A Report on the Meeting on Tuesday March 29th 2017
A Talk by Sylvia Clark on the Baha'i Faith
Baha’i Obligatory Prayers, Feasting & Fasting
Sylvia Clark introuced her blind Bahai’i friend Robin Christopherson from Warwick. Robin has recently received an MBE for ‘services to digital inclusion’, given in recognition of his contribution to promoting awareness of the need to provide digital products and services that are appropriate and inclusive for disabled people.
She explained that for the Baha’is, the collected Writings of Bahá’u’lláh are considered be a Revelation from God and these form the foundation of the Bahá’í Faith. The writings of The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are regarded as divine revelation, and the writings and talks of `Abdu'l-Bahá, and the writings of Shoghi Effendi as authoritative interpretation.
She also provided a handout, which you can download here
Praying, Feasting & Fasting
“Cling firmly to obligatory prayer and fasting. Verily, the religion of God is like unto heaven; fasting is its sun, and obligatory prayer is its moon.“
“The sweetest thing in this world is to obey strictly the commands of God… There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer…..The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication. Prayer is "conversation with God …. “
Words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá regarding The importance of prayer
Diary of Mírzá Ahmad Sohráb, 15 March 1914
Bahá'u'lláh attached the utmost importance to these.
“As for obligatory prayer, it hath been sent down by the Pen of the Most High in such wise that it setteth ablaze the hearts and captivateth the souls and minds of men.”
(Compilations, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)
Abdu'l-Bahá describes them as 'the very foundation of the Cause of God' and the “cause of spiritual life” for the individual.
“The saying of Obligatory Prayers…. will enable the believer to gain a glimpse of the majesty and grandeur of Baha’u’llah. Like the drop when it saw the ocean, he will become humble and self-effacing.
to the Baha’is, it’s the most sacred rite
- the most important kind of prayer….
- its purpose:- to foster the development of humility and devotion,
- ‘is a major factor in enabling a soul to recognise its own importance in relation to its Creator and to acknowledge its own shortcomings.’
The Bahá'í writings strongly warn against neglecting these prayers, or minimizing their importance. There are three of them, & Baha’i’s are entirely free to choose….
… ”Whichever prayer is read will suffice” (- Baha’u’llah)
The Short prayer
is a brief affirmation of the power of God and the servitude of the worshipper.
Though very short, it serves as a perfect reminder of who we are.
The prayer is said between noon and sunset & while standing in an attitude of humility before God.
The text of this very short prayer is:
"I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting."
The Medium prayer, 3 pages
stresses the power and loftiness of God, and the grace that is shown through His revelation.
Said three times during the day
between sunrise and noon,
between noon and sunset,
during the two hours after sunset
Over the years of my recovery from the stroke, although sometimes I wasn’t even able to read properly, couldn’t even stand before God , and I certainly couldn’t possibly say it three times, so I did the best I could lying in my bed – in time, this was to become my favourite prayer.
The Long Prayer: about nine pages, this one….. can be said anytime during the day. It used to take me about 20 mins. I remember now, that I used to say this every day. …hopefully, eventually, I shall be able read it again…
With this prayer, the person faces the Qiblih (the Point of Adoration) to worship God, utilising both the voice and body movements…
‘Know thou that in every word and movement of the obligatory prayer there are allusions, mysteries and a wisdom that man is unable to comprehend… ‘
—‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Prayers, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude”
And Bahá'u'lláh said about it:
"...the long Obligatory Prayer should be said at those times when one feeleth himself in a prayerful mood. In truth, it hath been revealed in such wise that if it be recited to a rock, that rock would stir and speak forth; and if it be recited to a mountain, that mountain would move and flow.
Well is it with the one who reciteth it and fulfilleth God's precepts.”
ALSO: Reciting “The Greatest Name” , i.e: “God is the Most Glorious”
“It hath been ordained that every believer in God, the Lord of Judgement, shall, each day, having washed his hands and then his face, seat himself and, turning unto God, repeat "Allah-u-Abha" ninety-five times.
Such was the decree of the Maker of the Heavens when, with majesty and power, He established Himself upon the thrones of His Names."
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 25)
BY THE WAY…
In the Baha’I Faith, - Bahá’u’lláh prohibits confession to, and seeking absolution of one’s sins from a human being.
Instead, one should beg forgiveness from God alone.
He explained that “such confession before people… results in one’s humiliation and abasement”, and that God “…wisheth not the humiliation of His servants”.
Baha'is have no clergy.
The faith aims at making them aware of their religious scriptures so that each Baha'i reads and learns the Baha'i scriptures. This results in a community of members who are well-versed in the faith, so that there is no need for an interpreter or intermediary between God and community — every Baha'i is equal.
Now we’re going to talk about the……
NINETEEN DAY FEAST
Or simply called the “Feast”. All over the planet, the Baha’i communities hold local gatherings which serve as the bedrock of Bahá’í community life.
So Feasts might be in a private house, or in a hall, or in a tribal meeting house in the Amazon, or on a hill in Papua New Guinea.
Ordained by Bahá’u’lláh, He counselled His followers to meet once every Bahá’í month (of nineteen days).
"As to the Nineteen Day Feast, it rejoiceth mind and heart. If this feast be held in the proper fashion, the friends will, once in nineteen days, find themselves spiritually restored, and endued with a power that is not of this world”
“This feast is held to foster comradeship and love,
to call God to mind and
supplicate Him with contrite hearts,
and to encourage benevolent pursuits.” Selection from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 9
All the local Baha’is are warmly welcomed – and expected; and so are Bahá'ís from other communities. Feast involves men, women and children - there’s no segregation at all; no special seats. It’s an uplifting spiritual event. And it’s also an administrative meeting.
You don’t have to go to the Nineteen Day Feast – it’s not obligatory, but its importance is stressed (in a Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 22 December 1934:)
"In regard to the Nineteen Day feasts, Shoghi Effendi is of the opinion that the believers should be impressed with the importance of attending these gatherings which, in addition to their spiritual significance, constitute a vital medium for maintaining close and continued contact between the believers themselves, and also between them and the body of their elected representatives in the local community."*
(*i.e. the “Local Spiritual Assembly”)
The Feast always includes these parts:
(-- & in this order!)
- Devotional, reading of prayers and writings from Baha’u’llah, the Bab and Adbu’l-Baha
- Consultation/Administration, devoted to sharing news and consulting on community affairs
- Socializing, and fellowship. (How many times I’ve heard the children asking “Is it time for the grub, yet?)
…….Must tell you a STORY….
The teacher of religious education asked her pupils bring something to school next week - to come with something that was especially precious within their particular Religion.
The little Sikh boy was allowed to bring his grandfather’s special comb for combing his very long hair.
The Hindu boy wasn’t allowed to bring their Ganesh statue from the home, so he made beautiful drawing of it instead.
The Catholic girl had a lovely statue of the Virgin Mary and her Child. And the Anglican showed everyone a silver cross.
And there was a Baha’i boy, who had struggled earlier in the day, with quite a large package. Unpacking it, he explained: “We don’t have things like statues, or pictures of Baha’u’llah, so I brought this. I helped Mum with it, and the Friends really liked it last night! I couldn’t bring any of what had been in it...” He showed it proudly to the class….it was a beautifully, clean, - - casserole dish.
With a very slightly sad voice, he finished with:
”cos everything had been eaten during the Feast!”
FEAST: 1st section -
The DEVOTIONAL usually consists of the reading of prayers, meditations and excerpts from the Bahá'í writings: is a means to uplift the spiritual character of the community, and put the members in a spiritual frame of mind.
Here is a short Baha’i prayer
O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavour, and grant them strength to serve Thee.
O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord.
And A Writing of Bahaullah’s - this is from His “The Hidden Words”
68. "O CHILDREN OF MEN!
Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light!
Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory."
FEAST: 2nd section
The ADMINISTATION & CONSULTATION
Bahá'ís are encouraged to consult on all important matters, and the Feast provides an opportunity for the community
- to gather and discuss its affairs;
- for members to report news,
- report financial issues
- any other items of interest to the community.
- communication between the community and its Local Spiritual Assembly,
A point about Bahá'í consultation: (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 30 August 1933 to an individual believer)
“The principle of consultation, which constitutes one of the basic laws of the Administration, should be applied to all Bahá'í activities which affect the collective interests of the Faith, for it is through cooperation and continual exchange of thoughts and views that the Cause can best safeguard and foster its interests. “Individual initiative, personal ability and resourcefulness, though indispensable are, unless supported and enriched by the collective experiences and wisdom of the group, utterly incapable of achieving such a tremendous task."
So, it is at Feast that Baha’is learn to put aside any prejudices and personal attitudes - and rather fully explore the matters under consultation with one another.
FEAST: SOCIAL section (3RD Part)
The social portion of the feast may involve the arts, music, poetry, conversation….
normally accompanied by some refreshments – usually the responsibility of the host family to provide and personally serve something -- “even if this is simply water”. Often, though -- mostly -- food is served.
Now we’re going talk about The Baha’I Fast….
The Baha’i Fast was instituted by the Báb: and was accepted by Bahá'u'lláh - who stated its rules for Baha’is, in his Book of Laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, (the Most Holy Book).
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had said:
“Fasting, is the cause of awakening man. The heart becomes tender and the spirituality of man increases. This is produced by the fact that man’s thoughts will be confined to the commemoration of God, and through this awakening and stimulation, surely ideal advancements follow”.
(Reported by Corinne True)
“This material fast… is taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven ~ and catching fire from the love of God.”
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 69)
The Baha’i Fast is, again, a period of nineteen days - the last month of the Bahá'í year - during which Baha’is observe a sunrise-to-sunset fast. That is: from sunrise to sunset, we don’t eat or drink at all. Most will get up before dawn to have a simple breakfast, ablutions before the sun rises, then praying ~ before a normal working day begins.
Shoghi Effendi, explains that the Fast
"…is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires."
Although it is binding on all Bahá'ís who have reached the age 15 until the age of 70, observing the fast is an individual private obligation and observance, and it is not enforceable by individuals, nor the Bahá'í administrative institutions. For instance, if you notice that a person is not fasting, we would not say anything to anyone.
And we don’t view it as a practice of asceticism, and it is not to be used as a means of penance. If you feel you need to ask for divine forgiveness, there are some wonderful prayers that have been written by the Bab, Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha, that ask for forgiveness, and those help us to put matters to right.
Exemptions from fasting
There are some exemptions to fasting, (provided in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas ) for instance
- Anyone who is ill.
- people who are travelling
- anyone who’s doing heavy labour.
- women who are pregnant.
- women who are nursing.
- women who are menstruating
Each of us are aware of our own reasons for not fasting, but for everyone else, it is nothing to do with anybody else!
However, one may still choose to fast if they so wish.
A number of special prayers have been revealed specifically for the period of the fast. One, for example, begins with these words:
“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.”
(then it continues for 10 pages!)
These nineteen days of fasting occur immediately before the celebratory beginning of the Bahá'í New Year, (Naw-Rúz), on the vernal equinox (March 19/20/21).
Of course, it’s a festive event, again with prayers, often with music and the arts, and is often combined with a dinner.
When you might see a very full and tasty dish… served in a casserole!!