Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
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.
The Baha’i Fast: Learning to Realise How Much You Have, by ‘Not Having’
Those who know me, know that the period of the Baha’i Fast is my favourite time of year. I find that it is a time to exfoliate myself, to get rid of the husks of nonsense that seem to wrap themselves around me throughout the year. It gives me a chance to remind myself that I have willpower, and that I can strengthen it. Fasting gives us the chance to remind ourselves of our true nature, to reconnect with the world, and with ourselves. You train yourself to be content and come to realise how much you have, by ‘not having’.
This year is going to be a little different for me. Scratch that. Might be a little different from me. Scratch that. A lot different for me. Scratch that. I don’t know what it’s going to be like because I have never been in this position before. At the most basic, during the period of the fast, one does without food and water between sunrise and sunset. This year, during the fast I have to learn to do without my mother – she passed away in June last year.
The period of the fast revolves around family for me, but is inextricably linked to my mother: waking us up in the morning, telling us amazing stories about the history of the Faith while we were sitting eating breakfast, preparing food for hundreds of people when we used to have huge infamous Naw-Ruz parties, saying prayers for and with us, setting up haft seen, buying presents, and my utmost favourite thing – baking hundreds of special Persian rice cookies, which she would only make at Naw-Ruz time, filling the house with the smell of rosewater. Whilst thirst and hunger can be satisfied at the end of a day, this is not the type of “without’ness” which can be ameliorated by sunset.
A little after my mom passed away, a sweet friend of mine told me that this was going to be a new experience and opportunity to develop and practice compassion and empathy for people who were in pain and suffering. I think of this now because I recall that this is also one of the purposes of fasting; for us to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have less than us.
Whilst doing some more reading on fasting I found that Shoghi Effendi says:
Fasting 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.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, January 10, 1936; Lights of Guidance
I am particularly grateful for this time because being quiet, prayerful and meditative have been difficult things to do, but I’m hoping that this period will make it possible. In addition to this, the period of the fast also provides me with an additional opportunity to dedicate this period to my mother.
In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha says that:
The progress of man’s spirit in the divine world, after the severance of its connection with the body of dust, is through the bounty and grace of the Lord alone, or through the intercession and the sincere prayers of other human souls, or through the charities and important good works which are performed in its name.
Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha, p240
I realise that this piece seems quite ominous in light of the joyous time which the period of the fast leads us to – please forgive me for this. I hope you’ll walk away after reading this, remembering that it is through not having that we learn how much we truly have, that we learn contentment, detachment, and reliance on God; that ultimately, everything comes from Him. I hope this time floods you with a sense of gratitude and serenity. I hope that you realise how little you need, how little it can take to make you happy, and that you take every opportunity to filter out things that are unimportant. I hope that you spend time with your family, that you pray with and for them; and that this time brings you the ataraxy to reconnect with yourself and those whom are not with you, whether in this life, or the next. And call your mom.