Sunday, May 24, 2015

'The Fast That I Choose'

On May 21, the New Mexico Interfaith Dialogue (formerly the Jewish-Christian Dialogue) held its monthly meeting at the Islamic Center of New Mexico. This marked the official start of  a dialogue among our three Abrahamic faith traditions in Albuquerque. In between our conversations, we were invited to experience the Asr Prayer (late afternoon). We might have differences in our culture and tradition, but our indisputable common belief is in the supremacy of the Creator, who must be honored for providing all the good things are part of our lives. This is reflected in our views on fasting (and the reasons for fasting), which was one of our topics of our dialogue facilitated by Imam Shafi Abdul Aziz and Gail Rubin, president of the Interfaith Dialogue.

'A Merciful and Compassionate Sustainer'
Although fasting is intended to eliminate distractions in our path to connect with God, we have a common belief that our Creator requires an additional step in this act of worship: caring for our neighbors, particularly those in need. "By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one's spiritual life," said the site IslamiCity.

In the Quran, Chapter 2, verses 183-185, addresses the practice of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. "Fast for a specified number of days; but if any among you is ill or on a journey, let him fast the same number of days later. For those of you who can only fast with extreme difficulty, there is a way to compensate--the feeding of a needy person. But he who does good of his own accord shall be well rewarded; but to fast is better for you if you only knew." -Verse 184

"We realize that we are not alien to other beings," said Islamic scholar Yamina Mermer. ".We all belong to the same Merciful and Compassionate sustainer."

'A Shared Struggle'
The concept of self-purification and atonement are important in Judaism, particularly in Leviticus 23. The practice is not only personal but communal. "The act of fasting is believed to result in the spiritual transformation of the individual or community. Fasting is claimed to influence God to act graciously toward Israel," wrote Rabbi Arnold Bienstock.

For most Christians, fasting is most frequently associated with Holy Week. Some spiritual leaders suggest the emphasis has too often centered on deprivation and not on other important elements of the spiritual practice. "Fasting has never been about punishment or deprivation. That is why Orthodoxy has never embraced the popular American Christian idea of giving up favorite treats for Lent," wrote Father Anastasios Gounaris. "That would somehow imply punishment—and would certainly be contrary to the concept of 'shared struggle' that a common Lenten regimen reinforces."

In its Daily Verse and Voice, Sojourners addresses this concept of fasting as a "shared struggle."

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? - Isaiah 58:6

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.-Dom Helder Camera, former Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in Brazil

O Lord, may we never stop asking why the poor have no food. Amen.

The quotes of Yamina Mermer, Rabbi Arnold Bienstock, and Father Anastasios Gounaris are contained in three essays on fasting in the Interfaith Conversations booklet, entitled Fasting and Feasting in Three Traditions: Judaism - Christianity- Islam, published by the University of Indiana in 2006. 

"When people committed to different religious traditions come together to discuss common themes, they often find their own practices and understandings enriched and enlightened. In conversation with Jews and Muslims, Christians get better at the practice of Christianity, Jews at Judaism, and Muslims at Islam," editor Kevin Corn said in the introduction to the booklet.

No comments: