It’s 5 am and my alarm goes off. There’s not a hint of daylight in the sky. I blearily plod downstairs to the kitchen and fumble around for a carton of eggs, some frozen veggie sausages, spinach and corn tortillas. As I prepare myself and my wife a gigantic pre-dawn Feast I think grumpily about how I got here.

You see, every March, for nineteen days leading up to the first day of spring, Baha’is around the world begin “The Fast.”

Here’s how it works, it’s really quite simple. You don’t eat or drink while the sun is up.

Like Muslims during Ramadan, most Baha’is get up early and down a bunch of protein, caffeine and complex carbs to get them through at least half the day and then coast through some serious low blood sugar doldrums during a good part of the afternoon. And when the sun sets, look out! Do NOT get between a Baha’i and their cheeseburger when darkness falls! You might lose a hand.

Old Digital ClockSometimes the hours tick away quite slowly and you find yourself obsessively checking the clock, almost willing it to hit 6 pm when you can gorge on smoothies and quesadillas. “The Fast” in the Baha’i Faith is certainly misnamed. It should be called “The Slow” for the way time plods throughout the day.

Why would we do such a silly thing, you might ask? Sounds like torture and it certainly can’t be good for your health.

Turns out, there’s been plenty of research to suggest that fasting may in fact detoxify the body and reduce coronary heart disease. But personally, that’s not why I do it. And, I’m guessing, it’s not why millions of followers of other faiths do it, either.

We’ve all heard about Ramadan (Islam), Yom Kippur (Judaism) and Lent (Christianity) but have you heard of Maha Shivaratri or Chauvihar Upwas or Nyungne? (I hadn’t until I did a recent search. Thanks, Google!) Fasting is a fundamental part of every major world religion.

I don’t know exactly why this is, but I can take some educated guesses.

In all the worlds’ major faiths there is an essential paradox: we are spiritual beings having a human experience through our corporeal bodies. Our reality is dual in nature, and fasting, as an act of physical renunciation, reminds us of our greater reality — the reality of our spirit and our heart.

Baha’is are taught to use this time as a period of self-reflection, prayer and meditation. Abdul-Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, describes it like this:

This material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast“This material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.”

There is something very cleansing and powerful about being in a devotional state as the sun rises. And that state heightens your understanding, as the hours and minutes tick through the day, that you’re abstaining from food because of the love of God and your focus on your spiritual self. With every hunger pang, my inner vision focuses on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

It’s all about purification. My everyday materialness is shed and my vision becomes more fixed on what is important and true in my life.

As difficult as those 19 days can be, my soul is enlivened as I enter the new year of the new spring. (It should be noted that as refreshed as my spirit gets, my breath usually stinks to high heaven with the thick layer of hourly accumulating tongue goo I affectionately call “fast mouth”. Sorry, Office co-workers!)

Deprivation also provides a deeper gratitude for the ordinary. When you do eat and drink at the end of a long day, you savor the taste of your food in a deeply profound way and have a more intense thanks for what you do have. I’ve had many moments of ‘clarity’ about my place in the universe during those weeks of the Fast.

Abdul-Baha, as in most things, describes the spiritual experience with inspiring precision:

“Fasting is the cause of awakening man. The heart becomes tender and the spirituality of man increase.

…O God! As I am fasting from the appetites of the body and not occupied with eating and drinking, even so purify and make holy my heart and life from aught save Thy Love…

So think of me, and all of us Baha’is this March. And, as you watch the sun traverse the sky, know that we’ll all be watching it too, praying and waiting for darkness, and that first magnificent bite of cheeseburger.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

69 Comments

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  • Mar 05, 2017
    You did not credit the art work. That is not in accord with Baha'i teachings.
  • Emily Sheppard
    Mar 05, 2017
    I'm 26 years old and a second- generation Baha'i, but this is only my second Fast (as my family was non-practicing for many years). For me the first two days are the hardest, but eventually it gets easier to ignore the pangs. Plus the growling helpfully stops after a certain point in the day. My mom and younger brother and I get up at 5am to eat some pre-assembled breakfast burritos that are stuffed with eggs, sausage, hash browns, and cheese. We just heat them up and they're ready to go! A burrito each and a glass of orange juice ...keeps us going through the day =)
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  • Mar 01, 2016
    Just so that your readers don't think all Bahá'ís gorge in the mornings before sunrise and the second the sun has set, I eat only fruit in the mornings, and my food intake in the evenings is no greater than usual. I also find that I can go for lengthy periods after the sun has set without worrying about having to have some food. Also, I think many Bahá'ís are very conscious of needing nutritious and healthy food.
    • Ali Irandoost
      Sep 08, 2016
      Hi, I'm a Baha'i from Los Angeles. I'm working on a project that I wanted to ask you for a small help because you are the author of "Her Eternal Crown". Can you please contact me at mystuff12134@gmail.com. I also sent you a Facebook message.
  • Mar 08, 2015
    Baha'i love to you and your beautiful family!! Love Backstrom!!! Great acting and brilliant content....Pray for your on going success..
  • Mar 03, 2015
    Beautifully written except the prayer at the end has mistakes in it - please refer to the Malaysian Prayer book pg 81 for the correct version. O Divine Providence As I am abstaining from bodily desires and not occupied with eating and drinking, even so purify and sanctify my heart from the love of any one save Thyself and shield and protect my soul from corrupt desires and satanic qualities, so that my spirit may commune with the breaths of holiness and fast from the mention of all else besides Thee .
  • Feb 26, 2015
    Expressed beautifully. To attain perfection we can all learn a little bit about self restraint generosity feeding the hungry! Selflessness and praying like God is in our presence while we have pure temples. God loves us. I love God. We love peace. Through wholesome sunlight from om fasting we gain insight and clarity.
  • Marty Flick
    Mar 04, 2014
    It kinda makes me think of the song, "Day By Day" ... when you get grumpy in the morning, it becomes a really good boost! Try it for a week or so ... I, of course, am diabetic. The song works for me, in different ways - but it's cheery, and I come around.
  • Sandi
    Mar 22, 2013
    Maybe it is "Fast" for wishful thinking...hope this day goes by Fast so we can eat and drink!. :)