ayyam-i-ha and the fasting season

It’s a busy time of year for Bahá’ís, no matter where they are. The joyous festival of Ayyam-i-Há is taking place, a festival of fellowship, generosity, and hospitality. The Bahá’ís in Da Nang have been busy with a campaign of home visits to elderly members of the community. Tonight, Quynh, Kiên and I gathered together with them at a fun musical celebration, and tomorrow we’ll be doing some visits of our own in our neighbourhood, and cutting out some Ayyam-i-Há decorations with some of the local kids.

dawn of a new dayTomorrow evening comes the Feast of Loftiness, which kicks off the 19-day-long Bahá’í Fast, during which Bahá’ís from the ages of 15 to 70 years abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise ’til sunset. The Fast comes to an end with the celebration of Naw-Rúz on March 21st. Falling on the spring equinox, Naw-rúz is a celebration of revival, renewal, and springtime, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Fasting is a period of preparation for this springtime, during which we not only fast physically, but pay special attention to our spiritual life as well, in order to come into a new year with our souls refreshed and strengthened.

Interested in finding sunrise and sunset times for the Bahá’í Fast? Check out the list of Bahá’í Fasting Times for 2014, complete with links to Fasting calendars for major Canadian cities and selected cities worldwide, and a ready-made chart for Ottawa (for the folks back home).

150-year anniversary, 170-year calendar

walking these blessed pathsThis year, Bahá’ís in all corners of the world celebrate a special anniversary: 150 years since Bahá’u’lláh, the Manifestation of God for this age, openly declared His mission to humankind. Round numbers inevitably give pause for reflection, and there’s been quite a lot of it recently. Lots of blogs and news sites have posted some potent reflections about Ridván, including Bahá’í Blog (written by Ottawa/Dalian’s own James Howden), Bahá’í Perspectives (returning after a long hiatus), the Canadian Bahá’í News Service, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Huffington Post, have all posted meaty articles about Ridván this year. Moreover, this year is that one year out of every five during which the Bahá’í International Convention takes place, a grand international gathering whose purpose is to elect the Universal House of Justice, the Institution at the head of the Bahá’í Faith. The convention starts on April 29, and delegates from around the world, from Virginia to Vietnam and from Finland to Fiji, have already gathered in the Holy Land to pray at the Bahá’í Shrines in Haifa and ‘Akká to prepare themselves for this most sacred duty.

The exhilaration one feels at living in this day, the day in which the newly reborn Faith of God is coalescing, raising up its Institutions and putting in place the structures that humanity needs to advance into the long-awaited stage of maturity, is incredible. So hard is it to describe that I don’t have too much to write about it yet. For the time being, I did want to address one very good question that’s come up recently that a few friends have had trouble putting to rest, one that has to do with the Bahá’í calendar.

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anticipating the fast

dawn of a new dayFebruary rolls around, and the groundhogs have poked out of their holes and carried about their business. Shadows or no shadows, we know the spring is coming, and with it, a busy season for Bahá’ís: First, Ayyam-i-Há, a time for fellowship, generosity, and hospitality; then the Feast of Loftiness, which opens the 19-day-long month of fasting from March 2nd–20th, during which Bahá’ís from the ages of 15 to 70 years abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise ’til sunset. The Fast comes to an end with the celebration of Naw-Rúz on March 21st. Falling on the spring equinox, Naw-rúz is a celebration of revival, renewal, and springtime, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Fasting is a period of preparation for this springtime, during which we not only fast physically, but pay special attention to our spiritual life as well, in order to come into a new year with our souls refreshed and strengthened.

Interested in finding sunrise and sunset times for the Bahá’í Fast? Check out the list of Bahá’í Fasting Times for 2013, complete with links to Fasting calendars for major Canadian cities and selected cities worldwide, and a ready-made chart for Ottawa.

ascension of ‘abdu’l-bahá

ascension of 'abdu'l-baháWe awoke after only a brief rest, and slipped downstairs quietly. lighting candles and gathering around the fireplace, we placed His portrait before us and began to call to mind His life, His sufferings, His legacy. It was 91 years ago tonight that He, the Master, the Mystery of God, had passed onwards into the spiritual worlds, a most unique and blessed soul returning to His place of origin, having done as much as He could with the time allotted to Him in the limited, physical worlds.

We commemorated His passing with reflections on the sufferings He endured, reading a section of His Will and Testament in which He described the calamities heaped upon Him by those who broke Baha’u’lláh’s Covenant:

O MY LORD, my heart’s Desire, Thou Whom I ever invoke, Thou Who art my Aider and my Shelter, my Helper and my Refuge! Thou seest me submerged in an ocean of calamities that overwhelm the soul, of afflictions that oppress the heart, of woes that disperse Thy gathering, of ills and pains that scatter Thy flock. Sore trials have compassed me round and perils have from all sides beset me. Thou seest me immersed in a sea of unsurpassed tribulation, sunk into a fathomless abyss, afflicted by mine enemies and consumed with the flame of their hate, enkindled by my kinsmen with whom Thou didst make Thy strong Covenant and Thy firm Testament, wherein Thou biddest them turn their hearts to this wronged one, to keep away from me the foolish, the unjust, and refer unto this lonely one all that about which they differ in Thy Holy Book, so that the Truth may be revealed unto them, their doubts may be dispelled and Thy manifest Signs be spread abroad.

Yet now Thou seest them, O Lord, my God! with Thine eye that sleepeth not, how that they have broken Thy Covenant and turned their backs thereon, how with hate and rebelliousness they have erred from Thy Testament and have arisen intent upon malice.

As a testament to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life, upon His passing, the entire city of Haifa was swept by “an unprecedented stir and tumult, and filling all hearts with unutterable grief”. This grief transcended all boundaries of race, nation and creed, uniting “Jews and Christians and Muslims and Druzes, of all persuasions and denominations; Arabs and Turks and Kurds and Armenians and other ethnic groups… in mourning His passing, in being aware of a great loss they had suffered.” (H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 452.)

This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of His visit to North America, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada has asked each of us to consider how each of us might carry on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s legacy through our own actions, becoming involved, as He did, with the people around Him, striving to improve their situations and contribute to their well-being, and to be to each one of them a channel of God’s grace. Six years ago on this day, I wrote down my own personal list of “to-do” items, many of which still stand: increasing my involvement with children’s classes; encouraging others to serve in whatever capacity they are able; making effort to turn towards God each day, imploring His assistance; teaching and serving with selflessness and humility. On this day, then, I concentrate my thoughts on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and ask God to help me follow His example more closely, little by little, day by day, and to “strengthen me in my servitude“.

happy naw-ruz

sippin'today was my last day at work before the trip! I’m feeling nervous about the preparations, as I mentioned yesterday, but at least I know that things are in good hands at work. there’ll be a nice little lunchtime farewell next Tuesday, I’ll drop by again the day before leaving, and that’s it until September.

Tonight, a special celebration happens, called Naw-rúz; while it also happens to be the Persian new year (as recently attested to by President Obama), it’s also the Bahá’í new year, symbolizing spiritual renewal and the dawn of a new day for humankind. Apart from having a great time there, I’ll be performing on stage during the artistic portion, as well as offering a prayer set to an improvised melody (much like the tracks from the prayercast I post here). Before that, I’ll be joining a band of friends—almost 80 of them, in fact—in breaking the Fast for the last time this year, at Saffron Restaurant on Rideau St. Good friend, former co-worker and fellow web dude Martin used his wheeling-and-dealing talents to secure a buffet dinner for 80 people, including unlimited kebab (koobideh beef, joojeh chicken) and Persian rice. I’m definitely looking forward to it, along with the other 79 I’m sure.

I have to say though, I’ll miss the Fast. For some reason it seemed unusually sweet this year, although it was also hard. I felt as though I was able to connect with God through prayer in a way that I don’t always feel able to. Maybe it’s the influence of preparing to move out of my apartment and leave for Vietnam that’s been helping me become more detached from my surroundings, my possessions, and the like. You know, like packing up your life into a set of luggage and leaving behind the rest. Whatever it is, I’ve found it… especially sweet, in that it seems to have allowed me to deepen my spiritual experience during the past month, helped me to leave behind attachment to material things. Awesome.

Speaking of material things, it’s getting close to dinner time. Happy Naw-rúz and a glorious springtime to you all, materially and spiritually.

the life of baha’u’llah

shrine of baha'u'llahHappy celebration of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh! Right on time, the Baha’i International Community has launched a new website that serves as a pictorial history of the life of Bahá’u’lláh. you should see it, especially if you’re planning to go on pilgrimage soon.

it’s been just about a year since my family returned from our pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel—in the midst of my now-busy life, looking back on the traces of that sacred journey brings back a lot of memories and a lot of longing.