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.

66 Comments

  • 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!. :)
  • 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.
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  • 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
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