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Fast Approaching Fast

Posted Nov 21 2008 4:27pm 1 Comment
It's a little over a week away from the beginning of the Baha'i Fast. It's a period of 19 days, from March 2-20. Unlike Lent and Ramadan, it is fixed to the solar calendar, and falls on these same days every year, ending on March 21 with the Baha'i New Year -- the vernal equinox.

The Baha'i Fast is a period of abstaining from food and drink (yes, drink too) from sunrise to sunset on each of these 19 days. You get up before sunrise, eat and drink, and then don't eat or drink again until the sun sets. I've been observing the Fast since I was 15 years old. It's not meant to kill you. You're exempt if you're younger than 15, older than 70, pregnant, nursing, menstruating, traveling or engaged in heavy labor. It's meant to be a period of turning inward, of spiritual recuperation, self-reflection. It's also meant to be a time of heightened awareness of the suffering of the poor.

It's an important part of the year for me. It's not easy to be sure. In fact, even Baha'u'llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha'i Faith, described it as being "outwardly toilsome". The hardest part for me isn't so much the NOT eating, but the eating. I often don't feel like eating much in the mornings, and by the evening, I'm pretty tired and don't want to eat. But I do allow myself to eat things during this time of year, that I wouldn't otherwise eat. Like chocolate. And ice cream.

I think one of the greatest lessons of the Fast for me over the years has been practicing self-restraint. It seems like an impossibility to not eat when you're so hungry, or drink when you're so thirsty, but you learn to practice self-restraint for a higher good. The absence of that single virtue -- self-restraint -- seems to be at the root of so much of the corruption in today's world. Self-discipline. It's a way of exercising mastery over that most unwieldy of creatures, the self.

Anyway, I'm starting to get ready for the Fast, mostly just by thinking about it, and thinking of the areas of my spiritual life that I'd like to pay focused attention to during this time of the year. Many years, a friend will fast with me for a day. I invite you to join me.
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