TROUTMAN: A Winning Fast


Of all the amazing personal stories on both the men’s and women’s N.C. State basketball teams (D.J. Burns plays three musical instruments, Aziaha James over family tragedy), I’m drawn to the spirituality of Mohamed Diarra. The six-foot-ten-inch forward is a “human energy drink,” according to sports editor Colby Trotter. Last weekend, he played smothering defense, he made baskets both inside and outside, and he grabbed more rebounds than the Easter eggs in all three of my children’s Easter baskets. And Diarra has fueled the Wolfpack’s run to the Final Four by averaging double-digits in points and rebounds while fasting.

As a Muslim during the holy month of Ramadan, Diarra wakes before dawn to eat and drink the only food and water that will last him until sundown. Depending on the time of the tip-off, he has played several games without even a sip of water. One might think he would focus all his energy toward conquering the Blue Devils, but Diarra has larger spiritual pursuits.

Fasting is an ancient spiritual practice common to many religions. The Quran states that fasting teaches self-restraint. The idea is not simply self-denial but that the absence of physical comforts might call one’s attention to the need for spiritual sustenance. As Tariq Ramadan, one of the leading scholars of the Muslim world, stated, “Instead of looking outside of ourselves and counting potential enemies, fasting summons us to turn our glance inward and to take the measure of our greatest challenge: the self, the ego, in our own eyes and as others see us.” This leading Muslim thinker and author is known for publicly condemning the use of the Quran to justify violence.

Back to Diarra: in his article for the North State Journal, Shawn Krest quotes the Wolfpack big man, “I can make it all game (without eating or drinking) if I prepare in my mind.” It is this mental training that makes fasting part of the spiritual playbook of Islam, Judaism, Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, and more. Jesus was said to have fasted 40 days and nights.

This past week, members of my congregation and I fasted with Christians around the world on Good Friday. In addition to recalling the suffering of Christ on the cross, we prayed for the suffering of the million people in Gaza, perhaps as many as half of whom are threatened by starvation. Yes, geopolitical realities are complex. But the simple fact is that people, including children, need food and water. Perhaps a voluntary fast would help more of us to empathize with and have compassion for the involuntary suffering of others. Wouldn’t that be a win?

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church as well as a writer, pizza maker, coffee drinker and student of joy.