The Fast (2-20 March) is a very special time of the year for Bahá’ís, during which we do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. However, the significance of this period goes beyond the giving up of physical nourishment, as explained by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
…this physical fast is a symbol of the spiritual fast. This Fast leadeth to the cleansing of the soul from all selfish desires, the acquisition of spiritual attributes, attraction to the breezes of the All-Merciful, and enkindlement with the fire of divine love.
Fasting is “the cause of the elevation of one’s spiritual station”. This includes becoming conscious of our behavior towards food and the material world that surrounds us. Moreover, it allows us to understand and sympathize with those that suffer from hunger on a daily basis, or do not even have clean water to drink.
The Master always exemplified compassion and taught us the importance of helping others with love and to be conscious of their suffering. The period of the Fast allows us to understand better those friends that struggle every day for their own survival. It is true that we get to feel only a very small dose of their suffering, but we learn to be grateful that at the end of the day we have access to food, bringing to our conscience the importance for everybody to have that same right: to have access to the food needed for the survival and development of our bodies. What is more, there is also a lesson we can learn from them, as their riches lay somewhere else, more in the spiritual realm than that of the physical…
During the Fast we have the opportunity to concentrate more on the food of the soul, through prayers and meditation. May Maxwell during one of her pilgrimages learned from the Master that “the food man eats is of no importance, as its effect endures but a short time. But the food of the spirit is life to the soul and its effects endure eternally”. She heard ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tell the ‘story of the Hermit’:
Bahá’u’lláh ‘was traveling from one place to another with His followers’ and ‘He passed through a lonely country where, at some little distance from the highway, a hermit lived alone in a cave. He was a holy man, and having heard that Our Lord, Bahá’u’lláh, would pass that way, he watched eagerly for His approach. When the Manifestation arrived at that spot the hermit knelt down and kissed the dust before His feet and said to Him: “Oh, my Lord, I am a poor man living alone in a cave nearby; but henceforth I shall account myself the happiest of mortals if Thou wilt but come for a moment to my cave and bless it by Thy Presence.” Then Bahá’u’lláh told the man that He would come, not for a moment but for three days, and He bade His followers cast their tents, and await His return. The poor man was so overcome with joy and with gratitude that he was speechless, and led the way in humble silence to his lowly dwelling in a rock. There the Glorious One sat with him, talking to him and teaching him, and toward evening the man bethought himself that he had nothing to offer his great Guest but some dry meat and some dark bread, and water from a spring nearby. Not knowing what to do he threw himself at the feet of his Lord and confessed his dilemma. Bahá’u’lláh comforted him and by a word bade him fetch the meat and bread and water; then the Lord of the universe partook of this frugal repast with joy and fragrance as though it had been a banquet, and during the three days of His visit they ate only of this food which seemed to the poor hermit the most delicious he had ever eaten. Bahá’u’lláh declared that He had never been more nobly entertained nor received greater hospitality and love. “This,” explained the Master, when He had finished the story, shows us how little man requires when he is nourished by the sweetness of all foods – the love of God.”’
Compilation: The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting.
Vignettes from the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá”, collected by Annamarie Honnold.
Photograph: Christian Naenny, http://nineteendays.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/day-thirteen-5/