Well, I did it! I made it to the end of my thirty-day Ramadan-like fast/experience. It was certainly different from what I initially envisioned, but it's interesting how synchronicity works, isn't it?
Taking a page from Peggy Fletcher Stack's book, here are my self-evaluations based on the general tenets of Ramadan.
Fasting: 8/10. I mentioned the huckleberry jam incident in an earlier post, but there were a couple of other minor breaches toward the end of the month. There was even one day where I just gave up about lunch time when my breakfast proved completely inadequate to keep the headache and snippiness at bay. All in all, though, I found the extended focus across several days to be more enlightening than my usual LDS 24-hour fast, and the physical discomfort was less of a distraction from the spiritual aspects of the fast as my body adjusted to the fast over the month. That, however, was a mixed blessing because the less discomfort I felt, the less I was aware of it, and the harder it was to remember.
Prayer: 7/10. The Quran says "Let your relationship with God be characterized with patience" (74:7). I think my struggles with prayer, especially formalized down-on-your-knees prayer, have a lot to do with my lack of patience. When I'm just stream-of-conscience-ing at the Almighty, I do fine. But when I try to make it more "standardized" I struggle. The two books I reviewed in my latest column for Meridian (see my last post) were both about prayer and helped to focus my thoughts on the topic. Anthony DeStefano's Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To gave me this gem: "God is a God of perfect timing." Which really helped as I was trying to wrap my head around some of the events of this month. And in Help Thanks Wow Anne Lamott said simply, "God can handle honesty." He already knows my thoughts and feelings on every issue imaginable; there's absolutely nothing to lose sharing them with Him and a rich relationship to be gained.
Reading the Quran: 9/10. I finished the entire Quran! A day early, even! But I think I could have read more thoughtfully, particularly some of the longer suras. The suras at the end got much shorter and more psalm-like than the earlier ones, and therefore easier for me to read. Sura 94 is called "The Relief" and is, in its entirety, this: "Did We not provide you with relief from what is bothering you? Did We not relieve you from the huge weight? That was just about to break your back? Did We not elevate your stature? Ease comes after difficulties. And yes, there is ease after difficulties. After you are relieved of the load, go back and turn to your Lord." Such a beautiful, reassuring passage... I think if and when I read the Quran again, I'll choose a different translation. I liked the colloquialisms of this one, but it had a few strange typos (in one sura both "worriers" and "warriers" were used when I'm pretty sure "warriors" was meant) and awkward constructions and I missed the grandiose language of the King James Version of the Bible. That just sounds more "scriptural" to me.
Good deeds/alms: 7/10. I planned to do more, but my early ideas got derailed and distracted with the new calling. While I think much of what I've done for that calling would count in this category, and while I certainly think my regular Meals on Wheels route and volunteering at the boys' school and such are worthy efforts, not to mention service to my family in the form of clean laundry and warm food, I think I could have reached out of my comfort zone of my own volition a bit more. I did grab a few opportunities to serve as I saw them, and I'm glad for that. These opportunities were often small: listening to a friend who needed to talk, making minor repairs to worn and well-loved blankies (that actually came up twice), picking up something at the store for someone else. I felt useful and that felt good.
Positive emotions: 5/10. This area was tougher for me than the others. January was a month of some big surprises, from the new calling (which is both exciting and a bit stressful) to the extensive (and expensive) oral surgery in the near future, and I don't like surprises. As the hymn says, "I love to choose and see my path." I'm a planner; I like to know what's coming and have it laid out step-by-step. And January was a month-long exercise in dealing with the new, unexpected, and unknown. One thing I can say is this month of trying to control my grouchy feelings made it very apparent just how frequently I have grouchy feelings. At least now I know what I need to work on...
I'm grateful for this experiment with "holy envy," for my little successes along the way, and for the places I fell short as well. It's been eye-opening to personally experience the good that can come from religious practices of other faiths. Thanks for following along!