Thursday, 16 July 2015

Faith and Ketchup: Christian Reflections on a Ramadan Fast - Ashlynn Stillwell

This year, I decided to fast each Friday of Ramadan in solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters. As a Protestant Christian, the Muslim approach to fasting with no food or water from sunup to sundown was not familiar to me. When I was in college, I fasted for one day of Ramadan with a close friend who had recently converted to Islam, but I was certainly no expert on Ramadan and “proper” (whatever that means) Muslim practices. But I decided to give it a try each Friday of the holy month.

In reflecting on my Ramadan experience, inspired by the #Christians4Ramadan hashtag, I realized three important elements that made my fast deeply rewarding: support, sight, and symmetry.

Support. The first Friday of Ramadan, I set my cell phone alarm for 3:45 AM for the sehr meal. I got out of bed as quietly as possible, in hopes of not waking my husband and young sons, and ate a completely forgettable meal in the dark. Two glasses of water later and I went back to bed, expecting to spend my foodless, waterless day alone. My husband, however, gently reminded me of the importance of support, including support from those not fasting. He quietly rolled over, snuggled into me, and whispered, “Happy Ramadan.” Simple words, but a remarkable message of support.

Sight. My fast proceeded uneventfully, as I said a quiet prayer each time my stomach growled and moved on with my day. That evening, as my husband and I picked up our boys from daycare, our eldest requested dinner at a local burger joint. Sure, we agreed, it was Friday after all, and it had been a long week. It was a little awkward to order food for the boys and not myself, but ultimately not a big deal. When the food arrived at our table, instead of eating, I simply watched the boys eat. Typical meals with a 2 and 4 year-old are hectic to say the least, a balancing act of fulfilling their needs and wants while attempting to eat my own food with minimal spilling, throwing, yelling, and the like. For the first time that I can remember, I had sight to simply see my boys enjoy their food. The youngest is quite passionate about food of all kinds, but that evening, he was especially passionate about ketchup. Ketchup. The simplest of condiments. I found myself thanking God for the sight to observe my little boy and his passion for ketchup. I long to have passion for God like his passion for ketchup.

Credit: Ashlynn

Symmetry. At the end of the day, in preparing for my solo iftar, I found myself grossly unprepared. I hadn’t planned ahead at all, and now I would likely end up eating something forgettable (again). Don’t Muslims break the fast with milk and dates? Hmm, well, we never buy dates, but… in the cabinet, I found some dates! A bowl of dried fruit leftover from a Passover Seder meal we celebrated at our United Methodist Church. Cold milk and a sweet date, with remarkable symmetry in my interfaith efforts. Dates from a traditional Jewish meal, celebrated in our Christian church, breaking my Muslim fast. Amazing.

As a religious person – an imperfect spiritual being – I look back on my Ramadan fast and smile. I never expected to deepen my faith in response to my son’s passion for ketchup. But God is mysterious, and God speaks to us in many different ways. Even through the passionate example of a 2 year-old with ketchup. I too can open my heart to passion for God.

Ashlynn Stillwell is an Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in her "day" job. More information about her professional research can be found at Ashlynn is also a member of the Board of Directors of Faith in Place, an interfaith environmental non-profit based out of Chicago. She attends Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana, IL. 

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