Franciscan Ramadan: Beginning the Fasting

I know this is an interruption in the narrative I've been giving about my past, but I just felt the desire to talk about my fasting experience today.

Simply: I’m really hungry.

I wish I had better words to give, but any time I stop thinking about why I’m doing this Ramadan fast, my stomach just growls even louder.

In spite of my hunger pains, I really have nothing to complain about. I’m literally surrounded by food. Our cook is in the kitchen at the moment making dinner, an eating experience that will be a feast later on. There are chips, snacks, and soda in the community room. There’s a fridge nearby that has water, juice, and some zucchini bread that my aunt sent today. So to act like I’m actually at a loss for food is a mere illusion…I’m only continuing the willful decision to eat nothing during the day.

Simply removing the temptation isn’t an option during this time either. As I sit here on the community computer, I’m staring at a half-drunk Gatorade and a can of Diet Pepsi that someone didn’t finish. When I worked out in our gym, I heard 15 commercials for fast food on the radio within an hour. Even if I try to hide in my room it doesn’t help; I see all the empty cans and the water bottles that remind me how easy and accessible food and water are for me.

Each day since I've started, I chose to join the community as they prayed for the lunch meal. Standing in front of a counter with lunchmeat, left-overs, and cheese, I listened to the prayer like never before. “Bless us who are about to eat, and bless those who will go without.” I didn’t feel extra-holy or that I’d attained “Jesus points” because I chose not to eat. However I did recognize that when we blitz through the meal prayer just to get to the part where we shove food into our mouths, there are people who feel the same grumbling in their stomachs like me…they just don’t have the access like I do.

Many of these things I already knew. If anything, this feeling of hunger brings back memories of a child - when there were times we simply had rice or beans for dinner. Thinking back, I remember times where my mom chose not to eat so that I could. The experience of hunger is nothing new to me; my only issue is that it wasn’t the reason I chose to embark on this fast.

And perhaps I am where I am because I thought like most people…this was simply about eating before dawn and after sunset. And while I’ve focused a lot on the eating aspect, I realize there’s more to this experience that needs to be sought out. In a book by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, he writes about fasting for Ramadan:
"Both internal and external efforts are needed to fast properly. It is not an easy thing, for example, to control anger. In the month of fasting, this particular passion reaches almost beyond control because man becomes irritable.[sic] He must therefore keep watch constant watch over this and such other passions, so that not only are they properly controlled, but also they never gain the chance to control the individual. Otherwise our fasting will be soiled, and instead of acquiring benefits from external fasting we shall start committing sins."

I compared that words that I've tried to focus on during my meditation this past week:

"Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?"
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers. -Isaiah 58:3
I recognize that this season for me is more than just rescheduling my meals. Ramadan is a time of spiritual cleansing, and that is the point I am trying to reach as well. In the Old Testament, it was thought that fasting could bend the ear of God. I’m hoping that this experience bends my ears, making me better able to hear God and recognize him as I discern my life with the Capuchins as a friar.

In spite of my grumbling stomach, I recognize there is something wonderful that is capable from this experience. I simply hope I have the fortitude to continue before I give up and devour an entire bag of Cheetos!

Happy Ramadan!

Photo by creativesam

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