Good, Fast Friday

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.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

22 thoughts on “Good, Fast Friday

  1. This is beautiful. My wife had an experience in which she was prompted to pray for me before we even met. I am so grateful for the strength that her prayers gave me during that critical time of decision for me.

    Every time I think of faith – the kind of faith it takes to be healed and to see miracles, I think of D&C 42:52: “And they who have not faith to do these things, but believe in me, have power to become my sons; and inasmuch as they break not my laws thou shalt bear their infirmities.” For those of us that feel like we don’t have the kind of faith that others have, remember that we can still be the children of Christ, the greatest of all miracles. Also, those that don’t think they have the kind of faith necessary to see miracles are often wrong.

  2. For many years I was in a situation that often required significant miracles. Nowadays I get by with gentle nudges in the right direction that I recognize for what they are: sweet gifts from God. I was prompted to self-isolate a day before news came from the Church that Conference would be broadcast for virtually everyone and not much later that the government was closing down non-essential businesses. It has been some time since angels intervened with nature on my behalf, but I like this life where nudges seem sufficient. I have been fasting for nearly 20 hours, not only from food and water, but from several forms of social media that were disturbing my peace. I have used that time to read the scriptures following the events of ‘Holy Week’ as well as viewing videos about Christ’s final days on earth and listening to Easter Music from the Tabernacle Choir available through the Gospel App. This has been a lovely experience that I plan to repeat every Good Friday, including making a fast offering.

  3. Bill and Melinda Gates are building factories to produce ALL of the drugs currently in testing to defeat Covid-19. They say the Gates are perfectly aware that only 1 or 2 of the drugs may ever go into production but the factories will be there when they’re ready to be used. THAT’S how pressing the need is. THAT’S the level of the Gates Foundation’s commitment to meeting the need.

    Your church has over a billion dollars in a “rainy day” fund.

    Fasting is the best your church can do to stop the deaths from Covid-19? Maybe you should be fasting for more compassionate leaders.

  4. Dear Brenda,
    This Fast is our way of invoking God’s blessings. God is more powerful than Bill Gates. Meanwhile, that ‘rainy day’ is on us. Many have lost their jobs. Even in my relatively well-off congregation families are being fed by funds raised by monthly fasting by the members as jobs disappear. It is my privilege to participate in helping. I’m very grateful that I still have the means.

  5. Hi Brenda,

    One thing the Church did was signal the seriousness of the pandemic by cancelling meetings throughout the world as of March 12. This was several days before discussions of cancellations were publicized for other faith groups. The Church appears to have been the first faith group to call for a global cancellation of meetings. In that sense the Church signaled to the skeptical parts of the world that the pandemic was actually that serious, at a time when many lay members thought it was no big deal. This set an example for many other organizations. Inasmuch as Church members are involved in many different organizations across the globe, this highly unusual move, particularly on the part of a preternaturally “prepared” organization, may well have helped speed and streamline other closure efforts.

    The Gates foundation could not have accomplished the good that was accomplished by the example of the Church cancelling meetings. But the Gates foundation is well-positioned to accomplish the great work you describe.

    Overcoming COVID will be a team effort. Correction, when called for, will be most effective when respectful. Angry criticism, while satisfying, often fails to contribute to the solution.

  6. Frankly, I’d like to think you’re too bright to be convinced by your own first paragraph. OTOH, the fact that you feel the need to concoct that empty excuse for uncaring and unresponsive “leaders” casts doubt.

  7. Hi Brenda,

    I warned you privately regarding the M* comment policy. In addition, ad hominem attacks are not tolerated.

  8. Brenda,

    I hope you have more than $7,000 in personal savings and that you don’t feel guilty about it or feel yourself to be not compassionate.

    The Church’s savings fund amounts to roughly $7,000 per member at most. The Church would be ill-advised to be using those funds building drug factories. See Derek Lowe’s “In the Pipeline” medicinal chemistry blog on the doubtful prospects for our current drugs. At best, it looks like they might help at the margins.

    The economy is suddenly in a very steep recession, and a world-wide depression is a distinct possibility. One in four Protestant churches in the United States as of 2016 had seven or fewer weeks’ worth of operating reserves, according to a LifeWay Research study. Many churches get by “paycheck to paycheck” from Sunday morning collections, which they now cannot count on. Religion News Service (4/10/2020) carried an article on how fragile the finances of some megachurches are. “The fact is that many large congregations’ sheer size masks a fragility that only emerges in times of crisis….the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be pointed to as the moment when they realized just how brittle their church actually is — or was.”

    It will be hard for a church to help people in a depression if it is bankrupt. God forgives. Banks don’t.

    See also https://www.deseret.com/2015/11/3/20575618/ted-koppel-points-to-lds-church-s-preparedness-in-book-lights-out#lights-out-is-by-ted-koppel

    Do you think that after 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008, and now the pandemic, that we won’t see more “black swan” events in the future?

    I, for one, am glad our leaders have been inspired to prepare for lean years. See Genesis 41.

  9. Hi Leo,

    I get how folks in distress (read many million in the US alone) can viciously resent an entity that has resources. Stressful economic times like these fomented the extremism that led to World War II. Last century’s pandemic (the Spanish Influenza) was in full bore when communist extremists executed the Russian Czar and his family. If you are a royal-watcher, you will be aware of the delicate balance the House of Windsor has danced, seen by some as undeserving rich folks living off funds “taken” from the British nation. These critics discount the good associated with the House of Windsor. In some cases, anger against those with means or learning erupted in self-destructive and ignorant ways, if I may be permitted a summary description of the Cultural Revolution in China and other instances where regimes or revolutionaries killed the learned and destroyed cultural icons of the past.

    Moderns irritated with the Church’s prudence likely have no awareness of how their forebears persecuted the Church generations ago. The disenfranchisement and financial ruin inflicted on the Church by the US Government in the 1880s and 1890s created a people highly aware of the need to prepare for disasters. One could distance oneself from association with this history, claiming that it was the government and not individual Americans. But we have the petitions from a majority of American citizens demanding punitive action against representatives of the Church, so it doesn’t wash to assert that the legal measures that so crippled the 19th-century Church weren’t aligned with the will of a majority of citizens.

    The lesson I take from all this painful past history is that there is value in calm compassion, in treating others with respect while requiring respect in return. Part of treating others with respect is acknowledging when they are experiencing pain and frustration, if sometimes not entirely agreeing with them regarding the proper remedy for their pain and frustration.

  10. Meg,

    Yes, there are historical aspects to be seen and historical forces at work. Thank you for mentioning that.

    Update on the Gates Foundation: The Gates Foundation isn’t investing in drug manufacture. It is investing in vaccine production, which makes more sense in the current crisis. It is working in conjunction with existing firms, which also makes sense. I am happy that the Gates Foundation is doing this. It is very much in line with what that foundation was set up for.

    The top four vaccine manufacturers in the world are GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co, Sanofi, and Pfizer. These are huge and very profitable companies. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Church already has some holdings in all four companies as others as they are sound investments. These companies and quite a few others in the business are the ones that will produce future vaccines.

    Congress has given the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority ( BARDA) a $3.5 billion boost in funding, more than tripling its total budget. So the government is working on this, too.

    Between private enterprise and government funding, vaccine development and production will proceed at an unprecedented speed, though the public consensus is that a vaccine is 12-18 months away no matter how much money is spent. Research and testing simply takes time.

    If the Church was giving money to Pfizer, which already has a market capitalization of over $191 billion dollars as of April 10, 2020, people would complain about the Church giving its money to big and already well-funded corporations.

    Vaccines are good, but the Church doesn’t need to duplicate the existing commercial vaccine infrastructure. What the Church has been doing for years is working in the third world on vaccine campaigns, often in conjunction with other churches and aid groups.

    As for the recent fast, see https://religionnews.com/2020/04/10/christians-of-different-faiths-unite-in-fast-and-prayer-amid-coronavirus-pandemic/
    The global unity on this is heartwarming.

  11. Nice.
    In a way, you have just brighten up this (already) beautiful sunny day down here in Paraguay.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  12. Brenda:

    Locate the bishop of your LDS Ward and tell him that you have no food for your children and are about to be evicted from your home, and see what happens.

    You will soon discover that the leaders of my church that you accuse of being uncaring are anything but. It won’t matter if you are a member or not.

    Just because someone doesn’t give their fortune to a cause that you deem worthy does not make them uncaring.

  13. Here’s an e-mail many of us received today from the First Presidency:
    ____________________________________

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    We gratefully acknowledge those who have joined with us in prayers and fasting for Heaven’s help to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We know that God will hear and answer our prayers. We have been taught to be “anxiously engaged” in relieving suffering and caring for those in need (see Doctrine and Covenants 58:27).

    To that end, we are joining with other organizations around the world to address specific needs related to the pandemic. For example, our Beehive Clothing facilities in Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Paraguay, and Utah are temporarily shifting their operations from the manufacture of religious clothing to the sewing of masks and gowns needed by local health care professionals and communities. In Utah, the Relief Society is leading our participation in a partnership between Latter-day Saint Charities, Intermountain Healthcare, and University of Utah Health. Church members, in their homes, will help sew 5 million clinical face masks, which will be donated to healthcare workers.

    To date, we have approved over 110 COVID-19 relief projects in 57 countries. Most of these are done with trusted partners from humanitarian agencies, health ministries and hospitals, which allows us to use our resources—including food, hygiene products, personal protective equipment, medical equipment, cash and other commodities—in places where they can do the most good.

    We invite our members to participate in these and other relief projects in their areas and communities as opportunities arise and as local government directives and personal circumstances allow. May we be blessed in our efforts to care for others and provide hope and help to our Heavenly Father’s children everywhere.

    Sincerely yours,

    The First Presidency
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  14. The Church announced two fast days in the context of the pandemic. The first was March 29. The second was April 10.

    On April 17th the Washington Post reported:

    “All across Europe, the numbers are coming down.
    In Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Britain, public health officials — their faces often drained by exhaustion — are now expressing cautious optimism that the first wave of Europe’s devastating pandemic is ending.
    From Ireland to Greece, officials are seeing hopeful signs that coronavirus infections are peaking and have begun to plateau or recede, pointing to intensive care beds that are slowly opening up and a daily reduction in the number of new hospitalizations.
    In Paris, Milan and Madrid, hospitals and staff that were stressed to their limits just a few weeks ago, as thousands of coughing, fevered, breathless patients surged through their doors, are now reporting empty beds in their ICUs. There are ventilators to go around.”

    I am very thankful for these developments and would not be so faithless as to deny the hand of the Lord in this.

  15. Hi Brenda,

    The symbolism of holding the fast on Good Friday is instructive. Good Friday preceded the resurrection of Christ – an event which Christians believe was crucial to redeeming the world. Yet on the day of the resurrection, itself, few were aware of the event. The apostle Thomas doubted when told his fellows had seen Christ alive. Yet the good word moved forth, inexorably, over lifetimes and centuries and now millennia.

    Many fasted for my son in the month before his birth. We knew he had a heart defect that would likely be fatal. He was sustained to survive until birth, and he was sustained to live for a week after his birth, including surviving the open heart surgery that occurred a few days after his birth. On the eighth day of his life, my son passed away. I was surprised, because in blessing my son, I had felt prompted to bless my son that his heart-rate would slow and that he would come home. I didn’t think his heart-rate would slow to stopping and the home he would go to would be his heavenly home. But having experienced that, I knew what God had not permitted me to say, because I had wanted to say things about future surgeries.

    We, who fasted, did not expect COVID-19 to disappear overnight. But our fasts and prayers, we believe, have made a difference. Where that difference is not immediately obvious (such as in the case of a man I know who had been furloughed but then learned he was being unfurloughed the week after the fast), we are content to hear from our God in a future time regarding the difference our faith made.

  16. Brenda’s question relates to the following:

    From https://www.getreligion.org/getreligion/2020/4/17/ancient-question-that-will-not-go-away-where-is-god-in-the-coronavirus-crisis

    The late Peter Jennings of ABC World News Tonight noted that, whenever news teams cover disasters, reporters often ask questions that sound like this: “How did you get through this terrible experience?” Survivors frequently reply: “I don’t know. I just prayed. Without God’s help, I don’t think I could have made it.”

    What happens next, Jennings once told me, illustrates the gap that separates many journalists and most Americans. There will be an awkward silence, he said, and then the reporter will say something like: “That’s nice. But what REALLY got you through this?”

  17. Whether or not historians or reporters are, themselves, atheists, atheism is the safe public posture. In part, this is because each variant of theism tends to take umbrage with the other variants of theism.

    The funny thing is that atheism attempts to assert a negative. Yet the fact that some individuals have experienced help and comfort beyond that available from the natural disproves the negative in which atheists are so vested.

    That said, it’s a bit irritating when people attribute to God things that didn’t require divine involvement. Or worse, to declare objective facts impossible because they conflict with a theistic dogma.

    Bottom line, it would behoove all to be a bit more humble.

  18. I could be misunderstanding… but at the end of the day, isn’t everything good attributable to God? Now of course people may disagree as to what is “good,” but who is to say whether divine intervention was required or not?
    One of the many things I’ve learned from this pandemic is how many things Heavenly Father *does* control, and protect us from – everyday things that we have no idea could go wrong or other possibilities of which we’re not even aware.
    This pandemic, and the chaos that has ensued, has reminded me that we’re to thank Him for everything – big, little, seemingly insignificant, etc.

  19. The global tally is far more than 60,000, even using the time-late under-reporting posted at the WHO sit rep site – more like hundreds of thousands of deaths already, and as noted in various recent news stories, there’s been a global spike in deaths compared to annual totals, a large percentage of which are not (yet) being attributed to COVID-19,

    Unless you are calculated based on deaths just since Good Friday? By the WHO numbers, more than 100,000 have died of COVID-19 since Good Friday.

    The symbolism was that things can be terrible for far longer than anyone would like before the hoped-for relief arrives. Christ died millennia ago and the full power of that sacrifice is yet to be realized. No one familiar with the Christian gospel ought to have presumed any prayer or fast would bring instant global cessation of the disease..

    In restoration Christianity a well-known symbol is that of the denizens of the at and spacious building. They represent the who jeer and mock, specifically those who jeer and mock those who hold to the good news of Christ. Yet these denizens are not “other,” but are those who have been and ought to be beloved. It makes for an interesting dynamic, unique to restoration Christianity.

    Stepping back, those with funds that could arguably be used to respond to this crisis will not be overly influenced by the thoughts expressed on a blog, particularly when those thoughts are derisive.

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