This week marks the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer. I have been thinking about the spiritual practice of self-denial that this Muslim tradition represents, and what it means for non-Muslims like myself. Fasting for Ramadan, as I understand it, is to deny the body in order to feed the spirit. It is done in community, and breaking the fast nightly is a communal event. A Muslim observing Ramadan is removing the habit of eating during daylight hours, and making room for prayer and community.
Many Christians practice a period of self-denial and reflection called Lent, leading up to the holiday of Easter. In mainstream secular US culture, however, the only widespread practice of self-denial I can think of is dieting. Many Americans have never fasted for religious reasons, but they have dieted for personal reasons. Unfortunately, most often the practice of dieting is not for spiritual deepening, nor even for true physical health, but for the sake of external appearance. We go on a diet when we are not happy with how our bodies look to ourselves and others. If this is the only kind of self-denial practice that we know in mainstream US culture, we could learn something from the Muslim practice of Ramadan.
For any human being, Muslim, secular, or Unitarian Universalist, a practice of spiritual discipline that involves self-denial, and using this as a chance to deepen spiritual awareness, community, and self-esteem is a healthy practice. Self-denial that is undertaken through a sense of shame or punishing the self is not healthy. Seeing my Muslim neighbors and colleagues and fellow human being practice Ramadan gives me a chance to reflect on this larger human truth: may this truth enlighten us all.
Spirit of Life, divine energy that some call God and some call Allah, be with me now.
May those fasting for Ramadan be blessed and safe. May their practice deepen their connection with tradition, with culture, with community, and with spirit.
May I be blessed with healthy practices for my body, mind and spirit. May all people be guided to make choices that increase their health, their connection to loved ones, and their relationship to the Divine--however they understand or experience the Divine.
May it be so.
A salaam alaikum.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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