Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fasting This Weekend?

On the first Sunday of every month members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fast, abstaining from food and drink for a period of 24 hours and two meals. Funds that would have been spent on food are donated to the church, which disburses them to needy individuals around the world. Our fast should respond to the interrogation of Isaiah: “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?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Regarding this aspect of the fast—its potential to provide temporal support to those in need—the late President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord. I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous. … I think we should … give, instead of the amount saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more—ten times more where we are in a position to do it.” Fasting is, in this way, an opportunity to show the Lord that we understand the true purpose of temporal resources: to help a neighbor in need, not to acquire more temporal resources.

But fasting has an even more important spiritual purpose: it allows us to receive a fullness of joy in mortality. In a series of instructions describing how the saints should worship Him on the Sabbath, “my holy day,” the Lord explains that “on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting might be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full” (D&C 59:9, 13). This is a beautiful promise, but what does it mean?

In the scriptures, being full of joy—or having a fullness of joy—is a description of exaltation, when the body and soul are perfectly united. The Doctrine and Covenants explain that “man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93: 33). We can only receive a fullness of joy when our spirit and our flesh are in perfect harmony with each other, when they are inseparably connected and united in purpose. Currently, the flesh or “natural man is an enemy to God” and our spirits (Mosiah 3:19); we are engaged in a struggle to “not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate” (2 Nephi 2:29). But when we fast and subject the flesh to the spirit we win that battle and experience—if only briefly—the fullness of joy that will characterize our existence as exalted beings with a perfect, immortal body inseparably connected to our spirits.

In this sense, fasting—like bridling our passions—is an act of creation. A few months back, I wrote this about bridling our passions:

“Consider this insight from Clement of Alexandria (the earliest, and therefore most authoritative, of the post-apostolic Christian fathers): ‘The whole creation is to be understood as a synthesis: the imposing of inner order on outer material’ (from Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, 273). Clement's claim is consistent with revealed truths about the creation; as we learn in Abraham, the Gods ‘counseled among themselves to form the heavens and the earth’ BEFORE they actually ‘came down and formed these the generations of the heavens and of the earth’ (Abraham 5:3-4). The act of creation is the act of translating mental images and understandings onto physical matter.

“What does all of this have to do with bridling our passions? Consider: 1) Our passions are the products of a fallen, physical body. 2) When we ‘bridle’ them, we impose a mental or spiritual order on material substance. In other words, the act of bridling our passions IS an act of creation. We are creating ourselves--or at least our future selves--by organizing and ordering our own bodies. It is in this sense that I understand Elder Bruce R. McConkie's suggestion that ‘[i]n a real though figurative sense, the book of life is the record of the acts of men as such record is written in their own bodies. It is the record engraven on the very bones, sinews, and flesh of the mortal body. That is, every thought, word, and deed has an affect [I think he means effect] on the human body; all these leave their marks, marks which can be read by Him who is Eternal as easily as the words in a book can be read’ (Mormon Doctrine 97). As previously noted, apostles are entitled to express opinions that may not reflect official doctrine, but I believe that this particular opinion is consonant with scripture (see Revelation 20:12 on the books of life, and Alma 41 on the principle of restoration, as those who live celestial law are restored to celestial bodies, etc.). So--when we bridle our passions, our soul expands because we have extended our control over our physical bodies, and we are blessed with an everlasting dominion, because we have already begun to wield the creative power that we will exercise in the eternities.”


Our bodily hunger and thirst is one of the passions that we must bridle, and as we do so this fast Sunday we will wield a bit of the divine creative power with which we, as God’s children, have been endowed. We will also experience a small portion of that fullness of joy which awaits us in the eternities and take a small step closer to perfection. As a final note, let me point out a secular writer who got this concept. The first of Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues was temperance: “Eat not to Dulness. Drink not to Elevation.” If you read his Autobiography (which I HIGHLY recommend), you’ll see that he was constantly tinkering with his diet, trying to exercise dominion over his flesh; he understood that control over his own flesh, his hunger and thirst, was a necessary precedent to the acquisition of other, more ethereal virtues.

5 comments:

Jenny said...

Yes.
With renewed vigor.
Thanks, Z.

Jo Jo said...

I've learned a few new things, thank you for that. It was great timing, in starting the new year off with a new resolve.

Liz said...

hey! you know i look forward to your v-day card every year. wouldn't want to miss it!

liz and travis
9065 sw apache dr
tualatin or 97062

Becky said...

"as we do so, we will wield a bit of the divine creative power with which we, as God's children, have been endowed. We will also exerience a small portion of that fullness of joy which awaits us in the eternities and take a small step closer to perfection." Never really knew this pertaining to fasting. Thanks for your shared knowledge...as always. It will make me look at fasting on a whole new level. You're making me smart...one blog post at a time. :) xoxo

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