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The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
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Fasting: A Time to Slow Down and Feel Your Spirit

Rainn Wilson | Updated Feb 28, 2021

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Rainn Wilson | Mar 3, 2013

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

It’s 5 a.m. 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 19 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 Clock

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.

RELATED: When and Why Did Humans Start Fasting?

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. Abdu’l-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; 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.

RELATED: How to Fast Like a Baha’i in 2021

Abdu’l-Baha, as in most things, described in “Star of the West” 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.

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  • Stephen Weiss
    Feb 28, 2021
    As much as I enjoyed the humor injected into fasting, one can fast without being too challenged by hunger. Hunger should be minimal Eating two meals per day. Over-eating before sunrise and after sunset is metabolically counter productive to the body's adjustment to the changed eating pattern. A more modest approach to eating enables the body to find a metabolic balance and encourages potential health benefits. The eating behavior should be a reflection of the prayers. The greater challenge with fasting is staying hydrated, especially in warm climates and with physical activities.
  • Charles Boyle
    Mar 1, 2019
    We get up before dawn start with some warm lemon water and prepare bowls of watermelon for breakfast. This is enough to sustain us through the day while allowing a mild hunger and thirst to remind us to attend to our spiritual attitudes and outlooks. DWd are fortunate enough to be able to make dinner a bit more substantial, but not much. That same mild hunger and thirst reminds us to turn off the switches and taps to reduce power and water consumption, to minimize unnecessary packaging and waste, to take public transport where practicable, and eat produced as locally as possible (notwithstanding that water melon comes up from Mexico...) - an "environmental fast" if you will.
  • Emily Sheppard
    Mar 5, 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 =)
  • Mar 1, 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.
    • Nita Gandfor
      Mar 9, 2019
      Great point. I agree!
  • Mar 8, 2015
    Baha'i love to you and your beautiful family!! Love Backstrom!!! Great acting and brilliant content....Pray for your on going success..
  • Mar 3, 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 4, 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.
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