Of the Spring of Relief and Re-Awakening

Photo by Bogdan Iorga on Unsplash

We began this month with fasting and prayer “that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.”  I see our prayers in the process of being received and answered, and I feel to rejoice that there is a God who hears and who receives our prayers of faith.  I have long known, from much personal experience, that He does.  I am seeing it yet again, as I believed that I would.  I expect that you, too, are seeing the signs of the Spring of Relief.

With each new set of hard data of what is really happening, the dire predictions from so many, that frightened so many, are revealing themselves to be well beyond the mark.  That is cause for general celebration (I do not understand why some are angered by it).  Sickness rates and mortality rates continue to decline, approaching levels consistent with seasonal experiences.  Those most vulnerable are becoming easier to identify and protect.

The realized effects of the pattern of the disease offer growing cause for relief and hope for the many, even while we join in sympathy for those most afflicted by this flu strain, just as our hearts sympathize for all who suffer from the numerous ailments and sicknesses that are part of mortality.  No one of us is left unaffected by sickness for ourselves and loved ones.

The reality of the epidemic has wonderfully been falling far short of the dire predictions, for which we are grateful.  On the other hand, the economic experience has been as bad or worse than predicted.  Here the real numbers are also coming in.  I recall one estimate from the first of the month, considered then by some to be high and exaggerated.  The anticipated dark cloud was that by May there would be 27 million Americans unemployed by the Great Cessation and other effects of the state-ordered shutdowns.  By Thursday, April 23, the number of Americans applying for unemployment had reached 26 million, a number that does not include those who remain employed but whose business and income are fractions of normal.  Of those who had work just a few weeks ago, today one in six do not.

No government in known history has ever done this to its own people.  As the Great Cessation was put in place by government action—not by the disease itself—it is an encouraging sign that government leaders are increasingly taking action to restrengthen the economy and to allow the most powerful engines of economic strength, the business operators and employees themselves, to begin the steps to return to the normal processes of enterprise.  This is only just beginning, and it needs to be encouraged.

Will Rogers is credited with saying, “If stupidity got us in this mess, how come it can’t get us out.”  Governments can block economic activity; they are poor at generating economic growth.  They lack expertise and incentives for it.  But they can repair some damage, and they can remove the barriers they erected, to which more government leaders—at local, state, and federal levels—are turning their attention.

These are all trends to celebrate, replacing anger and despair with gladness and hope, a Great Awakening for us in which to be engaged.  Bring it on.

Of Fasting and Relief

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

To a physically empty room, but to a crowd of millions gathered electronically around the world, a prophet of God spoke reassuringly about times of turmoil.  Russell M. Nelson, Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was conducting a worldwide conference with the more than 16 million members of the Church.  Fewer than 10 people, presumably including the cameraman, were in the room, and all were practicing social distancing as urged by government officials.

President Nelson has refused, however, to engage in spiritual distancing.  Quite the contrary, his work is aimed at bringing the hearts of people together.  In keeping with the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor, President Nelson called for a worldwide fast this coming Friday, Good Friday.  “Good Friday would be the perfect day to have our Heavenly Father and His Son hear us!”  As part of the fast, he counseled that we pray “that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened, and life normalized.”

This call was extended not just to members of the Church.  President Nelson invited all to join in.  Who would not be in accord with the focus of these petitions?

This fast is well timed and well targeted.  Well timed, because during the Easter season, Christians from around the world are focused on the most important miracles that Jesus Christ performed on our behalf, His suffering and atonement for our sins—which no one else could do—and His resurrection from the grave, which no one had done before and because of which all of us will experience.  A worldwide devotional petition to the God of miracles for His help will at this Easter time give many, shut out from their houses of worship, a way to focus their faith on a very traditional Christian act, temporary self-denial of physical nourishment to emphasize spiritual nourishment and commitment to God and His work.  People may wish to do as latter-day saints normally do when fasting, take the money that would have been spent on the skipped meals and donate it to those in need, of which there are a lot more than there were a few weeks ago.

The fast is well targeted, because the call highlights the four most urgent areas in which we need divine help:  controlling the virus, blessing the caregivers, strengthening the economy, and returning life to normal.  I know of no one not acutely in need of one or more of these petitions.

The New Testament tells of when Jesus Christ was asked by a lawyer which commandment was greatest.  The ancient lawyer was hoping for an argument.  Instead, he received inspired teaching.  The Savior replied, love of God and love of our neighbors, explaining that from these two commandments come all of the others (Matthew 22:35-39).  In essence, all of the rest are commentary on these two.  This fast is all about those two commandments.

Consider joining us in this fast this Good Friday, to the extent that you can.  Let God our Father, who reminded us that He acts in accordance with the faith of His children, hear our prayers and witness our devotion.  He will surely welcome such a global expression on behalf of His children and their welfare.

Of Fasting and Unity

The practice of the fast, particularly of Fast Sunday, among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a feast of unity. Its chief effect is to reinforce the oneness of the saints. The mechanics of the fast are simple: refrain from food and drink for two consecutive meals, all the while emphasizing prayer and all that directs the heart and mind to God.

First of all, there is a oneness in the voluntary collectivity of the monthly fast. The whole membership of the Church, worldwide, is engaged in the fast together. They are further united in purpose, to bless and provide for the poor and needy while approaching spiritually to God.

The blessing of the poor and needy comes from the donation of the cost of the foregone meals. The entire amount of this donation goes directly to benefit those in need, not a penny used for administrative expenses (administrative costs are borne by the tithing donations of the members). Properly done, there is no cost to the donor, since he is merely offering the financial value of what he would have eaten, and yet there is significant direct and real benefit to the recipients of the donation.

Of even greater significance, though, is that through this fast spirituality increases. I do not refer to a spiritualism of familiar spirits, but rather to a spiritual communion of divinely revealed knowledge through the influence of the Holy Ghost. All observing this fast partake of the same Spirit and are tied together thereby. They increasingly become of one heart and one mind, the heart and mind of Christ. The saints thus know and understand one another. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

This spiritual growth is manifested in a spiritual feast joined in by all in a special Sunday worship service: the Fast and Testimony meeting. Here the saints share with each other spiritual insights and knowledge of the Savior and His work, revealed to them through the Holy Ghost. These testimonies are born of the Spirit of the Lord that unites the membership of Christ’s church. Members give vocal expression to the testimonies obtained by the Spirit, and by that same Spirit these testimonies are received by those who hear. Speaker and listener are both edified and understand one another.

The unifying Spirit, access to which is facilitated by fasting, flows within us, wells up and flows out through the sharing of testimonies–the sharing of spiritual experience–and then is received by that Spirit and continues to flow and to grow within us. Hearts become knit together in mutual testimony of the risen Christ and His mission. This is the communion of the saints.

(First published August 7, 2008)

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