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Have you ever tried to fast but were quickly discouraged by the difficulty of finding a suitable fast, or the challenge of following through on your intention to fast?
There are dry fasts (no food or liquids for a specified time), wet fasts (only liquids permitted), and intermittent fasting (not eating until 11 a.m., fasting one day a week, or variations thereof). Regardless of which is chosen, joining with others with the same convictions and intentions, and knowing the physical and spiritual benefits of fasting, make it much easier to follow through and persevere. Without these supports, it is difficult for most people to continue for the prescribed time.
Prayer and fasting are two pillars of deeds in the great religions. Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, calls upon his believers to fast annually—health permitting. Encouraging us, Baha’u’llah wrote:
One who performeth neither good deeds nor acts of worship is like unto a tree which beareth no fruit, and an action which leaveth no trace. – Baha’u’llah, quoted in The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting.
By his own admission, fasting is not easy:
Even though outwardly the Fast is difficult and toilsome, yet inwardly it is bounty and tranquillity. – Ibid.
He described its benefits in beautiful passages such as this:
Verily, I say, fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion. – Ibid.
He also explained that one purpose of the fast is “that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute.” – Ibid.
In addition to this guidance, Baha’u’llah revealed many beautiful prayers for fasting that can greatly assist the Baha’is, and anyone who wishes to join them, in practicing the Baha’i fast—a dry fast involving abstention from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for 19 days starting in early March. These fasting prayers help us turn away from ourselves and toward God. In one particular prayer—of the same comforting and repetitive style as the Long Healing Prayer and the Prayer for the Dead—Baha’u’llah, in beautiful, descriptive language, exhorts the Creator by his qualities (his name, his word, his sign, his beauty, etc.) and asks him to assist us. The fourteen requests included in this long prayer for the fast reveal many benefits of fasting and provide spiritual illumination worthy of contemplation at any time. The 14 requests are:
- Not to be shut out from God: “… not to cast me away from the gate of the city of Thy presence, and to disappoint not the hopes I have set on the manifestations of Thy grace amidst Thy creatures.”
- To draw closer to God: “… to draw me nearer to the threshold of Thy door, and to suffer me not to be far removed from the shadow of Thy mercy and the canopy of Thy bounty.”
- To become immersed in the verses of God: “… to attract me by the fragrance of Thy raiment, and make me drink of the choice wine of Thine utterance.”
- To serve the Cause of God and not be influenced by disbelievers: “… to raise me up to serve Thy Cause that I shall not fall back, nor be hindered by the suggestions of them who have caviled at Thy signs and turned away from Thy face.”
- To be favored by God through beholding him and drinking of his verses: “… to enable me to gaze on the Daystar of Thy Beauty, and to supply me with the wine of Thine utterance.”
- To do the will of God: “… to graciously aid me to do what Thy will hath desired and Thy purpose hath manifested.”
- To become detached: “…to grant that I may die to all that I possess and live to whatsoever belongeth unto Thee.”
- To remember God to others: “… to aid me to remember Thee amongst Thy creatures, and to extol Thee amidst Thy people.”
- To be protected and kept close to the will of God: “… to remove me far from whatsoever Thy will abhorreth, and draw me nigh unto the station wherein He Who is the Dayspring of Thy signs hath shone forth.”
- To know the gems of wisdom of God: “… to make known unto me what lay hid in the treasuries of Thy knowledge and concealed within the repositories of Thy wisdom.”
- To be counted by God as one of his followers and true believers: “… to number me with such as have attained unto that which Thou hast sent down in Thy Book and manifested through Thy will.”
- To number me with the chosen of God: “… to write down for me with Thy most exalted Pen what Thou has written down for Thy trusted ones and Thy chosen ones.”
- To bless everyone who has observed the fast: “… to write down for everyone who hath turned unto Thee, and observed the fast prescribed by Thee, the recompense decreed for such as speak not except by Thy leave, and who forsook all they possessed in Thy path and for love of Thee.”
- To cancel the sins of those who fast: “… to cancel the trespasses of those who have held fast to Thy laws, and have observed what Thou hast prescribed unto them in Thy Book.” – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 238-245.
With all these promises, wouldn’t you want to fast?