Thirty Days, Another Day–Day 5

And every warrior must have a little rest, a little peace, so she can do her best.
~~from “I Wish You Well,” by Meg Christian

This warrior needs a little rest. I have known it for quite some time now, but don’t often say it out loud. To do so is to acknowledge that I am exhausted  and perhaps shouldn’t push as hard as I do. While it’s that push through it, tough it out, stubborn determination that has allowed me to be relatively successful in the important work I’ve done over these years, there comes a time when we all have to have a little rest lest we break. I am approaching that point of burnout where I need to ease up a little on the pedal and coast for a bit.

Today I was talking with my wellness coach, as I do about every three weeks. While she asks me about my diet and exercise (doing her wellness thing) she knows that how I eat and take care of my body is integrally connected with how I feel. She knows how hard I push myself and offers a variety of strategies to help me live a healthier, more whole life. We’ve been talking a lot about stress and burnout and how that affects my self-care.

“You’re not doing Ramadan again this year, are you?” she asked me, with the tiniest bit of concern in her voice. I could almost hear her mind thinking, Given everything else you’re doing to your body, I know you’re not fasting, right? But being the professional that she is I could hear her pull that back, and regain a bit of her neutrality.

“Yes,” I replied perhaps a little defensively. I went on to tell her that I was being careful (I didn’t mention how little sleep I am getting as I adjust to eating very early in the morning and late in the evening.) and that I’d promised my partner that if I felt like I couldn’t handle the fasting, I’d dial it back.

I promised that if I couldn’t manage the physical requirements as well as the mental and emotional tax, I would stop altogether. And I will if I hit the wall, but being the stubborn human that I am, I will push through and do what I need to do. Can one overdo perseverance and persistence? What’s that? I can’t hear you.

So the journey this time is only 30 days. I can do this, I tell myself, and I have to believe that I can. But every warrior must indeed have a little rest. And so I am moving toward that. I am always concerned about “the next thing,” that comes up. After I get one thing done, something else pops up clamoring to be done. I have to get better at that. In any case, I am grateful to have been able to be doing pretty well so far. And given the circumstances that matters. And so I persevere and keep pushing on. It’s what we warriors do.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 4

Today I had to put $1.50 in the swear jar. I started the swear jar when I gave up swearing for Lent a number of years ago. Even though I don’t formally observed many Christian holidays any more, I generally have joined in the spirit of either giving up something for Lent or adding on something, or both. Four years ago, I added on writing a daily blog throughout the Lenten season, and every so often I give up swearing for Lent.

Ramadan, it seems, is not simply about fasting from sunup to sundown, but also abstaining from a variety of other things, swearing being one of them. So, I reinstituted the swear jar this year. Each time I swear, I add 25 cents to the jar. Today I had a series of irritations that prompted me to blurt some of my favorite expletives. Dang it! I found myself resorting to the occasional swearing substitutes, but lapsed back into the real thing from time to time. I think I’m square with the swear jar. God forbid the commute back to work is bad tomorrow (the drive home is when I am more likely to have to pay into the swear jar.) On a particularly bad day at work, I’ve been known to put 5 dollars in the jar ahead of time, because I know I won’t be able to control myself. I do my best to refrain, but in the heat of the moment, and with the stress of the day, sometimes I can’t help myself. It gives new meaning to the phrase “paying it forward.”

Today my mood matched the weather–cloudy and cold, with occasional brief glimpses of light. Mama said there’ll be days like this. I have learned to roll with them. One of the things I appreciate about Lent is that the solemnity of that particular season allows me to explore the more difficult days in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. As I slowly feel my way into understanding the principles and practices of Ramadan, I hope to be able to understand more of the whys and wherefores of the tradition.

As I accustom myself to participating in the cycle of fasting and breaking the fast, on those occasions when my stomach rumbles with hunger during the daylight hours, I can feel compassion arising for those for whom hunger is part of their daily reality. I have had very brief brushes with hunger over my lifetime; I cannot imagine experiencing it week after week, month after month, stretching into years with little sustenance. As part of my observance these 30 days will include making donations to area food pantries.

A number of years ago, when I was experiencing a difficult period of unemployment, I began volunteering at a local food pantry, preparing groceries and distributing them to the clientele who came in. It was one of the more deeply meaningful and important work that I’ve done in many years, and I find myself wanting to return to it. I can think of few things more important than helping provide food to those who really need it. Perhaps someday soon.

The journey of these 30 days is once again providing me with opportunities to sit still for a few moments to reflect on the the things that touch my life, the lives of the people around me, and those far away from me. And while I follow no specific faith tradition, I do pray on a constant basis. Sitting still in meditation and prayer is a good thing, it sure beats the heck out of having to put money in the swear jar. And so it is, and so it goes.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 3

Yesterday I learned something to add to my “Do’s and Do Not’s” list: DO write your blog before breaking your fast. Instead, I worked outside for a while, did some work on my conference presentation, and made dinner (no I didn’t taste anything as I prepared it.) By the time I’d finished eating and cleaning up a bit, it was nearly 11:00 p.m. I nearly dropped off to sleep twice as I was writing last night’s blog post, and was nearly catatonic when I finally published it and posted on my Facebook timeline.

I had to drag myself out of bed this morning at a little after 4:00 if I was going to have my protein bar and coffee before daybreak. As soon as I finished it, I puttered around for a little while before climbing back into bed at around 6:30 to get a bit more sleep. When I reemerged it was a bit after 8:00. It’s a good thing it’s Saturday and not a weekday. Then if I got up at 4:00 there would be no going back to bed, but pulling myself to get ready for work. Note to self: write blog early in the evening.

Thus, it is currently 7:00 p.m. and while I am a bit sluggish and my stomach is a bit rumbly, I am awake enough to capture a few thoughts while my mind is still somewhat clear. One of the things I did this morning between breaking my fast and going back to bed was to do a bit more reading about the fast. Apparently, one traditionally breaks one’s fast with a sip of water (I did that part right, though I think the 700 milliliters constituted more of several gulps than a sip) and eating a few date. Oh dear. I don’t have any dates. to the rescue. My Medjool dates (two packages from two different companies) should be here in time to eat when I break my fast tomorrow. I do have some dried cranberries, but I don’t think they would be an appropriate substitution.

My friend and former coworker J, who taught me a bit about Ramadan as well as a number of phrases in Arabic (things like, “hello” and “thank you”), introduced me to Medjool dates. You should always have dates for emergencies, she informed me, pulling some out of a drawer and handing them over. I discovered that I loved them, and have periodically purchased them over the years. Then I took a look at the nutritional information and realized that, while dates are good for you, they are high in sugar and calories. So I stopped popping them, in fact, I stopped buying them altogether to avoid the temptation. Now for a brief time, during these forty days, I will enjoy a few dates when I break my fast. My guess is that when Ramadan is over, I’ll stop eating them again, or only every so often as a treat.

I find myself wanting to learn more about what else I should be thinking about during these 30 days, what other things I can do. In a sense, the observance of Ramadan reminds me a little bit of the Christian observance of Lent–it’s not just about giving something up, but also about giving something of ourselves, volunteering, giving to charity, doing good deeds, helping others. So I will continue to ponder and study and learn about the principles and practices of Ramadan. And I will reach out to J and A, my other Muslim friend and coworker with whom I have conversations, about the how to’s (and how not to’s) of fasting and observing Ramadan.

I have had moments during my writing of my Lenten blog, Forty Days (and variations of that title every year), when I am a bit irreverent about a variety of things related to Lent and Jesus and his ministry. I will (try) not do that in this blog, at least I will try not to. I have no familiarity with Islam as I do with Christianity, having been raised and spent time in various permutations of that faith. If I get a bit cheeky in this blog, it is not intended to be offensive; my goal over these 30 days is more so to poke fun at myself as I earnestly but a bit haphazardly observe Ramadan in solidarity with J and A. By the time I understand better what I am doing and why, the 30 days will have passed. I can only hope that whatever gods or spiritual beings are watching will be blessed by the effort. And so it goes.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey—Day 2

Today was a good day. I worked from home, sending emails, communicating with my team using Google hangouts, and planning a conference presentation via Zoom with a colleague from New York. After being inside for much of the day, I was relieved to be able to go outside and engage in some good, hard, physical labor, cutting and clearing brush from several parts of “the back 40” where I live.

It was also a good fasting day. I realized I’d already made it into some kind of competition, that I’d “do better” on my fast today than I did yesterday. That’s the kind of perfectionism that I share with some of my siblings, that good isn’t usually good enough and one can always do better. As I look back over today, though, I did do better. I got up earlier and was able to break my fast before light appeared in the eastern sky that I can see from the window in my living room where I drink my coffee and write in my morning journal and participate in my daily practice. I checked periodically to be sure the sky was still dark as I ate. This evening, I was able to wait until the sun was down (sometime after 9:30) before I broke my fast. I did prepare dinner while I was still fasting, being careful not to taste anything I was cooking.

And so now I sit, and it’s 11:00. That happens when you eat dinner around 9:45–the winding down process and bed time are pushed ahead a couple of hours later than usual. This practice is messing with my sleep patterns as well as my digestive system, but it’s all good. I know I’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments as the days progress. Somewhere in the middle of this I need to develop a balanced perspective, to remind myself that it is not, in fact, a competition, that I’m not out to top myself. I am engaging in a spiritual practice that I hope will truly allow me to be both in solidarity with my Muslim friends, as well as a practice that invites reflection on a variety of issues. Those I will explore over the next moths.

I still have a lot to learn during these 30 days about the true meaning and purpose behind fasting. In the days ahead I will be sharing information and experiences as I continue on this journey. And while I didn’t know where it will take me, I’ll be grateful nonetheless for the experience. And so it is, and so it goes, and so I will…

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Thirty Days, Another Journey, Day 1

I argued with myself over whether or not to write a blog in acknowledgment of my participation in a “solidarity fast” for the holy month of Ramadan, which is now underway and will continue over the next 30-ish days. I argued with myself because it feels like I’m boasting or bragging or trying to be deep, when is far from what I mean to do. So, I’ not quite sure why I’m choosing to write about it now. Time and my energy level will tell as to whether I blog every day—it was hard enough to sustain that through the Forty Days of Lent, which I’ve observed for four years now…

I began fasting three years ago, when I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page encouraging her non-Muslim friends and coworkers to fast for Ramadan, as many Muslims observe Lent in solidarity with their Christian friends. And so, I decided to dive in. I had no idea what I was doing, had done no reading or preparation to understand what the fasting represented and the particulars about why my friends fasted in the manner they did. I was coming from a place of total ignorance, but I wanted to try to honor what I did understand of the process and protocols and participate as best I could. And so I undertook the fasting, and in my own way followed through as best I could with my intentions.

For the first two years, very few people knew I was doing it; I wasn’t doing it to be seen, so I only told those who needed to know. And so now  I am suddenly telling the world, and I feel oddly exposed. I will no doubt reveal vast degrees of ignorance. One thing I can say about writing my Lenten blogs is that having grown up Christian, I understand a great deal about the underpinnings of the Lenten story. I am familiar and comfortable with it, and with Jesus and a great deal of other things. With Ramadan and Islam, not so much, indeed very little familiarity at all.

So I will write and perhaps I will stumble. I will not pretend to write about the tenets of the Muslim faith, traditions, or observances. As has been true with my Lenten blogs, I will stick to contemporary themes and personal experiences that perhaps have some connection to a concept here or there that I do understand. I will not engage in cultural appropriation and attempt to take on ideas or issues for which I have no basis to comment on. So we shall see how this goes.

This is the third year I’ve engaged in what I’ve called a “modified” fast for Ramadan; that is, it hasn’t been truly from sunup to sundown. In a technical sense, when the first hint of light appears on the horizon, you are to abstain from eating or drinking anything. On this first day, there was the faintest smudge of light in the Eastern sky as I finished my mug of coffee and protein bar. And the 700 ml of water I drank before sunup was going to have to get me through the day. I very nearly made it to sundown, but did not, breaking my fast while the sun was sinking but had not fallen below the horizon and the sky fully darkened.

On the one hand I wanted to congratulate myself for not only making it through the entire work day with no food and water, but also putting in two hours after work mowing the “front forty” of grass, and cutting brush around the farm. On the other hand, Muslims truly observing the fast would have kept going, refraining from eating until nigh on toward 10:00 p.m. Then I argue with myself, “You are not Muslim, so what’s the big deal,” but that sounds hollow even to me. I consider myself and my fasting, my attempts at meditation and observing various Buddhist precepts, my loose ties to the Catholic-Christian traditions I was raised in, and my hodge-podge engagement in various spiritual practices, and I shake my head at myself. (Somewhere in there I also try to be kind to myself…not easy.)

I have no idea how I will fare over the next 29 days. My life is so stressful and demanding in so many areas that I wonder if I will actually get through them without giving up on the fasting and the solidarity. I will consult with my two close Muslim friends about whether or not I am doing something “right” and what other things I “should” be doing. But then somehow I feel like the “rights” and the “shoulds” and such are not in the spirit of solidarity. Clearly I have some more thinking to do. In the meantime, I will continue to stumble through these next few days and see how things go. Wish me well.


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Forty Days Revisited, Day 40–You Can Say That Again (We Rise)

I grew up Catholic. As a child I wondered why we couldn’t say “alleluia” during Lent. As I got older, I came to understand that this prohibition is one of many acknowledgments of the solemnity of the Lenten season, that it is a time of fasting, prayer, reflection, and various forms of sacrifice. One of those forms, firmly in place all around the world is the fasting from saying the word, “alleluia.” I was so happy when Easter came, not because of egg hunts and decorating eggs (which we rarely did) or wearing fancy clothes, complete with hats and dresses and white anklet socks with ruffles and patent leather shoes. (God am I glad those days are over.) The good news is: these 40 days are over and today you can say again what you could not say yesterday: “Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia.”

I used to sing “alleluia” on Easter Sunday with the same gusto as I used to bellow, “Crucify him!” two days earlier at Good Friday services. It was all the same to me back then. So after 40-plus days of giving up chocolate and bear and meat on Fridays and not saying alleluia, today is the day you can knock yourself out and do all those things. Of course, I say this all tongue-in-cheek, which seems somewhat sacrilegious on this holy day of resurrection.

So let me shift gears and title the rest of this blog as I decided to later: We Rise.

We Rise
On that day, the third day, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary (who some say Jesus’s aunt–sister to his mother ) were heading to the tomb. When they got there, the stone had been rolled back from the grave. In one account (Matthew 28), a being of light is sitting on top of the stone, ostensibly waiting to report to whichever of Jesus’s followers showed up, that Jesus was no longer in repose in the tomb. In another( Luke 24), two beings of light join the two Marys who had already entered the tomb to likewise report that Jesus was not there. In both accounts, the angels delivered essentially the same message: He isn’t here.

Different translations exist of these words. I love what the angel in this particular version (Matthew 28) is purported to have said: “He is not here. He is risen, just as he said he would.” I also love the question posed by the angels in Luke’s version: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Very practical question, unless you consider the ramifications of it.

Just two days earlier they had washed, anointed, and wrapped Jesus’s shredded, battered, and wrapped his decidedly dead body in burial cloths. At that time, so engrossed were they in their task and enveloped in their numbed grief, they did not contemplate the notion that he would rise and return to walk among the living. And now here was this being, too bright to even look at, telling them that the body was no longer there. It even invited them to look for themselves, “Come over and see where he had lain.” After their shock at the whole thing had begun to diminish sufficiently enough for them to move, they took off running to tell the disciples.

The translation of this passage is important. The one I prefer says, “He is risen,” while others declare “He has risen.” He has risen which is a stated action of something that he did, while “He is risen,” is a statement of being, of his present condition. I saw other translations that said, “He has been raised,” which took the entire thing out of his hands, like it was something done to him, rather than something that he did himself. It might be obvious here that I much prefer, “He is risen.” It would be like saying someone is awesome (something that they inherently are) or “they have awesomeness,” (which no one would say, but you get the point.) One says that’s what they are at their core, the other says that’s a quality that they possess, but that might be temporary.

And so, as we wind down these 40 days, I want to add a few thoughts to those I shared yesterday, when I wrote about how we wait after the death of a loved one:

“For we who wait after the deaths of our loved ones, there is no predicted resurrection. We know they will not come back in three days as if they went on long trip from which they would return. ”

I realized something when I woke on this “resurrection morning,” no matter what has preceded the previous night, each morning it is we who rise. We rise the next morning after the death of a loved one. We rise after we’ve fallen or been struck down by an unexpected physical or emotional blow. We rise the day after a victory just as we would after a defeat. Whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we rise. It has been so, and so it will continue to be. We might not quite be at “I am risen,” as a state of being, or we might be and I simply can’t picture what that looks like. But we can and do rise according to our natures and according to the laws of physics.

So while a physical body is seemingly incapable of appearing to rise after it has ceased to function (that is, it is dead), the spiritual body has and is risen. Our loved ones–my mother and father, others who have gone invisible oh so many years ago–perhaps are indeed risen and walking amongst us in some realm which our three-dimensional physical selves cannot detect. We may not see them, but they are risen. We too rise. And so it goes.

Deep bows of gratitude to everyone who has been on part or all of this Lenten journey with me. I do not know what the future holds in terms of what will happen next year–if I have another 40 days in me–but that is not important at this time. What is important is that we live in this moment as best we can, that we are present to the people and world around us right now, and that as needed, and when it is called for, we rise.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 39–The Waiting Game

I find the concept of “Holy Saturday” interesting. I mean, what are we supposed to do on Saturday, especially after commemoration of the last supper on Holy Thursday, and the mournful solemnity of “Good” Friday? I’m not sure I would have called it “Holy Saturday,” but perhaps “Waiting Saturday,” you see, while there are many notions about what Jesus was doing on this “tween” day after the crucifixion and before the resurrection, there’s no question about what everyone else was doing: they were waiting. Pretty much everyone was waiting,

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.~~Henry Van Dyke

Time really is too slow for those who wait. Ask anyone who’s waited for anything important, too slow, so very slow. And so imagine the condition that Jesus’s disciples were in; the shock, grief, exhaustion, and emotional upheaval of the previous 36 hours blanketed them. Did they eat? Did they sleep during that first day? Perhaps fitfully. Peter, sickened by the fact that he had denied even knowing Jesus, that fact made worse by fact that Jesus had predicted it. Other disciples had scattered throughout the city on that terrible day.

It is written that only three of his closest people–his mother, the disciple John, and Mary Magdalene–actually attended the crucifixion. For them, standing at the foot of the cross, close enough for Jesus to speak to them, the sights, sounds, and smells of death must have been overwhelming. How does a mother even have the will to remain upright as she watches her oldest son bleeding to death from the thousands of rents in his skin, shredded flesh obscuring his face. How does Mary Magdalene and John likewise stand there, except, perhaps, to support Mary lest her legs give way and she gives in to her grief and disbelief. And then all has been said and done: Jesus’s side has been pierced and he has gasped out his final, anguished question, “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” The soldiers or others tasked with taking down his body, pull him from the tree and bring his broken body to his mother.

And then the blur. After the tension and activity and intensity of the crucifixion process, the sudden stillness and quiet movements that must have accompanied the washing and anointing of the body, the wrapping it in linens, the placing it in the sepulcher must have felt surreal to those participating in it. Back then, the loved ones performed all of those final tasks for the deceased; in modern times, across our US culture, we turn these intimate tasks over to strangers. And when it was done, they took themselves off to wherever they were staying–after all, Jerusalem wasn’t their hometown–and collapsed.

Perhaps the next day–“Holy Saturday” (though I’m sure they didn’t call it that back then) they waited. At what point did they recall what Jesus had told them, when did they remember that he’d said he would rise again on the third day? And so they waited, each in their own place, lost in their own thoughts and memories. In the blur and haze of grief, they waited.

Time is too slow to those who wait. It must have been excruciatingly slow to those who slowly began to wonder if he was going to do what he said, if he was going to rise again on the third day. What did they do with the time? How did they spend those hours–12, 24, 36?

Today I had a friend ask a question on Facebook, “what do you remember about the day after death? do you remember anything?” Over the five hours since she first asked the question, over 20 people responded with their stories, me included. It gave me another opportunity to share the “day after death” stories I experienced after my parents’ deaths. I had already found myself reliving them anyway: who wouldn’t remember them as one contemplates the day after Jesus’s death and the impact of it on his family and friends.

I wrote a bit about my own experiences with the days after each of my parent’s deaths in previous Forty Days meditations. The days of waiting, the quiet conversations with family members, and the weeping in the dark when the daytime frenzy of attending to details has ended. Preparing for services, picking songs and readings, greetings guests. And then the blur. For we who wait after the deaths of our loved ones, there is no predicted resurrection. We know they will not come back in three days as if they went on long trip from which they would return. Perhaps for us, we simply wait for it to stop hurting quite so much.

The journey of these 40 days is nearing the end, but the end has not yet come. And so we wait.

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