Fasting always reminds me of what’s sacred. Growing up in suburban America I wasn’t exactly surrounded by a sense of the sacred. I imagine like most folks that grew up in the US there was a clear demarcation between what was sacred, usually places set aside for that purpose like church, or specific, bounded time, like when saying prayers. The rest just was. When I was 15 I went on a service project on the Standing Rock Lakota reservation in South/North Dakota (it straddles both states) that changed my life. We were honored with being allowed to attend a Sun Dance - a 4 day ceremony where Sun Dancers fast and dance while praying for the entirety of the 4 days (this is a picture of the tipi we slept in). They dance in an enclosed circle with onlookers praying and supporting them from a covered bowry. Perhaps the most well-known aspect of the ceremony is towards the end when many of the dancers pierce their skin or have pieces cut off as an offering (there are myriad meanings but one is that our bodies, our skin, is all we own - the rest is given us by God - so that is a true offering).
Those who aren’t dancing often fast themselves, but even if you don’t your awareness of food is heightened. As a mark of respect for the dancers who are going without for the purpose of consecrating themselves you don’t waste food, you don’t cook strong smelling food that might waft into the dancers area and, this is what stuck with me the most for some reason, if you pour out water you do it close to the earth as a sign of respect for this fundamental element of health and well-being both for humanity and the earth. Being so careful about water reminds you that this is a sacred thing, that without it we are nothing. That was my gateway into this understanding that native traditions are powerful reminders of that everything is sacred, all is a gift from the Creator, all is interconnected and worthy of respect. In an interview I once saw of Kevin Locke, an internationally known Lakota hoop dancer and educator, he talked about how the Lakota language is structured in such a way that it causes you to see the inter-relatedness of all things.
During these days of the Baha’i Fast I’m often reminded of these experiences particularly since it’s so hard to hold onto this sense of the sacred being all around us. And I know that when the Fast is over I’ll likely go back to taking things for granted, especially cheeseburgers, but for these 19 days at least I’m aware, which is a truly wonderful gift.