Fast and Feasting

Last night I attended the Sixth Annual Dialogue Iftar Dinner, hosted by the Niagara Foundation and the Bosphorus Dialogue Association, the latter of which is a student run group of the University of Minnesota. The evening included prayer – both an invocation by the University of Minnesota Lutheran pastor and an Adhan – an Islamic call to prayer, a slideshow of activities of the Niagara Foundation, three keynote speeches on the theme of Spiritual Reflections on Fasting – one each by a Jewish, a Christian and an Islamic speaker, and a delightful meal of Turkish food.

I suppose one could say that the new information I gained from the evening was fairly minor. I had not before been aware, for example, that it is traditional to break the Ramadan fast with a date, based on the belief that that is how the Prophet Mohammad used to break his fast. Thus, the first plate to be passed around the table at which I was sitting after sunset was a plate of dates. Additionally, despite growing up in New York with many Jewish friends, I had not before heard of the Jewish feast of Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for various disasters that have befallen the Jewish people. Neither of these pieces of information are likely to shake my world.

Nonetheless, it was a wonderful evening. After reading so much in the last couple of weeks about the uproar about the proposed mosque near ground zero, and after seeing a report earlier in the day yesterday of a Muslim cabdriver who was attacked by a passenger simply because he was a Muslim, there was something good and peaceful about being in a room of Christians, Jews and Muslims celebrating together and sharing stories about their respective traditions.

The woman from the University of St. Thomas history department, who delivered the keynote talking about fasting from a Christian perspective, ended her talk with a poem I have heard in various forms, Fast From – Feast On. The poem, for example, speaks of fasting from words that pollute and feasting on phrases that purify, fasting from anger and feasting on patience, fasting from pessimism and feasting on optimism and fasting from complaining and feasting from appreciation.

What I most appreciated last night was the line that speaks of fasting from emphasis on differences and feasting on the unity of life. There are differences and I don’t minimize them. But there is also unity of life, and it is good to remember and celebrate that.