Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Customs of Compassion

During my growing-up years in culturally Christian and very white Ontario I had absolutely no awareness of the religious customs of others religions, not even Judaism. We now live in a pluralistic society with many different religious expressions and while I can't claim to know the practices of these other traditions well, they intrigue me.

Muslims around the world entered into Ramadan on Monday and this observance extends through the entire month of August. It is a time of fasting, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is an opportunity for reflection and self-examination, as well as giving up food during daylight hours. It sounds a little like the traditional Christian Lent to me.

I heard a Muslim leader interviewed on Toronto radio a couple of days ago and he mentioned that Ramadan also encourages concern and suport for the less fortunate as part of self-denial. This year his community, which usually raises $100,000 to $150,000 for others during the month will focus on those affected by the famine in Africa. Of course many of those suffering are Muslims.

I appreciate that this current humanitarian concern is incorporated into a traditional observance. Seldom am I really required to "give 'til in hurts" but when I make a choice for compassion it moves me away from self-absorption into empathy for others. I am motivated by my Christian faith and the call to follow Jesus. Whether it is Lent for Christians or a conscious choice to respond to situations in the moment, a degree of self-denial is important and necessary for spiritual health.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Laura said...

Was just doing some work today on our upcoming vacation bible camp, and one day of the camp covers the festivals of Leviticus, many of which include sacrifice as part of the tradition. The theme for that day goes on to remind campers that God is happy when we give with a smile, and that we need to give to others the things we want for ourselves as well(thus sacrifice)and not just the things that are easy to give away, like old toys or clothes that we have outgrown. The theme doesn't use "give til it hurts" but does encourage kids to shake up their lives in ways that move them towards God's way, which maybe is just a kid friendly way of saying the same thing.
I am inspired by a group raising $150000 in one month. Most certainly donors have had to do without something because of their generosity. Faith in action and deep commitment come to mind.