Today we are fasting on behalf of those suffering because of the Coronavirus pandemic, that health workers will be protected, that the economy may recover quickly, that suffering may be alleviated throughout the world.
This is also Good Friday, the commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the tragic death that preceded Christ’s resurrection from the dead. In many Christian faiths, Good Friday is a time of fasting, signaling the final stages of Lent, forty days of sacrifice in honor of Christ’s forty day fast at the beginning of his ministry.
For some moderns, this tradition of sacrifice may seem meaningless. But this skepticism ignores the fact that the effect of our thoughts and concerns can be felt far beyond the limits of physical communication.
I myself don’t have too many stories of miracles specifically related to fasting, other than the fact that every time I have taken a personal concern to the Lord during a fast, I could no longer remember why it had been such a concern by the end of my fast.
However I was raised by a mother around whom miracles manifested on a regular basis. We regularly prayed before going on car trips, specifically so the car would run. On one particular cross-country trip the lights didn’t seem to work, and mother prayed as she drove throughout the night for the lights, anxious that we arrive at home in time for us kids to be able to attend the first day of school. Well after midnight Mom began to feel foolish – surely her prayers couldn’t actually be making a difference. As she stopped her prayers, the lights dimmed to darkness. She resumed praying. The lights brightened.
A few hours before dawn, exhausted, Mom turned the driving over to my father, charging him to keep driving though the tank would be nearly empty by the time we arrived home. When she awoke shortly thereafter all was silent. Dad, not understanding why she wanted him to continue driving without stopping had decided to pull into a gas station to top up the tank. The car couldn’t be started until personnel arrived who could give us a jump. We kids missed the first day of school. Later Dad was trying to figure out what was wrong and discovered a wire had been completely disconnected. Yet we all knew Mom had been able to drive through the night, impossible though it now appeared such a feat would have been.
The first time I experienced inexplicable concern was while I was in the Missionary Training Center. It was Preparation Day, and as night came on, I was filled with an inexplicable panic on behalf of someone I knew I cared for. I prayed for their safety. Thinking it might be someone from home, I requested and was granted permission to call home. But everyone at home was fine. By the time it was time to go to bed, my heart was still filled with dread on behalf of someone beloved, and my prayers went to heaven on their behalf.
In the middle of the night I was woken by my MTC teacher. She had gone hiking the day before and had gotten stranded on the mountain. Whether from exposure or falling, she had remained in peril through the end of the day. When she made it to safety, she somehow knew that I needed to be comforted.
Another notable time I experienced inexplicable communication was early in my friendship with the man who is now my husband. I was emotionally raw, still not healed from the trauma of my first marriage. I had visited with Bryan Stout in Baltimore, and the end of our time together ended with me saying all kinds of crazy things. It is a thing abused people do, sabotaging relationships they care for.
I drove home knowing I had potentially done irreparable damage to the possibility of a continued relationship with Bryan. I was angry with myself and mourned for what I believed was lost forever.
When I got home, my message machine was blinking. My mother had called several times in the hour it had taken me to get home, worried about me. But I had not communicated with her. Indeed, it was not our habit to call one another, often going months on end without talking. I called her that night and we cried over the way my abused self couldn’t let me act like a normal person.
Several years after I married Bryan (a miracle in itself), I started researching my ancestor, Elvira Annie Cowles. It was in the summer of 2007, I believe, after I had decided to write the story as fiction as, at the time, I had no hope of writing a serious history.
Elvira’s first child had died at Winter Quarters. I imagined a scene where Elvira’s husband returns from his service with the Battalion and learns of his child’s death. I wanted to have him go to his journal and find the day when his daughter died.
I knew there was a journal, but I hadn’t read it. But travel took me to San Diego, where I had learned there was a copy of the journal. I flipped through the pages, past countless short entries describing him cobbling. The famous battle of the oxen was described thus: “trouble with cattle.” Another time he curtly described being tossed on his head from an unruly mule, with little noticeable downtime.
But when I turned to the page for the day his child had died over a thousand miles away, he had written that he felt unwell. He had spent the entire day in bed. He was in modern-day San Diego, California. Elvira was in modern-day Omaha, Nebraska. Yet across that distance he felt her anguish and was himself laid low, somehow sharing her pain.
So today we fast, taking on ourselves pain and discomfort on behalf of people who are suffering. We call down the blessings of our mutual Father, that this time of trial may be foreshortened, that this period of Lenten hardship may be transformed, somehow, into a bright era of hope and renewal.
Please join in this fast. Whatever your belief, for this day imagine that your privation for a day can somehow benefit those suffering more than yourself. If you have not faith, have faith in those of us who do have faith.