I was just in New York City the past few days visiting a friend–and, in case you haven’t been watching the news, it has been HOT here on the East Coast! NYC was even worse than Gettysburg, of course, because of the concrete: you could hardly ever catch a breeze. My friend Whitney and I still traipsed all over–he is SUCH a good sport–but we were sweaty the entire time and drinking water/tea/etc. like crazy. All you could do was laugh about it.
Anyway, Whitney’s partner, Imran, is Muslim, and he was fasting for Ramadan; and I have to say, it was a pretty powerful thing for me to witness up close. I mean, you do the math: it’s summer, so heat of the day + length of the day=a long, hard day of going entirely without food and water. Added to that is the fact that when you are with other [non-Muslim] people, they invariably are drinking and eating–that can’t be easy, either. But, Imran took it all in stride, and I was really impressed [as in, it made a strong impression on me] by what I want to call the “witness” of Ramadan: this time in the year where one really orients oneself around God and one’s faith, and makes one’s religious commitment the center of one’s life. And it’s not in a way that makes other people feel uncomfortable or inferior or “wrong” in any way, but rather–at least for me–Imran’s Ramadan fast made me glad to be a person of faith [and it spoke to me as a person of faith]: not a Muslim, obviously, but a Christian who shares a love of God and a passion for my own religious beliefs/practices.
This, to me, is one of the great gifts religious traditions can offer a large, diverse society: a living testimony that participation in a faith community does make a [positive!] difference in how one lives, how one relates to others, and how one views the world. And while I am fully aware of how people can express and enact religious practices and beliefs in a way that is detrimental and damaging to others–sometimes even dangerously so–it doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t be that way. At their core, the world’s religions [and I’m speaking specifically now of established, globally recognized traditions] are life-giving: they provide a way for people to anchor themselves in healthy relationships with the divine, with the human family, and with the whole cosmos; and then live out of that anchored self in a way that lifts up, enlightens, and leavens us all.
Maybe this sounds all too optimistic–I admit I lean that way in general, and certainly when it comes to religion!–but I don’t think I’m entirely wrong, either. In its best attire, the world’s religious traditions remind us that it’s not all about me, that there are commitments and values worth sacrificing for–especially those that involve love of God and love of neighbor–and that community is much bigger than just my little daily orbit. At their best, religions expand us, connect us, and make us more mindful of our world–of our gratitude and our responsibility. That’s what Ramadan means to me this year, and I’m happy for the reminder!