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Monthly Reflection:  Ala (Loftiness) – On Cleanliness & the Fast

March 1, 2023, in Articles > Baha'i Blog, by

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Hello friends,

I just finished reading a very inspiring book called The Awakened Brain by Dr. Lisa J. Miller. She’s from the Jewish Faith and is a leading psychologist in the field of evidence-based benefits of religion and spirituality. She has conducted scientific research on the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which reveals that people who have a spiritual approach to life have a “structurally healthier” brain and are less prone to depression and anxiety. 1 This means that when we do things with a spiritual outlook, it helps us physically. The opposite is also true: when we change our physical realities, it has an effect on our soul.

The month of the Fast is already upon us (wow does time fly). We know that fasting from food is mostly a symbol of spiritual renewal but I really like the thought of the cleansing effect of the Fast as well. Abdu’l-Baha says that the Fast “leadeth to the cleansing of the soul…” 2 That led me to look up other passages about cleanliness. Here is what I found:

In the Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah counsels us to be “the very essence of cleanliness amongst mankind. This, truly, is what your Lord, the Incomparable, the All-Wise, desireth for you.” 3

In another passage, the Master writes that in every aspect of our lives,

… cleanliness and refinement, exalt the human condition and further the development of man’s inner reality. Even in the physical realm, cleanliness will conduce to spirituality, as the Holy Writings clearly state. And although bodily cleanliness is a physical thing, it hath, nevertheless, a powerful influence on the life of the spirit. 4

This beautiful quote by Shoghi Effendi also talks about refreshing our souls. When something is refreshed, it is cleansed and made wholesome again:

In the very first scientific research about the effects of the Baha’i Fast, Dr. Daniela Koppold reveals its cleansing effects on our bodies.

Deborah Walters is a wise and kind naturopath. I met her at the Greenlake Baha’i Conference where she gave an impressive workshop comparing the Writings of the Faith with the current scientific knowledge on health. She also wrote a very helpful book on the Fast and its effects on the body. In her book, which I highly recommend, she offers many suggestions on how to cleanse our bodies by improving our choice of nourishment and also encourages us to think about our surroundings and how we can improve our access to fresh, clean air.

All these quotes led me to reflect on the many possible ways we might think about cleanliness, including keeping the environment around us clean. I thought this might be my goal this year during the Fast: to focus on cleanliness in my surroundings. After all, cleanliness of mind and spirit is a state of being that can positively impact all aspects of life, so keeping one’s mind and spirit free from negative influences and clutter allows us to have a clearer and more focused perspective on life.

We know from the Most Holy Book that Baha’u’llah enjoins us “to renew the furnishings” in our homes “after the passing of each nineteen years.” 5 I recently experienced the wisdom of this spiritual law when my husband and I stayed in an AirBnb. The online photos looked good but when we walked into the rental, our noses were assaulted by the musty smell of old furniture. It was difficult to enjoy our time in such surroundings and despite the loud noise from the heavy traffic on the road right outside, we had to keep the windows open the entire time. This experience gave new meaning to the principle of renewing our furniture and keeping our surroundings clean. The House of Justice provides such a beautiful example of cleanliness and order at the Baha’i World Centre as the gardens are always immaculate and the buildings are regularly cleaned — and are spotless! Having such order and cleanliness around us can only benefit our soul.

But then there is the issue of effort, and of sustaining that effort and focus for the 19 days of the Fast. So I went looking for writings to give me extra motivation:

These quotes from Baha’u’llah assure us that effort in any endeavour requires our own work and volition: the more we strive, the greater our progress. And this beautiful quote by the House of Justice reminds us that every choice we make leaves a trace and therefore all our endeavours must be lofty.

I would like to close with an uplifting prayer by Abdu’l-Baha about cleansing both our physical and spiritual realities. What will you focus on during this month of Ala?

O God! as my body has become purified and cleansed from physical impurities, in the same way purify and sanctify my spirit from the impurities of the world of nature, which are not worthy of the Threshold of Thy Unity! 6

Footnotes & Citations

  1. Lisa J. Miller. The Awakened Brain p. 9[]
  2. The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting[]
  3. Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 47[]
  4. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 146-147.[]
  5. Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqas, paragraph 151[]
  6. Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, no. 19, p. 91[]
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Lorraine Manifold

Lorraine is a passionate advocate for sacred choral music as well as music education and firmly believes that we can all develop our inner musicianship to our heart’s content. Her favourite activities are conducting choirs, dabbling in writing choral music in English and French, and reading about the science of music. She is trying to write a book about it, but often gets side-tracked into writing shorter articles or making short videos. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Melbourne with her husband, Alan, and together they love doing anything music-related, in addition to dreaming about moving up to Queensland to bask in warmer weather. Lorraine holds a Master’s Degree in Vocal Pedagogy, a Bachelor's Degree (Hons.) in Music and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.
Lorraine Manifold

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