Sunday, April 10, 2011

Something for Sunday-Fasting

Today is what we call 'Fast Sunday.' It usually falls on the first Sunday of each month, but when we have General Conference, it gets bumped to the second. Contrary to what the name might suggest, we still meet for the entire 3 hour block (I laughed when Jebb recently asked me if this was a 'slow' Sunday or a 'fast' Sunday?) But as a congregation, and as a worldwide church, we meet together in a spirit of prayer and fasting (aka abstaining from food or drink for a prescribed length of time). By fasting, we are putting off our bodily appetites and making them submit to our spiritual nature. We believe that this helps us not only learn self control, but also show God that we are willing to tame our physical selves and yield to our higher selves in order to better commune with Him. This is a Sunday when we are encouraged to pray and ponder about specific things we'd like to improve or possibly petition the Lord for special blessings.

Prayer is an important component to any fast. We are encourage to fast 'with a purpose.' By having a purpose, our prayers and our fast become more meaningful. We can unite with others in our families and congregations to petition the Lord for blessings. It is a very unifying experience to fast with others for a common cause. In my life experience though, I am typically fasting for something I have chosen personally.

And while I have had many good experiences with fasting, too often I find that I am just...hungry. I want to eat. I get a headache. I look at the clock a lot wondering when I will be able to satisfy those hunger pangs. I often have a greatly diminished capacity for patience and loving kindness (ie I can get grumpy). Yes, while I like to fancy myself as being one who is mindful of her Spiritual Nature, often, I find that my Physical Nature can be quite assertive.

But I fast.

And I have done this consistently my whole life.

When I was younger I would sometimes forget. I would walk out to the kitchen in the morning only to find that my dad had remembered. He would string a piece of masking tape across the kitchen door upon which he would write the words 'Fast Sunday' in magic marker. Shoot. I hated it when I couldn't 'forget.' ;)

So yes, fasting has always been a part of my life. I skip breakfast and lunch each Sunday and when dinner comes, it tastes oh so good to finally eat!

This Fast Sunday I thought it would be appropriate to share a faith building experience that I have had so it could be entered into our family record. So here it is!

In 1998, Jack Gilleland (John's dad) decided he would take his posterity on a cruise. Yippee! Imagine how excited I was to have married one of his offspring! :) He selected a cruise that took us from Florida to Roatan, Belize, Cancun, and home again.
At this time we only had 2 kids, Gabe and Seth. They were pretty young and I hadn't really left them much. John decided that this would be a great opportunity for he and I to take a day together and he convinced his mom to agree to watch our kids.

When John and I were first married I had learned to scuba dive. We did several dives on our honeymoon in Hawaii, but then I started having babies, and hadn't dove since then. I still really considered myself a beginner so when John suggested we go diving, I was feeling a little nervous. I don't think it would have been so bad if John had wanted to do a casual, fun, recreational dive, but if you know my husband, you can guess what dive he wanted to do.

John wanted us to dive the Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize. It is a giant circular sink hole that is 1000ft wide and 400 ft deep. It is quite an anomaly and is a famous dive spot. Around 120 feet down in the blue hole, there are, around the edges, a bunch of stalagmites and stalactites. Until you get to this depth, there is really nothing to see except for the walls of the hole. So when you do this dive, you don't add any air to your vest so that you will drop straight down to this depth. Because you are so deep, your dive time is greatly shortened. A tank of air that would normally last 30-40 minutes only lasts 10-12. Therefore, you are encouraged to drop down as fast as you can, then slowly make your way back up, keeping an eye on your depth and your air, as you don't want to ascend too fast (causing damage to your body) or too slow (causing you to run out of air).

When I took my certification classes we learned that the recreational dive limit for depth was 60 feet. To go any deeper, you required additional deep water classes and certification. The maximum depth any diver should ever go was 130 feet. Any deeper and you should have special mixed gas or you can have problems with your body decompressing without injury.

So ya, this was a dive that was WAY out of my comfort zone. I felt extremely apprehensive about it. John's complete lack of concern though persuaded me to go. I reread my dive manual about 5 times so I would remember all of the things i had learned in my certification courses. I kept coming back to a few paragraphs about Nitrogen Narcosis. I will put the Wikipedia definition here:

Narcosis while diving (also known as nitrogen narcosis, inert gas narcosis, raptures of the deep, Martini effect), is a reversible alteration in consciousness that occurs while scuba diving at depth. The Greek word ναρκωσις (narcosis) is derived from narke, "temporary decline or loss of senses and movement, numbness", a term used by Homer and Hippocrates.[2] Narcosis produces a state similar to alcohol intoxication or nitrous oxide inhalation, and can occur during shallow dives, but usually does not become noticeable until greater depths, beyond 30 meters (100 ft).

The condition is completely reversed by ascending to a shallower depth with no long-term effects. For this reason, narcosis while diving in open water rarely develops into a serious problem as long as the divers are aware of its symptoms and ascend to manage it. Diving beyond 40 m (130 ft) is considered outside the scope of recreational diving: as narcosis and oxygen toxicity become critical factors, specialist training is required in the use of various gas mixtures such as trimix or heliox.

My dive handbook warned that divers have been known to do crazy things like take off their masks to give them to the fish. Most commonly though it can cause euphoria and a loss of judgement (they compare it to being very drunk). Obviously, it is not a good thing to have at depth. But it is immediately reversed by simply ascending.

So we prepared to dive. John was my 'dive buddy' or the person you keep with during your dive. You always stay with your buddy and check with them occasionally to make sure everything is all right. You can do this using simple sign language. John asked me if I was all right and I assured him I was fine, although I was super nervous. I figured once I got in the water I would remember everything about diving like a fish riding a bike.

We got in the ocean and began our rapid descent. You have to equalize the pressure in your head as you go down so your eardrums are happy. John was having a little trouble, so we were descending slower than everyone else in our group. I was very aware of our timing and my anxiety was growing. 70 feet, 80 feet. It starts to get a little dark at this depth, and being in a giant shaft didn't help. 90 feet, 100 feet. Getting darker. 110, 120.

It was fairly dark and hard to see much at this depth. I noticed though that I didn't feel as anxious. I felt pretty darn good. I stopped my descent and added a touch of air to my vest so I would maintain my depth. I looked around at the walls and saw the stalagmites and stalactites. Yeah baby. I was liking this.

John descended right after me and pointed at a rock formation. I smiled. I waved.

He came over to me and flashed me the OK sign. I flashed back.

I felt OK. Really OK. But I was feeling very confined all of the sudden.

I had an almost overwhelming desire to take off my mask and remove my respirator.

I had a very surreal moment. It was almost like my consciousness was split in two. There was part of me that was feeling funky and NEEDED to get rid of all this gear, and a part of me that was almost looking on, realizing that was CRAZY!!!! An internal battle immediately began to rage. My hand came up to my respirator and physically started pulling it out of my mouth. My teeth clamped down hard on the mouthpiece, preventing my hand from pulling it out. I was literally engaged in a tug-of-war with myself 120 feet under water.

John later said my eyes got enormous and he wondered what was wrong. He again flashed me the OK sign.

This time I shook my head 'NO!' and circled my ear with my finger making the sign for 'CRAZY!'

John looked confused. I started to panic. I really, really, really felt an almost overwhelming NEED to remove all of my scuba gear. And by almost overwhelming, I felt like in another minute I would not be able to stop myself from shedding all of it. I knew it didn't make sense, but I didn't care. I had to get it off!

I took a deep breathe and said the world's fastest, deepest, underwater prayer.

I instantly knew I had Nitrogen Narcosis and I remembered that it is immediately cured by simply ascending.

I again started tugging at my respirator, while my teeth bit down hard to stop me from removing it. It was the most bizarre feeling to be physically fighting with myself and my will. My other hand reached down and pushed the button that inflated my dive vest, causing me to be more buoyant. I started to ascend. Slowly. I started feeling more freaked out as I got my senses back. As I ascended to 100ft, then 90, 80, 70, the realization of what almost just happened began to sink in. I also realized that I needed to slow my ascent and let my body adjust. I stopped at 50 feet and just paused for a minute.

I wanted to scream, to cry, to wig out like I would on land. But I was still underwater and I felt a calming come over me. I knew just what to do. I paused a little longer, then continued ascending. I got to 10 feet and paused again to adjust, before coming to the surface.

I was the first one up and the captain of our boat was surprised I was there already. He helped me out of the water and asked me if I was all right. I nodded. I sat down on the boat bench and breathed deep, slow breathes of air. I felt so relieved to be above water. I took off my gear and stowed it away then sat back down again. I sat alone to wait for the other divers to break the surface.

In that moment I had a distinct and strong, though completely unexpected impression come to my mind. The Spirit whispered to me that I had been able to maintain enough control over my body because I had observed the Law of the Fast all my life. And because of this, I had lived. It wasn't so much in words that I heard it, but it was more like I just completely understood that idea. It was a connection I would have never logically made in that moment (fasting and Scuba Diving???), but I knew it to be true.

Absolutely true.

I had lived through that experience because I had observed the Law of the Fast and because of that I had an increased measure of control over my body. And frankly, I don't think that's the type of experience I would have lived through otherwise. My physical self submitted to my spiritual self.


I stayed on the boat during the second dive over the reef. I rocked on the waves feeling grateful and reverent. I savored the color of the water and the feeling of the warm sun on my skin. I smelled the ocean and watched the seagulls. I felt gratitude for the ability I had to continue experiencing the beauty of the earth with my body. I was happy to be alive and well! :)

And I was grateful for the power of prayer. I was glad to know that God can hear us even when we are underwater! I was also grateful for the things we can learn and understand outside of our 5 physical senses. And I was grateful for the Law of the Fast. Who knew it would be so important in the middle of the ocean 120 feet down?!


George and Eva Ross said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing. I felt the spirit as I read your comments.

George and Eva Ross said...


If you don't submit this choice experience to the Ensign, I will! Not only is it a truly faith-building experience, it is beautifully written. (of course I would get your permission first)


meegz said...

I'll help your Dad submit it;)! Great inspiration for me -- thanks!

meegz said...

PS I was on that cruise and I've never heard that story -- you could've inspired me years ago ya know!?:)

ShelleyG said...

I think the Ensign would just wonder why I dove in the first place after feeling so nervous about it... :)

Megan, I know you were on that cruise :), but I seriously couldn't even talk about this for several years!! I hadn't scuba dived (dove? doved?) after this until our family trip to Tobago. I was scared to go again, but decided to finally get back on the to speak. It ended up being a great diving experience so I think I am OK underwater again! :) Luckily, it didn't spook my love of cruises...when are we going again BTW? ;)

Bradley Ross said...

Nicely written. Thanks for sharing that. There was a piece in the Daily Universe today about the health benefits of fasting; your piece was better. :)

meegz said...

i'm always shopping for a good cruise. i'm pretty sure I"m shopping for that like you've shopped for couches -- I think I shop like you -- you should see me trying to choose the right dishes....we're down to four bowls it's so bad!:)

Mimi said...

You and megan are alike in many ways...I notice it often. Too bad you don't live closer..I know you'd be friends. I was very touched by this blog also Michelle. Thanks so much for sharing this private part of your really helps others increase their testimony (which as you know is so fragile and in constant need of nurturing).