Monday, March 1, 2010

The annual Nineteen-Day Fast: a time of spiritual purification


From March 2-20, Baha'is worldwide observe the annual 19-Day Fast by refraining from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. As in many world religions, the fast is a time for reflecting on one's spiritual progress and making an effort to detach from material desires.

During the fast, Baha'is age 15 and older typically rise before dawn to eat breakfast and pray. At sunset they break the fast, often gathering with Baha'i friends to enjoy a meal together. The following are exempt from fasting, as it could be harmful to their health: those younger than 15 and older than 70, the ill or infirm, women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating, travelers and those engaged in heavy physical labor.
The 19-Day Fast is "essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character." (Baha'i Reference Library)

Baha'i Views website has a collection of posts from Baha'i bloggers around the world about their experience with the Fast. Some discuss the spiritual benefits of the fast: "After 23 years of doing this religious Fast, I can honestly say that it really is not so much about the abstaining from food or drink from sunrise to sunset, but is more about getting the sludge out of my life that has collected and built up and is sometimes to the point of suffocating my spirit that is the most important thing the Fast does for me."
And others remind us that we're all just trying the best we can: "Yeah, let me tell you how not to start out 19 days of fasting: You don’t start off by sleeping through your alarm clock!"
Perhaps the most practical support a Baha'i faster can get is to hang out with other Baha’is.

“Being at the Baha'i National Center makes it much easier to fast than other places I’ve worked,” says Linda Seabloom, who works in the Education office. “Co-workers elsewhere always try to offer you something. They think a little enticement won’t matter. But here everyone is trying to observe the Fast, which unites you even though it is an individual practice.”