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You’ve probably heard the term, “freedom within boundaries.” When you control, or put up a boundary on your body’s needs, you create freedom.
For example, when being guided by our lower self, food controls us. When we feel hunger, that chocolate dessert becomes irresistible.
That’s just one of the reasons Baha’is practice fasting from sunrise to sunset for 19 days each year in March. During those daylight hours, Baha’is don’t eat or drink. As a result of this essentially spiritual annual practice, we learn that our spirit, our mind, and our higher self has the power to decide not to eat or drink—to transcend our physical appetites. We therefore become free from food’s calling. That feeling of freedom focuses the mind and the soul on the important parts of life—the spiritual ones.
But there’s an important distinction here: Baha’is practice fasting, not starvation.
Waiting to be married before having sex is a form of fasting, not starvation. You will not die from abstaining from having sex until you’re married. This exercise of the human will elevates our spirits. We free ourselves from the elixir of sex, and from the false sense of unearned intimacy it can give us. Sex no longer controls us, rather our spirit controls us.
As a woman, I feel a tremendous amount of trust towards a partner who has such control. Wouldn’t we all feel safer in this world if we didn’t have to worry about sex controlling people? Because of the massive problems around the issue of sex in our societies, perhaps we need to reconsider the concept of chastity:
Chastity in no way implies withdrawal from human relationships. It liberates people from the tyranny of the ubiquity of sex. A person who is in control of his sexual impulses is enabled to have profound and enduring friendships with many people, both men and women, without ever sullying that unique and priceless bond that should unite man and wife. – The Universal House of Justice, A Chaste and Holy Life, p. 13.
Can we better define chastity? Perhaps you’ve understood chastity as solely pertaining to sexual activities. The dictionary definition, though, says chastity means virtuousness, decency and modesty.
To understand the broader definition of chastity, this passage in The Advent of Divine Justice by Shoghi Effendi says:
Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. – p. 30.
My understanding of this extract expands the meaning well beyond our sexual lives. Chastity seems to pertain not only to sex, but our thoughts, our language, and our dress and comportment.
Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes two definitions of the verb chasten, the root word of chastity. Those definitions seem to explain both external factors and internal forces. First, chasten means “to correct by punishment and suffering:”
The labourer cuts up the earth with his plough, and from that earth comes the rich and plentiful harvest. The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him. A soldier is no good General until he has been in the front of the fiercest battle and has received the deepest wounds. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 51.
The second definition: “to cause to be more humble or restrained.” Perhaps the men who have recently been charged with sexual misconduct could learn something from that understanding of the word.
Now, let’s look at the big Why. Why should we be sexually chaste? The above passage by Abdu’l-Baha says we can grow spiritual virtues through being chastened, but at the time I was courting my spouse, I couldn’t find any answers in the Baha’i literature as to why we need to practice chastity before marriage. However, I knew there had to be some great wisdom behind it. You see, that’s a very empowering approach.
My husband on the other hand, at the time of courtship, was clouded with past judgments and held onto guilt. He wanted to be sexually chaste to prove to others he was a good Baha’i. This led him to choose long-distance relationships over in-person relationships. He used it as an avoidance mechanism to avoid the test of chastity—but these decisions also led him to miss the opportunity for honest character investigation. His Why? was fear-based. Needless to say, that led us down an interesting conversational path.
So, we decided to practice chastity before we got married. What did we learn? I’ll try to answer that question in the next essay.