In many of the world’s faith traditions, people fast to attain spiritual enlightenment.
As a matter of fact, in the Bible (Exodus 34:28), fasting is mentioned as early as the time of Moses when he received the 10 Commandments.
Fasting is meant to take you, temporarily, out of the realm of the physical and focus your attention heavenward; as one Jewish guide to fasting puts it:
… at the heart of this practice is a desire to shift our attention away from our immediate needs and to focus on more spiritual concerns. – Lauren F. Winner, Madhouse Sabbath
Mathew 4:1-11 tells us that Jesus fasted for 40 days for spiritual renewal. The Bible recommends fasting for all: “And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by Prayer and Fasting.” – Mark 9:29
During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year, fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset:
Praise belongs to God who appointed among those roads His month, the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting, the month of submission, the month of purity, the month of putting to test, the month of standing in prayer, in which the Quran was sent down as guidance to the people, and as clear signs of the Guidance and the Separator. O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may (learn) self restraint. – Qur’an 2:183
In the writings of the Baha’i Faith, prayer and fasting are referred to as the “two wings to man’s life.” Every year, during the last month of the Baha’i calendar, Baha’is all around the world abstain from food and drink for 19 days from sunrise to sunset. This Fast, the Baha’i teachings say, purifies the body and the spirit:
Blessed is the one who through the heat generated by the Fast increaseth his love, and who, with joy and radiance, ariseth to perform worthy deeds. – Baha’u’llah, quoted in The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting.
Science and religion agree, the Baha’i teachings assert, and fasting is no exception. Fasting has therapeutic and healing effects on the spirit as well as the body. In the health video “Fasting – Safe and Effective Use of an Ancient Powerful Healing Therapy,” Dr. Michael Kapler expounds on the benefits of fasting. He reports that during fasting:
- Inflammatory processes subside—especially in the skin, bladder, and bowel
- Blood sugar normalizes as insulin receptors clear
- The immune system is boosted
- Blood pressure normalizes
- Blood flow increases as arteries widen and make the blood less viscous
- Taste buds recalibrate and food addictions and cravings become less intense
However, as wonderful as these health benefits may be, fasting without spirituality fails to tap into its mystical power. While fasting, we should concentrate on abstaining—not only from food, but also from impure thoughts, motives and actions. In this way, the Fast will cleanse our body, mind and spirit:
Fasting will bring spiritual rebirth to those of you who cleanse and purify your bodies. The light of the world will illuminate within you when you fast and purify yourself… – Mahatma Gandhi
The best of all medicines are resting and fasting. – Benjamin Franklin
Baha’is who are sick, pregnant, nursing, elderly, younger than 15, doing heavy labor or traveling don’t fast. In these cases, the Fast becomes a commitment of the heart to observe it in the spiritual sense. Therefore, one can observe the Fast, even while eating and drinking, if these are necessary. On the other hand, if one were to observe the Fast physically, but nullify it with unspiritual thoughts and behavior, it is considered broken. The Fast is a personal commitment between the believer and God, and, as with all things, Baha’is are exhorted never to judge one another.
I first observed the Baha’i Fast at age 15—and I experienced a new sense of spiritual ecstasy. Today I still look forward to the Fast as a magical time when Baha’is around the world, from every nation, are united in the bounty of fasting together. Every hour holds a special gift. To me, the air feels enchanted and I envision angels ever so near. As Baha’u’llah wrote in one of his prayers for fasting:
Thou hast endowed every hour of these days with a special virtue, inscrutable to all except Thee, Whose knowledge embraceth all created things. Thou hast, also, assigned unto every soul a portion of this virtue. – Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 143.
With each new year, the Fast offers me a chance for renewal and a new beginning. It is a constant reminder throughout the day of my purpose, my higher nature and my relationship with God. I believe that if we truly comprehended the myriad mystical and healing benefits of fasting and prayer, we would never want to live without them! Perhaps this prayer for fasting sums it up best:
I ask of Thee by Thy Self and by him who hath fasted out of love for Thee and for Thy good-pleasure—and not out of self and desire, nor out of fear of Thy wrath—and by Thy most excellent names and august attributes, to purify Thy servants from the love of aught except Thee and to draw them nigh unto the Dawning-Place of the lights of Thy countenance and the Seat of the throne of Thy oneness. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 259-260.