Is not this the fast I have chosen?

Breanne loves hiking and biking and traveling.  She is a friend of all faiths.

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 rearward.   (Isaiah 58:6-8)

Fasting is a shared religious tradition.

I remember when I first learned that Jews have yearly fast days beyond just Yom Kippur. I was a graduate student in Jerusalem and was talking to a friend, who mentioned that he was fasting that day for one of the annual fast days commemorating the destruction of the Second Temple.

I was familiar with Yom Kippur and thought I understood a lot about fasting, so I asked him what he was fasting for. He looked confused, so I explained that in my religious tradition, we fast for something…perhaps something that requires greater faith than just prayer can provide. There is generally a goal of something that we want or need, so we sacrifice to show God that we truly desire that thing and hope to open ourselves up to further blessings. So what was he fasting for?

“No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head. “Fasting isn’t for something. It’s…” and here he paused, trying to think of the right way to explain it to me.

We communicated mostly in Arabic, but he had an easier time talking about religion in his native Hebrew, so sometimes he’d switch to Hebrew.  But this time he really wanted me to understand, so he tried his very rudimentary English.

“We fast because we feel so much joy and gratitude, food would be a burden. Food and drinks would be too earthly, and would take us down from the heavenly joy that we feel.”

I had to admit that I generally felt just the opposite–that I was less likely to feel joy and more likely to feel grumpy when I went without food and drink.

Later, I found out from my Muslim friends that when Muslims fast during Ramadan, they don’t just abstain from food and drink. They are also to abstain from anger, greed, lust, sarcasm, and gossip. And all day every day for the entire month of Ramadan! I couldn’t imagine abstaining from sarcasm for even a day, so this was revelatory to me.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world have been invited to fast today, Good Friday, in order to join in individual but united prayers to seek the blessings of God in order to heal the world, both physically and economically, from the current COVID-19 crisis.  Although we as LDS-Christians don’t generally “officially” or “liturgically” celebrate Holy Week, I’m so grateful to see a recognition this year of days that are so important to so many Christians around the world. I’m also grateful that so many LDS-Christians now have the chance to join with so many of our fellow Christians of other denominations, who have been fasting on Good Friday for generations.

As we fast today, Jews are commemorating Passover and have cleaned their homes of all chametz, or leaven, of which they will not partake until the week of Passover concludes. And Muslims around the world are preparing for Ramadan, a month of fasting that starts in April this year.

I have seen numerous invitations from LDS-Christians to their friends of any faith, or with no religious affiliation, to join in fasting and prayer today to stop the spread of COVID-19, to support those caring for the ill, and to help the world economy recover. In fact I’ve gotten what feels like hundreds of invitations to Facebook groups set up specifically for the fast, and I know that people all around the world are planning on taking part in fasting and praying for relief from this crisis, no matter what their religious affiliation is.

But I hope that with all of the inviting, my fellow LDS-Christians also recognize that we are joining our Christian brothers and sisters in a tradition of Good Friday fasting and commemoration that they have observed for centuries. I hope that we use this fast as an opportunity to learn more about fasting traditions in other religious communities and broaden our own understandings of how to fast in joy, in sorrow, in penitence, and in gratitude.

Going without food and drink also helps us understand in a very small way what those in extreme poverty face every day–hunger and thirst. Fasting helps give us empathy for those who cannot eat because they have no food, and who cannot drink because they have no access to clean water.

With so many around the world suffering now because of jobs and wages lost, I hope that everyone who participates in this fast today gives place in their heart for those who were in crisis even before this global pandemic: laborers around the world who can only eat on the days they work; those who have no access to healthcare; those who are fleeing from wars and violence in their own countries. After all, when this crisis passes and we start to pick up the pieces, we have a chance to help heal the world and not just let it return to “normal.”

May this fast bring us closer together as children of loving Heavenly Parents, and may we emerge from this crisis more committed to freeing the captives, binding the wounds of the brokenhearted, and bringing good tidings to the poor.

 

Comments

  1. This was eye opening, humbling. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for this. It touches my heart in a deep and meaningful way.

  3. That was well said. It is noble of us and enlightening to learn of the traditions of others so that we can better understand each other. It is also very important to acknowledge the goodness in the world and work hand in hand to create a healthy and peaceful world. I know there is light in all people if they choose to embrace that Light. I am a Christian but I do accept others’ beliefs and pray that our combined faith will continually renew and heal the world; it’s people, it’s economies, it’s governments, it’s nations and all forms of life found hereon. I appreciate the opportunity to join together in a worldwide effort to fast at this time for the Covid-19 virus to subside, but also for the many other things you mentioned in your post. Yes, I do fast ‘for’ specific purposes and invite all to fast in whatever way will inspire them to increase their resolve and for noble and good purposes for all. Thanks for your insightful post.

  4. I really appreciate the different perspectives on fasting. I’m not sure I will ever be able to do it happily. I think I might benefit more from embracing the hunger and focusing on my need for God, as real as my need for food (but a lot easier to forget).

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