A Jew Walks Into a Mosque

My fast on Friday was a success. If a successful fast is measured by completing the fast without eating or drinking or sexing as per the rules of the fast, then I won!

I have a friend who is currently on day four of a fast that he intends to last a week, one that is much stricter and doesn’t allow for feasting from sundown to sunrise, so my little baby fast was whimpy in comparison to his big- balled-bad-assed-not-for-sissies starvation party.  I think he’s trying to exorcise some emotional demons by way of his colon, and I do wish him great success in his venture.

While my fast wasn’t bad-assed like my friends, ( I promise, this pun was simply given by grace… ) it did teach me a little sumpin-sumpin about me and my relationship with god. My intentions were to meditate for a few hours during the day and write a whole bunch of really brilliant poetry using my hunger and thirst to penetrate the mysteriousness of the universe, thus penetrating the mysteriousness of myself. You see,  I’ve heard tell  that I contain the universe, and so I was hoping to realize this experientially. I figure I’m making more space for the universe to be in me by not filling up with food or drink.  I had high expectations.

My friend Deanna, who was also fasting, and who has been fasting all month for Ramadan, recommended distraction as a way to get through the hours leading up to the big feast at sundown. She sent me YouTube videos explaining the relevance of fasting to Muslims during Ramadan as a way to inspire my starvation, along with a video on how to perform Ablution, the ritual bathing that I was to do before prayers. She recommended watching a movie and taking a nap as a way to get through the hours leading up to 7pm, when she and her husband would pick me up to go to the mosque.

But, I didn’t want to be distracted, I wanted to be penetrated!

As my dear old dad used to say.”want in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets full first.” I’m not actually sure what this means, but it does sound profound, no?

Here’s what happened on Friday:

I woke up at four thirty —  before the sun — and drank coffee and water. I walked the dogs around the neighborhood and then exhausted Zeb by tossing his Air Kong over and over and over and over again for him in the backyard until he collapsed into a fuzzy pile of panting and contentment. I sat in meditation for thirty minutes in the morning, did a yin yoga practice at home, wrote a blog post explaining my intentions for the day, busted out some incoherent prose via my writing practice, and then read from yet another wickedly brilliant memoir while floating on a raft in the pool.

I became obsessed with the time. I became obsessed with the wasting of time. I didn’t dare go to the gym, because this would make me sweat, which would lead to burning calories, which would lead to hunger and thirst, which would lead to suffering. Even going to a yoga class was out of the question, because this too would lead to the burning of calories, which would lead to — yes — that’s right — suffering!

So after my floating, I retired to my bed for a nap. My meditation cushion didn’t call me, nor did my notebook, I felt lost without my rituals and routines. I realize that eating and exercise of some sort take up a large part of my life force,  and without these stress-busters, I  am full of what feels like free-floating anxiety.

A part of me felt like I was failing the fast.  By noon, I just wanted to go away until it was time to eat. Then grace came a callin’ and I decided to let myself fail, at least as far as my expectations for my day were concerned. I didn’t eat or drink anything, but I did  think about it. I considered calling Deanna, and exposing my weakness by cancelling.  In my fantasy, I would drive to Spinato’s and make out with a Mama Spinato’s signature pizza, all crispy crusty,  garlicky, spinachy, feta-cheesy, yummy.

But I didn’t.

Confessions: I sucked on two peppermint lifesavers and I chewed 12 pieces of Bach’s Rescue Remedy gum while watching 3 episodes of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. I chewed 3 pieces of Bach gum at a time until the orange taste was gone, and then as if someone else was in charge of my hand, I found 3 new pieces of sweetness being deposited into my mouth after this same hand belonging to ?, took out the now good for nothing wad of white rubberiness and dropped it on my nightstand.  Maybe I was high on the helianthemum nummularium and the ornithogalum umbbellatum, but I couldn’t stop chewing , I think it saved my life.  Anxiety was the most prevalent emotion I was aware of, and this gum advertises stress relief, so there you have it.  I don’t know if I was cheating, I didn’t ask, I didn’t want to know.

I was realizing something of myself, though maybe not what I had intended. I was realizing again, that letting go felt a lot better than struggling when my reality doesn’t match my expectations. Even when my expectations are to know god, who am I to say how god should show up? I just let myself melt into a pile of human weakness, while still holding on to what felt like a natural part of my intention: No food or drink or sex? No problem.

I felt better. Maybe it was the gum?

I performed my Ablution as You Tube advised, dressed in clothes that were fit “to go see your grandmother.” as Deanna suggested, “No skin = no legs, no cleavage, and cover arms to the elbows.” She brought me a scarf to wear on my head while in the mosque and gave me a pre-prayer tutorial during our drive.

I was feeling tired and weak and not really up for an intense evening of explaining what a nice Jew-ish girl like me was doing in a place like this, and luckily the questions that came to me were light and not laced with anything other than simple curiosity.

I sat with Deanna at a table marked “Sisters” on one table tent, and “Ladies” on another. We questioned the difference between a sister and a lady, and Deanna supposed that a sister was a Muslim, and a lady was a non-Muslim friend.

We sat and chatted with Deanna’s sisters,  when one of them, an older sister came over and schooled me on becoming a Muslim. I think she was under the impression that I was looking to convert. She told me in a very thick accent that my decision should be based upon my relationship with Allah, not on my relationship with the members of the community. She told me that the religion was good, but not all people were good, and I should keep this in mind. She told me how many times Jesus was mentioned in the Koran ( nineteen? ) compared to their prophet, who is mentioned much less ( ?). She was trying to show me how similar Judaism and Christianity were to Islam. She wore her white scarf tight around her head, her dark brown eyes big and serious, her lashes perfectly spaced and mascara-ed behind her tortoise-shell rimmed glasses. She was all business, but she was kind hearted. I shook my loose-scarf-donned head and listened while looking her square in the eyes. I did my best to grok her meaning without injecting my own.

Yes. My relationship with god is the most important relationship I have. Agreed.

At sundown we were treated to dates and bottled water before being called to prayer. To say that the date tasted good is too light a statement. It was spectacular, a sugar bomb going off in my mouth, and I could feel the water make its way from my mouth all the way to my belly, a river of coolness running through my center. Before I had a chance to eat another date, a man sang a song that was a call to prayer, and so off we went to the prayer space. Shoulder to shoulder we ladies and sisters stood, and out of the corner of my eye, I watched Deanna’s  body and hand gestures, and copied them as she suggested. I loved the bowing. Bending down and bringing your forehead to the floor, a Muslim child’s pose.

After a few bows and dips, we headed to the food line where there awaited us a middle eastern feast. I filled my plate with hummus and some yogurt dip, a garlicky mayonnaise, flat bread, salad, rice, and three kinds of meat. One of them gyro, one of them chicken, the other a meat of some animal whose flesh I enjoyed, but whose name I knew not, and it didn’t even occur to me to ask. I felt good after the prayer, infused with energy and good vibrations. maybe it was the sugar from the date, maybe my cells were happily celebrating hydration, maybe it was the collective intention of the group to simply be good that got my own good stuff going. I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know…

I don’t have to fast or pray or meditate or wash in a certain way or do yoga or anything at all to know god. I know this in my marrow. I don’t have to claim allegiance with this god or that god, I don’t have to cover my head, bow when I walk through a door, or even say “god bless you,” when someone sneezes to know god.  It seems to me that these are  practices and rituals that remind us of who we already are, and until we realize without a doubt the truth of our identity, then maybe we continue to do these things to remind us.

Or not.

The trouble comes when we believe that our way is the only way. Our way is THE way, the best way,  and all other ways are a straight way to hell, or whatever other bullshit ideas have been planted in fertile fearful psyches in the name of god. There is no difference between you and me — them and us. Perhaps just god dressed up in different costumes and showing off — trying to remember and constantly forgetting. I see that everything is already HERE, there is no need to look this-a-way and that-away…away-away…to be penetrated, because I am simultaneously that which penetrates and that which is being penetrated. And so are you.

At least that’s how I see it from over here. My thirteen hour fast on Friday made this crystal clear in a way I haven’t quite experienced before.

I love paradox, don’t you?

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