The Muslim world is once again entering its special month of Ramadam, something that may well pass most of us by. It usually passes me by, if I’m honest. Those of us who shy away from ‘religion’, and from things usually called ‘religious observance’, can be a bit snooty about things like Ramadam that demand a month’s (daylight) abstinence from food, smoking and sex (imagine the evenings entertainment). What is the point, we may say? Because so often in our mechanised, industrial society everything must have ‘a point’, tangible result, a purpose. For observant Muslims, Ramadam is the time to remember when they believe God began to reveal the words of the Koran to Muhammed; they fast to remember something significant, to demonstrate their continuing commitment to its memory and its contemporary meaning. I am sure there are many other significant things around culture, community and family, but as I am not a Muslim, I cannot say.
The point for those of us who circle around Jesus, our teacher, Rabbi, we must ask ourselves if we can learn something from Ramadam. We are, of course, expected to fast, as Jesus points out in Matthew 6; though most, like me, rarely do. Why not? Because it seems dangerously ‘religious’, like notching up points on our scorecard when we know that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace or favour. It seems ‘pointless’, with no discernible outcome except a grumbly belly and probably a grumbly character. And yet, and yet…
We know (but so easily forget) that prayer (if there is an outcome of fasting, I guess this is the main one) is not about ‘outcomes’, but about developing our relationship with and understanding of God, and is essential to the way in which our characters are moulded to be more like Jesus‘. Prayer is not about ‘ticking boxes’ or climbing a ladder or earning righteousness – thankfully! – and it is a slow process, like getting to know a friend or partner, or maybe for many who have been ‘religious’ and suddenly discover they don’t need to be it is like re-learning a relationship with a parent, becoming a friend-to-friend, not parent-child or (frequently) headteacher-to-naughty-pupil.
I read recently, I can’t remember where but think it is a Mother Teresa story, that she was asked by someone what happened when she prays. What does God say? Often, not a lot, she replied. What do you say to him? Often, not a lot, she replied. So why do you bother? Because we enjoy each others company, she said. That is the art of prayer, the discipline of prayer.
So maybe it is time to fast. Maybe it is time to (almost) quote Geri Halliwell and scream if we want to be a faster. Maybe we can piggyback (pardon the terribly inappropriate metaphor) on Ramadam, not for earning points for religious observance, but as a way of staying in touch with the Creator, the Re-Creator, the Author and Perfector, He Who Made and He Who Takes Away. I did it in the past briefly, after reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. Maybe it is that time again. There will be no discernible outcome. Or will there?