Friday, March 15, 2013


I have been thinking about the concept of obedience a lot lately. Why? Well, two reasons, mainly. First, because of the number of friends who have nonchalantly talked about how they obey the Fast, or not as the case may be. And secondly, because of the number of communities I am hearing about who celebrate the Feast on the first weekend of the month, because it is more convenient.

Both of these things have gotten me thinking about obedience, the concept and the benefits of it.

To start, though, I have to say that obedience is a very interesting thing, in the Baha'i context. For one thing, obedience to the Baha'i laws presumes that you are a Baha'i, for only Baha'is are responsible to obey them. That is probably the most important thing to remember. If you ain't a Baha'i, you don't got to follow the Baha'i laws. (After all, if you are a Baha'i, then you recognize Baha'u'llah as a Messenger of God, and why would you disobey His laws? Do you really think you know better than Him?)

The second thing is to not judge others. While it may appear that someone is being disobedient to a law, they may actually not be. For example, suppose I see a Baha'i drinking wine in a restaurant. It may not be wine at all. It could be juice. Or it could be de-alcoholized wine. Or it may even have been prescribed by their physician. The fact is, I do not know, nor is it any of my business.

And this leads us to the second point. If it is a flagrant violation that may impact the community, then it is the business of the institutions of the Faith, not the individuals. If I see a Baha'i repeatedly drinking wine in a restaurant, I may wish to inform their Assembly, whose business it actually is, as this can impact people's perception of the Faith.

Aside - Something very similar to this once happened to me. I was seen drinking what appeared to be a beer, from a bottle, during a street show I was working. The Assembly very lovingly asked if I could meet with them for a short time, and politely enquired. I was at no time offended by their attitude, nor even by the thought that someone had told them about this. It was done with all circumspect and courtesy. Kudos to them. And as it happened, it was a beer I was drinking: Root Beer. (Pretty good, too, if I recall.)

That being said, I also want to place this in a context. Obedience is mentioned right at the very beginning of Baha'u'llah's Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book (that's what the title means in English). He says that the twin duties are, first, to recognize "Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation", and second, "to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world". Recognition and obedience. Twin, inseparable duties, neither of which is acceptable without the other. His words, not mine.

Of course, one question that immediately comes up is "Acceptable to whom?" Not me, obviously. I can only presume He means God. After all, judging others is forbidden, or at least highly discouraged. It is very similar to criticism, and we all know how frowned upon that is.

So, to review: We know that obedience is very important, and we know that we cannot judge others.

By the way, this article is not meant to judge anybody else, nor their decisions, but to open the question of what it means to be obedient, and look at a few examples.

And remember, how we apply the laws generally varies from person to person. While we all agree that drinking a shot of whiskey violates the law prohibiting alcohol, some take that law so far as to not eat mustard made with white wine, while others enjoy a good Dijon mustard every now and then. This is where the personal interpretation comes into it, and we are not to question that.

So, now on to the point of this article. As you know, it is the time of the Fast, and so many Baha'is are talking or writing about it. I've already said pretty much all I want to say about it, so I won't repeat what I've written before. But in a recent e-mail conversation, a friend and I were talking about fasting and the ridiculousness of daylight savings time (which is another rant altogether). In this, they very offhandedly said that it doesn't really bother them, for they "just fast from 6 am to 6 pm" and don't "worry about it".

What stuck with me was not the admission that this is what they do, for they may have other reasons. It may have something to do with their work, or their family situation, or perhaps some dietary restrictions. I can think of a dozen good reasons for fasting this way in good conscience. I have one friend that has to fast like that sometimes. Just the other day, for example, she had a concert just before sunrise (yes, it's true). She wasn't able to eat for at least an hour before then, and given her current state of health (fighting a cold), she thought she would most likely either eat her breakfast just after the concert, or have something around lunchtime. I don't know, nor is it my business. I do know, however, that she is fasting to the best of her ability given her odd circumstances. (It turns out that she was actually able to maintain her fast that day. Kudos to her.)

No, what really struck me was the cavalier way in which they said it. Now again, I'm not saying that they are cavalier about it, nor that they don't have a good reason to fast that way. It just made me realize how many people I know seem to not be all that concerned about their obedience to the laws of the Faith. And that is why I am writing this. I want to make sure that I am not like that. I also want to point out the strange benefits of obedience to the letter of the law, in cases like this.

One friend works nights, and he wanted to know if he should fast during the hours he is awake, as he is asleep most of the daylight time. He was advised, I think by the World Centre but I can't find an official reference to it, that the Fast is sunrise to sunset, and that no variation was permissible. He was told that if he wanted to maintain the spirit of it, while still obeying the law, he could eat one meal just after sunset, and again just before sunrise, choosing to withhold himself from food and drink during the rest of the night.

But why? Why should we bother, we may ask. 'Abdu'l-Baha calls it a "most weighty matter", "one of the pillars of the religion of God." He says that "Fasting is the cause of the elevation of one's spiritual station."

And I don't know about anyone else, but miracles seem to occur at the time of year. When I am fully obedient to the laws of the Fast, it seems as if that wily soul within the Concourse on High who is responsible for putting spiritual bounties in my way gets out the big hammer. He seem to just wallop me over the head with bounties. Incredible teaching opportunities abound. Things just go so right. It is truly a time of the year that is far more spiritual than other times.

Why? No clue. It's the Fast. That's all I can say.

And somewhere deep down inside I just know that it is that minuscule sacrifice of not eating or drinking during the day that brings these benefits about. If I were to deliberately break the Fast, I know those benefits would just evaporate.

Now I could choose to make it more convenient for me, and just eat when I wake up normally. I could set a 12 hour timer and eat again when it goes off. But that, to me, is not following the law. I can't speak for anyone else, but for me Baha'u'llah says "nothing during the daylight hours" (paraphrase, actually). He doesn't say "nothing for a dozen hours". It is sunrise to sunset.

Why? Again, I have no idea. It's mystical, and I don't need to completely understand why. It's also a challenge, and I think that is part of it. That just seems to be the nature of sacrifice.

Which leads me to the next point: The Feast.

Back in 1985, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "since the beloved Guardian expressed a preference, and considered it 'most suitable', for the Feast to be held on the first day of each month, the House of Justice hopes that the friends everywhere will aim at scheduling their Nineteen Day Feasts in this way, and that the friends themselves will arrange their personal affairs to be able to attend." And while in other places they point out "that in instances of difficulty... it is permissible to hold the Feast at another time within the Baha'i month", they sure seem to imply that this is not preferred.

Again, they say, "It is preferable that Nineteen Day Feasts be held on the first day of the Bahá'í month, but if it should be difficult to do so, it is permissible to hold it on a succeeding day of the Bahá'í month. The matter is left to the discretion of the Local Spiritual Assembly."

Over and over again they that it is preferable to have it on the first day, but that in times of difficulty, or if it conflicts with a regularly scheduled public meeting, having it on the next day is allowed.

And yet, over and over again, I seem to be hearing about a few communities that have it regularly on the first weekend of the month.

I just kind of wonder.

I remember hearing about one area, under the loving care and guidance of a Regional Baha'i Council, that had a similar thing happening. Many communities in the region were scheduling their Feasts on the first weekend of the month. This Council consulted on the matter for a few hours at one of their meetings, and decided to write a letter to all of their Assemblies about it. They pointed out the preference for the first day, careful to include all the guidance saying that it was permissible to have it on another day in the month, and asked the local communities to strive to make an effort to have it on that first day. They warned the Assemblies that if they changed the time, from the first weekend to the first day of the month, they would likely see a drop in attendance, but asked them to persevere.

Well, they did.

It seems that all of the communities changed their Feast schedule.

And the result? They experienced a sudden decrease in the number of people attending.

But after a couple of months the numbers were right back up there, as the families and individuals learned to adjust their schedule.

Even more, they noticed a drastic increase in Fund contributions, as well as teaching activities.

Why? While I don't actually know, it was supposed that as the friends learned to make a minor sacrifice in their schedule to accommodate the Feast time, they also arose to make that minor sacrifice in material resources, as well as their time. That tiny sacrifice helped them learn to make more sacrifices for the Faith.

And that, to me, is another one of the incredible benefits of obedience.

Now my only question is why are all these people telling me about these communities that choose to hold their Feasts on a weekend?


  1. Very interesting article. I was given a good rule of thumb about Fasting by older believers when I was a new Baha'i and that was not to eat in public or under the noses of other friends if, for any reason, I was not keeping the Fast and also not to broadcast the fact.

  2. I am amazed by the incredible spiritual power and bounty of the fast, and I missed it about two days after Naw Ruz.

  3. I find it useful to distinguish between three levels of obedience: first, to avoid that which is forbidden; second, to fulfill that which is prescribed; and third, to take creative initiative to arise in response to calls to action. The first two can be seen as convergent in the sense that you can know whether you have done them or not. They are the solid foundation or pillars for the third, which is divergent in the sense that no matter how much you do them, there is always more you could do. This challenges us to make an ever-greater effort to contribute to the establishment of a new world civilization, and therefore makes us grow both individually and collectively as a result.