New Harmony: Fasting is merely a taste of the divine banquet

Published: Wednesday, March 7 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Linking "fasting" with "fast offerings" in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church was an act of spiritual genius.

At least that's my feeling after reading the thoughts of Catholic writer Henri Nouwen.

Nouwen always saw the world with fresh eyes. He reminds me of the kid who sees a train for the first time and cries, "Look! A kitchen pulling a village!"

To crib a thought from Ron Carlson, Nouwen looked at things with the same wonder the rest of us would show if — at age 15 — a celestial matchmaker had shown us a photo of our future spouse. For Nouwen, everything was new.

And in one of his diaries, Nouwen talks about "fasting" and "almsgiving" with "spouse gazing" intensity.

LDS people, of course, are known for their fasting and offerings. Few religions pair the two as Mormons do. Nouwen, however, saw them as twin virtues.

He claimed one of the reasons we fast is to show that our needs — our desires and appetites — aren't important. What's important is God's desire.

Fasting is our way of saying, "Not my will, but thine."

And what does God desire?

That's where "fast offerings" come in.

He wants us to love those around us to the point we are willing to sacrifice in order to ease their suffering.

In other words, we must be willing to feel pain (both financial and hunger) to keep others from having to feel pain.

Wasn't that was the crux of the Savior's mission, to suffer so that we don't have to?

Each month, when we fast and give fast offerings, we re-create the Savior's life in our own. Mormon children may sing, "I'm trying to be like Jesus," but by fasting and giving alms we actually behave like him — in our small, personal way.

And that taste of divinity gives us a sample of the banquet he has prepared and gives us an inkling of divine life itself.

Henri Nouwen had many other things to say — about The Lord's Supper (the sacrament), service, sacrifice and dying.

I'll share more of his insights in the future.

I hope you don't mind.

I'm taking my cue from Brigham Young:

"It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome …" ("Discourses of Brigham Young," page 248).

Read such things with the attitude of the Apostle Paul:

"Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good" (and reject that which isn't).

Maybe, together, we'll see some well-worn things with fresh eyes — the way we'd all gaze at that photo of our future spouse.

Jerry Johnston is a former Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears every other week in Mormon Times. Email: jerjohn@desnews.com

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