Tonight at the Ottawa Baha’i Centre, there’s a community potluck organized by the east-end Baha’is (from “Sector 1” as it’s habitually called). The sun isn’t down yet and already the tantalizing smell of food wafts through the air—oven-baked pasta, casseroles, persian rice, curries and meat. Fasting heightens the senses, especially when it relates to eating—the smell and taste of food seem amplified, and so much fuller. People have been slowly trickling in with bowls and platters large and small. Now, a program is starting in the main hall as I sit and type these words in the bookstore; one of the youth is delivering a presentation about his first time fasting. “Today is the fourteenth day of fasting, and I’m still going strong,” he says. “Fasting is of two kinds, material and spiritual,” he says, quoting from the writings of the Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi. “The material fasting is abstaining from food or drink, that is, from the appetites of the body. But spiritual, ideal fasting is this, that man abstain from selfish passions, from negligence and from satanic animal traits. Therefore, material fasting is a token of the spiritual fasting.” Prayers and devotions follow, as the Baha’is observe this “ideal fasting” in their hearts and spirits, sharing time as a community in worship of their loving Creator. One of the Persian friends, with a strong, solid, and melodious voice which reverberates in the reverent silence, chants a prayer in his native tongue, calling on God to accept our fast. Whether or not they understand the words, the friends—from every race and nationality understand the spirit of this call. He explains to me the gist of the chant once the program ends: “A lover suffers a great deal before he reaches his beloved, but in the process he teaches everyone patience.”
The time is 7:08 PM; the time of “sunset” has officially come, and my mother brings me a glass of water. Another day of fasting is done.