The Baha’i Fast falls during the month of Ala–the last month of the Baha’i calendar. During these 19 days, Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
This March will be the third consecutive year that I will not be physically fasting and I think I am finally getting some ideas for how I can still participate. (If you’re unfamiliar with the 19 day Baha’i Fast, Sara wrote a great introduction about it).
There are many reasons to be exempt from fasting whether it’s age, health, performing physical labour, menstruation, travel, pregnancy, or nursing a child (exemptions from the Fast can be found in the synopsis and codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas). At first I really struggled with being exempt. On one hand I was grateful: the fast is not meant to make us ill or malnourished and my baby’s development relied heavily on me eating well. On the other hand, I felt like I was no longer participating in a spiritual marathon. I was on the sidelines. I was so disconnected from the Fast that I offered my Baha’i friends food to eat in the middle of the day (so embarrassing!).
Having a grumbling tummy or parched mouth is an excellent reminder that you are fasting and without those physical cues I felt disconnected. But it’s not all about the food, so this year I’ve made a list of ways to fast when you can eat – some of which I’ve already tried, and some of which I’m looking forward to implementing:
1. Meditate & Deepen
Firstly, I recommend contemplating the sacred scriptures about this unique month whether physically fasting or not: I’ve found that it really helps bring into focus the purpose of this time period. In 2000 the Universal House of Justice released a compilation called The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting (which can be read online in full). Duane Herrmann has also put together a book called Fasting: A Baha’i Handbook. It’s a George Ronald Publication available for purchase from their website. And then there are the special prayers dedicated to the Fast. Whatever writings you choose, studying, reflecting and meditating on holy words will lend meaning to your fast, even without the hunger.
2. Be Creative
When I partook of the Fast physically, my mind and my body slowed down. I was more aware of my surroundings, my environment, the blood rushing through my veins, the rhythm of my breathing, and my spiritual state. Baha’u’llah quoted Ali when He said:
Does thou reckon thyself only a puny form When within thee the universe is folded?
Whether it’s journaling, painting, capturing a subject for a photograph or shaping a bowl out of clay, doing something creative has the same effect of tapping into the universe within. This year I’m going to outline a specific daily project to be completed each day of the Fast to help me turn inwards.
3. Get in Tune with Nature
The Fast is the only period of time that I become aware of the rising and the setting of the sun: it is truly the only time of year that I pay greater attention to the natural rhythm of the planet as opposed to the artificial pattern of my day. This year, I hope to still reconnect with nature by spending more time outside and by taking the time to look around me, to watch, to listen and to smell.
4. Waking Up
I will admit I did not wake at dawn to pray during the last two Fasts. I was too sleep deprived. This year, I will try. And ultimately isn’t that what fasting is about, trying to be better, striving to improve ourselves and better commune with God?
5. Give Up Something
Absence is powerful. While I cannot give up food and water during the day, I can definitely consider sacrificing something my body doesn’t really need — like those nightly cookies I enjoy when my little ones have fallen asleep and the house is quiet. I love food and I love to eat. Physically fasting makes me appreciate food all the more so perhaps sacrificing something sweet will make it taste all the lovelier at Naw Ruz.
6. Involve Others Who Aren’t Fasting
Borrowing an idea from another mother, this year I plan to make my little ones aware of the Fast above and beyond the idea that it involves not eating. I plan to focus on a specific virtue each day, to say some of the prayers for the Fast with them, and count down the days till Naw Ruz together. It is my hope that by involving them in the Fast, they will develop a solid appreciation for it as a spiritual exercise. I’ll be connecting with my children but I’m sure there are others who aren’t fasting who would also appreciate coming together to mark the fast in a unique way.
7. Connect with Others
Fasting is a solitary and introspective experience so in previous years when I was physically fasting, I liked to pick a friend and communicate with them daily. Some times it was as simple as texting them “Happy day 7!” and sometimes it involved a more serious sharing of our thoughts, our reflections and our struggles. I hope to continue doing this even though my fast won’t involve so much discipline and restraint.
8. Cook & Serve Others
When you’re exempt from fasting, cooking is less of a challenge. You can taste as you work and you don’t drool at the sight of every single ingredient. I find that nothing beats breaking the fast with others. I love the reverence of saying prayers together, the cacophony of people serving themselves and piling food on their plates, and the comfortable soft quiet that ensues because everyone is too busy eating to talk. If you plan to cook for others who are fasting, just make sure the meal is ready on time. Trust me on this one.
Cooking for your friends is just one service you can render during the fast. Serving others, like fasting, is a sure fire way of polishing the mirror of our hearts. In the days leading up to the Fast, I’d like to take the time to reflect on ways I can be of service and to evaluate my service to my community.
9. Dream and Scheme
On her website Enable Me to Grow, Chelsea has prepared a booklet called “Dream and Scheme” to help you reflect on the previous year and to prepare goals for the coming 19 months. While her website is directed primarily at mothers, this resource could be useful to anyone.
The Fast is an excellent opportunity for a spiritual tune-up and I’m really hoping I don’t lose out this year. What about you? If you can’t abstain from food and drink, how do you plan to fast?
Footnotes & Citations
Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys, p. 33[↩]
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.