In our church, the first Sunday of every month is known as “Fast Sunday.” Many people, especially my kids, ironically consider it to be the slowest Sunday of the month. During this twenty-four hour period, we go without food or drink for two consecutive meals. We then donate the money we would have spent on those meals (and usually more) to the Fast Offering fund of the church. The church uses that money to aid the needy, locally and around the world. While fasting, we pray for the poor, that their needs might be met. We also use this time to pray for help with specific problems that we or our family members or friends may be facing, the idea being that fasting aids in bringing us closer to the Spirit of the Lord. When we fast, we show our Heavenly Father that we are willing to sacrifice in order to receive His divine assistance in our lives and in the lives of others.
Our main Sunday meeting is called Sacrament Meeting (See February 26, 2010 post “now go sit down”), however on Fast Sunday, we refer to it as Fast and Testimony Meeting. Rather than have assigned speakers for this meeting, members of the congregation are given the opportunity to come forward and share their testimonies of the Gospel with everyone present. Many of the women who do this get quite emotional. And my kids can tell you exactly which ones they are. When they see certain women stand and walk up the aisle to get to the podium during Fast and Testimony Meeting, they’ll lean toward the family member seated next to them and make a bet about how soon the woman will cry:
“Before she even starts.”
Hey, women get emotional. And maybe we feel the Spirit more strongly than guys do. We’re definitely more sensitive, as a rule, than men are. So there.
Another common occurrence on Fast Sunday is the naming and blessing of new babies, known in other churches as Christening. In other churches, this ordinance is performed by the priest or minister, and sometimes includes a baptism. In our church, all worthy men are ordained to the Priesthood, and therefore, are able to name and bless their own children. This is generally done at the beginning of Fast and Testimony Meeting, before the Sacrament is passed to the congregation and before the time is turned to the congregation for the bearing of testimonies. The father (or another worthy Priesthood holder) carries the baby to the front of the chapel. He is accompanied by male relatives and friends (also worthy Priesthood holders) who have been invited to participate in the ordinance. They stand in a circle. The father holds the baby out on his two hands in the center of the circle. Each of the men places a hand under the infant for added support. The father then offers a special prayer during which he names the child and pronounces a blessing upon the child that will help him or her throughout this life. During the blessing, an odd thing almost always occurs. It has nothing to do with the ordinance, and is not an official part of Mormon doctrine. The men invariably start rhythmically bouncing the baby up and down on their outstretched hands. This may have started out as a way to calm an upset infant, because naturally some babies cry during the procedure. But I’ve always wondered if sometimes it’s why the baby cries. Sometimes I get this silly picture in my head of a circle of men, each holding onto the edge of a receiving blanket, tossing the baby repeatedly high into the air of a big top.
A few months ago, some neighbors of ours named and blessed their new baby in Fast and Testimony Meeting. The dad carried little baby Esther to the front of the chapel. The male relatives and friends also went forward to form the circle. I was too far back in the congregation to see how soon the bouncing began, but fairly soon, Esther started crying. Actually, crying is an understatement. Esther wailed. Wailed might be too mild a term to use in this instance as well, but I can’t think of another word right now. Screamed? Esther screamed through the whole thing. Toward the end of the blessing, the dad included something like, “And we hope that someday you’ll be able to look back on this day with fonder feelings than you’re having right now.” I thought it was great. Why shouldn’t she cry? I, of course, was picturing the big top.
Later in the morning, as we were waiting for Sunday School to begin, I was talking to Esther’s mother.
“That was a beautiful blessing,” I told her. "And I loved that she screamed through the whole thing,” I added sincerely. She looked at me kind of funny for just a second. Then we talked about other things, and she went to sit in another part of the room where she had set her belongings. After a minute, she got back up and came over to me.
“You know, while I was sitting in Sacrament Meeting,” she told me, “I caught a glimpse of you and I thought ‘Melinda probably thinks it’s great that Esther screamed the whole time. And that it didn’t matter or ruin it or anything.’”
How disturbing, I thought, that someone has figured out the inner-workings of my mind.
Esther’s fine. Like all those other women in Fast and Testimony Meeting, she was just feeling the Spirit.
* Every Weird Thing You Wanted To Know About Mormons But Were Afraid To Ask Because Then The Missionaries Might Show Up At Your Door