Recently, my family and I were decorating the kids’ rooms with framed quotes from Albus Dumbledore. Among them were, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” and “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” What struck me about these particular quotes is that they, along with multiple other Albus Dumbledore classics, are articulated in the midst of conversation. They are the types of comments that, in real life, are not part of planned speeches or contrived messages. They emerge from the spirit of the moment. They respond to particular needs of the dialogue. They are a dynamic form of wisdom.
I think many of us have experienced these types of wisdom moments first hand. One of the most memorable to me occurred after a fast day, the same fast day which this year takes place this Sunday. Several years ago, the Jewish fast of the 17th of Tammuz took place during the Muslim month of Ramadan. In our town, the local faith communities decided to have a communal break-fast at the nearby Islamic center. The evening was filled with prayer and thoughtful remarks, and then came the break-fast itself. With singular focus I quickly found food and ate, passing up the chance for conversation a few times for the sake of getting to what felt like my well deserved plate. After eating a bit, I saw a friend in the distance and made my way over to speak with him. Something had happened that week that I wanted to share with him and so, we exchanged pleasantries and I launched into my story. At some point it occurred to me that he had not eaten yet and so I paused and said, “I realize you haven’t eaten yet, please grab a plate then we’ll continue”. He insisted I continue, to which I said, “we’ve been fasting all day, you should really eat”. Then it came. My companion remarked, “Indeed, we’ve been fasting all day, so what’s a few more minutes to hear the end of a great story my friend?”
Fasting as a spiritual practice is about a lot of things. Especially, it is about realigning ourselves to the needs of others. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “…this is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin” (58:6-7). The 17th of Tammuz and the major fast following three weeks later, the 9th of Av, mark the demise of ancient Jerusalem and ultimately the Temple. In other words, what happens when we fail to be responsive to our obligation to care for others as described in Isaiah. These are ideas that I had heard in speeches, studied and taught about. I try to live out these values throughout the year. However, it was in that simple moment of conversation in which someone expressed their sincere willingness to delay their own eating so I could finish telling a story that was important to me, that I started to realize the mindset the fast is seeking to create. Since then, I’ve strived to end each fast day with checking in with someone to see how they are, helping a family with kids get loaded up in their car to head home from synagogue, or setting aside food for donation, before breaking my fast. There is still much I can do to grow in this practice but thanks to that conversation, I feel like I at least know which direction to head in.
Albus Dumbledore was wise to spend time in conversation with his students and not try to make speeches about everything. Similarly, Harry and his friends were wise to recognize that conversations are great stages to learn things. Each day we can keep our ears open for “Albus Dumbledore conversations” and who knows? Perhaps there is much more wisdom waiting for us than we realize and simple exchanges that hold the growth moments we’ve been needing.