The Power of a Collective Fast

During General Conference last weekend, President Russell M. Nelson called for a worldwide fast on Good Friday (April 10) to “prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic.” Notably, this is the second collective fast in less than two weeks that Nelson has organized to petition God to alleviate “the physical, emotional and economic effects” of the global coronavirus pandemic.

For those less familiar with the practice, Latter-day Saints periodically engage in ritual fasts, which generally involve abstaining from food and drink for 24 hours (or 2 meals), prayerfully dedicating the fasts to specific purposes, and contributing the value of the skipped meals (or more if you are able) to the needy.

Now I can’t claim to understand the spiritual calculus of fasting, but I know I’ve felt real power in the practice. Some 20 years ago, I found myself struggling with some significant health issues. In the weeks that followed, my friends, who were scattered across the globe serving Mormon missions, collectively fasted on my behalf, an act from which I drew great strength and peace of mind and that also deepened these friendships. More recently, as my older sister engaged in a years long and ultimately unsuccessful battle against cancer, the periodic fasts I dedicated to her served to focus my thoughts on her well-being, generated great compassion within me for her and her family, and somehow managed to reduce the physical distance between us (as she lived several states away). While I think my sister was always a little uncomfortable being the subject of such fasts–she was used to spearheading them for others–I know the fasting and prayers of others brought her real comfort and helped her to lean into her community.

Ultimately, I believe the purpose of fasting has more to do with us, including the state of mind it puts us in and the awareness it creates within us, than it does in prompting God’s hand. Fasting requires us to put mind over body, privileging our hopes and prayers, at least for the moment, over our physical comfort and inclinations. Collective fasts also enable us to focus the attention of a community on those in need, harnessing our communal power in both thought and deed, while knitting us more closely together, no matter how far apart geographically we might be. As such, I plan to heed the prophet’s call and prayerfully fast on Good Friday, dedicating the exercise to a world in need, including close friends who are on the front lines battling the outbreak at great personal risk.

For any who are of mind, I invite you to join in this fast, regardless of your religion or your state of belief. If you are not a person of faith, then simply join us in meditating upon the current plight of millions of our fellow beings as this pandemic runs its course, the interconnectedness of humanity, and the marvel of what Carl Sagan so memorably called our “Pale Blue Dot.” Let us use this as an opportunity to draw closer together, acknowledge our shared humanity, and work as one toward a common purpose, contributing what we are in a position to, even while we maintain the physical distance that our fight against this virus currently requires.

7 comments for “The Power of a Collective Fast

  1. April 9, 2020 at 10:27 am

    Fasting is a principle I’ve struggled with in the past; hoping to make this one meaningful. I’m excited to fast with you, this group, the church, and many others. Thanks for the notes Marc.

  2. Gilgamesh
    April 9, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    I live in California and my wife was listening to a pop radio station yesterday when an ad came on. It was President Nelson inviting all to join in the fast tomorrow.

  3. GEOFF -AUS
    April 9, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    D&C 130
    20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated
    21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

    I have always thought of it as the “law of natural consequences”

    Can this law be overruled by fasting and prayer?

    In Australia we have a population of 30 million, with a land area similar to the continental US. There are between 60,000 (census) and 155,000 (church) members.

    We had a fast day on January 5 for rain and to stop the bushfires.  Within a week we had rain, within a fortnight floods, and within a month the fires were out.

    The majority of members (the vocal ones anyway) are climate deniers, because it is part of the extreme right culture that is percieved as required of good members.  Should a climate denier be able to fast and pray to fix the climate, or should she have to live with the consequences?

    We now have a fast to control the covid 19.

    Should you be able to vote for Trump, who started off saying covid 19 was a hoax by democrats, moved on to china flu, and is now advocating an untried treatment, not supported by his medical advisors.  Where you have a system that people who are laid off loose their healthcare.  No living wage. etc etc. 

    In the light of the first scripture should members expect to fix problems  by fasting whithout repenting of their support for those contributing to the problem?

    In Aust we had terrible leadership from our conservative government on the fires, but they learned and have been good on the virus.

    https://www.smh.com.au/national/coronavirus-updates-live-global-covid-19-cases-surpass-1-4-million-worldwide-ruby-princess-told-to-dock-in-sydney-by-abf-20200408-p54icd.html

     Health Minister Greg Hunt says the curve continues to flatten, with fewer than 100 people contracting the virus in the past 24 hours. As of lunchtime, 6013 Australians have tested positive, 260 are in hospital, 82 remain in intensive care and 35 are on ventilators. The death toll stands at 51.  We reached a peak on march 28.  All deaths are over 65.

    America https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/
    435000 cases 15000 deaths and this is expected to reach between 60,000 and 100,000 deaths.

    America has 11 times the population of Australia so you could have 11 times our figures, would be 66,000 cases, and 561 deaths, if you had the health services and purposefull government.

    Will someone be held responsible for the extra suffering and death America is going to suffer? Or will the fast stop it in its tracks? Already you have 14400 more unjustified deaths, and that is expected to rise a lot.

    Will fasting and prayer help or just divert attention from the real basic systematic problems, and allow the problems to remain.

     

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  4. Sute
    April 11, 2020 at 4:10 am

    When we fast, we ask someone (God) who can answer our needs to help us.
    We deny ourselves of something we need and in turn help others who are in need.
    Thus, fasting is literally the opportunity God gives us to become ministering angels to others who are praying for relief.

    If we are unwilling to impart our blessings unto those who need them, why do we suspect God will bless us when we need it?

    Fasting is an opportunity to deny our needs and focus on anothers’ needs. And in so doing we’ll be blessed.

    It’s the essence of the gospel. It’s the essence of repentance. It’s the essence of priesthood takes these consecrated funds and uses them for so much more than just paying bills or buying food.

    Geoff, while writing this I just saw your comment. Sheesh. Come on, is Easter weekend. Lets try to be faith positive without inviting or baiting contention.

  5. Murray
    April 11, 2020 at 5:33 am

    As a reasonably faithful Church member in Australia, I have always fasted (sometimes imperectly) when asked, and have never really expected anything from it apart feeling like I’ve contributed to the Fast Offering fund.

    Sute, I’m not sure why Geoff-Aus feels like he has to bring left vs right politics into every discussion here, but not all Aussie church members are like that. Most of us are fairly quiet conservative types :)

  6. GEOFF -AUS
    April 11, 2020 at 7:08 pm

    Sute, Yes it is easter, and it looks like 7 to 8.000 Americans will die over easter, because of decisions of your governments. But we fasted to slow this down, and the weather is beautiful. Unless the faith you refer to is in your leaders in washington, I was not questioning that either.

    Murray, on this occasion there is nothing about left v right politics in my comment. I was questioning whether if you vote for a particular candidate, and he causes a disaster, you can then fast and pray to remove the problem without repenting of the original decision to elect the disaster causer? It is a philosophical question, that might require work on a persons part.

    I was contrasting Australias performance on the virus with Americas, so that Americans reading this would realise what was possible. Although we in Aus see news about America every night, Aus would not get a mention on Utah news more than once a year if ever. As you would be aware Aus also has a conservative gov. So no left v right.

  7. wayfarer
    April 14, 2020 at 3:29 am

    I think it is appropriate to be deliberating during a fast over what needs to change in our behaviour, including our political behaviour in such circumstances. These are decisions that affect every one of my brothers and sisters. I’m feeling pretty repentant right now about a number of things raised by the Spirit with me during my fast.

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