Taking Stock of Our Appetites

My head hurts, and my patience is wearing thin. I’m about to put my son to bed and the euphoria that descends in these last few hours of fasting is starting to set in. My body feels weak and I only have energy for sweetness. I don’t have the physical energy to be uptight, upset or any sort of way but super chill.

Mona Haydar further summarizes her experience, “So here I am, an hour left in the first day of my fast this month, and boy am I tired.” Yet, she claims, “This weakness is my secret super power right now — a portal to a gentle, calm, serene stillness. This conservation of energy for that which (and especially those who) truly deserves it.”

Fasting is a universally prized spiritual practice in every world religion. My Catholic tradition especially honors this salutary practice during the forty days of Lent. Sometimes I regret that obligatory meatless-Fridays of my youth were made “optional”. Though still encouraged and highly praised, laziness has set in and best intentions never quite get expressed in actual practice.

Ramadan began for our Muslim neighbors on June 6. This must be an especially brutal time for fasting from sun-up to sun-down. Because this “Holy Month” is set according to a more ancient calendar, it can occur at any time of the year. This year it happens to coincide with June 21 — the “longest day of the year” here in Minnesota. For the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, this is a year when living in the southern hemisphere would be a distinct advantage.

Mona Haydar has some wise counsel to share with all of us who come from a spiritual heritage that honors fasting. What she observes from her Muslim practice offers wise counsel to Christians, Buddhist, Jews, Hindus and each of the great religions:

On the most superficial level, Ramadan is about abstaining from food and drink. Beyond that, however, Ramadan is about remedying my heart and habits and all the parts of myself that need a little cleaning up or loving. It includes abstaining from speech that doesn’t elevate all those involved. It is about reeling in my physical appetites so that I may spend a mere four weeks looking at the appetites of my heart, soul and mind as well.

Though we may not be fasting during this Holy Month of Ramadan, we are still invited to share in its wisdom and grow in understanding, respect, admiration and appreciation for those who do.
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You may read Mona Haydar’s reflection from which her quotes have been taken at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-haydar/ramadan-reflections_b_10328784.html?platform=hootsuite

View From the Exit Ramp

Sometimes we need to look at life upside own or inside out! We all see things from our own perspective, with our values about right and wrong. We may discretely temper our public proclamations about the way the world should be. All the while, our biggest blind spot is probably presuming we see clearly, accurately, rightly.

Case in point: the disheveled guy standing at the end of the freeway exit holding a cardboard sign. Before I’m even close enough to read his printed text I have come to all sorts of conclusions. Many of these are moral judgments about the man’s character, most of them harsh. And, I already know how I will pretend not to see him.

Experts say that genuine empathy — being able to truly see the world from the perspective of the other — is really quite rare and a very sophisticated moral exercise, something that takes a degree of emotional maturity many do not possess.  Scratch just a bit below the veneer and much of what we do is still really “all about us.”

We tout trite phrases about walking in another person’s shoes. We may even volunteer at food pantries or tutor immigrants. This is all good, even praiseworthy. But can we ever really get into the other person’s skin, see the world with their eyes, feel what life deals them with their heart?

We are given a ubiquitous invitation — that guy at the end of the exit ramp! They are only one of many opportunities we have to look at life upside down, inside out or from the other side! Of course, we resist such a challenge. It’s hard. Even more it may threaten our worldview, our closely held values and expose ways we’d have to change.

Here’s my fantasy… after sprouting a four-day beard growth, I get into the clothes I reserve for yard work or painting the house. With “Homeless. Please help!” printed on cardboard I would go stand at the Xerxes exit of the Crosstown freeway for three hours during the evening commute.

It remains just my fantasy. Who among us would do such a thing? Could we even imagine ourselves doing such a thing? Even if I overcame my resistance, I’m pretty sure it would still be about “me” — will my neighbor’s see me? What would they think? What if I got assaulted? Even if I somehow took the risk, I’m sure I’d still be light-years away from genuine empathy — really getting inside the skin of the person whose desperation places him in this position.

Yet, even such arm-chair speculation yields something… Perhaps it’s more than desperation at work on the exit ramp. Perhaps it takes courage to stand there with cardboard sign in hand absorbing the moral judgment of drivers returning home from work. Perhaps it takes trust to presume our needs will be met because others still care enough.

Yes, there are all sorts of nay-sayers, objections and skeptics. “They are imposters! Get a job! They will just spend it on drugs. There are agencies who take care of this sort of thing.” The excuses are endless.

Again, we do well to look at things inside-out, upside-down, get out from behind our own skin for once, open ourselves to the genuine experience of the other, apply the very same moral standard — both critical and gracious — to ourselves as we do to the man holding the cardboard sign.

Someone once said, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)