The recurring feast

قَالَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ اللَّهُمَّ رَبَّنَا أَنزِلْ عَلَيْنَا مَآئِدَةً مِّنَ السَّمَاء تَكُونُ لَنَا عِيداً لِّأَوَّلِنَا وَآخِرِنَا وَآيَةً مِّنكَ وَارْزُقْنَا وَأَنتَ خَيْرُ الرَّازِقِينَ

Said Jesus, the son of Mary: “O God, our Sustainer! Send down upon us table [of provisions] from heaven: make it an ever-recurring thing [Eid] for us – for the first and the last of us – and a sign from You. And provide us our sustenance, for Thou art the best of providers!”

The recurrence of provision is a sign from the creator, says Jesus. As someone, a messenger calling to God, that I am asked to follow in the Quran, can I also say what Jesus says? Can I understand reality in the way he, as a human being like me, is made to describe in revelation? Here the messenger is pointing to the recurrence of sustenance as a table from heaven and then seeing it as a sign, is able to say to God, and not to other beings, “YOU are giving me sustenance”. What is the guidance for me in this? What is recurrence a sign to?

What is that returns and returns again? Revelation, through Jesus here, is asking me to think about my daily provisions and how they are given to me? Are they provided once and for all in a single instance or is there recurrence and hence “pairs”. Do i eat once and get satiated for life or is existence in pairs of hunger-food/satiation? Do I wake up rested for life or do I experience the pair work/sleep and the pair sleeping-dead/awake-alive? What would change if it was the case that i slept once and was then rested for life till death? I think what will change is that I would be inclined to think that sleeping is the cause of my restfulness. If I ate once and got full, I would think eating is the cause of fullness. But reality is made in a way that includes recurrence and hence pairs. My eating is made to demonstrate its poverty/ajz and I am made hungry again and again and again and then given fulness again and again and again. This recurrence makes the provisions a sign that BECAUSE the things cannot be the sustainer of what they provide [or else they would simply sustain what they gave me and I would never lose it e.g. satiation with food or rest with sleep etc], I become aware that there is somone who is doing it. And with the recurrence, I realize that this one is showing that He wants to provide and sustain the needs he gives me. He demonstrates this with every recurrence. The provision I get from the One who gives again and again becomes a provision from heaven i.e. from the One who owns and sustains all provision eternally and wants to sustain me eternally. I find the One whose provision and sustenance is better [lasting and unending] in my eyes than if I had taken food/eating itself to be the source of sustenance because the food/eating, as I experience, fail to sustain me even after a few hours.

In the recurrence [eid] I can find the One who sends sustenance from an eternal realm [heaven] and I can, with Jesus, say about whatever I “eat” [whether it is food, rest, love, beauty or whatever else that is “provision” for one or another aspect of my humanity]: O my Lord, send me recurring provisions i.e. make me realize that the provisions I experience in this world are being sent by an eternal source. created things are not, by themselves, provisions. From this eternal source i can expect, like Jesus, that those who have gone ahead and those who come after me, also shall have their provision with this One and no one will be left without sustenance. I need this news of eternal sustenance for all in order to truthfully appreciate the share given to me. Otherwise, I would see my sustenance, of which some others can be deprived, as unjust and selfish and unfair and not something I can be truly grateful about.

In my perspective, if a provision came once and then left and did not recur, it is painful and despairing for me. It is not sustenance but cruelty. There is no excellent provider but a chance provision. In my view, if I read the sign in the recurrence of provision [and relatedly the paired nature of creation/reality] that revelation teaches me how to read [by presenting Jesus as an example of someone who read it], I can find an eternal sustainer and take all I get as a receiving from him [again and again] so that I can know that the One who gives in this way wants to give again and again and without end. He wants me to know that he does not take away something I need without giving it again to me. In this, I can find evidence and confidence that he will not take the life and beauty and love he makes me in need of without giving it to me again. In this I find a sign to eternal existence with my eternal sustainer and provider. This is a great news.

This is the beauty of recurrence and this is why recurrence/eid is worth celebrating in every realization of recurrence.

But most human beings are given over to yearly festivals to make their otherwise lonely and disconnected lives exciting and connected and meaningful. The empty and cringeworthy frenzy of “eid mubarak” that fills the air is a sad affair. Its a cultural/religious festival for many people. It is nothing of the sort for me. Revelation teaches me Eid is a meaningful sign. And I do indeed find much guidance and comfort and cause for celebration, as a human being, when i read this sign and face much pain and despair when I ignore it. I’d rather have news and evidence of eternal provisions from the best of sustainers than settle for Biryani at the local community eid potluck. But if you like Biryani and the feeling of community more than meaning and truth, don’t let this post spoil it for you. Go right ahead! I hope the choice you make to understand ‘Eid’ is worth it for you. For my part, I am going to encourage myself, to the chagrin of so many friends and family and also strangers, that recurrence is truly worthy of celebration and truly blessed/mubarak as a sign, and quite a distraction from the latter and quite pathetic for me as an annual religious festival.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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