03/01/2011 09:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Baha'is Slow Down, Tune In During Fast

Members of the Baha'i Faith around the world begin a season of fasting March 2. "I love that each day of the Baha'i Fast begins in the darkness before dawn when all is silent and I am a bit weary of winter. I say dawn prayers. Each morning of my prayers, the sun rises earlier and earlier and I can perceive this, the bright moon and the sun's rays both visible at early dawn," said Cheryl Cudmore, 56, who lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada. Cudmore has been a Baha'i for 27 years.

"Fasting hath been decreed for you in the month of 'Ala. Fast ye for the sake of your Lord, the Mighty, the Most High. Restrain yourselves from sunrise to sunset. Thus doth the Beloved of mankind instruct you as bidden by God, the All-Powerful, the Unconstrained," said Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith.

The Month of 'Ala (Loftiness), the period of the Fast, is the last month of the Baha'i year and lasts from March 2 to March 20. Naw-Ruz, the Baha'i New Year celebration on March 21, marks the end of the Fast.

The Baha'i calendar consists of nineteen months of nineteen days, equaling 361 days, plus four additional days -- five during leap years -- to make a year of 365 days. Baha'is abstain from food and drink from sunup to sundown during the Fast and recite especially revealed prayers. Since the Fast occurs each year near the Equinox, day and night are about equal all around the globe. Choosing to fast is up to the individual's conscience and is observed from the age of fifteen, the age of maturity in the Baha'i Faith, until the age of seventy.

"Whosoever experienceth the holy ecstasy of worship will refuse to barter such an act or any praise of God for all that existeth in the world. Fasting and obligatory prayer are as two wings to man's life. Blessed be the one who soareth with their aid in the heaven of the love of God, the Lord of all worlds," said Baha'u'llah.

Many Baha'is experience deeper feelings of connectedness and spirituality during the Fast. "I feel very purposeful during the Fast and that tends to make me more creatively productive. My artwork and writing all flow more easily. Mental clarity is much greater as is mental focus. It means that I have a concrete way of centering myself and feeling self disciplined. I am also reminded of my purpose in this life and about where my core values really come from, which is our Creator," said Cary Reinstein, 69, a Baha'i for forty eight years, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Fast is a period of spiritual renewal, rejuvenation and purification. 'Abdu'l-Baha, the son of Baha'u'llah, stated "Verily, I say, fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion."

"Fasting brings you increasingly into the present, makes you more mindful and that is a great bounty. Now I look forward to each Fast, although not without some natural concerns and get that 'in the present' feeling much more swiftly," said Sharon Marnell, 41, a Baha'i for ten years, originally from the U.K. and who now lives in Bratislava, Slovakia.

"Fast is a period of reflection for me. How am I doing? I review the past year and re-energize for an optimistic year ahead," said Megha Shyam, 72, of Corvallis, Oregon, who has been a Baha'i for 47 years.

Fasting is not easy, and it takes discipline. Marnell said, "I hesitatingly attempted my first Fast. I wondered if I could sustain it, how I would feel, if it would be difficult? As a Westerner, I was not accustomed to denying myself food and water when I desired it, but as the Fast went on, it became much easier. Certainly I was thirsty, and it did involve getting up early if one wanted to have a breakfast to assist you in getting through the day; but each day got easier and the benefits began to show. I began to look forward to early morning prayers and became thankful for my breakfast."

"It took me the first eight years before I could easily go the whole 19 days without breaking the Fast early. Then it finally hit me that it was all about attitude and food itself had practically nothing to do with the concept of fasting," said Reinstein.

"When I first started the Baha'i Fast, I put a piece of popcorn in my mouth at a store. When I realized what I had done, I spit it out and the people standing around me thought I was crazy. I also realized that was my response to the 'letter of the fasting law' but not necessarily the 'spirit of the fasting law,'" said Jerry Freeman, 63, who lives on the Yakima Indian Reservation in the State of Washington, and who has been a Baha'i for forty years.

There are times when someone is exempt from the material portion of the Fast. "In clear cases of weakness, illness, or injury the law of the Fast is not binding," said Baha'u'llah. Women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating are also exempt, as are travelers and those who are engaged in heavy labor. Many exempt Baha'is still rise with the sun and recite the special prayers revealed for the Fast.

"I am a person with type 2 diabetes that began as gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my son. It is controlled through meal planning and choice of foods, and daily physical activity. On my doctor's advice, I am exempt from the material portion of the fast. I eat one meal around noon and I have dried fruit and nuts on hand if my blood-glucose drops below the normal range. I have to monitor my blood glucose more to be sure it stays in the normal range. Not all type 2 diabetics need to be exempt or partly exempt from fasting," said Cudmore.

As the dawn sun illumines the globe on March 2nd, from East to West, Baha'is will rise and many will say this prayer revealed by Baha'u'llah as they begin the Fast:

This is, O my God, the first of the days on which Thou hast bidden Thy loved ones to observe the Fast. I ask of Thee by Thy Self and by him who hath fasted out of love for Thee and for Thy good-pleasure -- and not out of self and desire, nor out of fear of Thy wrath -- and by Thy most excellent names and august attributes, to purify Thy servants from the love of aught except Thee and to draw them nigh unto the Dawning-Place of the lights of Thy countenance and the Seat of the throne of Thy oneness. Illumine their hearts, O my God, with the light of Thy knowledge and brighten their faces with the rays of the Daystar that shineth from the horizon of Thy Will. Potent art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee. No God is there but Thee, the All-Glorious, Whose help is implored by all men.

Assist them, O my God, to render Thee victorious and to exalt Thy Word.

Suffer them, then, to become as hands of Thy Cause amongst Thy servants, and make them to be revealers of Thy religion and Thy signs amongst mankind, in such ways that the whole world may be filled with Thy remembrance and praise and with Thy proofs and evidences. Thou art, verily, the All-Bounteous, the Most Exalted, the Powerful, the Mighty, and the Merciful.