Not going anywhere
This year's wrestle with Tisha b'Av

On fasting (Tisha b'Av and Kazim Ali's "Fasting for Ramadan")

Slowly but surely, I'm reading Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice by Kazim Ali, a set of short meditative essays written during the experience of fasting for Ramadan, published by Tupelo Press.

I've never experienced a fast like Ramadan. A whole month of daytime fasting: the idea is foreign to me. Though of course I have fasted; the vast majority of Jews fast on Yom Kippur, and many fast also on other fast days (among them Tisha b'Av, which begins tonight.)

I've been thinking lately about the fast of Tisha b'Av as the beginning of the journey which culminates in the fast of Yom Kippur. My hevruta partner David and I realized, last week, that the two are 60 days apart. First comes Tisha b'Av, when we fast in mourning for the fallen temples. Then we count 49 days, a kind of parallel to the Counting of the Omer, and the 50th day is Rosh Hashanah, the new year. Ten days after that comes Yom Kippur, the fast at the far end of the journey. How different might that Yom Kippur fast feel if one entered into it having willingly and consciously undertaken this sixty-day journey of transformation, bookended by a fast at either end?

There's something powerful about reading Ali's meditations now as I anticipate my own fasts. Ali writes beautifully about the experience of fasting: what it's like for him physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. Here's a taste, from the seventh day of Ramadan:

When you say "One time," in a story, you mean a time that happened in the past, but one you are still living in, living at that very moment. How often have you caught a whiff of patchouli, seen someone wearing a yellow scarf, heard the Indigo Girls singing "Love's Recovery" -- and suddenly you are gone, out of the present, backward in time, some other place, miles away, how easy it is to be transported, how slight our connection to our body is, as an entity in space.

The fast is a permanent "one time," because you are disconnected from the physical network of food and exchange of mass and matter that connects all the physical universe. You are a mere ghost, hovering, breathing the air in and out, not partaking, but affecting the world nonetheless with your karmic actions, even with your breathing.

One of the things I appreciate about sitting in meditation is the extent to which meditation allows me to gently notice the frenetic antics of my own mind. Fasting is a little bit like that, too, I think. Pausing from my regular consumption helps me take stock of that consumption and of the ways in which I allow it to control me. Though that's an intellectual exercise; part of what I'm loving about Ali's book is how it opens up his physical, emotional, and spiritual experience of the Ramadan fast. Fasting is such a strange experience: deeply embodied, on the one hand, and on the other hand lifting me out of my body and into a kind of fugue state.

Anyway. I wish a continued Ramadan kareem to my friends who are celebrating. And to those who will be fasting tonight and tomorrow for Tisha b'Av, may your fast be meaningful... and may we Jews and Muslims, perhaps, find connection with one another in our mutual experience of fasting, and may that fast bring all of us closer to God.