I’ve been reading a journal written by a Confederate nurse (Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse, Louisiana State University Press, 1987) and she mentions a date as “following the last fast day”. Well that was a term I had to research a little and what I learned was eye opening in so many ways.
During The Civil War both President Lincoln and President Davis declared days for their nation to fast and pray for peace. Nurse Cumming mentions the day the same way she would say “last Thursday” which seems to indicate she accepted the day and the directive from her president. Bishop Meade of Christ Church in Millwood, VA delivered a lengthy sermon on that day, that was so well accepted that the Richmond Enquirer and Job Press was requested to publish it.
President Lincoln declared “the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord”. (Citation)
Even from Colonial times the nation sought mercy and wisdom from The Lord by corporate prayer and fasting in times of drought, famine or Indian attacks. In 1668 the Virginia House of Burgesses declared August 27th a “Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, to implore God’s mercy” (Citation) .
Now fasting has been a difficult practice for me to embrace – not because I’m so unwilling to give something up, but because I never want to stomp my foot at God and demand He act, and a hunger strike always seemed a little like that. As I’ve studied, and frankly as the Lord has changed my heart and opened my eyes, I’ve come to appreciate that I can better hear His direction and I can better communicate with a Sovereign God if my mouth and my head are not filled with the concerns of this world.
Reading about our people coming together to pray for peace and unity really moved me because we live in a time and a nation that can’t seem to agree on anything and where disunity seems to be our motto. We have a national day of prayer that barely gets a mention and isn’t always attended by our presidents. In fact a Google search for “National Fast Day” now yields results for the National Fast Food Day. Does that strike you as ironic?
Reading this journal written more than 150 years ago and during such a hard time in the life of this young woman as well as our country is proving quite thought-provoking. It sheds a light on how people thought during the nineteenth century, what their priorities and fears were and how they compare to us today.