The following posting came to me privately as a comment on the blog posting “How to Eat During the Bahá’í Fast”. It was too long to include as a comment, so with her permission, I’ve posted it as a blog posting in its own right.
By Maria Chouchtari
Growing up as a Christian, I always understood Lent as being a time that we gave up something for the love of God. Mostly we gave up meat. Or as I child we were asked, and the children responded,” I ‘ll give up my candy,” or it was tied to some form of sacrifice even if for a short time. Even someone who would drink alcohol, would give up his wine or beer.
In most cultures and religions there was an element of sacrifice, denial or giving up something precious. Not just money for the fund but something we went without for the love of God, and a form of spiritual discipline. Still we should not provoke others during this time. I really did appreciate how you clearly put out there what the Writings do say, but it can be tricky with certain people when they only give incomplete half truths and partial interpretations. I think intolerance is a kind of sin as is prejudice. Again we need to be tolerant but also courteous. So clearly indicated in the Writings, even when refusing food or water.
I find we are being a bit overly self centered, and that needs to change too. We should be feeling anxiety about all the people in the world who are hungry. I think about the love of the Yaran, their sacrifices, and imagine them fasting in the discomfort of the prison as did the Holy family in the prison of Akka.
I don’t agree with all the emphasis on getting all the vitamins, this diet and that… My personal feeling is that if we do get less of something, it is still fine. I feel in the West we are overly concerned about feeling perfect all the time. To me it is perfectly alright to suffer some during the fast. Millions of people around the world barely get a decent meal a day, let alone all their vitamins and minerals. As one African put it, we are on a constant fast all the time, cause we can’t even afford to eat more than one meal a day. Baha’u’llah lived on rice and a little milk for over two years in the Mountains of Kurdistan, so if we are a little inconvenienced to compensate for all HIS sufferings for a short period, so be it.
Why should we have to feel perfectly nourished during the fast. Why are we so afraid to suffer a little and have things a bit rough? If we experience some discomfort, so be it. So many people in the world have less to begin with. Imagine those that live in extreme temperatures (hot) and can’t even drink water, and don’t have air conditioned offices, and yet they are making the sacrifice. If there is no sacrifice, does it really have the same effect on our soul? Making life as easy and as comfortable as possible is not how I view fasting time. It is merely an inconvenience. We are not starving and moderation in all things is required.
There was once a kind of Association that raised even a kind of charity saying, fast for a day and give the money of what you would have spent on food that day to feeding those that have none or the needy. A little sacrifice is good for the soul without being fanatical or self-righteous. There is an enormous amount of waste in society in general.
I think there has been some controversy within some communities about meat and I just wanted to make sure we don’t go overboard. There are no absolutes within that framework, and certain people equate being a good Baha’i with being vegetarian.
Anyone can say or do whatever they feel is right for them, and in consultation with their doctors. I do agree with eating more natural foods that the earth provided and unprocessed. I tend not to buy meat or other products, but if served by my host, I will not refuse it as a courtesy.
Fasting is compared to the Sun and prayer to the moon, so for those who can, imagine the power of the SUN.
I never felt the fast should be about nutrition, but more about having more time for prayer and meditation. The hours we are not eating and drinking, smoking or other…we are thinking about our Creator and detachment from all things, including our diet. We should eat well, I agree, if we can, but if we can’t then for a short time it is still okay. But again a little rough going is good for the soul and it is the effort that counts.
The spiritual aspects are stated in the writings. They are given to us for our spiritual nourishment. The fast is about that, not what we put in our mouths or don’t. But we should assume healthy eating habits whether it is fasting time or not; But the element of some denial to emphasize more the spiritual is really the spiritual benefits. Are we fasting in our thoughts? Are we being kind to others around us?
Although some will point out the scientific physical benefits of a short fast on the body itself, I think that the main reason is to do our inner spring cleaning, both physical, spiritual and have time for meditation and reflection.
It’s not a time to engage in a lot of activities, but breaking the fast together is always uplifting. Having a fasting buddy, is helpful too. We’re all in it together…Sharing stories, writings, praying. And we don’t have to be jumping up and down, doing extraneous exercise or other, or take long trips on purpose to avoid it, nor sleep all day or other. But different people cope differently. It is our own soul-searching time.
All day long we are tempted, we lose our patience, we can be cranky, moody and other.. But again a reminder, Fasting is not meant to be easy.
Some people can’t fast in the physical sense and that too is their decision but it is not for us to judge. It does take a certain kind of willpower and denial. Some function better than others! God knows who tried and who didn’t regardless of what they did or did not put in their mouth.
Helpful health habits are…the healthier you are to begin with the better who can bear some minor discomforts of fasting, the fatigue that often accompanies the fast. The lack of focus can be dangerous for some. Still we believe we are protected when fasting.
Not being able to drink water in a very hot climate can be dangerous for dehydration. So in the mornings I would fill up like a camel and I would be alright.
But pregnant women, those that are breast-feeding, women during their menstrual cycle, the elderly, children, those who are travelling or walking long distances or doing very hard physical labour are not bound by the fast…and anyone who is sick or wounded … So it is really reasonable, the person in good health is capable of a short fast. Those that smoke will feel edgy when they don’t have their nicotine…etc. others their caffeine or other…they claim they cannot focus. Some find their focus is better during the fast.
It is truly a personal matter, and for each person to do what they can. The effort involved and the sacrifice and knowing that God knows truly whether we fasted or not.
The prayer says it clearly.
I also think about the needy and homeless and others who do without on a daily basis. Feeling somewhat hungry reminds me of all those that have not. For myself, food not the issue, but fatigue can become, from lack of sleep…so special time despite the discomforts. Getting enough rest helps the physical aspects of running on low…
The day my children had sports at school and had to run in the heat…they came home saying sorry Mom, I had to drink water…I just couldn’t …but they didn’t eat food but felt they had broken the fast…but for a reason. The heat was unbearable as was their requirement to pass those exams. I would tell them God understands.