Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Thought on the Fast

There are so many barriers in life, tests and trials all around us, of all sizes and shapes, and more kinds of difficulty levels than even Nintendo could dream of. The Guardian said that the greatest tests we would face in the West are those of apathy and lethargy. This hit me last night when I began writing this very article. I originally began by writing: "Another year has come and gone. Naw Ruz has slipped on by. (Happy New Year, dear Reader.) And another fast has passed under the belt."

I could have said that. At least, that really is one way to look at it. A sort of blase way, but one way, nonetheless.

Instead, I decided to think about the incredible bounties that accrued over this past month, and rejoice in all that I learned.

I mean, let's look at it again. Just what is it about the Fast that is so meaningful? 19 days of roughly 12-hour fasts, from sunrise to sunset: Why?

Simple, I think. And there seem to be a few clues, as you would expect, in the Writings.

Wordle: Naw Ruz Tabet If we look at Baha'u'llah's prayer for Naw Ruz, and toss it in a word cloud, we will readily discover that after the mention of God, through the words "Thee", "Thou", and "Thy".

Wordle: Naw Ruz, part 2If we remove those words for God, the next most common words are Fast, hath and observed. On the very day of celebration for the New Year, the thing He mentions most often is our having observed the Fast.

Why? Well, if we look at one of the talks by 'Abdu'l-Baha, the one given in 1906, He talks about cycles. He says that the new year is "an expression of a cycle (of the sun); but now is a beginning of a cycle of Reality, a New Cycle, a New Age, a New century, a New Time and a New Year. Therefore it is very blessed." He talks about how the world is becoming renewed at this time of the year. And He likens this time to the dawn. In other parts of the Writings, we are reminded that the world is darkest just before the dawn, and this is the part that I want to look at.

The night is darkest just before the break of day. Winter has it's tightest grip just before the turning of spring. And a butterfly, or a chick, has it's greatest struggle just before it finally breaks through and hatches.

For me, the year has its trials and struggles, most of which are really quite insignificant, but the hardest time of all is the Fast.

It is also the most potent.

The greatest heroes of the Faith arose during the time of the Bab, the very Dawn of this Great Age. In fact, we even refer to them as "the dawn-breakers".

During the time of the Fast, there is an especial potency in the air. My dreams become far more profound. My personal awareness of teaching opportunities is heightened. And my susceptibilities to the breathings of the spirit are enhanced.

All this, provided I fast.

And all this especially at one particular time of the day. (Well, except for the dreams. That only comes when I'm asleep.)

During the Fast, my day usually looks something like this: I wake up well before dawn and do my usual morning preparation stuff. Then I have my breakfast, which is healthier than normal during the Fast. Come noon, I begin to feel a little bit hungry. Then there comes a point where the hunger really hits hard, and this is the time I am most likely to really want to break down and eat, or at least grab a glass of water. But if I don't, if I persevere, there comes a new awareness of the impact and importance of the spirit. This is when I receive those great bounties I described above. This is when I make sure to pray even more, and find myself far more susceptible to that source of inspiration.

It is exactly as described by one wonderful writer. "Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress," said William James, "we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."

It is only by pushing through that boundary of my hunger that I come to that state where I feel no obstruction at all. It is like hatching. You push and push and the very fibers of the cocoon stretch, resisting with all their might, and then suddenly snap away, leaving you free to move.

But what do we do with that new freedom? Now that Naw Ruz has passed, what do we do with that new bounty of lunchtime? Do we hit McDonald's and grab a cheap burger? Or do we continue to use that precious time for something more profound?

In another talk, 'Abdu'l-Baha said that Naw Ruz was a "blessed day. The friends of God should be confirmed in service and servitude. With one another they must be in the utmost harmony, love and oneness, clasping hands, engaged in the commemoration of the Blessed Beauty and thinking of the great results that may be obtained on such a blessed day."

And that, to me, is how the Fast leads us right into this season, and how this great celebration of Naw Ruz propels us forward into the rest of the year, dedicated to service to the human race.

Which is also, coincidentally, the aim of institute process and these series of five-year plans, isn't it?

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