Saturday, November 29, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #29

Day 29: November 24, 2003
CONSTRUCTING PEACE TODAY, Message for the End of Ramadan,‘Id al-Fitr 1424 A.H . / 2003 A.D.

Summary of document:

Truth, Justice and Love
Presupposes our Freedom
For Pillars to Pray
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‘Id mubârak.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #28

Day 28: November 23, 2003
Homeward bound, began with breakfast in one of the adjoining sun rooms. We brought home with us one English guest, as far as Shady Grove, but shared the trip home in sun drenched goodness…quite the opposite of the dark passages through the mountains that had been our ascent.

My reflection: There was something palpably different about this wedding than any I had ever been to before. A journey, just far enough, to let me feel its growth, to touch upon the memories I share with my own beloved, and new enough to reverence Hope with speechlessness.

-Weddings take you on your way home-

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #27

Day 27: Saturday, November 22, 2004
Today, the news was saturated with the anniversary of JFKs assassination, challenges to Shevardnadze’s power, and the impending law suit against Michael Jackson. Silly, I know.
Today, thankfully for us, was a different agenda: waking up to room service and breakfast in bed, followed by a second nap. Outfit #1 for the wedding ceremony in a rather expressive St. Vincent’s Basilica, which lived up to its name. A rather interesting Gospel midrash which joined together Jesus’ discourse on divorce with his instructions to “a certain rich man” to sell all his possessions and to “follow me.” A Koan or parable that replied to the question of divorce saying: “If you have already given all of yourself away to another, what else do you have to sell?” Return to our room at the Inn, with its splendid view to watch the sunset and change into evening attire.

If I were to succinctly express the harmony to which we were invited witnesses, I would say two things: First, the lay of the land in Pennsylvania was so self-expressive. The weather could not have been more gracious, but also the curve of the hills, the mixture of farmland and small town, could not have been more reminiscent of an English country-side into which I am sure the Burton family must have felt welcomed. Secondly, someone in the family assemblage of the Kristofs, prepared homemade butter cookies as part of a dessert offering. Someone, out of such love, made “a batch” of homemade cookies for some 130 or so wedding guests as a personal expression and participation in this event.

It was the best cookie ever!

Friday, November 21, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #26

Day 26: Friday, November 21, 2003

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On Shabbat we travel, not knowing how this shall end.

I give it all to YOU.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #25

Day 25: Thursday, November 20, 2003
Tonight WTU bids farewell to Ken Himes, OFM who leaves us to Chair the Theology Department in Boston.

Ken Hime’s Christian Moral Life was the first class I took at WTU. It was the first graduate theology class I took in a “Catholic” institution to which I found myself as an adult in faith. I remember that his warmth and personality impressed upon me two things

First, that I was truly in the right place studying what I was meant to be studying. Another student, years later, related to me a very good way of expressing this feeling: “Ken made you feel good about being Catholic (again).” It was BOTH the good and the again that really touched upon a felt history of experience of the struggles that emerge in living a life of faith, and to the particulars of living this particular Christian way of life. Ken brought back the wholesomeness of its original promise.

Second, Ken provided a very succinct sense of discipleship and mission. This was stretched out over two semesters from Moral Theology (how to be a disciple) to Catholic Social Ethics (how to preach the Gospel today). But really, it could be succinctly expressed as “falling in love.” Not just conversion as perhaps some sort of quasi-mystical or radical life altering experience, but a very today-ness simplicity of living in a loving world as lovable people in love with one another.

Who is the Other? Threat or Gift.
Only YOU can answer "I love you" as the measurement of such a gift.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #24

Day 24: Wednesday, November 19, 2003
A rainy, wet, dark day. But one that also came with a realization.
A recent court case in Massachusetts has placed the issue of civil-unions, and more specifically, gay-marriage into the social-political debate. Pundits wonder whether or not this political hot-potato will go off in the upcoming campaign. A recent NPR news story said that whoever raises the issue first tends to be the first to get hit in the face by it. Other commentators mentioned that while conservatives and right-wing Republicans might rally around something like a Defense of Marriage Act and bristle at the notion of gay-marriage, it would be very difficult for them to come out in the open to fight for this issue without sounding like bigots.
I actually wasn’t so sure. I’ve lived most of my life “out in the open” and have heard all sorts of bigoted, racists, close-minded, and hurtful comments that I thought would have been weeded out a long time ago, if not by government interventions, than by religion, social mores, or some kind of notion of civil decency.

Last night, as I walked in the rain through the parking lot of a nearby grocery looking for my parked car, several locals passed me by. My locale came into slow focus and I realized how racially diverse an area I live in, despite the fact that one might mistake our part of Loudoun County as just another fairly affluent, conservative, suburbia of Northern VA.

I also reflected on the fact that at least half of my parish is made up of interracial couples—many of them “white/asian” like Eileen and myself. Most of the time, I never think of Eileen and myself as interracial and I’ve only started thinking of us as inter-faith because my pastoral identity and ministerial focus emphasizes a theology that takes that distinction seriously.

It had never really occurred to me to label couples on any deep and judgmental way based on the fact that there was a marked difference either between themselves (say by race) or between them and my own marital relationship. My suspicion is that the increase in interracial couples is probably because these people too have grown up in a generation that wasn’t terribly oppressed or confined by such a regimented notion of who could marry whom. Nevertheless not less than one or two generations ago, or perhaps even now in some household somewhere, this STILL is a divisive issue.

And I wondered to myself, if perhaps in another generation, I might look around my parish setting and note Betty Anne and Ilse, or Rob and Andrew, as couples. And it would take me a moment, as it did with these other couples, to see through all kinds of layers and say—oh, that’s one of our gay couples—and have that mean no more than some other description, and perhaps much less than the fact that they too, like others amongst us, stand side by side, hand in hand, in love, in service, in faith with us.

No, I don’t know if this issue will be a divisive one with any traction in this election. I know that people like to rally behind something that gives them a sense of identity or power, and nothing feels as alluring as self-righteousness or moral superiority. People, for all kinds of reasons, like to bring their faiths to bear upon issues of social value or point to social statistics for interpretation.
But again and again I am struck by the tactics that set up a world in which that which is inalienable to humanity is categorized as privileged and reserved by the few for their chosen. I am further incensed by the rather paltry logic and rhetoric that is used to justify claims that have more to do with protection out of fear, biologism as faith, or life as a social science experiment, which lacks the understanding of the grave human injustices such ill-conceived tactics bring down upon us all.
The Glory of God is the human fully alive!
We ought to be ministers to this
Not gatekeepers to our own image.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #23

Day 23: Tuesday, November 18, 2003
I received two prayers yesterday. This morning I received another, via email, from a cousin on the West Coast. She has been the center of family activities the last few months—being the online connection for postings from my Grandmother’s Memorial, and then the sudden passing away of two other relatives.
In the tumult, which subsided as news like that tends to do after awhile, I suddenly remembered that she recently celebrated her engagement and wedding shower—and like others in my life, I eagerly anticipate her wedding this upcoming summer in Toronto—my childhood home away from home.

The closing of the online prayer asked to simply say a prayer for the person who sent the email. And I was happy to recall that piece of forgotten hope and promise amidst the litany of other memories.

On arriving at work, I received an email thanking me for a prayer I had sent out earlier in Ramadan. I also opened a package from Maryknoll, who was sending out their Advent Reflections: Hoping, Seeking and Demanding Justice. Tonight, at the Center, we have invited some area parishes to discuss a new program and to also join in a Pre-Advent Reflection.

So this prayer may be on one hand too early for a season not yet upon us, but not too early for the conditions in which we live:

Prayer in a Desperate Advent
O May all hearts be broken
with stories of squalor
and horrors of war.

O May all be haunted
by the screams of the
tortured and the faint
whimpering of a hungry
child dying.

O May Madonna images
from Africa, Iraq
inner-cities everywhere
burn deep
Píeta embraces of unnecessarily broken bodies
pierce our comfort

O Dear Compassion
May a path be made ready.

Through the desperate wails and gnashing of teeth
O May Justice be birthed.

O Dear God.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #22

Day 22: Monday, November 17, 2003
Arnold got sworn in today. Terminator II was on the Spanish Movie Channel. CSPAN was covering debates on Medicare. TBS played Rain Man. The Primaries continue with Dean celebrating his 55th in DC, Bush prepares to visit Britain, causing $8M in British security fees, FTAA is gearing up in Miami, Virginians sigh with relief that the Sniper convictions may end in death penalties, ICJS is gearing up to protest the release of Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic movie, Passion...

Channel 29 ran Pleasantville.

That was Monday.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #21

Day 21, Sunday, November 16, 2003

This event actually happened last night, but it was sufficiently memorable enough for me to place it here.

Eileen and I attended a Saturday night campaign event at a house in NoVa highlighting the birthday weekend of Howard Dean. We had mistakenly thought that this event was to be on the following Monday evening, and were thus partly disoriented with the sudden need to be out at a social event in Northern VA, instead of some other plans we had talked about for this weekend.
In any event, we were overbooked and needed to be in at least two places at the same time. So we made plans to leave the birthday event early. This coincided with some late arrivals and newcomers to the Dean campaign, who we met briefly on our way out the door.

One of them was a woman of similar age, originally from Vermont (former governor Dean’s state) who had moved to a nearby NoVa neighborhood. Being a new arrival and new to the campaign, she was trying her best to read people’s nametags and familiarize herself with and warm up to the room. I was one of the closest people standing to her, so we began some small talk.

In the short period of time we had to speak to each other before Eileen and I took our coats and left, she relayed to me probably no more than three very serious statements.
1. Her brother is currently in Iraq and has been there for over a year.
2. She had been experiencing a period of helplessness and coming out to this Dean event was her attempt to get out and be social.
3. It was also her attempt to try to participate in a process of larger change.

It was a very brief encounter. It was a very surreal encounter as we were partly neighbors, partly contemporaries, but coming at this moment and this campaign from two different angles, in an unfamiliar kitchen, while door prizes were being drawn, cake was being cut, people were coming and going and chatting about politics, holidays, home decorations, etc.

But I couldn’t help but feel pastorally that this woman was in a bit of shock.

We had met another woman earlier in the evening who I would describe as somewhat emblematic of an older, cynical democratic wing, who had grown battle weary over the last few elections and was guarded about how excited or how involved, or how moved to get in this next presidential election.

As if we expect the worst as status quo. Or that the better the candidate, the more true, or authentic, the more chances there are for the worst to happen.

Any way, the evening made me think on one hand about the possibilities for hope, the open questions as to where that hope ultimately comes from or on what to base such hopes. And most importantly of all, it impressed upon me the dire circumstances (as in the case of the last woman I spoke to before leaving) that lead people, almost without any true cognition or focus, to some of these places in the hopes that change is possible.

My parting words to her were: “I hope your brother comes home soon” knowing that those words could not possibly have conveyed the depth of concern I had gathered from the three short sentences she had shared with me or gone to the heart of the weight and burden she was so obviously carrying.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #20

Day 20: Saturday, November 15, 2003
Back in mid-August I created a CD of mixed songs during a period of broken correspondence between a female friend in NY and myself. I shared the CD with another female friend of mine here in DC so that other ears could have perspective on what might otherwise have been a purely personal event. The feedback I got on one of the tracks (and on the “Album” in general) was that it was about “mourning a lost great love.”

The phrase stuck with me. There’s a lot of truth to the description, which had caught me off guard. I was surprised because like the start of this “Ramadan Reflection Project”, the truth of the statement required me to respond to it—which made me shift my focus from my original intention.

From a Buddhist perspective, there’s something gnawing and empty about mourning a loss. It necessarily involves one’s self in a pattern of suffering whose locus is absence. It is the epitome of suffering (mourning) based on illusion (loss). That’s a truth, though hardly a positive one.

But to be honest, it’s also a perspective that is incompatible with a Christian view of love, even though it’s incredibly compatible with dramatizations of romance to which Christians, among others, can identify: Who amongst us cannot identify with “mourning a lost great love?”

The point of the CD, entitled Last Year’s Boys, as well as this particular season of Fasting and Prayer, is to strive for change by both doing something (prayer) and doing without (fasting), in the hopes that such actions purify us—make us more commendable and more truthful to our being before our creator.

I realize, as I look back at what is perhaps a somewhat eccentric process of theological reflection, haphazard fasting, and a journal-entry approach to prayer, that embedded in me is a penchant for unmistakable habits (including habits of the heart). As a Christian, it is not impossible to devote different parts of the day to prayer, or to do so in conjunction with a fasting regimen. But if I look truly at my own Lenten tradition, in which the faithful fast on the few Fridays and the other handful of days during the season, what is unmistakable in Lenten practice, is that a Christian goes through this season without something. This is usually expressed in giving up some kind of actions or item as a type of “sacrifice”. One might give up dessert, or TV, or alcohol and “sacrifice” that kind of joy for the greater reward to come. Or one might do something positively, like spend more time with family and friends, or pay closer attention to prayer, or go daily to mass, as a way to get back in touch with what is most true about ourselves.

The point is we tend to express a truth about ourselves by “doing” “without.” And we tend to dress it up in more palpable experiences during special seasons so that it is in better focus. But for me, this kind of a “dressing up” tends to obscure the everyday truth that is always there: The gap between the doing and the doing without.

Often we tend to focus on the effect: the reward to come, or the goal or purpose of why we enter into these seasons in the first place. For Jews, it comes at a time where we celebrate being redeemed by God, called into special relationship, and gifted with Torah. For Christians, it is to have humanity’s destiny revealed to us in what God has accomplished in Christ through the Spirit. For Muslims, I imagine it heightens the celebration of God’s most precious words given to his prophet.

In all these cases, the gap is not so much within ourselves like a wound of memory (i.e. mourning a loss) or a flaw in our being (something we lack) but between ourselves and the Other, which is ultimately our relationship with God and of what God has given us.

This is why the Buddhist truth is incompatible with the Christian view of love and why “mourning a lost great love” is also off base. Created in love and always in the presence of God’s free offer of a grace-filled relationship, it is impossible to truly “mourn a loss” though it is entirely possible to fail to respond lovingly in the love that created us. Now or at any season.

But that is precisely what we should not do without!
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To Do without Love
I would mourn such a great loss
How should one respond?
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Friday, November 14, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #19

Day 19: Friday, November 14, 2003
We begin each Shabbat by recalling the week in work and labor. Thankful for the opportunities to serve, and grateful of the gift of rest, renewal and refreshment.
Grateful for the darkness outside and the warmth within. Nourished by the food from the earth and the work of many hands. Nourish us so that we may be warmth to others. Give us rest so that we may be of comfort to others.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #18

Day 18: November 13, 2003

We toasted the approaching wedding. Gathered in circle to offer gifts of wisdom in words and song. From a pre-thanksgiving, pre-wedding lyric: “Love ‘til you loved it all away.”

I was working on a haiku that never quite found a place to rest in its simplistic Japanese. And found instead that perhaps the best I had to offer was a recommendation to read the Book of Tobit, a short apocryphal tale from Hebrew Scriptures, which teaches that marriage is always to the Other, outside the family. And thus there is risk and uncertainty in that unknown. But if you persevere in your faith, remember to pray together, and remain true to your commissioning, you will reap benefits beyond even the treasures promised you. You will cast out shadows and bring healing to the world.

And you will walk with angels…
Vows spoken as one
Weight us down at the altar
Lest we fly too soon
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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #17

Day 17: November 12, 2003
Yes, that has been the word drifting in and out the last few days. Despite the coldness and the impenetrable dark. There were flowers for the day. And every anniversary, even in distance, is worth celebrating in its time.

Today, I un-expectantly entered school to find a newly born infant at rest. Another’s mother, no less surprised. No less blessed.

Giddy. Yes. I’ll stick to that word.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #16

Day 16: 11-11, 2003

I wanted to talk about sheer joy. Joy like a pile of bright yellow leaves under my parked car. Yellow that caught the afternoon sun in unexpectant candor, while I rolled side by side with a neighborhood cat who was scratching for some attention.

Joy like the weekend just spent searching for a new suit for an upcoming wedding. The elation that reminds me of my own wedding, with all its celebratory fragrance, but without any of the logistics or stress. Simply a time to celebrate that glorious union.

And I was struck by how meticulous I've been in choosing things as simple as what shirt to wear. Fussing two weeks over looking at every suit and retail outlet for just a particular jacket, even though it wasn't MY wedding. It was partly reliving pieces of the excitement of our wedding. It was partly the freedom of NOT being stuck to the pages of a tuxedo catalog, or worrying about how to dress an entire wedding party. But, it was more importantly, and much unlike my memories of our actual wedding, a chance to choose exactly what we wanted to look like in conjunction with this celebration.

Taking all of the past, and the energies of memories into the present HERE.

And that allowed me to simply focus on US. On the chance, despite all else in the world, to be somewhere happy, celebrating other people's good fortunes, and dressing our very Sunday best.

"I'm gonna love ya 'til my wheels come off..."
--Tom Waits, Every Since I Put Your Picture In A Frame

Monday, November 10, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #15

Day 15: November 10, 2003
Three Pair

by Jay Cuasay

I see in you a life you never knew
Of a mother who had left this life too early
And so you fill this time in, not by examples of Lessons Learned
But by the raw experience of your very own unique life

With trepidation and the security that comes with temerity
We firmed our resolve with a Faith based mostly on a Silent God
A God absent of examples, who rather challenged us
To live our own faiths as an example to others

My baptism, my birth and voice
Your Paschal covenant irrevocable
Incarnated in your history
Broken and shared from the flesh of a Jewish womb

We run breathless, day after day
From empty tomb to Emmaus and back
From burning bush to Sinai
Telling our story, ALIVE within us.

And should God bless this union
Again and again to countless generations
We would not be caught looking idly at the sky
When the trumpet blasts! And the dead are raised!

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #14

Day 14: November 9, 2003
A perfect pair, part two

by Ramon S. Cuasay
Though life might be abrupt
As even sweetest spring,
They did not faint, our hearts.
Life's breadth, love's depth, the self,
We could not know or plumb,
Yet we kept on and stayed our path.

My Adam and your Eve,
They neither picked nor chose
Their moment or their hour.
Tinsel and crown we flung away,
And while we danced our lives,
We died to self, emptying to love.

With God's joy, the smell of dreams,
Two little kings and two little queens,
How were we doing then?
These children we bore to love
Their blossoms opened out,
The quartet, how are they doing now?

Poised in life as seen in time,
Past many envying, we sigh,
"That was then and this is now."
I touch your face with both my hands,
Upon our lips of faith we kiss
And dim the dark with stars.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #13

Day 13: November 8, 2003
My parents went away this weekend to a Marriage Encounter—a guided retreat meant to emphasize, revitalize, and bring about greater focus to spouses both old and new. It was thus an ideal time for me to also reflect upon the nature of paired relationships: family and friends, work and home, here and there…

• Today in New York a friend goes to be with another half of another life of another pair, as my sister-in-law in NYC is living out of a relationship that is pairing away and another packs for Berlin.
• Today we visit the other half of our local friends, whom we haven’t seen in a year. One’s other half is halfway around the world in China. They have an uncertain wedding date set for Feb. 14th 2003.
• Eileen and I go shopping for another half on its way to whole, who plan to wed One-One/Two-Two of this year.
• My sister calls me in the afternoon and tells me that someone from the Marriage Encounter called. They want the children of our family to write “love notes” to my parents as part of a closing ritual to end the weekend retreat mass.
• My brother sends me an email sharing similar information, but also to remind me that we THREE, The father, son and, son were working on a three-part poem, which my father had begun. I was to write the ending, while my brother…is still in the middle.
• Psalm 50, were the words I was searching for to close yesterday’s sunset. “The Mighty One/ God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” Interestingly enough, the Psalm is referenced in Chapter III of The Writings of St. Francis. The topic: The Divine Office and Fasting.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #12

Day 12: November 7, 2003
In the light of day another week draws to a close. Another moment in semester’s regulated rhythms struggles to find pace and adapt to the swift change in seasons. The weekend predictions are sunny and cold—warmed by evening plans.

These were the days that I would wake up dreamy in the early morning Japanese air. The cold calling for another 15 minutes to huddle with the fading blanket’s warmth.

Today though, it seems it is my wife who is dream-filled. Visited by animals two nights in a row. In our day-life, we contemplate the rise of deer carcasses fallen along the highway. As if they too were on a journey that even the traffic couldn’t stop.

I am wizened by a late-night of drinking…yet so visually focused in the waning sun.

Here are two prayers for contemplation:
If you are the night's cry
I am the sea's moan
If you are the sun's beam
I am the tree's shade
If you are the silk hand of a dream
I am the darkness that takes you in
If you are the world
Then I am everything
dream - atea lynn - age 11

This life, you must knowas the tiny splash of a raindrop.
A thing of beauty that disappears as it comes into being.
Therefore, set your goal.Make use of every day and every night

tibetan buddhist – tsongkhapa

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #11

Day 11: November 6, 2003

There in Bangladesh*
A meal is prepared for you
Gather family
*Another Muslim co-worker returned to Bangladesh on this day to be with her mother, who was undergoing serious cancer treatments.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #10

Day 10: November 5, 2003
Today, I am in the quiet, restful state of simple gratitude and humility.
The other night, as we discussed the Crusades in Church History, I was surprised by the careful, cultural biases that were discussed: a Filipino concerned about Abu-Sayef in Mindanao, an Eastern-Orthodox recollecting aggressive Muslim attitudes in Lebanon…all this with a slide of the “Holy City” drawn and quartered into Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian sectors.

It was a very painful sight.

Over a recent meal, I confessed to my wife my “big secret.” I’ve always thought middle-eastern rice was better than Asian rice (an incredibly shocking cultural “betrayal.”) She humors me for my honesty, but also reminds me of a simple truth: I’ve never met a Muslim that I didn’t find all together interesting.
And more importantly, I never met a Muslim woman, who didn’t want to feed me.

And now,
To break fast.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #9

Day 9: November 4, 2003

Election Day

Answer your prayer
-and rest your desire in-
The voice of God

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #8

Day 8: November 3, 2003
Yesterday and today, I’ve begun to actually eat something in the morning before beginning the fast. As such, I’ve begun to feel more “normal” in my everyday functions. Though I rather enjoyed the previous week of slightly heightened sensitivity and the closer focus it brought to simpler things, I realized that as a month long reality, at least with present responsibilities, maintaining a one-meal day would not be an entirely wise or even a required decision.

But I also feel so much more mundane.

On the face of it, the Muslim schedule for fasting is actually very modest and practical. It’s an early morning meal and a skipped lunch.

In a sense, translating Ramadan as “fasting” is an understatement. It’s really more about fasting AND prayer. And indeed, one is called to prayer much more often than one is called to eat.

O Blessed Uplift!
Like an iconic donkey
Feet don’t touch the ground.
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Sunday, November 02, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #7

Day 7: Sunday, November 2, 2003
I woke up in an empty bed. Went to work and spoke to a distant voice in my earpiece.
I went to school to sing at an art opening. The sun was glorious and the sound was so alive. Yet, the spirit left me around 3:15 pm and I followed its shadow home in the setting sun.

The trip home coincided with evening mass at my local parish. I was ashamed that I had actually entered the whole weekend without a thought to my own regular prayers.

The homily for this evening, which focused on the departed souls, closed with a traditional prayer broken up into a call from the presider and a response from the congregation. I was surprised to see that very few people in our somewhat progressive assembly remembered how to respond in prayer. Later, however, the priest’s body microphone turned off during the Eucharistic prayer. The mass continued, complete with choir songs and congregational responses, despite the fact that there were no words to be heard from the priest.

I found myself chastened. We may have forgotten or never learned some prayers, but at least we didn’t forget how to pray all together: Communion.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #6

Day Six: November 1, 2003
Today was homemaking, which if it did not include all the housecleaning and laundry, would have been a very well spent shabis. But it was a very well spent shabis all the same.

I spent the entire day with my wife who I hadn’t dated in a long time. We went hiking by the Potomac, ate Middle Eastern food after sunset, and fell asleep making brownies.

It’s hard for me to reflect on this experience succinctly because it’s been such a long time…it’s as if this is all for the first time.

What season is it?
Eighty in November and
Having this affair.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #5

Day Five: October 31, 2003

Today, among other things is Halloween. The other night, I heard part of an NPR report that spoke of the origins of Halloween Parties in the early 1920s and 1930s. Originally, it was a party primarily for adults, in which board games and card games were played at a house. It was a disposable “holiday” in the sense that it was a one-night event whose longevity ended the next day, when all the decorations were taken down and thrown away. This was contrasted with a “holiday” like Christmas, where decorations stayed up much longer, and many were not thrown away, but were actually passed on from generation to generation…In the end, the NPR report was about the value of these 1920s Halloween relics for those who had preserved them to this day and the collectors of these artifacts.


At the risk of sounding abrupt, this festival of costuming ourselves and “tricking” for “treats” of candies is a rather overt expression of our own paganism—or at least our fascination with surface pleasures in shifting appearance and consumption of what certainly could not be considered “food.”

The closest “religious” explanation I’ve every encountered for our Halloween practices stems from its association with All Soul’s Day, to which Halloween was the Hallowed Eve. The explanation was that we reveled in, and even dressed ourselves up as the very spirits we wished to defeat. In the light of day, (and in time to clean ourselves up for Mass) we recalled how close the spirit world (and that of Death) had come the night before…perhaps we had even crossed its path…and recalled in a more holier (and solemn) setting, those who had gone before us, marked in the sign of faith.

Halloween, for me has always been garish for its bright colors and symbolic of a Puritan repressed past. But within the month of Ramadan, it has been juxtaposed to something quite different, even opposite.

Ultimately, you cannot costume yourself
Neither to Death nor its Master.
Even if it comes but once a year,
Do not throw this truth away.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #4

Day Four: October 30, 2003

I marvel that when Muslims pray
They face Mecca.
There is a direction
To Prayer.

+ + + +

The four corners
Of north, south, east, and west
Of horizontal, vertical, depth, and time

I claim in humility
My limits
And surrender
To belonging to you, my God.

+ + + +

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #3

"Five Not Three"
Combining a Buddhist tale, a reflection on "Salat", the three Muslim contact prayers, and a reflection on "Three days" to the Christian view of the resurrection, an interfaith synthesis is attempted through Japanese Haiku.

Day Three: October 29, 2003
Five Not Three

There’s an old Buddhist tale about a group of monkeys, whose master offered them three nuts in the morning and five in the evening. The monkeys complained, so the master offered them five in the morning and three in the evening. The monkeys went away satisfied.

For the passed two days, I have marked three prayer times (rising, midday, and evening) eating one meal in the evening after evening prayer. I knew that for Muslims there are five not three Salat, or daily Contact Prayers, but was rather surprised to learn that the day’s fast is broken after the fourth daily prayer, meaning that fasting actually ends earlier than the regimen my schedule had adopted (i.e. after 7 PM the first day, and close to 11 PM last night!)
So—after feeling rather silly about my naïveté and sharing a good laugh at myself, I have this reflection to offer today:

On the third day, is the birth of the Christian faith, which any cursory look at Christian history will tell you is too short to fill up a witness to an empty tomb. To have looked at the two days prior and to take that radical step forward in faith, is rather—incredible!
At the same time, I must admit that this three-fold view of the world, points out my contemporary impatience, (or a compressed simplification of time) for Ramadan is as long as a month, but as prayerfully simple as the day is long.
Today, I am aware of the prayer outside myself. Though it is often hard to hear amidst the noise that envelops me and draws my attentions towards other areas that do not offer gifts. Yet today, I have received gifts, and I bring them forward in faith.

A Muslim parable was told to explain the importance of daily prayers:

A Lord gave 24 coins to each of his two servants, who he was sending on a journey to a faraway place with instructions that they could use the coins as they wished. There was a station one day’s journey away, from which one could take a horse or carriage, or even a car or plane to the journey’s end.
One servant arrived at the station having only spent one coin in the past day. The other servant arrived later having spent all but one coin on frivolous activities. The first servant encouraged the other to spend the last coin on a horse or carriage, saying, “Perhaps when you arrive, the Lord will take pity on you otherwise you will have to walk on foot and it could take days, and you might starve.”

There are 24 hours in a day.
At the station between life and death,
The coin of prayer is our Third Day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #2

The Second Day: October 28, 2003

How quiet is the morning, when one simply arises to pray. How noisy in retrospect, my own actions of preparing breakfast must have been, just a few days ago. How precious is the earth that arises to its day. How in focus and much more radiant when the center of attention is not the routine of emptying a dishwasher, only to refill it with the morning dishes.
On my way into work, I saw a brown hawk near the Pentagon rush passed the highway exit on a low-flight with a rodent of no small size clutched in its talons. There, in suspension was a moment of life (and death) in the balance. There, was what Native Americans would call the Good Medicine visible in the Spirit-that-moves-through-all-things.
As I banked into my exit ramp, I noticed that there were several other roadside animals that had met other fates under the wheels of passing cars and mused that other birds of prey would come to this feast.
A little further down the highway, I converged with other cars to cross the I-395 bridge into Washington. Having spent most of the commute in silence watching the sun rise through the clouds and shift from gray and blue clouds to join the colors of the changing leaves, I saw movement across the roadway that looked like autumn leaves, but not quite…
It turned out to be a smaller rodent that was trapped between the highway walls and was simply trying to scurry from one side of the road to the other. It didn’t make it. A car behind me ran over it. And I found myself much angrier for having witnessed that, than I had been by the Hawk or the already dead animals I had seen on the roadway.
The Buddhists smiled. Tat vam asi—that art thou, and the cycle is ongoing.
The Cycle is Ongoing
But I wonder why, in the two consecutive days of attack in Iraq, there is no mention that it is Ramadan?
What prayers would feed that center? Beyond the mere observation that the hawks are feeding themselves, others have fallen by the roadside, others hunger to make it to the other side?
Israel is contemplating extending utilities to their most recent settlements…

But it is only midday yet.
And there is still time to pray.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Ramadan 2003: Day #1

The First Day of Ramadan
Monday, October 27, 2003

Ramadan Mubarak!

The day is dark. The Darkness is thick. The thickness is heavy. And the heaviness is warm. Warm like a hug. A blanket. Darkness, like being at the center of something bigger.
I am unsure where/when the second and fourth times to pray in the day would fall, but it is easy enough to greet the day, break in the middle of day, and return to one’s home at the end of the day in prayer.
With much of this a journey…in the thick, black darkness of daylight savings time.

The fasting has centered, by its own design, my ONE meal as the ONE time I am HOME. I am WITH my wife. As we gather about the candlelight, to eat the warmth which warms our centers, while around us is the dark. The dark that gives shape to our cave and a roundness to our home.

We pray…that remarkable moment…when a Jew and a Christian pray at the simplest of moments where we enter, call to mind, the cycle into which we are born and upon which we feed. To the One who sustains and enables, who brings forth blessings from the earth, of which we partake, and for which, we utter such small table graces and blessings to the One, from which we receive.


Monday, October 20, 2003

Ramadan, Rezas, Rationing

In 2003, while working at the Center of Concern, a global social and economic justice agency with a multi-faith staff, Jay Cuasay decided to keep a prayer journal during the month of Ramadan as part of a hopeful process of interfaith and interpersonal relations between Christians and Muslims in a post-911 world. The introduction to the journal presented here, addresses the issue of how to approach prayer from two different monotheistic faiths and is addressed to his Muslim colleague and friend.

Ramadan, Rezas, Rationing
By: Jay Cuasay

I was justifiably put off balance by your perceptive question asking me how you were to regard my interest in fasting with you during Ramadan. In my initial response to you, I was responding to your question(s) which made me forget that my original starting point was something else.

I look at fasting as part of an overall regimen of disciplined, devoted prayer. Certainly there are prayers, and one prays, and these are formally distinct from eating or not eating food. But I think it is also true that fasting prepares one’s being to be more prayerful, that fasting in fact “feeds” one’s prayer.

Having said that, your comments regarding how to interpret similar actions (two people fasting) from two different religious perspectives (Muslim and Catholic) during a Muslim holiday is still worth asking. But my focus, and my intention, was rather to be joined in prayer. Again, formally we may pray differently, but isn’t it possible that the significance of this action is perfected by the One? And thus, our dialogue is more about what we as humans have come to understand, have come to attribute or appropriate as personally meaningful.

There are at least three levels to what I am saying. The first level is the personal level of prayer in which prayer is seen as essentially a personal action unifying one with the ultimate source. Fasting certainly heightens this. It is one’s own body that experiences this, not someone else’s or something external to one’s being. Certainly on the level of actual prayer utterances, only the one praying says the words, no one can say them in your place.

The second level is the social level. Prayers and praying can be a communal act. This tends to be complicated when those praying are not of the same denomination. But the question this poses to me, at least for monotheistic religions, is what is in the religions themselves that would make sociality between these religions, particularly the sociality of communal prayer, impossible? Clearly, this is the beginning of inter-religious dialogue for those interested, though it is not as clear what the results or goal would even be.

The third level, which in some respects, to my mind is an addressing and fulfilling of the first two, is to recognize the distinction between the orientation of a religion and we who are oriented by it. In other words, distinguishing between the real presence of the One and the actions we do in preparation for or simply before the One. For me, the point of view is not how should you regard a non-Muslim fasting during a Muslim religious month. Instead, I ask, when we both pray together what is it that we are actually experiencing in view of the One? Is it only personal (level 1)? Is it social (level 2) but still grouped differently? Or at the third level, is it possible that we can experience the workings of the One present in a shared work of prayer?