Sunday, July 14, 2013

welcomed to the table (a lesson from Ramadan)

Have you ever experienced iftar, breaking the daily fast with friends during Ramadan, the month set aside for Muslims to fast, pray and focus on their families?  That's how we spent Saturday evening, in a park at sunset with hundreds of people, most of whom we didn't know.  The women sat together, babies in our laps and toddlers by our sides, waiting for the sun to dip down low so that we could fill hungry bellies with food, we waited together.  Dates first, fruits and juice, Arabic sweets, then a feast of saffron rice and lamb, a warm plate for hundreds of people.  The food kept coming, there was plenty for all.  I couldn't believe the number of women gathered and seated, a multitude of colours in skin and headscarves born from at least a dozen nations. 

My neighbour, who had invited us, was one of the hosts of the event.  My husband was passed along to a few different male hosts throughout the evening, was even asked if he was Lebanese, he was glad that I beg him not to shave.  My son swapped sides, occasionally joining the men when he wanted to be close to his dad.  The meal was interrupted only by prayer as people lined up, shoulder to shoulder, facing their holy city and whispering words to the God who spoke them into existence.

I was warmed by this community, even in the winter chill.  So many people, though different in culture and covering, even language and creed, still chose to break their fast in the presence of one another.  The women genuinely welcomed me and not just my personality and conversation but my body too was filled up with nourishing food.  My head was uncovered, my children noisy, my understandings of religious practices awkward and still I was welcomed to the table.

In ancient Bedouin hospitality codes, even your enemy should be given food and shelter if needed, for a number of days.  Sharing food and water in a desert climate is an act of vulnerability, a giving of oneself more than what most of the western world would deem necessary.  Having traveled to six Middle Eastern countries I know it's written on their hearts and cities, this way of welcome and surplus and "please, eat some more."  I will never out-give an Arab, and probably not a Muslim from any culture; that is why the surprising friendships in my neighourhood are such a gift, especially for me.


Can we come hungry to the table together to let our stomachs remind us our hearts' collective groan?  Can we hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice together, crossing lines of religion and race?  Can we lay down the fear and violence that separates us and instead square ourselves to one another, face to face?  We must learn empathy and understanding on the road to peace, teaching our children that we all belong to God, are all innately bestowed with unsurpassable worth. 

We are all hungry for honest to goodness friendship, for acceptance at the table.  It's important to sit down with people who have experienced life differently than we have.  They might look different than us, might not speak our language well or know how we do things 'round these parts but as we reach out our hands in kindness we will be too busy caring for each other to hurt each other.  We must do this because things need to change.  Do it for Desmond Tutu, or Trayvon Martin, do it for Syria and Iraq or Los Angeles.  Do it because you need a friend and there's someone who needs a friend in you. 

Friendship is the first seeds of justice, a tree that will grow with healing shade for us all. 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."

 Isaiah 58 6-12


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