Every year from March 2nd through March 20th, Baha'is around the world ages 15-70 fast from sunrise to sunset. There are some exceptions (pregnant and nursing mothers, women who are menstruating, those who are not in good health, travelers, people doing hard physical work, etc.), but most Baha'is are not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset during these 19 days.
Sounds crazy, right?
Feels pretty crazy most days. I will admit freely that this is one of my least favorite times to be a Baha'i all year long. All. Year. Long. Keep in mind that this coming from a 29-year-old virgin.
I love food. I love the way that it looks, the way that it tastes, the way that it smells, I love making it, and I loveloveLOVE eating it. LOVE. This before I mention my love affair with coffee and how I cheat on coffee frequently with tea (Did you know that there is such a thing as a dirty soy chai latte at Starbucks? Where they make a soy chai latte and put espresso in it? Talk about light upon light...) Yeah, I'm just not one of those "I could eat or maybe oops I forgot let's go running" types. I could mostly eat.
Getting warmed up to fast this year hast taken some doing.
At this time last year, I was finally seeing a doctor to treat something that's needed treating for a long time, and she was adamant that I not fast while she tried some things to see what worked. Although Baha'u'llah is clear about fasting during illness ("In time of ill-health it is not permissible to observe these obligations [obligatory prayer and fasting]; such hath been the bidding of the Lord, exalted be His glory, at all times." Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 134), I struggled with accepting this, mostly because I hate the Fast.
I said it.
I hate the Fast. I spend a significant portion of it dreaming up ways in which unforeseen circumstances could prevent me from being able to fast... a cold... the flu... being hit by a car... a sudden 19-day-long coma... and you can imagine that being told that you are ill in a way that isn't obvious to the naked eye that requires that you not do this thing you're so used to using as a tool to punish yourself and judge yourself and make yourself to suffer, this thing that you loathe and that the fragments of your self fight against each other over every year in this annual 19-day long EPIC battle, this thing... that all of these people talk about as refreshing and soul-stirring and beautiful and... did I mention the NOT EATING. We're NOT EATING. Not having to NOT EAT... might make you feel... a little... edgy... a little edgy while you figure out why we do this... you know, why we do this without the NOT EATING...?
A couple of days into the Fast, I had a dream. Baha'u'llah appeared on the scene... on the most mundane of scenes dressed in simple clothes and not speaking. Upon seeing Him, it because suddenly clear to me that I was loved... that the over-arching thing that He was communicating... that He was embodying was LOVE.
So much that I couldn't breathe.
He accepted me fully, flaws seen and dismissed. He saw straight into my heart--straight into the core of my being--and I could see by the smile on His face that I was asking the wrong question. My Lord loves me. He loves each and every one of us so much that LOVE just isn't a big enough word. We can't lose it; it can't be contained or quantified. We can fall flat on our faces and lie there for years. We can eat or not eat. It doesn't matter. His love encompasses all. Babies fall all the time, and it would never occur to us to do anything but cheer them on or to criticize that time they took too wide a stance and fell before moving forward. In the moment when my eyes met His, words would have gotten in the way of my being completely transparent before Him... would have gotten in the way of my feeling how much I was loved in that way that babies are loved... how we want nothing more than for them to feel safe and to smile and to engage...
I focused on that last year during the fast. I focused on loving Baha'u'llah from my center through every layer of my self. I focused on finding joy and sharing it as much as I could. It was not perfect, but this was the gift I presented my Lord last year... wrapped in wrapping paper I made my self, colored with a crayon, paper smudged-by-accident and folded, but not quite perfectly...
I got angry with Baha'u'llah in the car yesterday.
"Every year? EVERY year??? Really?!?!! Can't we just NOT do this?! My nose was running yesterday, and my head kinda hurts. And I haven't been drinking enough water. I bet in the future we won't even do this. Maybe I won't.
MAYBE I JUST WON'T!!
DO YOU HEAR THAT?!??!!!!"
I could feel Him laugh... one of those deep, rumbling laughs that comes from somewhere inside and reverberates... that laugh that might be the reason the word "reverberate" exists... and I started to laugh.
I started to laugh, and I couldn't stop.
He wrote, "Verily, I say, fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion."
I couldn't stop laughing.
He asks so so SO little of me. He asks only that I say my prayers (because all souls need the nourishment that comes from acknowledging the Great Spirit), obey His laws (that protect me from one billion other things), and not eat or drink anything once a year from sunrise to sunset for 19 days (you know, if my body's up for it and not otherwise occupied).
He asks only that I do things that are actually good for me.
I am a Baha'i. I believe that Baha'u'llah is Who He says He is. I believe it in my core. I love Baha'u'llah with all of my soul and all of my self and all of my being. For Baha'u'llah, I will spend the next 19 days wrapping my self up. I will do what I can to allow fasting to heal my own "disease of self and passion."
It's the least I can do. I will do this for Him, and I will do this for me.
This year, He has allowed me food and shelter and safety and freedom from the fear that not having those things reliably causes too many...
He has allowed me life in a country in which I unquestionably have access to education and the freedom to pursue it, 1/2 Iranian Baha'i woman that I am...
He has allowed me to live, work, and play with people I love dearly who see me and encourage me and have my back...
He has put a man in my life who chooses his words and actions carefully, who loves me in a way that I am only now beginning to understand...
He has allowed me a working body, one that can do things like not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for 19 days...
Baha'u'llah has held my hand through all this... all this and more...
He continues to hold my hand...
I have nothing to give my Lord. There is nothing I can offer. Fasting is a tiny, insignificant token... In the face of all of these blessings, all I have is this tiny, insignificant token... offered with trembling hands...
(I will try to remember this for 19 days.)
(I will try to remember this for longer than 19 days.)
(I will try to remember this.)