Every year during March Baha’is observe a 19 day Fast. According to Abdu’l-Baha, fasting symbolizes detachment from earthly things. It is my understanding that fasting is a time for aligning our inner compass with God’s will and getting a grip on our lower nature.
Physical fasting is a symbol of that abstinence, and is a reminder; that is, just as a person abstains from physical appetites, he is to abstain from self-appetites and self-desires.1
It seems like the Fast is a perfect time to challenge our insistent self, set some goals and start a journey towards a destination. So why not dedicate the period of Fast for a specific purpose?
How can we use the Fast for reaching a certain aim? My experience is that abstaining from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset frees up more time for prayer and meditation. The time dedicated for self-reflection creates a perfect setting for us to focus on higher aims. Gradually we can start seeing more sharply where we’re headed.
Baha’u’llah makes it clear in the Questions and Answers section of The Kitab-i-Aqdas that the Fast is a unique time for committing to a certain cause and for setting goals. According to Him, our actions should be directed to what will not only benefit us, but humanity as a whole:
Should someone pledge himself, however, to offer up a fast to God, seeking in this way the fulfilment of a wish, or to realize some other aim, this is permissible, now as heretofore. Howbeit, it is God’s wish, exalted be His glory, that vows and pledges be directed to such objectives as will profit mankind.2
Every Hour of These Days
The Fast is not like any other 19 days. I believe it’s an enchanting time filled with God’s special grace and bounty. Although Baha’u’llah has permitted fasting outside of the actual month of Ala it seems that the month of the Fast is extremely unique, even mysterious.
These are, O my God, the days whereon Thou didst enjoin Thy servants to observe the Fast. With it Thou didst adorn the preamble of the Book of Thy Laws revealed unto Thy creatures, and didst deck forth the Repositories of Thy commandments in the sight of all who are in Thy heaven and all who are on Thy earth. Thou hast endowed every hour of these days with a special virtue, inscrutable to all except Thee, Whose knowledge embraceth all created things. Thou hast, also, assigned unto every soul a portion of this virtue in accordance with the Tablet of Thy decree and the Scriptures of Thine irrevocable judgment. Every leaf of these Books and Scriptures Thou hast, moreover, alloted to each one of the peoples and kindreds of the earth.3
The above quotation suggests that we are called to display a certain virtue, a good quality, every hour, perhaps even every moment of the Fast. God tests us throughout our lifetime, but could it be that during the Fast He gives us an extra challenge? I believe that the trials that are sent to us by God, the perfect designer, are an ideal way of utilizing the Fast and being active in self-development.
The various situations we encounter during the Fast come to us on purpose, so that we learn from them and advance towards our dedicated goal. How do we do that in practice?
Receiving One’s Portion
One of the ways we can work towards our goals is to turn towards God. The Almighty helps us to navigate through our circumstances. He has gifted every soul with a portion of the virtue needed in each situation. All we need to do is to tap into God’s fountain of abundance and drink our portion from it. Baha’u’llah says:
The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure.4
Arriving at the Destination
According to Baha’u’llah, the Fast releases love and heat. I understand these divine elements as spiritual powers and energies that fuel us in our path.
Praised be Thou, O my God, that Thou hast ordained Naw-Ruz as a festival unto those who have observed the fast for love of Thee and abstained from all that is abhorrent unto Thee. Grant, O my Lord, that the fire of Thy love and the heat produced by the fast enjoined by Thee may inflame them in Thy Cause, and make them to be occupied with Thy praise and with remembrance of Thee.5
When the Baha’i Fast ends, the New Year begins, starting with Naw Ruz celebrations. Seeing the end in the beginning keeps us focused on our dedicated pledge. Towards the end of the Fast we often want to know if we reached our goal. We might also wonder if our Fast was accepted.
Since Thou hast adorned them, O my Lord, with the ornament of the fast prescribed by Thee, do Thou adorn them also with the ornament of Thine acceptance, through Thy grace and bountiful favor. For the doings of men are all dependent upon Thy good pleasure, and are conditioned by Thy behest. Shouldst Thou regard him who hath broken the fast as one who hath observed it, such a man would be reckoned among them who from eternity had been keeping the fast. And shouldst Thou decree that he who hath observed the fast hath broken it, that person would be numbered with such as have caused the Robe of Thy Revelation to be stained with dust, and been far removed from the crystal waters of this living Fountain.6
In my opinion reaching a certain end result shouldn’t be our sole aim in setting goals for the Fast, or anything in life. The journey itself will teach us. Abdu’l-Baha assures us that fasting is the cause of the awakening of man. Our spirituality and love increase, and we enhance our ability to show kindness and compassion:
This is produced by the fact that man’s thoughts will be confined to the commemoration of God, and through this awakening and stimulation surely ideal advancements follow.7
- Abdu’l-Baha quoted by Miss E. S. Stevens in Fortnightly Review, June 1911 in Baha’u’llah and the New Era by J. E. Esslemont, US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition, p.184 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, 1992 edition, p.128 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1987 pocket-size edition, p. 143 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition, p. 8 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Baha’u’llah, the Bab, and Abdu’l-Baha, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1991 edition, p. 262 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Baha’u’llah, the Bab, and Abdu’l-Baha, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1991 edition, pp. 262-263 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, cited in Star of the West, vol. 3, p. 305 [↩]