. At bedtime, for the last month, we have been reading about Malala, Pakistan, Swat Valley, the rise of the Taliban, her Father’s activism, her own fight for human and children’s rights…and her love for Ugly Betty. Kip and Ivy have both been surprisingly riveted, only occasionally petitioning for a respite with Star Wars Rebels or Rosie Revere. After they become drowsy to the wisdom of Malala, I choose my late night profundity from a different direction.

Early in the school year, my colleague Andy (who had actually been a student at the school where I began teaching) asked me “Do you identify strongly with Leslie Knope?”

I gasped and grabbed his arm…

“Do YOU identify me with Leslie Knope?” I asked with rhetorical Leslie Knope-like eagerness.

“Umm…well that all depends…I guess some might see her as a little naïve.”

If by naïve you mean hopefully exuberant as she fearlessly charges into the world with blinders on to the peril towards herself or others but equipped with a bastion of binders to protect her…I guess I can see that.

I should mention here that my spirit animal is Leslie Knope riding a unicorn.

Andy took it all in stride and very thoughtfully presented me with Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please, as a Christmas gift…which I finally finished today. I wish this pace could be explained by 1,500 pages, small print and no pictures…but the book is only 329 pages long and is laced with Polaroids, hand scribbled notes from 8 year old Amy, and large margins with riotous side-notes from  friends and colleagues. I have added to these with annotations of my own (should you wish to borrow my copy).

As I drink wine and write this, these two books sit next to me, the authors both gazing at me with challenge and expectation. I don’t think I seek out these kinds of peculiar pairings to be deliberately provocative. I’m just a reluctant sorter. They would seem an odd couple to anyone else…but to those who know me, this will likely not come as too astounding. The spiritual humanitarian alongside the hilarious hedonist. Sounds about right.

Ram-odd-an

I will write more specifics about my strange affinity for these powerful women and the lessons they have taught me in the days to come, but for tonight, I accept their odd juxtaposition in my life and their company into Ramadan just as I hope you will accept the oddity of an educational mystic once again inspired and cleansed by her pilgrimage through this holy month.

I don’t have a logical or convenient filing system for the world or the people in it. I don’t reject these curious couplings when they happen. When my daughter hands me book, I accept. When the first year teacher hands me a book, I accept. When a kid asks me to sponsor the Muslim Student Association…I accept. And then I also accept the possibility that, perhaps, we were supposed to co-exist all along. Become friends. Transform each other. Make the other giggle.

I think Malala and Amy might do some giggling together. I think I might join them. And you? You’re invited, too.

Giggle.

Accept.

Lenten Lo Mein

Welcome to the lived Lenten experience of this working parent. No Eucharist. Just a sacred bowl of tofu stir fry.

(At Dinner Tonight)

Zach: “Is there something you want to think about giving up for other people?”

Kip: “I’ll never give up! I can do anything!”

Ivy: “Yea! Just like Kung Fu Panda!”

 

This first day of Lent was a messy one. A two hour school delay for half the household. Four meetings at four locations scattered across Anne Arundel County. Phone calls in the car between destinations…not hands free. “You have exceeded in your inbox limit” of unanswered emails. After care. Dinner Prep. Duplo pick up.  Birthday party to-do-list. Lost monkey. Tears. (Theirs not mine). Sleep. (Theirs not mine).

It’s on days such as these I can get romantic about the life of a monk. Not the celibate part. Not even the drunken part. The quiet contemplative part.

There was no time in the day for quiet reflection…until now. 9:13 PM

This is the lived Lenten experience of this working parent. No Eucharist. Just a sacred bowl of tofu stir fry.

Still, last year, my experience of a blog post a day, was a transformative journey. My “imperflections” lead me into new traditions and routines. Forged new friendships. Deepened old ones. Perhaps most importantly, it helped me experiment with this instrument called my voice in a space carved out by the best of human aspirations. 40 days to become better. 40 days to be more generous. To make sacrifices for others. To pry our hands off those things that weigh us down so that we may pick up new habits that propel us forward.

So again this year I launch myself into a contemplative writing practice not because I’m ready…but because I’m not. Not because I know where I’ll end up, but because I cannot begin to guess. These posts are simply the candid selfies along the way. The backdrop will not be some Icelandic cliff-side. The background cluttered and colored with the life I live.

LentVermont

Creating space for the sacred amidst the mundane has an odd way of making the sacred more prevalent and the mundane more profound.

Let’s see where this stir-fry takes us.

 

Humble Warrior (and the Holy Harrumph)

Finding balance between strength and humility…

Humility has never been my strong suit.

Consequently, sometimes the universe harrumphs at me.

Quietly, but definitively, I often feel the affectionate exasperation of the cosmos aimed in my direction.

This year during Ramadan and my sporadic attempts at fasting, the closest I came to prostrating towards Mecca was on my yoga mat. When you’re hungry, every sensation becomes nourishment. And if the mundane is made profound by your burning thirst, the profound is even more so.

Yoga has been the one space that has remained constant through my spiritual transformations. It began in 2002 with Fred Hagstrom, an art professor at Carleton College who would move his students through the Ashtanga Yoga series with no variation. It was the same. Every. Time.

For some, routine is comforting. For me, routine is tedium. Usually.

But something about the fluidity of…

Sun Salutation.

Forward fold.

Flat back.

High Plank.

Low plank.

Upward Dog.

Downward dog.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Yoga managed to do the one thing no other spiritual practice ever could…

Quiet my Monkey Mind.

Yoga Toes

Yoga during Ramadan nourished me in a new way. When I visited former students at the local Mosque in Gambrills, Maryland, I witnessed their prayer cycles in person for the first time. Sitting in the back of the prayer room, I watched women in beautiful robes and scarves in a choreographed dance towards the divine…

Stand

Bow

Kneel

Forehead to ground.

Stand.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Soon afterward when I came to my mat…the parallels were pronounced.

The central tenet of Islam is Submission to the will of Allah. Humility is likewise a tenet of my root faith, Christianity.  I never really got it. Never really wanted to.

It may have been in part because being raised in a conservative faith in the Midwest, it seemed that those most expected to be humble were…women. I was strong like a boy. Brave like a boy. Smart like…myself. Why should I pretend otherwise?

I remember the distinct moment in middle school when I first had the “B” word lobbed in my direction.

“Barbara’s hot, but she’s a bitch.”

Huh.

I didn’t see myself as either of these. Could I accept one but not the other, my teenage self wondered?

Intimidating. Bitchy. Cocky. Crazy.

Bitches get stuff done

I moved through various whispers or second hand labels like these, mostly from males I only vaguely knew. At some point I learned that being “cute” could offset my power. Obscure it enough to make it palatable. I’ve been figuring out how to contain, explain, and tame “my inner mean girl” ever since.

My mat has become a space to face this part of myself. I’ve always found it difficult to practice on my own. I can only do it for about 20 minutes and only about once every two months. But give me a roomful of sweaty yogis, I can go for an hour and a half (and give me a trust fund and I could go every day).

Yoga is funny. It’s a practice, not a performance, so you are not supposed to be comparing yourself to other people in the room.

Tell that to Lulu Lemon.

In truth, We (read I)  watch out of the corner of our (third) eye as someone falls out of tree pose. Bummer. And then we wonder who’s watching us (and gloating) when we do the same.

I’ve been practicing now for 15 years…so I can do a Cosmic Dance or two. Balance on one foot. My head. My forearms. I can fold and bend in old poses and stretch and strain into new ones.

Like I said. Humility has never been my strong suit.

Still…

Something internal shifted in my 30’s. I think it was Kip and Ivy that maybe did it. Parenting is humbling. My leftover baby-belly is humbling. For the first three years of their lives, I was lucky if I could get to yoga every couple of months. When I did…the heat of the room was nothing compared to the warmth of my gratitude. To be in this space. To polish my heart with my breath. To be strong sometimes and wobbly others. Kind of like the two most important little people in my life.

I would begin my practice in child’s pose and end in corpse pose, the final resting posture, tears slowly seeping from the corners of my eyes, having moved through the cycle of life and death.

Rhythm. Tides. Seasons. Breath.

Humility came with the realization that the best work of yoga is invisible to anyone but myself. No one can see my heart grow bigger. My spirit expand. My affection, compassion, and admiration for my fellow yogis moving in unison around me. And no matter my triumphs or tribulations on the mat, they mattered not at all unless I could bring their lessons with me out into the world.

During my Ramadan Yoga practice I thought a lot about submission…what it meant that I sucked at it. How I should feel about that. And then, all of a sudden I found myself in Humble Warrior.

For those of you unfamiliar with yoga, every posture has multiple variations. Dogs can be upward, downward, walked, or flipped.

Warriors can be reversed, flying, or…humbled.

Humble Warrior

How do we accept our inherent human power without lording it over others?

That’s it! I thought. I am a humble warrior!!

(Cue Holy Harrumph)

Cue self-aware chuckle.

Okay, okay. Not just yet.

But humble warrior, I realized in that moment, ought to become my life’s aspiration.

To be strong.

To be balanced.

To be humble…because I may topple over at any moment.

Humility and humiliation are not the same. My humility comes not from thinking myself less…but from thinking all of us MORE. Being able to look at a stranger and marvel at all the realities and possibilities they embody. To see people’s failings (and my own) as both inevitable and evolve-able.

I am powerful because…aren’t we all?

I feel myself called to action on issues rife with peril. Feel a future trajectory that will require courage.  I will fail unless I am first, humble. Second, powerful.

May the Cosmos, in Her mercy, help me balance both.

Sitting on the Stoop of Faith

“Here! It is a blessing,” a smiling priest says handing me a purple plum.

I stand in a Hindu temple. My friend Beth is getting married in a nearby room. I have wandered into this hall of gods unsure if I am welcome. They line the walls. Some I recognize. Elephant head. Blue Skin. Infinite arms. Others…this is our first time meeting.

In front of each are an assortment of what I assume to offerings. Candles. Money. Incense. Food.

As I tiptoed around this unfamiliar space, I robed man emerged from a door and approached me with a smile. I stood in front of a goddess with a twinkle in her eye. Perhaps I could identify. She looked a little saucy. I’m not sure if I would be wise to trust her, though. (Others feel the same about me.)

He tells me she is Lakshmi, goddess of fortune

Huh…Fortune. Not really my thing. (You know…Teacher.)

But, he tells me, she is also Goddess of luck. I’ve always seemed to have more of that than seemed fair.

This is when he picks up a “plum of blessing” from in front of her and hands it so me.

“Is that allowed?” I ask the (ahem) Hindu Priest.

He laughs. Yes, he assures me. The Goddess of the twinkle dares me to taste, and I take a bite of my Plum of blessing. I thank the priest and wander back to where I belong.

Blessings

On this final day of Ramadan (Eid Eve?!), the final day I will feel the pull of hunger so profoundly, I wish to pay tribute to the many men and women who have nourished me from other faiths and spaces.

To the Australian Buddhist who meditated with me on Loch Linhe in Scottland.

To the Pagan who taught me about the divinity of cliffs, pregnancy, and spaces of transition.

To the Jewish Family who sang me Shabbat in their home in the midst of mourning their middle son.

To the Agnostic who pondered with me Mormon roots and Academic branches at a café in Cambridge.

To the Atheist who dried my tears when an Evangelist told me I wasn’t her kind of Christian.

These humans have blessed my divine meanderings.

My favorite Mystic (because everyone should have a favorite Mystic) Simone Weil was born to an Agnostic Jewish family in France in the 20th century. She had a penchant for the poor. Laborers. Worked in solidarity with them and for them. Protested the Nazi occupation of her home. Fasted to raise consciousness of those living in Nazi Labor camps. Died of Tuburculousis at 34.

This melancholy character may seem an unlikely “Patron Saint of Barb”…but she also believed that if you didn’t get fired from teaching, you were probably doing something wrong.

She also became intrigued by Christianity, made friends with priests, but refused to be baptized because she felt to do so would be to shun the wisdom of all the non-Christians who had brought her to the door of the church.

Simone and I perhaps are best left sitting on the stoop of religion. We linger here with the beggars and loiterers. Hesitate to go inside the sanctuary where we must…

Sit down.

Get quiet.

Appear certain.

Instead

We bask in the Sun.

Hear the songs drifting from within.

Smell the incense.

It is enough…

…for now.

We are in good company. We are in the World that we love.

These wholly Humans are my guides and comforters as together we try to make sense of our place in this vast existence.

You all are my pillars of faith…

Praise for you.

Plum of Blessing to you.

Eid Mubarak!

Communion versus Conversion – Love and a cup of tea

 “Be careful! You might convert.”

Islam, it turns out, is not contagious…despite warnings I have received to the contrary.

Over the last two weeks of patchwork Ramadan, I have been meditating on what it is that draws a person to a particular faith.  I have been listening to On Being Podcasts about Islam, tweeting my inquiries to @interfaithRam and @EidPrayLove, and re-reading the Sufi poetry of Hafiz and Rumi.

For my more conservative Christian friends, this might raise some concerns. Won’t this exploration inevitably lead to my conversion?

I have never heeded the warning that exposure to other folks and faiths will somehow weaken my own identity. Consequently, I tend to move towards those who I perceive to be the most “different” from me.

I love you THIS much (world)!

Before I faced the Muslims, I faced the Mormons.

Like much of America, I grew up with more than a few prejudices against the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Some of these came from the pulpit. Others came from South Park. I took them with a grain of salt, though, because the Mormons I went to schools with…were pretty great. Jared Moore, in particular, didn’t strike me as bound for perdition. He was kind, goofy, and gave really good hugs.

As I got older, my primary critique of the faith was not the logical fallacies (because, let’s be honest, mainstream Christianity has its own eyebrow raising, big fish swallowing, death defying tales to explain). Rather, my greatest critique of Mormonism was the shunning.

I had friends who because they would not accept the theology of Mormonism, their families rejected them. I had friends who could not witness the marriage of their siblings because they weren’t allowed into the Mormon temple where the weddings took place.

When it comes to my faith, my litmus test is pretty simple:

Does your faith make you more inclusive or exclusive?

If the former, Amen.

If the latter, get thee behind me.

Still, I would meet Mormons who were wonderfully generous, kind, devoted people and I would try to reconcile their open hearts with their closed doors.

So I asked a Mormon colleague out to coffee…

I mean hot chocolate…

…err, Chamomile tea?

She relished the opportunity to be able to talk about her faith. I relished the opportunity to ask her questions about everything from Caffeine to underwear.

And guess what else. I didn’t convert.

My desire to share tea with Mormons or Ramadan with Muslims doesn’t spring from a need to convert but a need to commune.

Let's be friends...

English teacher alert: we need to talk about prefixes.

I. Love. Prefixes.

Suffixes, too.

I love how breaking down a word into its elements reveals old stories and new meanings.

“Com-” has always been a favorite of mine. With. Together.

“Con-” on the other hand is trickier. It can mean “with” (as in “Chile con Carne”) but it can also mean “against” (as in “Pro and Con”).

So I can be “connected” but I can also be “contrary.”

And while I have had to answer people’s questions about the possibility of conversion, what has really been of greatest interest to me is my deep desire for communion.

Conversion is rooted in “truth”. Verily I say unto you. Verify. Verdad? Add “Con” to the front and the idea of conversion might be understood as turning towards truth. “Transforming.” Conversely… it might mean the opposite.

Communion, on the other hand, is more straightforward. Communal. Community. It has to do with fellowship. Sharing. Literally “with one-ness.” This is also a term entangled with my Christian roots.

The first communion was Jesus’ last supper. Sitting together with his friends and family, preparing to face his mortality, he ate with those he loved. Broke bread. Shared wine. This simple act is the grain from which the rest of Christianity emerges and evolves.

Ironically, communion has also become a major point of contention in Christian history. Blood has been spilled over the body and blood.

Who can give it? Who can take it? Who is welcome at this table?

My husband is Catholic. In the theology of Roman Catholicism only priests can create the Eucharist and only confirmed Catholics can receive it. (Although SEVERAL priests, who will remain nameless, have joyfully shared communion with me in full knowledge that I was not Catholic).

At my friend Cara’s Episcopal church, on the other hand, “All are welcome at this table.” Instead of lining up, we circle up. The congregation comes to the sacristy at the front of the church, forms a circle, and anyone can partake in the bread and wine.  I crave eye contact when I take communion.

The best thing about Ramadan is the communion that comes at sundown. There is water to quench your thirst, food to assuage your hunger, and LOTS of “with oneness.” Chatting with the Imams wife. Watching the kids alternate between playing and eating. Learning that “There’s an App for that” and downloading “Muslim Pro” on my phone complete with call to prayer push notifications!

During Lent I wrote a Blog post I called, “The Other F Word”. It was a reflection on the four letter “F” word that should be our greatest concern: Fear.

“Fear is the mind killer.”

“Fear not, for I am with thee.”

The greatest of these is love...

Fear makes it hard to see. Hard to love. Hard to breathe. Prejudice is rooted and rotted in fear. The only way to uproot it is through exposure. Through moving towards that which we fear.

Breaking bread together.  Sharing the same table. Making eye contact.

Sitting with my Muslim (or Mormon) Brothers and Sisters is not about changing my faith. It’s about changing my heart. Expanding it. Making it bigger. Less ruled by fear and misunderstanding. More ruled by love and compassion.

“Perfect Love casts out fear.”

Who are you afraid of?

Love them.

It starts with a cup of tea.

“You got a date a with a date!” – Ramadan with the children of Islamth

It is Iftar at the Makkah Learning Center. I sit next to my student Anaum as an older women speaks to her and gestures to me. I assume she is speaking in Urdu, the language of Pakistan. When the woman walks away I whisper…

“What was she saying?”

Anaum whispers back…

“I have no idea. Every time she talks to me a just smile, nod, and say…Gi!”

“Gi,” in Urdu, means “yes.”

And this, my friends, is why I love learning alongside Muslim Millennials. Often they seem just as confused and bemused by their culture and religion as I am, and that’s just fine by me.

Anaum and Rabia, my Muslim Millennial guides at Makkah Learning Center...
Anaum and Rabia, my Muslim Millennial guides at Makkah Learning Center…

As the accidental sponsor of the Muslim Student Association at Arundel High School, I was in a near constant state of inquiry. My students, in turn, were in a constant state of amusement at this Midwestern white girl who was skipping blithely down the cultural-religious fault line of American Muslim Identity. (For a more in depth explanation of how I took on this role, refer back to #Muslims4Lent inspire #Christians4Ramadan).

Who’s in charge here??!! Was a frequent refrain at our Wednesday meetings. It couldn’t possibly be me. I mean, I know next to nothing about Islam.

5 pillars. 5 prayers. No pork. Submit. Did I get everything?

Consequently students from Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Nepal, Egypt were thrust into the role of “experts” because whatever the limits of their own understanding, they certainly knew way more than this girl.

What happens if you can’t pray 5 times a day?

What constitutes and acceptable Desi profession?

Can you be a good Muslim in a mini skirt?

How does your faith differ from your parents?

Kosher and Halal aren’t the same thing?

Anaum has served as my particular spiritual guide as I began to bumble my way towards #Christians4Ramadan…

RamadanTexts1

RamdanTexts2

This brings us back to my first Iftar. Thank goodness Luwaila brought me back that Abaya from Sudan as a souvenir, or I would have had NOTHING to wear. As it was, I threw it on over my tank top, swapped my ball cap for a scarf, and Tah-dah! I blend right in!

A quick costume change in the car and I'm ready for Iftar!
A quick costume change in the car and I’m ready for Iftar!

(On a side note, can an Orioles ball cap work as a head covering in a pinch? Or is this haram? ‘Cuz it totally matches my Abaya.)

Rama-yep or Rama-no? #GoOrioles #BeMore
Rama-yep or Rama-no? #GoOrioles #BeMore

Anaum meets me at my car, adjusts my head scarf, explains that the fixture on top of the building lit with Christmas lights is a minaret (I mean, I knew it couldn’t be a Christmas tree), and leads me to the girls side of the divided tent where we will have Iftar.

I sit looking longingly at the bowl of watermelon in front of me.

“You got a date with a date!” She jokes as I take a selfie.

Date with date

Some of you certifiable adults and sanctioned Islamic experts out there may feel that teenagers teaching about the faith should itself be Haram. After all, what must my impression of Islam be when left to the theological understanding of Muslim youth?!

But I will tell you unequivocally, if NOT for them, I would never have begun to face my own fears and prejudices about Islam, never begun to reach out to Muslims in the schools and community of Maryland, and certainly never embarked on #Christians4Ramadan.

Thank them or blame them, your kids are why I’m here.

Sara shows us what Desi love looks like at our
Sara shows us what Desi love looks like at our “Blend Arundel” sidewalk chalk party…

Anaum leads me by the hand through what would otherwise be a prohibitively intimidating experience. She explains that the opaque tarp used to divide the men from the women used to be transparent, but a new Imam came and has more firm interpretations of these divisions…

“So now if you want to see your Bey, you gotta meet him in the parking lot!”

It’s commentary like this that humanizes what seems like a very foreign experience. She shows me where to take of my shoes in the mosque,  she jokes about the folks trying to cut in line for the food, she warns that we’re not allowed to have the pizza that sits next to the naan.

“Apparently that’s only for kids under 10. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Her theological grasp of what is going might be a little thin. When I ask her to translate the call to prayer, she can’t quite remember. The older women next to her quickly jumps in to explain.

But give me a choice between Anaum and  Imam? I will pick the Anaum every time.

When I was in college, I was a member of the Carleton Bible Study Fellowship. This was a group completely led by students. Brandon Yerxa had founded it and was a senior when I met him. We met on Tuesday nights, read a passage, and then proceeded to discuss and debate, laugh and shout our way through these passages. Some of us were older than others. Some of us (this girl) had grown up in denominations where you memorized bible verses. Some of us weren’t Christians at all; just exploring our options.

Carleton Bible Study Fellowship 2001
Carleton Bible Study Fellowship 2001

Occasionally amidst this ecumenical chaos Yerxa would attempt to assert SOME divine authority. We called these his “bottom line” moments. But even these interludes of dogma could be easily obfuscated by the fact that…he was 22 and wasn’t the boss of us.

What might make pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams uncomfortable (lack of a centralized authority figure) was the very thing that made this sacred space welcome to the searching souls within.

There is a place for certainty…but there probably should be more places for confusion. And if we don’t make room for those spaces of doubt and questioning, young people inevitably forge them elsewhere…like in the shadows of the parking lot.

Islam, your children have led me. Clothed me. Fed me. Taught me. Forgiven me. Loved me.

Luwaila has not only bought me an Abaya, she loaned me her Obama Swag to wear to the inauguration...and let me keep it.
Luwaila has not only bought me an Abaya, she loaned me her Obama Swag to wear to the inauguration…and let me keep it.

I have also watched them do this for each other as they struggle to understand the religious and cultural riffs even within their OWN faith communities. It is easy for me to believe that Heaven AND Earth belongs to such as these.

Amina Love

All faiths have their “bottom lines.”

As I delight in my date, I will sit with the kids, smile, nod, and say…

“Gi!”

#Muslims4Lent inspire #Christians4Ramadan

 “I’m sorry, Muhammad…are you talking to me?”

It is spring of 2009. I am sitting at the front of my classroom during lunch, and I’ve just about fallen off my stool.

It have not heard a divine voice from above…rather a human voice from within my classroom. Muhammad Khan, a Junior at Arundel High School and an active member in our Global Citizenship program…has just asked if I would sponsor the founding of a Muslim Student Association.

I’m confused.

I’m not a Muslim.

I’m not a student.

I’m a third wave feminist with a Christian background, a glow-in-the-dark Buddha on my desk, and an affectionate irreverence that has me blending religious teachings into a mystical fabric that suits me just fine but tends to confuse everyone else.

I swivel around on my stool with a comical glance behind me, looking for someone else he MIGHT be talking to.

“Are you sure Muhammad? I mean, you know I can get kinda’ sassy.”

I have him think about it for a few days…give him time to doubt the wisdom of including me in this endeavor. He comes back a week later, resolute.

…and this is how I become the sponsor of the Muslim Student Association at Arundel High School.

Rockin' the Abaya...
Rockin’ the Abaya…

This is also how I cross the following things off my “It’s a tough Hijab but somebody’s got to do it” Bucket List…

  • Learn how to tie a head scarf,
  • Research Middle Eastern Migration patterns in the Mid Atlantic,
  • Realize Pakistan is NOT in the Middle East
  • Learn how and why and when to say “As-Salamu alaykum”
  • Visit the Saudi Arabian and Omani Embassies
  • Eat Iraqi style crunchy rice and tomato stewed Okra
  • Contemplate how to ward of unwelcome Desi proposals
  • Learn that marshmallows and Starburst are NOT halal
  • Receive a grant for the first Muslim American Student conference in Anne Arundel County, Maryland

Not bad for an irreverent Midwestern Mystic.

This odd journey is made even more ironic because as a comparative religion major at Carleton College, the one religion I could not bring myself to study was Islam. It was all about the women. I inevitably felt this rising anger when I saw women shrouded in burkas, segregated at prayer times, silenced in the public forum.

Righteous indignation feels really good…but makes it hard to meet and befriend new faiths.

I came to understand later that this anger emerged in part as a reaction toward my own (to a much lesser degree) gendered upbringing where God was male and women obeyed their husbands. I also came to understand that what is theological and what is cultural is often so entangled not even practitioners of a faith can sort it all out.

During this past Easter season, my Lenten practice was an attempt to write a 30 minute blog post per day. I called this my reflection in “imperflection.” As I was reading others thoughts about Lent, I was delighted to come across the #Muslims4Lent movement championed by the website Eid.Pray.Love.

I quickly tweeted back the idea of #Christians4Ramadan…

Christians4Ramadan

You might think this endeavor would be a natural fit for a woman who meditates to Sufi poetry and has a babysitter who teaches her kids Arabic. But I fear that this “Month of Blessing” as Ramadan is called, will necessitate more than a few sun-up sacrifices on my part.

First and foremost, I might rock an abaya, but I’m not sure I should rock the title “Christian” with equal zeal. I mean, the Unitarians would probably have me.  I like to hang (and drink) with the Episcopals. The Jesuit Volunteers have let me pursue Social Justice with their crew. My Catholic husband (and baptized children) don’t give me a hard time…but Christian? Not in the born again bible belt kind of way that would bring my parents peace in their sunset years.

And then there’s the folks I love on the OTHER side of the spectrum. My agnostic and atheist besties. Like my soulmate Meg who (according to us AND a weird Facebook algorithm) I will grow old with once we are both widowed in our 80’s. She is a scientifically minded, ornithology loving, AP environmental science teacher who I’m pretty sure didn’t read that “Religion for Atheists” book I bought her.

This is my Spectrum. Where do I plot #Christian4Ramadan on that line?

For this reason I’m happy to promote  other folks less ambivalent and more certifiably Christian than me. Like Francis Ritchie a Methodist minister in Aukland or Jeff Cook, a Colorado pastor who explains definitively why he’s “waging peace” in the month of Ramadan.  If you are Christian-ish and looking for a theologically justifiable reason to fast in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, try this on for size:

“I am not interested in fasting this month for ascetic reasons. I am not converting to Islam. I will embrace the self-sacrificial practices of others around the world because Jesus reminds me that it is those who hunger that will be filled, that the meek alone will inherit the earth, and that those who make peace will be called children of God.”

As far as my aspirations and inspirations for this… I will definitely utilize the time to write and reflect on the many moments that have shaped my soul and psyche. Some of the reflection will be spiritual in nature. Much will be absurdly and authentically (hopefully NOT offensively) secular.

For example, I know for certain I will need to talk about Bacon. I mean….it’s gonna happen.

I don’t have anything like the plan I did for Lent. I can pretty much guarantee things are going to get messy. I’m certain I’m going to fall off the wagon.  I’m fearful that the Facebook friends I love on BOTH ends of the belief spectrum will unfollow me because of the patchwork quilt of cognitive dissonance that keeps me warm at night…but others want to throw in the wash or throw out altogether.

Despite these anxieties. This is one of those moments I’m taking on faith.

You looking at me Muhammad?

Ramadan?

Or Rama-nah?

Rama-yep.

Allah (and Jesus and Buddha and Missouri) be merciful.

That goes for the rest of you, too.