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Sharing faith, blessings of spiritual communities

By Reverend Jan Chase, Minister of Unity of Pomona: an Interfaith Community

 

As the minister of Unity Church of Pomona, I find great joy in playing in the fields of the Lord. By that, I mean I love connecting with and learning from my brothers and sisters from different religious traditions.

By engaging with those of different faiths, my understanding of the Divine broadens as my own faith deepens. In the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Muslims purify themselves for 30 days as they celebrate the beginning of the divine revelations given to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, which over the course of 23 years became the Qur’an.

Since the Islamic calendar is Lunar, their months and holy days rotate through our solar Gregorian calendar. This year Ramadan days here are long and hot from June 6 to July 5.

During Ramadan I find myself going to a number of mosques for their Iftar dinners, where they break their daily sunup-to-sunset fast. You may wonder why I do this, aside from the good food that is served. All I can say is that I am drawn into this religious community at this time of year because I feel I have things to learn from them.

It is not just the warm reception that I usually receive. It is not just the new friends that I make there. It is not even just watching a seemingly harmonious community work together to accomplish putting on this great meal, in spite of being both hungry and thirsty. There is a sense of community working together and supporting each other through this self-imposed adversity.

We all need to know that others believe we can overcome our challenges and are there for us.

That is a blessing of any spiritual community. But there is more. They have trained themselves to discipline their minds and their bodies to fast all day from food and water, smoking, sex and even negative thinking. How, I wonder, can they do this, when I have trouble training myself to stay away from sweets for even a day and when our whole culture seems to give into self-gratification so easily. Self-discipline is certainly one thing they model that I want to learn. But there is more.

As they move through their days, they feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Instead of it indexing to self-pity, it reminds them of the many people in the world that will not be able to break their fast at sunset because they have no food. Their hearts open with compassion and many give the money they would have spent on food, had they not been fasting, to the poor and the hungry. This change in routine seems to connect people to each other, to not only their own community or to those they invite to join them, but to those in the world who suffer from poverty and hunger.

But there is still more to learn from Muslims at Ramadan. They are cheerful and hospitable, welcoming in strangers. Imagine, if you will, cheerfully welcoming in strangers, who have been eating all day, to share the food you have been cooking but not eating all day! There is something at the bottom of this that I want, but it is subtle. I think it is about faith, about loving the Divine. Could these acts of fasting actually deepen one’s consciousness of God? Mahatma Gandhi said, “The light of the world will illuminate within you when you fast and purify yourself.”

From my Christian tradition, Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Muslims read or listen to their entire holy book, the Qur’an, during the month of Ramadan. This becomes the food for their bodies and their souls. Then during the last 10 days of this holy month many Muslims stay at their mosques for additional prayers after the Iftar Dinner and prayers. ?Many stay all night long. How do they do these seeming impossible acts? Rumi answers my questions with a poem.

“There’s a hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.

We are lutes, no more, no less.

If the sound box is stuffed full of anything, no music.

If the brain and the belly are burning clean with fasting,

every moment a new song comes out of the fire.

The fog clears, and a new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you….”

 

I invite you to learn from these amazing people for yourself. I am sure they will welcome you into their midst during Ramadan or at any time.

 

Rev. Jan Chase has been the minister of Unity Church of Pomona since 2003 and is a recent graduate of Claremont School of Theology, where she studied many religious traditions

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