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.

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