by Kristin Fontaine
I was reading an article that came across my twitter feed. It was Ramadan Etiquette Guide: How to be a Non-Muslim During the Holy Month by Asma Uddin.
As I was reading it what struck me most was the author’s continual return to the idea that while the process of fasting for Ramadan was not fun, it was something she accepted with joy as a celebration of her faith.
Throughout it all, we maintain an ambiance of joy and gratitude for all that God has blessed us with, and reflect on those in this world who have been given much less.
This resonated with me because I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a person of faith and to take on disciplines, vows, and rules as a part of ones religion.
So much of what I see in the news about religion is a conflict that comes out of the idea that people of faith can somehow expect others, not of their faith, to adapt society’s norms to them. Nearly every conservative branch of every faith I have been exposed to seems to want to prescribe ‘one right way’ of living on issues, and in particular issues that control how women act and dress and live.
It has gotten to the point that when I see a woman of any faith dressing in a way that reflects that faith I wonder at who’s behest she is doing it. Is it her own personal choice, a way to demonstrate her faith to herself and to the world? Or is it forced on her by her family, her culture, or her society? (and am I falling into the trap of policing what other women wear in the process of thinking about this?)
Is she embracing it joyfully or is it a job given to her by others?
What happens to a religion when it becomes a job we are loaded down with rather than a joyful choice to be embraced? How can I tell the difference?
I think that Ms Uddin’s essay shows me a way and that way is through joy.
While I was hunting up the readings for this week, I got a little lost in the daily office and ended up reading the propers for year one instead of year two, but that wrong turn led me to this:
I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!
And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
I repeat, let no one think me foolish; but even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. (What I am saying I say not with the Lord’s authority but as a fool, in this boastful confidence; since many boast of worldly things, I too will boast.)
~2 Cor. 11:1, 11, 16-18
And there was a man named Zacchae′us; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchae′us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully.
I don’t know how it was in Zacchae′us’s time but in mine, a grown man climbing a tree is not a usual sight– in fact a golfer made the news because he climbed a tree to take a shot in a tournament.
As with Zacchae′us was willing to look foolish in front of his peers (and the golf-watching world) in order get what he needed and it was his choice to do so. No one told either of them to climb the tree in order to reach salvation. Looking potentially foolish was not an assignment they were give or a rule society told them they must follow.
People of many different faiths hold to different dietary rules, wear clothes that stand out in modern society, or take vows that set them apart in some way and frankly can make one look foolish in the eyes of the world. And they are sometimes then tempted to push those rules onto others for many reasons. But this is where religions can go wrong.
Holy foolishness should never be a job you are given. It is too heavy a burden to bear when it is a received job.
But when it is a choice?
Maybe that is what Jesus meant when he said:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
~Matthew 11: 28-30
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: Ramadan wall paper