Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Thought on the Fast

There are so many barriers in life, tests and trials all around us, of all sizes and shapes, and more kinds of difficulty levels than even Nintendo could dream of. The Guardian said that the greatest tests we would face in the West are those of apathy and lethargy. This hit me last night when I began writing this very article. I originally began by writing: "Another year has come and gone. Naw Ruz has slipped on by. (Happy New Year, dear Reader.) And another fast has passed under the belt."

I could have said that. At least, that really is one way to look at it. A sort of blase way, but one way, nonetheless.

Instead, I decided to think about the incredible bounties that accrued over this past month, and rejoice in all that I learned.

I mean, let's look at it again. Just what is it about the Fast that is so meaningful? 19 days of roughly 12-hour fasts, from sunrise to sunset: Why?

Simple, I think. And there seem to be a few clues, as you would expect, in the Writings.

Wordle: Naw Ruz Tabet If we look at Baha'u'llah's prayer for Naw Ruz, and toss it in a word cloud, we will readily discover that after the mention of God, through the words "Thee", "Thou", and "Thy".

Wordle: Naw Ruz, part 2If we remove those words for God, the next most common words are Fast, hath and observed. On the very day of celebration for the New Year, the thing He mentions most often is our having observed the Fast.

Why? Well, if we look at one of the talks by 'Abdu'l-Baha, the one given in 1906, He talks about cycles. He says that the new year is "an expression of a cycle (of the sun); but now is a beginning of a cycle of Reality, a New Cycle, a New Age, a New century, a New Time and a New Year. Therefore it is very blessed." He talks about how the world is becoming renewed at this time of the year. And He likens this time to the dawn. In other parts of the Writings, we are reminded that the world is darkest just before the dawn, and this is the part that I want to look at.

The night is darkest just before the break of day. Winter has it's tightest grip just before the turning of spring. And a butterfly, or a chick, has it's greatest struggle just before it finally breaks through and hatches.

For me, the year has its trials and struggles, most of which are really quite insignificant, but the hardest time of all is the Fast.

It is also the most potent.

The greatest heroes of the Faith arose during the time of the Bab, the very Dawn of this Great Age. In fact, we even refer to them as "the dawn-breakers".

During the time of the Fast, there is an especial potency in the air. My dreams become far more profound. My personal awareness of teaching opportunities is heightened. And my susceptibilities to the breathings of the spirit are enhanced.

All this, provided I fast.

And all this especially at one particular time of the day. (Well, except for the dreams. That only comes when I'm asleep.)

During the Fast, my day usually looks something like this: I wake up well before dawn and do my usual morning preparation stuff. Then I have my breakfast, which is healthier than normal during the Fast. Come noon, I begin to feel a little bit hungry. Then there comes a point where the hunger really hits hard, and this is the time I am most likely to really want to break down and eat, or at least grab a glass of water. But if I don't, if I persevere, there comes a new awareness of the impact and importance of the spirit. This is when I receive those great bounties I described above. This is when I make sure to pray even more, and find myself far more susceptible to that source of inspiration.

It is exactly as described by one wonderful writer. "Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress," said William James, "we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."

It is only by pushing through that boundary of my hunger that I come to that state where I feel no obstruction at all. It is like hatching. You push and push and the very fibers of the cocoon stretch, resisting with all their might, and then suddenly snap away, leaving you free to move.

But what do we do with that new freedom? Now that Naw Ruz has passed, what do we do with that new bounty of lunchtime? Do we hit McDonald's and grab a cheap burger? Or do we continue to use that precious time for something more profound?

In another talk, 'Abdu'l-Baha said that Naw Ruz was a "blessed day. The friends of God should be confirmed in service and servitude. With one another they must be in the utmost harmony, love and oneness, clasping hands, engaged in the commemoration of the Blessed Beauty and thinking of the great results that may be obtained on such a blessed day."

And that, to me, is how the Fast leads us right into this season, and how this great celebration of Naw Ruz propels us forward into the rest of the year, dedicated to service to the human race.

Which is also, coincidentally, the aim of institute process and these series of five-year plans, isn't it?

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?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Little Courier

"Papa", Shoghi said to me yesterday morning, "I'd like to give a gift cadeau to Madame Suzanne."

Shoghi, in case you don't know, is my little boy. He just turned 8, and is in a French school. Last week his teacher, Madame Suzanne, invited Marielle and I in to talk a bit about the Baha'i Faith to his class, which we were very happy to do. The questions she asked were really quite wonderful.

So just yesterday, Shoghi asked me if he could give her a gift.

"Of course you can, Shoghi," I replied. "What were you thinking of giving her?" I expected he wanted to give her an apple, or a piece of chocolate. But not my Shoghi. Not him. His thoughts were much higher than mine.

"Les Paroles Cachees", he said. The Hidden Words, in French.

Naturally, I got up and gave him a copy for her.

He was so happy, and that seemed to be the end of it.

That was when I asked him how he was going to give it to her.

He looked at me with a bit of a puzzled look. "I don't know. I guess I'll just hand it to her."

"Shoghi", I began, "do you know what a courier is?"


"A courier is someone who carries a very important message from a King."

Shoghi looked a bit more interested than he had a moment earlier.

"Can you imagine him? He is a very important person. He is the one who has to carry the messages from the King to all the people. Can the King visit everyone in his kingdom?"


"That's right. He has to get people who are very trustworthy, steadfast and loyal. They are the ones who will represent the King and faithfully give his message to the people. They must be noble and regal in their bearing."

"Papa? What's 'bearing' mean?"

"It kind of means they have to stand tall and proud, for they are representing the King. They have to dress in a manner worthy of their job, like Maman, when she puts on her uniform for work. Can you imagine a royal courier wearing torn jeans and slumping over as they say, 'Oh yeah, y'know, the King wants me to tell you this'? Or would they wear their best clothes, and say something like, 'On behalf of His royal majesty, the King, I have this great message to deliver to you'? Which seems more likely?"

"The second one."

"And you, Shoghi, today, will be a courier for Baha'u'llah."

His eyes grew really wide at this point.

"You see, Baha'u'llah and all the Messengers of God are like God's couriers. They bring a very important message from God for all of humanity. God can't come down and walk on the earth. It's just too small a place. So He sends His Messengers. And these great Messengers can't go talk to every person on the planet. It's just too big a place. They have to give Their message to whomever They can, and write letters and books and stuff. Now it's up to people like you and me to act as Baha'u'llah's couriers. That's called teaching."

I don't think he even blinked this whole time.

"One last thing. Do you think a royal courier would give his message the same way to another king as he would to a regular citizen on the street?"

He thought about this, and finally said, "No, I don't think so."

"I agree. And Baha'u'llah said that we are all created noble. So when you give this priceless gift to your teacher, Madame Suzanne, be sure that you give it to her in a manner worthy of giving a precious treasure to a queen."

And you know what? He did.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Test of the Benefits

I was saying some prayers earlier today, kind lost in the joy of just flipping through the prayer book and reading whatever my eyes fell upon, when I found myself reading a prayer from the Bab. Nothing too unusal about that, but the last line in the prayer sort of stuck with me.

It ended with, "...and shouldst Thou ordain evil for a servant by reason of that which his hands have unjustly wrought before Thy face, Thou wouldst test him with the benefits of this world and of the next that he might become preoccupied therewith and forget Thy remembrance."

Now, to be fair, and to put this in context, the first part of the line is, "Indeed shouldst Thou desire to confer blessing upon a servant Thou wouldst blot out from the realm of his heart every mention or disposition except Thine Own mention..." But it was that last part that caught my attention.

 "...and shouldst Thou ordain evil for a servant by reason of that which his hands have unjustly wrought before Thy face, Thou wouldst test him with the benefits of this world and of the next that he might become preoccupied therewith and forget Thy remembrance."

To start, I have to wonder what "the benefits of this world and the next" are. For this world, I presume that they are wealth, health, friends, and that sort of stuff. (Friends? Stuff? I must be fasting.) (Hey. what do you know? I am.) (That excuses me here, but doesn't work for all those bozoid things I write during the rest of the year.)

But the benefits of the next world? Well, that's where I stumble a bit (and not just because I'm fasting.) I presume that would be heaven, or the other various terms people use for the next world. (How many virgins was it again?) (Sorry. I digress.) (Well, there's a surprise.)

Anyways, it reminded me greatly of that line from 'Abdu'l-Baha, "In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or Hell, or hope for bounty or heaven..." And also that Hidden Word, "Busy not thyself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants."

But what does this look like? How are these things tests, and why would they be considered evil? Well, I guess they're not, really. I mean, I think we need to read this a bit more closely.

Oh, disclaimer time: This is all my own opinion, and nothing official. If you want something official, go to, or some other official web-site.

To begin, the individual upon whom this evil is ordained has already done something to warrant it. It is not just random, or malicious evil that is thrust upon them. It is "by reason of that which his hands have unjustly wrought before Thy face". So they are already guilty of something.

To me, this just reads like helping someone dig their own grave. Or to use another metaphor (is that actually a metaphor?), He's giving them enough rope to hang themselves with.

How often have we seen someone who is cruel or vain pride themselves on the "fact" that they are going to heaven? I can only cringe at those poor souls who hurt others through their fanatical belief that they are somehow "right" and everyone else is wrong, all the while committing such horrid deeds as to make the Founder of their faith lament. Whether we think of some Christians who torment those who believe differently than they do, or those Muslims who somehow believe that it is good to murder the "infidel", or pick any other faith group that somehow attacks the "other", the principle is still the same. They are committing evil acts after being tempted by some reward in the next world, never realizing that their very acts condemn them to missing out on that very reward. Sad, really.

And what about the benefits of this world? Well, that's easier to see, I think. Money, for example, is a great tool in this material world of ours. It can be used to either great good or great evil. In many ways, it's like a knife or fire. Both have such great potential for making a nice meal to share with others (did I mention I'm fasting?), or can be used to such destructive purposes.

We can use our wealth to either help others and make the world a better place, or we can act out of greed and immorality, looking only after our own concerns. In the end, it is the way in which we use these tools that determines our ultimate fate.

In both cases, we would be more fixated on the "benefits" than on the effects of our actions. We would be more concerned with our own well-being than with the well-being of others. We would, in the one instance, be more concerned about getting to heaven that we would forget about helping create a heaven on earth. Through this lack of proper focus, we would undoubtedly forget to "mention" God, all the while giving lip-service to His Name. "Mention", after all, is done through actions, not words.

And if we want to see what the opposite looks like, if we want to know how these benefits can be truly beneficial, then we only need to look at the other half (which I'm glad I quoted earlier), in which we discover that the true benefits accrue when when God will "blot out from the realm of his heart every mention or disposition except Thine Own mention".