This Sunday is Fast and Testimony meeting. With this thought in mind, and a bit of inspiration from the New Era’s vintage 1979 Mormonad caught the interest of the importance and truth of Fasting. The caption reads:
Not eating is to fasting as an empty canvas is to the Mona Lisa. Abstaining from food is just the empty canvas on which the real fast happens. Real fasting involves prayer and study and insight and joy and spiritual communion. You can judge a fast not by how hungry you are but by how full.
Today, we typically fast out of tradition; some might even do it out of coercion, reluctance, and even out of obligatory duty. The question is, do we truly fast because it is a time we can set aside and seek spiritual confirmation in our lives? Conquer whatever is afflicting us? On the other hand, do we seek further revelation in what path we must take when faced with an important decision?
Prior to being laid off and the box plant being shut down, there was a person I worked with. A Muslim who celebrated Ramadan, a month long of fasting in Islam. After the completion of the fast and quite curious as to the purpose behind the fast and meaning of Ramadan, we engaged in a friendly conversation about the meaning and purpose behind fasting. His response came as quite a shock where he stated that it is an obligatory fast and no purpose behind the fasting itself. My interpretation of what he relayed could be summed up in it being a mere religious observance. Reflecting on this, the question is begged as to whether we fast because it is a first of the month tradition and religious observance, or do we fast because there is more to it that is individually based; as well as a means to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves?
In the November 1974 edition of the Ensign, there is an article titled The Law of the Fast by then Elder Henry D. Taylor, assistant to the council of the Twelve. The interesting part of this article delves into how the law of the fast came about, the history of the law of the fast, and when it was practiced among the early Saints. Elder Taylor quotes Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith, the 1968 handbook, and even the minutes from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to determine if the day of fast would change from the first Thursday of the month to the first Sunday of the month.
Elder Taylor quotes Joseph Fielding Smith, who then quotes Brigham Young about the law and purpose of the fast:
President Young said, ‘… You know that the first Thursday in each month we hold … fast day. How many here know the origin of this day? Before tithing was paid, the poor were supported by donations. They came to [the Prophet] Joseph … and wanted help, in Kirtland, and he said there should be a fast day, which was decided upon. It was to be held once a month, as it is now, and all that would have been eaten that day, of flour, or meat, or butter, or fruit, or anything else, was to be carried to the fast meeting and put in the hands of a person selected for the purpose of taking care of the poor. If we were to do this now faithfully, [said President Young] do you think the poor would lack for flour, or butter, or cheese, or meat, or sugar, or anything they needed to eat? No! there would be more than could be used by all the poor among us. …’
Today, we participate in the Law of the fast by abstaining from two meals, and then providing the monetary value of preparing those two meals in what is called the Fast Offerings that are collected by the Deacons Quorum. In its original inception by the prophet Joseph Smith, people were bringing the items to make those two meals and then give them over to the one that oversees the poor.
Yet, there is more that Elder Taylor relates that has more power and spiritual magnitude in that we may have lost focus on. Relating the missionary experience of Lorenzo Snow and the healing of a dying child came as a result of fervent, sincere prayer and fasting. Another is the quotation of David O McKay:
The word fast is used to signify a self-imposed restraint with respect to the eating of food. Historians tell us that the custom of fasting dates back to the early history of the human race. …
“Whatever its origin, it is significant to note that several virtues are attached to the observance of the custom. … All the principles associated with fasting seem to point to the fact that it produces, first, physical well-being; [then, self-mastery; next, an opportunity to help others, and finally,] spiritual strength.
“But the greatest of all [the] benefits [from fasting is] the spiritual strength derived by the subjection of physical appetite to the will of the individual.” (See David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, Improvement Era, 1953, pp. 208–213.)
The striking simplicity of truth in this comes across – the fasting principle is not merely abstaining from the necessary sustenance we all need, it is the ability of the individual to willingly submit themselves to a greater spiritual sense of being and commune with our Heavenly Father in relation to subjugating our innate desires and appetites. Meaning, if we can willingly choose to abstain from something that our bodies need on a day-to-day basis, then how much more can we willingly choose to abstain from that may have greater desires and vices upon our lives that will lead us to captivity and bondage? Simply put, it is choosing to control our desires. Elder Taylor then mentions that there are four factors he considers a proper observance of the fast day. These four factors are: Abstaining, Praying, Testifying, and contributing.
In our modern times, the principle truths of Fasting are the same. Speaking in the October 2004 General Conference, Carl B. Pratt of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke on the Blessings of a proper fast. In his conference address, Pratt reiterates the principles of a proper fast day observance as: abstaining from food and drink for two consecutive meals, attending fast and testimony meetings, and give a generous fast offering. Pratt, then, mentions that those who are capable of fasting ought to fast. This allows those who may not be able to fast due to dietary and/or medical reasons still participate in the observance of fasting without shame or guilt.
Elder Pratt goes on to say that, whether we fast or not, many of us may miss those spiritual experience, or lack understanding of what a proper fast is and how it can bless us in our spiritual lives:
If all we do is abstain from food and drink for 24 hours and pay our fast offering, we have missed a wonderful opportunity for spiritual growth. On the other hand, if we have a special purpose in our fasting, the fast will have much more meaning. Perhaps we can take time as a family before beginning our fast to talk about what we hope to accomplish by this fast. This could be done in a family home evening the week before fast Sunday or in a brief family meeting at the time of family prayer. When we fast with purpose, we have something to focus our attention on besides our hunger.
Here, Elder Pratt brings up the heart of the Law of Fast – the purpose in why we are fasting. This comes back to the question poised to my Muslim friend about Ramadan – what purpose is there behind fasting? A question we must ask ourselves as the first Sunday of November is soon upon us. If you have not fasted for a specific purpose, and have only done so out of sheer obligatory and traditional routine, then the first thing we must do is change our thought patterns on this and realize that fasting is not an obligatory act that we just go through the motions, but it helps bless us personally as well as those who stand in need of the sustenance we are denying ourselves from.
In other words, we ought not to fast because it is the first Sunday of the month, but we must have a purpose for the fast. A family struggling with their finances and ability to pay their monthly bills because there is only one source of income may fast and seek divine revelation in how our Heavenly Father will open doors of opportunity for additional income and financial blessings. Another family may have struggles in their relationship where the marriage is stagnant and dead and decide that the purpose for their fasting is to rekindle their passion and intimacy in their marriage and revitalize their relationship so that they can fulfill their covenants to Heavenly Father and one another. Alternatively, there maybe someone struggling with their own faith and testimony and feel that the Heavens have been closed off from them and Heavenly Father is silent on certain matters. To them, fasting has a greater meaning and purpose in removing those doubts of faith and lack of understanding.
There are many other reasons a person, or family, may fast, whatever these reasons are, the fundamental importance is that our observation of the day of fast that has been set aside is something we all ought to participate in with purpose and intent to seek after Heavenly Father’s divine counsel and revelation into our lives and circumstances.
Let us come before him with an empty canvas so that He can fill us with renewed hope, faith, strength, and encouragement as we seek to do His will in our lives. Let us grow from faith to faith, from understanding to understanding, and from precept to precept when we observe the Law of the Fast as it is meant to properly be observed and see the blessings that will come into our lives for doing so.
Note: if you are interested in learning more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then visit www.mormon.org and read various profiles of Latter-day Saint Christians, as well as learning about the basic tenets of our faith.