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We all need food. An empty stomach sends an urgent message: find nutrition! Eat or starve! So, does a hungry soul send us the same message? Do our souls need nourishment, too, just like our bodies do?
Yes, the Baha’i teachings say.
Those teachings utilize the universal symbol of spiritual nutrition found in many different holy books and scriptures – bread. In this way, bread refers to not only physical sustenance but to the soul’s eternal nourishment.
The Torah, the New Testament, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Zend-Avesta, the Qur’an, and most of the holy books of the world’s great Faiths, all refer to this same “bread of life” in one way or another. Generally, bread symbolizes the life-giving power of God’s revelations; the inner strength we can all derive from partaking of those revelations; and the sustenance those revelations give to the entire world. In the gospel of John, Christ explained: “… my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.”
This is the food that conferreth everlasting life upon the pure in heart and the illumined in spirit. This is the bread of which it is said: “Lord, send down upon us Thy bread from heaven.” This bread shall never be withheld from them that deserve it, nor can it ever be exhausted. It groweth everlastingly from the tree of grace; it descendeth at all seasons from the heavens of justice and mercy.
The Spirit breathing through the Holy Scriptures is food for all who hunger. God Who has given the revelation to His Prophets will surely give of His abundance daily bread to all those who ask Him faithfully.
The phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” comes from the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer recorded by the Bible as originating directly from Christ himself. Repeated in slightly different versions in the gospels of Mathew and Luke, this powerful prayer essentially asks the Creator to grant us life – but not just the physical life our food sustains.
Taken literally, of course, the phrase “daily bread” signifies the necessary nourishment every human being requires. But taken symbolically, it refers to the “bread of life,” the spiritual nourishment that allows our souls to grow and truly thrive.
When Abdu’l-Baha was asked about this Biblical allusion to bread in the book Some Answered Questions, he explained:
By this bread is meant the heavenly sustenance of divine perfections. In other words, whoso partakes of this sustenance – that is, whoso acquires the outpouring grace of God, draws illumination from His light, and obtains his portion of the perfections of Christ – will attain everlasting life. …
It is therefore clearly established that the heavenly sustenance consists in the divine bounties, spiritual splendours, heavenly teachings …
The Baha’i teachings say that these revelations, and the heavenly sustenance they continually provide to humanity, come to us throughout history as a bounty from the Creator, who never leaves humanity bereft of guidance. More importantly, Baha’u’llah taught that the successive revelations actually form one unified spiritual school for humanity – a progressively revealed sequence of linked spiritual messengers:
… all the Prophets of God, His well-favoured, His holy, and chosen Messengers, are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. They only differ in the intensity of their revelation, and the comparative potency of their light.
The sun gives light and warmth to the world every day. None of us could survive without its rays. In a similar way, Baha’is believe, the Creator sends us His gift of the spiritual messengers and prophets to feed, nourish, and enlighten our souls, as this passage from Baha’u’llah expresses:
That which is preeminent above all other gifts, is incorruptible in nature, and pertaineth to God Himself, is the gift of Divine Revelation. Every bounty conferred by the Creator upon man, be it material or spiritual, is subservient unto this. It is, in its essence, and will ever so remain, the Bread which cometh down from Heaven. It is God’s supreme testimony, the clearest evidence of His truth, the sign of His consummate bounty, the token of His all-encompassing mercy, the proof of His most loving providence, the symbol of His most perfect grace.