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Four Spiritual Benefits of Fasting: A Personal Reflection

March 2, 2019, in Articles > Holy Days & Baha'i Calendar, by

As Baha’i Blog ends its seventh year, I can’t help but be amazed at the different perspectives with which a diversity of Baha’i Blog writers have approached the 19 day Baha’i Fast. For example, Kamelia wrote about fasting for love, Collis shared some health tips, Chetan wrote about conquering his fear of fasting, Amy shared her experiences fasting while caring for young children, Naysan wrote about what the Fast helps us strengthen, and I wrote about how you can partake and participate in the Fast, even when you’re eating.

Leading up to, and during the Fast, I like to revisit the compilation called The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, and this year, my reading has me thinking about four spiritual benefits of fasting:

1. Empathy for the Poor and Needy

In the compilation there’s a short quotation from Baha’u’llah which says:

All praise be unto God, Who hath revealed the law of obligatory prayer as a reminder to His servants, and enjoined on them the Fast that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute.

On a logical level, this makes complete sense: if we experience hunger, we will better understand those who are hungry. I can’t think of any other Baha’i law or teaching that encourages us to feel, and to empathize, so deeply with the sufferings of another.

When I talk to my six year old about helping those in need, and assisting families who don’t have enough food, I can see that she struggles to understand. It is beyond the realm of her imagination that anyone she goes to school with could be chronically hungry. And even though I know, rationally, that there are people who don’t have enough to eat, my understanding is heightened and elevated when I experience hunger. In The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah counsels us:

O children of dust! Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.

2. Gratitude

After wanting to eat for several hours, and contemplating the suffering of the poor, I can’t help but feel grateful when I experience that first drink of water and mouthful of food when the sun sets because I realize I have the bounty of having food to break my fast. Some people experience a fast that never ends, or live a life not knowing when they will eat again — they don’t have the luxury of eyeing the clock, watching the sun set, and calmly saying their prayers. I now better understand the term “food insecurity”; fasting is momentary hunger, experienced with the security of knowing you will eat. Fasting makes me understand that my fast, in comparison to poverty, is nothing and it makes me grateful for the bounties in my life.

At a banquet held in Washington, DC, Abdu’l-Baha said:

O God! Verily, we have gathered here in the fragrance of Thy love. We have turned to Thy Kingdom. We seek naught save Thee and desire nothing save Thy good pleasure. O God! Let this food be Thy manna from heaven, and grant that this assemblage may be a concourse of Thy supreme ones. May they be the quickening cause of love to humanity and the source of illumination to the human race. May they be the instruments of Thy guidance upon earth. Verily, Thou art powerful. Thou art the Bestower. Thou art the Forgiver, and Thou art the Almighty.1

This is part of a larger talk but I have seen it listed in prayer books under the heading “nourishment” as a prayer that can possibly be said in thanksgiving for a meal.

3. Joy

I’ve been experiencing a mysterious thing: if I summon joy in order to follow any of Baha’u’llah’s laws, my happiness increases! I spent several summers working as a guide at various historic sites and museum exhibits and I learned that if I pretended I was really happy to see people and give them a tour, within minutes, I WAS happy to see them and give them a tour! It’s been my experience that if I can drum up a sense of joy to observe His laws for love of His beauty, then I am all the happier for it.

Baha’u’llah tell us:

These are the days of the Fast. Blessed is the one who through the heat generated by the Fast increaseth his love, and who, with joy and radiance, ariseth to perform worthy deeds. Verily, He guideth whomsoever He willeth to the straight path.2

4. Selflessness

Perhaps what’s struck me most powerfully is re-reading and thinking about this sentence from Baha’u’llah’s Writings:

Verily, I say, fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion.

(If listening to this sentence put to music helps you think about it more deeply and internalize it, Rosalynd and Pascal sing it in this Studio Session.)

What I love about this is that fasting is the “supreme” remedy. It isn’t just a remedy, but it’s the best, the superior, the premier, the foremost, the prime remedy for forgetting your self. Isn’t that amazing?!

When I think about these four qualities put together, selflessness and empathy, joy and gratitude, I begin to view the Fast with a sense of awe and appreciate what an incredible time of year it is.

These are just a few of my thoughts from recently reading about the Fast. What have you been reading? What have you been thinking about and contemplating? We’d love to hear from you!

  1. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace []
  2. The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting []
Posted by

Sonjel Vreeland

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.
Sonjel Vreeland

Discussion 8 Comments

I’ve fasted for nearly 40 years, at the polar opposite end of the Earth to you, I confess I’ve never thought about the four particular spiritual benefits you mention. So thanks for that. Every year fasting, which isn’t actually very physically or mentally difficult, teaches me something totally new about myself and leaves me totally astonished. And, yes, learning to have more “gratitude” and thanks for what we have, including fresh water to drink and simple food on our table, is something we all can benefit from. This year even my so called reasonably affluent household experienced “food insecurity” for the first time so that makes your comments all the more poignant. – Ultimately, fasting, helps refresh and revive our souls for the new year ahead, so we can start it anew with a clean slate. I always feel much younger and more live at the end of it. As such it’s grown to become an annual spiritual journey and a privilege.

Cyndy Pratt

Cyndy Pratt (March 3, 2019 at 12:02 AM)

Thank you so much for sharing, Cyndy! I hope you have a revitalizing and rejuvenating Fast!

Sonjel Vreeland

Sonjel Vreeland (March 3, 2019 at 12:37 AM)

I try to cherish ever hour of these days of Fasting. Meditating, Reflecting on my inner flaws and shortcomings during the past months, and preparing myself also for the coming new year.

Criselda R. Figuerres

Criselda R. Figuerres (March 3, 2019 at 5:23 AM)

Thank you for sharing, Criselda! Happy and joyous fasting!

Sonjel Vreeland

Sonjel Vreeland (March 3, 2019 at 11:05 PM)

A very wise Baha’i told me once that during the Fast each year she chooses a specific spiritual quality to focus on, with the idea that her focus and study will help her develop and put it into practice more consciously in the coming year.

Ann Boyles

Ann Boyles (March 3, 2019 at 12:46 PM)

What a wonderful idea! Thank you so much for sharing that, Ann! I hope you have a fulfilling Fast. 🙂

Sonjel Vreeland

Sonjel Vreeland (March 3, 2019 at 11:06 PM)

Thank you everyone for this chance to hear other people’s input about this beautiful law fasting of our beautiful Faith.
I do love this time of the year I look forward to the fast each time ,for me it is time of reflection and to go deeper in understanding of my inner soul to be great full , each time I reflect why Baha’u’llah gave us this gift is it not for our deeper understanding of the nature of the soul everything in this life and all the virtues that we suppose to follow it is for the life to come not for this earthly life so , with this in mind I love to reflect on the virtues of detachment, hospitality, forbearance , love and respect of other fellow human beings, loftiness . I also love to reserch into the writings of Baha’u’llah and our beloved Guardian about the Baha’i election the role of individual in this mighty Institution .

Fereshteh Bartlett

Fereshteh Bartlett (March 3, 2019 at 3:39 PM)

Thank you so much for sharing, Fereshteh! Wishing you a happy and rejuvenating Fast!

Sonjel Vreeland

Sonjel Vreeland (March 3, 2019 at 11:55 PM)

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