By SAM HODGES
UMR Managing Editor
Muslims all over the world observed the holy month of Ramadan, which ended in mid- August, by going without food or drink from sunup to sundown.
And fasting right along with them was the Rev. Wes Magruder, associate pastor of First UMC Rowlett.
He found the regimen spiritually renewing, but also challenging.
Dr. Magruder, 45, shared his experiences through his blog, newmethofesto.com. He began his first Ramadan entry, on July 20, this way:
“I woke up at 4:20 a.m., ate four hard-boiled eggs and a blueberry bagel, swallowed down a cup of coffee, and sat down to pray. And I haven’t eaten or had a drink since. The clock reads 6:26 p.m., and I still have over two hours to go.”
The first-person account of a United Methodist pastor observing Ramadan caught the attention of Muslims globally. The proof was higher traffic for Dr. Magruder’s blog (jumping from the normal 200 hits per post to more than 5,000), and scores of comments.
One reader wrote: “As a Muslim in London, fasting for 18 hours is not easy but is my way of expressing love for God, and to have a Christian minister not only understand but stand in solidarity with us makes me proud to be a human being.”
Dr. Magruder is a former missionary to Cameroon and uses the pulpit and his blog to offer strong views on UMC matters and the demands of Christian faith. He is, among other things, a committed pacifist.
“First Rowlett UMC has deep love and respect for Wes,” said the Rev. Jan Davis, senior pastor. “He is sincere in his teaching and preaching, and endeavors to live out the gospel. However, I will admit that he frequently ruffles people’s feathers and occasionally those concerns are brought to me.”
Dr. Magruder decided to observe Ramadan while attending the dedication of a community center at the Islamic Association of Collin County. He had two reasons:
First, he felt a need for spiritual renewal, particularly after a season of United Methodist political turmoil, and believed the discipline of Ramadan would help give him that. Second, he wanted to show support for Muslims he’s come to know in North Texas.
“At the core of my faith is the command to love my neighbor,” Dr. Magruder said. “I believe I’m trying to love my Muslim neighbor. . . . I just see this as a very basic living out of what I’m supposed to do as a Christian.”
Dr. Magruder, whose ministry includes working with Muslim refugees in North Texas, used his blog to describe what it was like to forgo food and drink during daylight, day after day.
On day six, July 25, he wrote: “My throat and mouth are on the verge of being cotton-mouth dry all the time, and there is a dryness inside my head that stretches from the back of my throat straight up into the middle of my head. And that dryness makes a very soft, gentle buzzy feeling, of which I am always aware.”
He said the buzz kept him aware of God and the need for prayer. Fasting seemed to sharpen his senses and deepened his gratitude, especially when the sun went down and he could eat again.
In the same entry, he wrote about his wife, Leah, grilling burgers one night: “But it tasted like manna from heaven. Every bite was unforgettable. Meanwhile, I sipped a glass of water, which tasted as sweet as if it had come from a spring in the Rockies. I even groaned in pleasure as I ate and drank, prompting Leah to roll her eyes at me.”
Dr. Magruder’s entries are often just that personal. (And whimsical. In one, he noted that he stopped raiding jellybeans from the children’s ministry office at First UMC Rowlett.) But he balances them with theological reflections.
For example, he noted that observing Ramadan helped him understand Psalm 70 better, particularly the line, “I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God!”
Dr. Magruder turned to Imam Yaseen Shaikh, leader of the Islamic Association of Collin County, for practical advice about Ramadan.
They met after a Florida pastor was in the news for threatening to burn the Quran. Dr. Magruder wrote Imam Shaikh, whom he did not know, a letter of support. Imam Shaikh invited Dr. Magruder to visit the association’s Plano mosque. Dr. Magruder did, and they became friends.
From Imam Shaikh and others, Dr. Magruder learned to drink plenty of water in the non-fasting hours and to break the fast with a modest, not a supersized, meal.
And the imam emerged as a character in the blog posts.
Imam Shaikh arranged invitations for Dr. Magruder to join local Muslim groups for the breaking of the fast some evenings, and joined him as a guest on Think, a Dallas public radio program, to discuss Ramadan. Through social media, Imam Shaikh spread the word of Dr. Magruder’s blog.
“The [Muslim] community is very happy and proud of the reverend for taking this big step to build bridges,” Imam Shaikh said. While Imam Shaikh has introduced many to Dr. Magruder’s blog, the big breakthrough came when it got picked up by the Huffington Post Ramadan blog. Traffic soared.
“I’m getting a lot of hits from Indonesia, Malaysia, all over,” Dr. Magruder said.