Sunday, March 04, 2007

Fasting=Freedom



Photograph of Baha'is in Boston during a dinner to break the Fast:

It's that time of year again. Baha'is around the world are fasting from sunrise to sunset in obedience to Baha'i law in preparation for a New Year of striving to unite the world. This is a spiritually potent time and lots of fun in the Boston area where for 20 years we have had dinners each night of the fast for fellowship and fund raising. There's lot of cool things on web regarding the fast this year that I just have to share with you all:

The American Baha'i News has a nice piece about fasting with comments from all kinds of Baha'is. Some of them are deep others are sweet and some are funny.

John Taylor at Badi Blog has personal reflections on the Fast

The Baha'i World News service has a great article about the Fast

Barney Leith in the UK offers quirky comments on the Fast

Planet Baha'i Blog has Fast commentary

So now it's my turn to weigh in with a few Baha'i thoughts. As you know, I've been doing a lot of writing about African American liberation. One of the things I've been doing for my research is reading the book, "A Strange Freedom" which is a collection of the best of Howard Thurman, the great Christian mystic and prophetic voice that I consider an intellectual and spiritual ancestor of mine. This is what he had to say about "freedom":

There is a medley of confusion as to the meaning of personal freedom. For some it means to function without limitations at any point, to be able to do what one wants to do and without hindrance. This is the fantasy of many minds, particularly those that are young. For others, personal freedom is to be let alone, to be protected against any force that may move into the life with a swift and decisive imperative. For still others, it means to be limited in one's power over others only by one's own strength, energy, and perseverance.
The meaning of personal freedom is found in none of these. They lack the precious ingredient, the core of discipline and inner structure without which personal freedom is a delusion. At the very center personal freedom is a discipline of the mind and of the emotions.

For me the Baha'i Fast is about what Thurman refers to as that "precious ingredient" of true freedom, "the core of discipline and inner structure". Chosing for the love of God to refrain from eating and drinking, those most fundamental of biological impulses, is a spiritual discipline that reminds me that I am more than the animal aspect of my human nature. If I can chose to transcend the material dimension of my experience from sunrise to sunset for 19 days (the duration of a Baha'i month) then I can chose to do so every moment of every day of my life. This may appear like a "strange freedom", especially in a culture that has taken the "pleasure principle" to a whole new level, but it's the kind of freedom that I would not trade for anything. In Baha'u'llah's Words:

Even though outwardly the Fast is difficult and toilsome, yet inwardly it is bounty and tranquility. Purification and training are conditioned and dependent only on such rigorous exercises as are in accord with the Book of God and sanctioned by Divine Law and not those which the deluded have inflicted upon the people. Whatsoever God hath revealed is beloved of the soul.