For the people of the Baha’i faith, the new year has yet to arrive. Their new year arrives at sundown on Wednesday , the vernal equinox.
In preparation for the upcoming holy day, members of the Baha’i faith have been fasting from sunrise to sunset for the past 16 days and will continue to fast until the celebration. The day is seen as a time for renewal and a time to make spiritual plans for the new year, says Liberty Lake resident Mary Beth Bertis, one of 140 Baha’is in the Spokane area.
The Baha’i faith began in 1844 with the prophet Baha’u’llah, who was born in Iran in 1817. He was imprisoned and exiled to Baghdad for his beliefs, which were seen as heresy by the more established religions of the time.
The Baha’i faith has several basic principles, says Bertis, including the non-interference of religion with politics, the establishment of justice, the elimination of all prejudice, the elimination of extreme wealth and poverty, equality of men and women, and the establishment of a world government.
“The main message is unity,” says Bertis. “He came to unify all religions and all people.”
For Baha’is, the prophet was the manifestation of God in our time, just as Christ was the prophet of his time, says Bertis.
The Baha’i faith uses the solar calendar, which has 19 days per month. There are five days, called intercalary days, that come between the 19-day months and are not part of any month. These days are seen as the days God has provided for fellowship, Bertis says.
Since the Baha’i religion does not have any clergy, members gather in their homes every 19 days for what is called The Feast. It is a time for prayer and readings as well as fellowship and the sharing of food, says Bertis.
The laws of the faith require all male members to go on a pilgrimage to Israel if they are financially able, but not the women. This isn’t regarded as conflicting with the Baha’i principle of equality of women and men, however.
“Women are exempted because of the rigors of travel,” says Brenda Beaulieu, who recently went on a nine-day pilgrimage with her husband. Women are not prohibited from going, she explains, but are not required to.
Beaulieu says she felt a strong spiritual pull to go on the pilgrimage.
“I think every Baha’i wants to go,” she says.
Israel was very different, she says, because even though it was winter, the grass was green and oranges grew on the trees. Her focus was on spirituality, however.
“That’s the real reason we went,” she says. “We spent a lot of time praying. It was very interesting to hear people wiser than myself speak.”
Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, Beaulieu found the Baha’i faith when she and her first husband were looking for a religion they could both believe in.
“It really touched me when I found it,” says Beaulieu, who has been a member for 20 years. She introduced her second husband, Steve, to the Baha’i faith when they married 12 years ago, and he has been a member ever since.
The Beaulieus will be making an informal presentation about their trip to Israel tonight at 6 p.m. They will present slides and pictures, talk about the places they visited and answer questions.
Anyone interested in attending either the presentation or the new year celebration should call the local Baha’i information office at 326-0152.