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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.

Sometimes 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-ig“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.

63 Comments

Post

  1. Parvaneh Rowshan
    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..

  2. Feri Fereshteh
    Mar 02, 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 .

  3. Stephanie Wilson
    Feb 25, 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.

  4. Marty Flick
    Mar 03, 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.

  5. Sandi
    Mar 22, 2013

    Maybe it is “Fast” for wishful thinking…hope this day goes by Fast so we can eat and drink!. :)

  6. Anna Smithwick
    Mar 17, 2013

    Enjoyed the humor in the article. After 47 years of Fasting we have finally figured it out. We have tried only drinking water, breakfast drinks. Oatmeal worked well for years. But here it is our last year of Fasting and we find egg whites the best. Night before I cut up onions and some breakfast meat. Zip them up in a plastic bag with a carton of egg white. In the morning it takes 5 minutes to make an omelette. It has been the easiest Fast. Maybe it is because we realize with great sadness that next year we will have both reached the age when we will no longer be Fasting. But, it is the prayers and the spiritual significance that are the most important.

  7. holyfarmer
    Mar 15, 2013

    There are those days when you sleep through the alarm and you have a couple minutes to pound some water. It was on those days that I had the most energy during the fast, so now all I do is wake up (to the alarm) and make a cup of peppermint tea and drink water. Not only do I have more energy during the day but I feel sharp and clear. The body in its fasting mode is not creating new cells but rather repairing the old so instead of waking up and throwing a wrench in the system and get the crew in my stomach to start their shift I leave them to have some down time and only eat for a period of 5-6 hours after sundown. Processing food, especially protein is energy and water intensive.

    Try not eating. See how it works.

    And Cheeseburgers? Uh, no. Not only is it a little offensive to think of eating fast food during the fast, Bahai’s should think about eating less meat, especially during the fast. There is no spirituality in the meat industry and certainly no benefits by supporting it.

    Also, a pertinent quote by Rumi.

    There’s a hidden sweetness
    in the stomach’s emptiness.
    We are lutes, no more, no less.
    If the sound box is stuffed
    full of anything, no music.
    If the brain and the belly
    are burning clean with fasting,
    every moment a new song
    comes out of the fire.
    The fog clears, and a new
    energy makes you run up the
    steps in front of you.
    Be emptier and cry like
    reed instruments cry.
    Emptier, write secrets with
    the reed pen…
    -Rumi

  8. Faith Phoenix
    Mar 14, 2013

    Great aticle! I read in some Islamic book that Allah enjoys the breath of one who is fasting.

  9. Ken Roy
    Mar 13, 2013

    This article is making its rounds around the world…….Congratulations.

  10. Mary
    Mar 10, 2013

    Rainn, did you do the painting at the top of this piece? Love it!

  11. Charles
    Mar 10, 2013

    I have come to think of the slight discomfort of mild hunger and thirst as a little friend that walks beside me during the fast, tugging at my sleeve to remind me to keep my thoughts fixed on my spiritual attitudes and behaviour so I might make the appropriate adjustments.
    Each year my wife and I use this same “mechanism” to add aspects of environmental fasting – taking note of our power and water consumption, reducing unnecessary packaging and waste, eating foods produced as locally as practical and using public transport where we can.
    We start the day with watermelon alone which, though hard to imagine, keeps us going though the day, and we embrace the fast with purposeful intent and joy at the opportunity to refresh and brighten our spirits.

    It’s one thing to say you know how to dance, then sit at the side of the room, but an entirely different thing to get up and do it. Woohoo!

  12. Andre Gariani - Brazil
    Mar 06, 2013

    Great writing. Clear words. First time reading this blog and I found it AMAZING. RAINN, keep the good work while we do the advertisement ! The more hearts we touch, closer to the world peace we will be.

  13. Bobette
    Mar 06, 2013

    Dear Rainn – What a relief to feel another view point of this difficult yet intensely potent period where every hour is endowed with spiritual power. Yesterday morning it occurred to me as long as i was going to do this i should dedicate this personal fast journey to a cause or goal. it really helps me through the day.

  14. Kay Miller
    Mar 05, 2013

    I recently formalised my commitment to the faith and this is my first slow Fast. It seemed an auspicious way to continue now I am ‘over the threshold’, after several years of informal reading and study groups.
    Thank you for the reminder that my focus should be on spiritual matters as I find it is anything but. In fact I am doing less prayer and reflection than I usually do. I am busy ‘getting things done’ to distract myself. My stomach does not like a big breakfast at 6am but it is adjusting. I am managing the headache and mid-afternoon sigh for food. I love it that you have written such fun and enlightening piece. Thank you from a fellow Faster.

  15. Huti W
    Mar 05, 2013

    Hello Rainn from New Zealand, we are thinking of you all at this time all of our Bahai brethren around the world.

    I can only drink two glasses of water and eat fruit for breakfast or it becomes too heavy to carry all that food around and makes it harder, then by afternoon I get a little tired but it becomes a real joy and I can feel the love is how I can describe it.

  16. J.R. Fibonacci
    Mar 05, 2013

    Note that carbohydrates do not provide the high efficiency or lasting energy that is available only from high quality fats. Think of bears hibernating. They go months without eating any carbs, right? Cows eat grass but then actually make the grass in to… Fat! For sustained energy while fasting, rather than spikes of blood sugar, add high quality fat- which often results in weight loss because the body stops being in a mini-panic mode and converting carbs to fat and then being stingy with the fat reserves because of a hormonal instruction to “prepare for hibernation and conserve fat and burn only carbs.” (Does that explain why so many weight loss diets go against the innate divine intelligence of the body?) why burn fiber (like a candle) when you can burn oil (like a lamp)? Google “lchf eenfeldt” or go to http://www.dietdoctor.Com

  17. Janice Lever
    Mar 05, 2013

    I am a Baha’i (or try to be)for 51 years. That makes me 76 years old. Since Baha’is 70 years and older are not bound by the Fast, I do a modified one–the usual breakfast and water at normal lunchtime. I have to admit that at age 70, after having observed the Fast for 45 years, I found it comfortingly easy to let it go for a modified version. My body was telling me that the Baha’i injunction to forswear was on the mark! Perhaps it’s the “spirit” of the Fast that is so precious, and that can remain for us oldsters.

    How I enjoyed reading all the shared views (above). May all of us believers, from all Faiths, rejoice together!

    • Valerie Smith
      Mar 05, 2013

      Nice to see your name pop up on my screen, Janice Lever! Greetings from Valerie in CT (formerly Chicago).

    • Marty Flick
      Mar 03, 2014

      I’m only 66, Janice – Signed my card in June of ’71. THANKS for making me feel younger!!

  18. Mary G.
    Mar 05, 2013

    Actually, my family found that the most relaxing way to break the fast was to gather as a family, have a TALL glass of water and a light snack of nuts and fruit at sunset, followed by tea/coffee, THEN we prepared dinner together. It was lovely!

  19. Person
    Mar 05, 2013

    “And as the sun and moon constitute the brightest and most prominent luminaries in the heavens, similarly in the heaven of the religion of God two shining orbs have been ordained—fasting and prayer.” (Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan)

  20. Chad Vieth
    Mar 05, 2013

    I have a question though, what about diabetics? How can they cope with the fast?

    • Mary Aune - Brazil
      Mar 05, 2013

      People with health conditions, expectant mothers or those with small babies, people who work under hard conditions and the elderly are some of those who are exempted from fasting, according to Bahá’í law. :)

  21. Savva Amusin
    Mar 05, 2013

    As I got up this morning at almost 5am, sleepy and tired, and started making my own egg and sausage and waffle…it was wonderful to see this post and realize that I am sharing this experience with beautiful souls all across the world. Thank you!

  22. There is e new, official version of the prayer from Star of the West that you quote:

    O Divine Provider! 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 anyone save Thyself and shied 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.
    “Abdu’l-Bahá.

  23. Mar 04, 2013

    I am approaching my 38th year as a Baha’i and I have so many wonderful memories of pre-dawn breakfasts with my 3 children. I would wake up early and make the most decadent food (waffles with strawberries and whip cream etc.)and we had such a great time and then we would recite the Fasting prayer together.
    Now that I’m getting older and have health issues I still participate the best I can. I still wake up before dawn, eat, pray and then during the day I eat just what is necessary to keep my blood sugar in tact and then nothing til sunset. I also can’t go without water (bladder issues) The fun of growing older. haha. It makes me feel like I’m still part of the Fast.

  24. Am
    Mar 04, 2013

    When I was 15 the physical side of the fast was a challenge. These days however (after 25 fasts) I find the bigger challenge is to allot proper time and importance to prayer and reading. the physical side is no challenge I even work out MORE than usual.

    I have always assiciated the Fast with joy. It is a joyous time when you can set aside things of this world and dedicate time to God. When the whole family makes time every morning and evening for prayers together. For me the Fast is the Baha’i Christmas, and every night is a celebration of spiritual success.

    Ps. A solution to “fast mouth” is to use mouthwash after breakfast (non alcoholic of course). The floride will keep the bacteria from having a feast in your mouth.

  25. Guðrún
    Mar 04, 2013

    Im with you guys; blearily, fumble, grumpy … Love you :) and i think Thats why … We need this. In One of my 25 Fasts I could see some other bahais light being switch on at 5 in the morning now I have you all here. May you all experience the blessings of this lovely days. Love

  26. Yosi Mesbah
    Mar 04, 2013

    :) Excellent Exposition!! much love and Gratitude! this Fast has been so epic thus far!! Praying and meditating I’m feeling showered with greater understanding, reminded of things I had forgotten, and am rejuvenated!! What an amazing time!!!

  27. yemisrach
    Mar 04, 2013

    melkam fasting Rainn , may your words rain where it is dry and feed the trust.

  28. Stephanie Cosby
    Mar 04, 2013

    Thanks for this Rainn! A perfect explanation for my non-Baha’i friends. (And JB Eckl – you hit the nailed on the head… It should be called The Slow.) :)

  29. Bud Revet
    Mar 04, 2013

    As a new Baha’i in 1965 I called the next newest Baha’i and suggested we join one of our “mature” friends for prayers while we were off for lunch. We went to her door and knocked and she opened the door with a sandwich in her hand. She looked kind of pail and we were sort of speechless. She explained that she was having the flu and one should not “fast” if they are ill. We suggested prayers for her flu and our not eating and we all learned a good lesson. Don’t fast with someone who is ill with a catch-able illness.

  30. Virginia
    Mar 04, 2013

    Great article. What I love about this time of year is the sharing that goes on. Sharing of perspectives, sharing of pre-dawn breakfasts and prayers, sunset prayers and potlucks. I have long struggled with the fast, yet it only makes Naw Ruz more beautiful and meaningful.

  31. Carmela Diaz
    Mar 04, 2013

    I’m not particularly a RW follower but this beautiful and amazing post has made my eyes watery… It’s wonderful to be able to share your insight with others, it’s simple and clear.
    Thank you for sharing!

  32. Johanna
    Mar 04, 2013

    Dear Rainn — Thank you for this!

    As a Baha’i who can’t physically fast (due to health), sometimes it can be even harder to enjoy the benefits of this spiritual ‘feasting’ and material fasting time — and to know how to share it with friends who are not Baha’is.

    My prevailing sense is that every religious law is given ONLY from great, bountiful, overflowing love from the Divine to us. “…Be content with what We have ordained for thy sake, for this is that which profiteth thee, if therewith thou dost content thyself” Baha’u’llah).

    And so, as I realize I don’t get the gift of material fasting, I try to focus on the gift of focusing on the spiritual aspects, that my heart will grow more tender and spiritual through this loving gift…

    Thank you for sharing this adventure with all of us.

  33. Sandi
    Mar 04, 2013

    Great article Rainn! I’ve learned a few fasting tricks over the years for “fast mouth”.
    I only drink tea and a fruit/vegetable smoothie in the morning (basically no salt)and am usually not as thirsty during the day, at least don’t have that sensation of a sticky mouth. I also brush me teeth several times during the day. If it is possible a power nap seems to help a lot.
    Happy fasting to everyone! :)

  34. Themba Sukati
    Mar 04, 2013

    I really enjoyed reading your article. After fasting for 29 years, today I feel even more inspired. Happy fasting to all the Baha’is of the world and to the other faiths that are fasting around this time

  35. Jay Banta
    Mar 04, 2013

    Having been a Baha’i just 3 years, I have found the
    fast to be a very meaningful time . As a former
    United Methodist Pastor, the fast is similar to the
    Lenten period. I remember calling on folks to
    Use the period of Lent for prayer and meditation
    However the conversation always came around to
    The question of what people were giving up for
    Lent. Usually perhaps dessert, chocolate etc. The Baha’i
    idea of the Fast is not do much about giving up
    anything, but about “beefing up” on, to set aside
    predawn time to not only eat, but to pray, study the
    Writings . Their is also the idea of being involved in some
    Kind of service to others. 19 days of doing the
    Baha’i Fast, has been a whole new experience
    for me.

    • Stella Herbert
      Mar 05, 2013

      Thank you, a lovely way of expressing the meaning of the fast. Regarding being a Bahá’i for “just” three years, I believe that mankind is evolving in capacity all the time, so that a person who “becomes” a Bahá’i may have an equal or better understanding of the Faith’s concepts compared with a “long term” Bahá’i – the new person has just found the source of the light,having been illumined by its rays all along.

    • Jill Moritz
      Mar 05, 2013

      Thanks for sharing your perspective as a former pastor, Jay. I can’t believe it’s been 3 years already for you! Miss you and Linda!

  36. Christine Mackay
    Mar 04, 2013

    As a Baha’i for 30 years I was thrilled that lent falls in the same period this year- my culture and tradition going on… unity <3

  37. Fleur Missaghian
    Mar 04, 2013

    Love this article Rainn. I’m a Baha’i in Wales, UK. I find The Fast quite a challenge every year – but I know it does me so much good, and it’s heartening to think of Baha’is all over the world engaged in the same spiritual and physical struggle! Much love to you and your wife. P.s. those tortillas sound good – however it is 12.56pm and all food sounds good right now :)

  38. Leyla haidarian
    Mar 04, 2013

    divine. With every word i laughed, prayed and resonated. Love u rainn, holiday + walter

  39. Jd
    Mar 04, 2013

    We are actually spiritual beings having a physical experience and quite simultaneously physical beings experiencing a spiritual opportunity. It is a mystery. Hence the extremely divergent experiences of human beings.

  40. Carmel
    Mar 03, 2013

    Great piece. I am Catholic and we are currently in Lent, a time of fasting, prayer and penance for the fourty days before the joy of Easter. It is a time to focus on spiritual growth and subdue the physical. It is a beautiful although sometimes difficult time and it is lovely to know that people of other faiths are participating in something similar. May God bless you all.

  41. Gaellen
    Mar 03, 2013

    After many years of “thinking grumpily” as Rainn says, I encountered this verse from Baha’u’llah which made me understand the reason for the Fast:

    “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.”

    Do you suppose that anyone would ever go hungry in a world where everyone knows what it’s like to be hungry?

    • Mishkin Berteig
      Mar 04, 2013

      Gaellen, this is a fantastic quote. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Iga Wos
      Mar 04, 2013

      Yes, thank you so much!

    • Barbara
      Mar 05, 2013

      Not until we walk in another’s shoes will we understand…

  42. Mar 03, 2013

    Great piece!

  43. Paloma Eghrari
    Mar 03, 2013

    Very good, Rainn!
    I’m very happy to see people so influent like yourself as Bahá’ís :) I mean, you have a big chance to touch people’s heart because it’s easy for you to be heard :) keep doing that!
    Have a happy Naw-Ruz!
    Greetings from Brazil :)
    PS: I love The Office!

  44. Marcella
    Mar 03, 2013

    Thanks Rainn. While I have finally gotten to where I don’t pound down caffeine in the morning or long for a cheeseburger at sunset I do ponder more about why we fast. It certainly makes me think all day long about material pleasures and whether I “need” them or not. 15 years ago I actually used the Fast as a self-test to whether I could declare myself as a Baha’i. I figured if I could do that then I could carry out all the other things I needed to do. Boy was I mistaken – but every year I am glad to have the reminder of that higher purpose.

  45. Connie Guadagno
    Mar 03, 2013

    Reminds me of my childhood, raised in a Baha’i household. Will pray for you and wish you a happy Naw Ruz!

  46. Douglas Jeffery
    Mar 03, 2013

    After over 40 fasts, I can say that it does get easier. I often will not get up before dawn and just run on the stored fat. My biggest problem is avoiding gaining weight from eating and going to bed before I have had a chance to burn it off.

  47. Christy
    Mar 03, 2013

    Beautiful. Nothing smells quite as wonderful as peanut butter during a fast.

  48. abdul zamani
    Mar 03, 2013

    In this matterialistic world,if people like Rain Wilson ,the famous actor and his beautiful wife follow the spiritual ordinances ,we should apprecite and search for their motivations.

  49. JB Eckl
    Mar 03, 2013

    Love it. I always thought the Fast was ironically named, sort of like Greenland.

  50. Gouya Zamani
    Mar 03, 2013

    Beautifully written and expressed. Indeed it is out of love and dedication that I too can keep going for 19 days…..and it is that same love that gives me that euphoric sustenance to make me grow spiritually and keep going……thanks for writing this Rainn!