In spite of what others thought or expected, I’m still fasting in observance of the month of Ramadan. As a Capuchin Novice, questions were asked and approval was needed from my Novice Master as well as my Spiritual Director to begin. Even I’ve had questions of continuing, understanding the motives, and wondering why I couldn’t use a traditional (a.k.a. Catholic Christian) model for fast and prayer.
My community has been very supportive in my decision. There were a few raised eyebrows when I first mentioned the idea, yet they see I haven’t started bringing a sajada to Morning Prayer, nor haven’t replaced my side rosary with tespih beads. Recognizing that I was using the time to deepen my prayer life and novitiate experience, not to start a religious conversion, people started to feel relaxed with what I was doing.
The act of fasting is still a struggle at times...mostly because I cannot (nor should I) fast according to the actual schedule. While my life makes religious observance easy in Novitiate, to eat alone and be absent from community events in order to maintain a fast would be contradictory to my overall purpose. My fast days are Monday-Wednesday and Saturday. Thursday is our “day off” here in Novitiate, and community outings are usually scheduled. Friday we are graciously fed by our ministry, and Sunday is a community day where, again, outings and invitations are accepted to brunch.
The task of losing weight has also taken a sideline to this month’s fast. Long periods of fasting followed by eating slow down my metabolism. In the first week, my weight fluctuated back and forth. During the days, I try to run, lift weights, or play soccer to keep my metabolism going. I recognize that fasting is NOT the way for me to lose weight; I’m just trying to keep from gaining a ton of weight after this is done.
What has surprised me is the increase of my thoughts and meditations during my prayer. Just this morning, I cried while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary. Other days this month, I’ve felt a true connection between the psalms and the feelings I was having. I do more spiritual reading in my spare time now. I’ve gone through books on fasting, a book about praying the psalms by Thomas Merton, a few books about the Virgen de Guadalupe, and even a book on Islamic Spirituality. I don’t think that fasting has magically made me “holy.” Rather I associate the feeling of hunger as a reminder of what this time is supposed to mean. So instead of taking a nap or playing guitar, I try to do something spiritually nourishing whenever I can.
The hardest part was not the fasting, much to my surprise. Rather I found the presence of angry and cynical thoughts running around in my head to be of concern for me. At different times I will find myself angry with someone, or irritated by someone’s mannerisms. “Why does this person come late to prayer every time?” “Why does that person pretend to be holier than me?” “Why can’t everyone see my point of view!?”
Keeping the mind clear of evil thoughts can be tough; it’s really tough when you live in a closed community, see the same people every day, and are working on the virtues of obedience, poverty, and celibacy. The combination of all these things can lead to outbursts, compulsions, and unhealthy thoughts. Being aware of these thoughts and learning to keep them under control will continue to be a task throughout my Novitiate. It was in the emptying of my self that I was better able to see these tendencies.
I am glad I chose to experience Ramadan this year, even if I never get a chance again. I hope to continue the fast until the end. I gratefully appreciate the support I’ve received from people in doing this – both from Christians and Muslims. I realize that this is something I have done for myself, however I also recognize that people are moved by the decision: some are intrigued while others feel I am turning my back on my own Catholic Christian faith. While I am not trying to make a statement by this fast, I see how others can draw different viewpoints from it.
In spite of that, I feel that I have been blessed with a gift for sharing and expressing my faith in ways that others might fear. Faith is a precious part of our lives that must be shared, not kept to ourselves. Being able to find God in all things and share that love is something I’ve been blessed with. I hope never to lose that gift.