Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sabbath Prayer

There's a wonderful scene in "Fiddler On The Roof" where the whole family is running around trying to prepare for shabbos dinner before sundown. Golde, the mother, is hustling her five daughters and their guest, Motel, around while simultaneously trying to corner her husband to tell him the news from Yente the Matchmaker. It's funny and chaotic, until the shofar sounds its haunting melody and the family lines up at the table as the beautiful song "Sabbath Prayer" begins with these lyrics,

May the Lord protect and defend you
May the Lord preserve you from pain
May you come to be in Y'isroel a shining name.

May you be like Ruth and like Esther
May you be deserving of praise
Strengthen them, O Lord,
and keep them from the stranger's ways...

At this point, in most productions I've seen (and in the one I appeared in in 1983), lights come up to reveal dozens of other families in the village in the same tableau, all the mamas simultaneously striking matches to light the shabbos candles and pray over the together as the entire ensemble sings,

May God bless you,
and grant you long lives
(may the Lord fulfill our Sabbath prayers for you)
May God make you good mothers and wives
(May He send you husbands who will care for you)...

And the entire village sings again the refrain, layering the lyrics of blessing over and over, mamas and papas and sons and daughters sharing this simple ritual in what is, to me, one of the most beautiful and magical moments written for the theatre.
(One night during the run of our show, I was getting all choked up as the woman -- an adored and admired older friend -- playing Golde lit the candles. Then I noticed that she was wearing her babushka head covering inside-out, and that you could see a huge piece of masking tape with her real name on it right on the side of her head. Worst case of stage giggles I have ever had.)

So this is the image I have in my mind as we enter into the holy month of Ramadan: Muslim families gathering together at the end of the day to break their fast, to light candles (if they do), and to say ancient blessings over their bread. Or their fig cake:

I had so hoped to find a reading for church this Sunday that would evoke this scene with the kind of beauty and tenderness I remember from that scene in "Fiddler," but I failed to do so. I don't want to overly romanticize a practice that, in reality for most Mulsim families is probably nowhere near as magical -- I imagine in many modern Muslim homes, the television is on in the background, everyone's running around on different schedules, the meal may be some quick bite grabbed at the kitchen counter, and no shared song is sung.

However, for some families breaking their Ramadan fast probably is that magical, is that tender, and is that intentional and full of blessing. And if that's the case anywhere, why not lift it up? Why not celebrate and appreciate it?

Perhaps for Unitarian Universalists and other religious people who believe in fostering goodwill between traditions, we may decide to spend the month of Ramadan acquainting ourselves with Islam and honestly assessing our own assumptions about it. Maybe we too can decide to fast in some important way. Since the Ramadan fast for Muslims is not just a sunrise to sundown abstention from food and drink, but also (I have heard, but I may be wrong) sex and malicious or damaging conversation, perhaps we may decide to join in some aspect of that fast as a means of expressing solidarity with the Islamic community.

And on an entirely different topic, I have decided to start a political movement based on the premise that the United States absolutely cannot declare war on Iran until George Bush learns how to pronounce "nuclear." I think this could have great bi-partisan appeal; what do you think?


Blogger Pastor Peters said...

Dearest Peacebang,

Please remember that "failure" in worship is relative. What you attempted to claim for the gathered probably resonated with someone, or some many. I love your image from Fiddler that you describe. I wish I could have been in one of your crowded pews.

And I'll sign up. But, it will still be divided across partisan lines. It's a near impossibility to avoid these days.

Blogger Khanoum said...

Learning to pronounce "Iran" would also be a good thing. To hear folks in the US talk, a lot of people have just run somewhere.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Thanks, PP. The worship service hasn't happened yet, and I'm sure it won't be a failure. My failure was to find a READING for our worship service that depicted the warmth of breaking the Ramadan fast. I don't intend to use the story from "Fiddler," although I wish I could. But Ramadan is Ramadan. It isn't shabbos. And I want to respect that.

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

Khanoum: Ditto. So, so ditto. An interesting thing is now I'm hearing some reporters pronounce Iran three different ways in one story! Eye-Ran; Ir-Ron, and Eye-Ron. Weird!

Peacebang: I'm not an expert, but I don't know of any specific readings of the type you seem to be seeking. At the beginning of fast for the day, Muslims should declare their intention to fast; at the end of the day, Muslims will say something along the lines of, "Oh Allah, for you I have fasted" and then thank Allah for providing a means to breaking the fast (food). The exact words one uses can vary depending on what you want to say. It can be elaborate or very plain.

Not too many words. Of course, at sunset, Muslims make their sunset prayer and then sit down to eat. So they are already making a prayer.

After eating, later in the evening, there can be more prayers, sometimes lasting for hours.


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