The goal of the fast (after all the prayer, meditation, and spiritual recuperation) is that we will arise to perform praiseworthy deeds.” And, what deed could be more praiseworthy than caring for and helping those who are in need?
The late Wayne Dyer wrote, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” So, let’s for a few moments look upon wealth and poverty through the lenses of the Holy Manifestations of God throughout the ages. Most people look at what they have as their own, and believe that they have achieved their good fortune and wealth solely on their own merits and worth, and not that they have been blessed by God in order that they may be a blessing to others.
“Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge.” (1)
A very few give as a sacrifice; most give what they no longer want, can get a tax benefit from doing so, or only when they have extra. Sadly, far too many refuse to give anything at all, even when they have abundance, saying things like, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” or “the poor don’t work hard enough or are lazy.” They haughtily spew selfish words like, “every man for himself and God for us all.” This is pure ignorance, for Bahaullah warned that what we have been given is through God’s grace:
“Be ye trustworthy on earth, and withhold not from the poor the things given unto you by God through His grace. He, verily, will bestow upon you the double of what ye possess. He, in truth, is the All-Bounteous, the Most Generous. … O ye rich ones on earth! If ye encounter one who is poor, treat him not disdainfully. Reflect upon that whereof ye were created. Every one of you was created of a sorry germ.” (2)
During the Fast we are to focus on prayer, meditation, and spiritual recuperation. It is a time “refresh and gladden our spirits”, tame the animal impulses within, and to align our will with the Will of God. Each of these actions focus our thoughts inward, encourage us to clean up our own acts, and remind us to tame our own tenacious egos. We are also told that the Fast will generate heat, and increase our love, joy, and radiance, as we “arise to perform praiseworthy deeds.” The focus today however is one of the few that is asking us to look outward, and to be God’s mercy to the poor and destitute, as one of those “praiseworthy deeds.”
As our 19-Day Fast draws close to an end, we will now focus our minds and hearts on another duty of the Fast, to become more aware of the poor and destitute. While the Fast has innumerable benefits for the individual, it is also a time that we are to focus on the unfortunate poor who are caught in the choking tentacles of a society that is not founded on divine principles. Instead, we are to do what we can to lift their burden when we are able. Clearly the Fast is more than a personal commitment to simply give up an addiction or joy.
From Baha’i Prayers
“All praise be unto God, Who hath revealed the law of obligatory prayer as a reminder to His servants, and enjoined on them the Fast that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute.”(3) — Bahá’u’lláh
Fasting, as you see, is a time for those who have been blessed to have resources to look beyond themselves and care for those who are suffering. Saying a prayer for them at a distance, studying with them, or giving them words of encouragement is not enough as Abdul-Baha explains:
Knowledge is not enough; we hope by the Love of God we shall put it into practice. A spiritual universal Force is needed for this. Meetings are good for engendering spiritual force. To know that it is possible to reach a state of perfection, is good; to march forward on the path is better. We know that to help the poor and to be merciful is good and pleases God, but knowledge alone does not feed the starving man, nor can the poor be warmed by knowledge or words in the bitter winter; we must give the practical help of Loving-kindness. (4)
Consider this guidance from the Bible:
In Isaiah, more wisdom of the Fast is explained. The followers are admonished about wickedness, heavy burdens, freeing the oppressed, and that feeding the poor is not enough, they must also bring them into their houses. They were promised, that If they were obedient, health and the Glory of the Lord would be their reward.
“(Isaiah 58:) Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
to undo the heavy burdens, and
to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not
to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.
The Prophet [Muhammad] also spoke of Fasting and looking after the poor:
“The one who looks after a widow or a poor person is like a Mujahid (warrior) who fights for Allah’s Cause, or like him who performs prayers all the night and fasts all the day.”
So you see, consideration of the poor is highly prized in the eyes of God. And, this regard for the poor goes beyond just food and shelter, it extends to the education of the children of the poor.
Abdu’l-Bahá explained, “that …if a man educated the children of the poor, who could not themselves afford to do so, it was, in the sight of God, as if he had educated the Son of God.” (5)
So we have been talking about the virtues of generosity, kind-heartedness, love, and magnanimity when serving the poor, and that it pleases our God. However, this must be done voluntarily from the heart and not coerced.
“The virtue of man made manifest through voluntary philanthropy based upon the idea of human solidarity is as follows: Rich men give to the poor-that is, they assist the poor, but by their own desire. It is not well that the poor should coerce the rich to contribute to them. Such coercion would be followed by disintegration and the organization of the affairs of society would be disturbed.” (6)
Hopefully you will reflect on this guidance today and in obedience to Baha’u’llah’s admonition, “strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action.”
- (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)
- (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 54)
- (Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 60)
- (in “The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting,” compiled by the Baha’i World Centre)
- Volume 7, Book 64, Number 266: (Hadith, Bukhari Vol 7)
- (SOW – Star of the West, Star of the West – 9) – (Compilation, war, peace and government, p. 94.)