It was the summer of 1994 and about 10 friends and I sat huddled around Bibles in my friend’s living room. It was a “scripture party.” The lights were dim and the air was full of anticipation and mystery. We did not know what God might reveal as we opened the book of Revelation and read it out loud, in community, in one night.
This bears resemblance to the way the early church would have read the scripture. They were an oral culture, not a written one. The Hebrew Bible was written on scrolls that were read aloud to congregations. Most of the New Testament was written as letters to the worshiping bodies of whole cities (i.e. the saints in Ephesus, the church in Philippi, the body in Corinth, etc.). When received, the letters would be read out loud to the whole church community and received as God’s instruction revealed through the apostles for the edification of their communities.
Imagine being one of the very first followers of the Jesus “Way” (Acts 9:2).
Imagine being a persecuted religious group. You have to use code — the sign of the ichthys — to identify yourself to other believers for fear of religious persecution. Only when you are gathered together in secret can you speak openly about your faith. Only then can you be fully known and appreciated for the whole image of God that lives inside of you.
Imagine huddling in a secret meeting place and reading the Apostle John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ for your nascent faith community in Ephesus or Smyrna, or Pergamum, or Thyatira, or Sardis, or Philadelphia, or Laodicea (Revelation 2-3). Imagine living in Ephesus and reading Paul’s prayer for your church to understand its hope and inheritance (Ephesians 1:17-2:22).
And imagine being rich in the early church and hearing James’ letter warning: “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your field, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
Imagine hearing it all for the first time. It all feels so real. The call to holiness feels so urgent because God feels so present.
I’m on day 14 of my Ramadan fast — almost the halfway point. My schedule has been so scattershot with travel that I haven’t been able to make it to a mosque yet. Nonetheless, lightheadedness brought on by lack of water and sleep has become my new normal.
I asked Daisy Khan, Imam Feisal’s wife and the Executive Director of the American Society of Muslim Advancement: “What about sleep? How do people do it?” She explained, during Ramadan we live like angels. Angels don’t need sleep. They don’t need food or water.
“But how do they do it, physically?” I pressed.
“Spiritual energy,” Daisy said.
After two days of deep and unwavering pangs of hunger and thirst that had to wait for sundown to be filled, I had an epiphany: In the same way that I waited eagerly for the breaking of the Ramadan fast each night — counting it as something to celebrate — on the day Jesus comes again, we will celebrate. On that day there will be no injustice anymore. Imagine it! There will be no hunger anymore! There will be no one who is thirsty anymore! All will have their fill! All will taste the sweetness of life! All will be free of oppression! All will be able to laugh and play, and no one will be lonely any more.
Then it struck me: Ramadan offers an emphatic example of what is to come. Just as the community of creation suffers and groans waiting for all the relationships broken at the Fall to be made right again (Romans 8:18-23), so the communities that practice Ramadan suffer and grow together each day, waiting for their very bodies to be made right again each night through the intake of food and water.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Ramadan's first day of fasting began today at dawn. This year, Sojourners' Director of Mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, has chosen to keep the fast during the Muslim holy month alongside our friend, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Both Lisa and Imam Feisal will be blogging regularly during the coming days and weeks of Ramadan, sharing with our readers their personal reflections on what the holy month, the fast and journeying together as a Christian and a Muslim means to them. To learn more about Ramadan and its sunrise-to-sunset monthlong fast, click HERE.
LISA SHARON HARPER:
In 2004 I led a group of Intervarsity students on a journey through Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia on a Pilgrimage for Reconciliation. For four weeks we traveled throughout all three countries investigating the roots of conflict and seeds of peace being planted between the Catholic Croatians, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs. Along the way, we met with Miroslav Volf, who was vacationing in his home country of Croatia at the time. One of my students asked Volf the same question I asked my mentor years before: “How do you engage in interfaith activity without watering down your own faith?” Volf answered with one word: “Respect.”
He explained that Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love requires respect. We may not agree with our neighbors, but we must respect their minds and their ability to choose the faith they will practice...
That is why I have chosen to embrace my Muslim neighbors by practicing the Fast of Ramadan this year with a spiritual leader who I admire and look forward to learning from, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
This year, more than 3,000 Muslim athletes will compete in the Olympics, but many will not fast, a decision that has been sanctioned by religious authorities. While Muslims are increasingly common on Western teams -- for example British rower Mohamed Sbihi and French boxer Rachid Azzedine -- no Muslims made the U.S. team this year.
Nyambui said the hard part about track is training. Competing is easy. Had Ramadan occurred before the Olympics, when athletes prepare their bodies for competition, then his performance would have suffered, he said. He acknowledged that fasting can present difficulties for athletes, but usually only during the first or second weeks of Ramadan when the body is still adjusting to the rigors of fasting.
“After that people are used to it,” said Nyambui, speaking from his office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city. “People play soccer, they can go jogging, they can go swimming.”
It’s just 10 days until the biggest show on earth begins.
No, not Lady Gaga’s new tour. It's the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The timing of this year’s Olympics has put thousands of participating athletes in something of a quandary.
Writing from TIME Magazine, Aryn Baker explains:
When an estimated 3,500 Muslim athletes come to the London Olympics this summer, the pinnacle of their athletic careers will directly coincide with one of the most important periods in their spiritual calendar. This year, all 17 days of athletic competition take place during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to fast and refrain from drinking water from sunrise to sunset....
In February of 2009, when I tried a month-long Ramadan fast for the book Flunking Sainthood, I felt like a failure for most of the month.
Fasting was not a practice I ever cheated on (weirdly, it was easier for me to give up food completely in February than it was just to be a vegetarian in October of that year, when I did cheat -- how lame is that?). But I never felt like I fully "got" it. I did feel unexpectedly relaxed at the end of February -- and, let's face it, a bit smug that I'd persevered through the experience -- but not much more spiritual than when I started.
I think it's because I had the wrong attitude to begin with.