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?