From March 2nd to 20th Baha'is
observe the Fast by refraining from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. It is also a time for increased spiritual reflection and meditation, a sort of Spring cleaning for the soul.
Baha'u'llah writes in one of the prayers for the Fast: Thou hast endowed every hour of these days with a special virtue, inscrutable to all except Thee, Whose knowledge embraceth all created things.
Now that we have completed the first week of the Fast, I thought I would take some time to think about what some of these special virtues might be. During the Fast I learn once again to take pleasure in the simple things of life. A delicious meal and the company of friends is one of the greatest sources of happiness during this time of year. I no longer take for granted the bounty of having a well prepared meal and a full stomach.
During the rest of the year, I usually make a quick variety of simple meals, a veggie burger, a bean burrito, a bowl of rice and beans with greens. But during the Fast I want to make sure I have a nice meal, so I actually pour through my pile of cookbooks once again and spend a little more time in the kitchen. Last week I made some aloo gobi (Indian potatoes and cauliflower), and Cuban rice and beans. This week I'm making Hungarian eggplant, and barbequed tofu with sweet potatoes and greens. Surprisingly, this time of restraint becomes a time for creativity and celebration.
But, I suppose the pleasure one feels at the end of the Fast day is not the whole point. During this time, unlike other times of year, I allow myself to feel genuine hunger. I cannot pretend to know how debilitating poverty and hunger must be, because I know at the end of the day all my needs will be satisfied and there will be plenty to eat. But I can begin to understand at least a little bit what hunger does to vitality, and motivation, and even mood. To add uncertainty on top of that must be devastating. The Fast begins to awaken one's compassion for those who suffer, even though we are only experiencing just a tiny measure of this.
The Fast also helps me to realize that conditions of life are transient. I find that my mood certainly varies depending on the state of my stomach. I also discover that emotions come and go, and that if I simply wait out the times of low energy and vitality that happen around lunchtime, in the afternoon I'll feel differently, and after the evening meal my outlook changes yet again! Isn't that true of our lives as well, a temporary condition can change our entire viewpoint? In the larger scope of our lives Baha'u'llah tells us: Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.
During the Fast I am also profoundly aware of the cycles of nature. These three weeks are a time of great transition. Sunrise is earlier and earlier each day, and the hours of daylight are increasing each day. The reawakening of Spring is beginning.
The Fast also helps us feel a sense of community. We all are partaking of the same experience. Sometimes we have gatherings and dinners in the evening. I even read blogs by fellow Baha'is who speak of their Fasting experience. Amy and Leila over at Nineteen Days
share photographs every evening. Rainn Wilson
has "twittered" about the Fast. And, on a more serious note, word has come from Iran that the Baha'is unjustly imprisoned in Iran
are still managing to observe the Fast.
Most significantly, the Fast is a spiritual time, a time for spending a little more time reflecting and meditating, a time for a renewed emphasis on refining one's character. The Fast is "essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character
." (Shoghi Effendi).
Path leading to the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India. Reprinted with permission of the Bahá’í International Community from Baha'i Media Bank
Tonight our community had a guest speaker followed by a potluck dinner. Dr. Kendal Williams spoke about evolution and the Baha'i Faith, which is a favorite topic of mine. I was especially interested to hear him speak about Charles Darwin, since I have been reading about him lately.
Baha'i teachings state that the potential reality of man was always present in Creation, but the physical form developed through various stages. All of Creation is always evolving, life is never static. The appearance of mankind meant that for the first time, nature could reflect upon itself! Consciousness itself evolves, and society and civilization grow and change and progress through ages and centuries. Naturally, even religion itself evolves. The next phase in our religious evolution must be an acknowledgment of the unity of mankind and the interconnectedness of all peoples.
After this illuminating conversation, the sun had finally set, and we had a wonderful meal and enjoyed each other's companionship. Another Fast day has come to an end.
(p.s. I saw a shooting star on my way home this evening. I made a wish of course!)