Friday, January 4, 2013

Ramadan and "Holy Envy"

(I'm trying this blogging thing again since it kind of stalled last time.  I'm sure it will morph as I go along, so don't take these first posts as any indication or implied promise of what future content will be.)

For the month of January, I will be observing the Muslim pillar of Ramadan.  Sort of.  It's actually my own personal interpretation and experimentation with my understanding of the structure and purpose of Ramadan.  The main features are a fast from food and drinks starting at sunrise and continuing until sunset, a focus on frequent prayer, an intense commitment to scripture reading (many Muslims read the entire Quran over the 30 days of Ramadan), and a personal spiritual renewal through good deeds, charitable giving, and avoiding negative thoughts and emotions.

I'm not Muslim.  I'm Mormon; a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And I believe strongly in leaving room for "holy envy," one of the ideas that Bishop Krister Stendahl of the church of Sweden promoted in his wonderful "three rules of religious understanding."  To me, holy envy means being humble enough to recognize the good in other faiths, the practices and tenets and beliefs that have the potential to draw us closer to the Divine and help us navigate this life more gracefully and joyfully, and being willing to incorporate them into our own personal expressions of faith.

I've had some exemplars and inspiration to come to this point.  In 2011 I discovered Andrew Bowen and his religious immersion on Project Conversion.  For each month of the year he practiced a different religion to the fullest extent possible (at least for one who wasn't officially joining any of the faiths and was only doing each religion for a month).  I was impressed by his all-in commitment and his fair, honest, and loving treatment of each faith, including my own, on its own terms.  And last year I was moved by a book I read called Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess, in which she chronicled her attempt to live a different spiritual practice each month of the year (read my goodreads review).  A Ramadan-like fast was one of the early ones she adopted, and I enjoyed reading her story of growth through all of her (what she called) "failures".  Finally, last week I read an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune.  In January 2012, she participated in a personal Ramadan-like fast and wrote about the benefits she felt she had gained from the month.  (You can read about her experience here).

So here I am.  I want to feel closer to God.  I want to be more humble and joyful, less grouchy and self-absorbed.  I want to make a gesture of my commitment to work toward those goals.  Ramadan seemed to fit the bill.  Now, I am hedging my bets a bit.  I did deliberately choose a month during which the days are short (the "real" Ramadan this year is in July so the fasts then would be almost twice as long as mine are right now).  And I'm not a total stranger to fasting with a religious purpose; though I have to admit that Fast Sunday has never been a day I've approached with happy anticipation.  (Latter-day Saints fast once a month, usually on the first Sunday of the month, but not always, and the fasts are officially 24 hours long.)  So here's hoping and trusting that my "holy envy" will help me learn...

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