Monday, December 31, 2007

Burned to Death

Here is Arnold Friberg's famous painting of Abinadi.

Abinadi's story is an interesting one. It begins in Mosiah 11. The Lord tells him to go preach to the wicked people of King Noah, and to prophesy of the destruction that will befall the people unless they repent. The people don't take too kindly to his denunciations, and try to kill him, but the Lord delivers him. Then we read:
"And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying: Thus has the Lord commanded me, saying—Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people..." (Mosiah 12:1). I've always found it odd that Abinadi would show up in disguise, and immediately announce his name. Maybe he got excited in the heat of the moment.

Abinadi, after prophesying before the people, and then before the wicked King Noah and his idolatrous priests, is burned to death because he would not recant his testimony of Christ.

We always imagine that Abinadi is about 85 years old and built like a body-builder, based on Brother Friberg's depiction of him (based on real photographs, of course). So it doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice for him to go preach to Noah, and go to his death--it's sort of the grand finale of a life well lived--no great triumph, but no great tragedy, either.

But what if Brother Friberg got it wrong? What if Abinadi was 25 instead of 85? What if he was short, had a big nose, skinny legs, and walked with a limp? What if he was in the prime of his life, instead of the end of it? Perhaps this was his first experience in a royal throne room. Maybe it was his first missionary assignment.

The story of Abinadi is incredible even if Abinadi was a old man and a seasoned veteran of missionary work. But the idea of a young man taking on all of Noah's priests--who must have bee fairly well versed in the scriptures (especially since they picked an obscure passage in Isaiah to question Abinadi on, and he delivered a brilliant and scathing sermon off the cuff) and winning, to the extent that they were so angry at him they felt the need to burn him to death, is even more amazing. I guess it gives me hope that I, as young and unlearned and inexperienced as I am, can still do great things in the strength of the Lord.

"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise" (Alma 37:6).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Better Than Light

I've been thinking, lately, with Happy New Year approaching, about a favorite poem by Minnie Louise Haskins:

"The Gate of the Year"

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.

A year ago, I never would have dreamed that the events of this year would have unfolded the way they did. But, as it turns out, God has a better way of doing things than I do. I'm in a far better place today than I was a year ago (of course, this time last year I was on an excruciating red-eye flight across four time zones. But you get my meaning). If He had announced His intention from the beginning, I would have been far too skeptical to go along with it. He knows I'm stubborn, so He gives me just what I need to know for the things I need to do as they come along. For being God, He's awfully smart.

Put your hand in the hand of God. Haskins was right--it is better than light, and far safer than a known way.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bored Games...and other life postulates

The other day David and I were talking about my blog. He said, "I haven't been commenting on it lately because you haven't been saying anything controversial." So much for writing beautiful things about the Lord's love. Apparently I have to write something incendiary to get comments.

I realized today how much I like simple things. I don't like having to make elaborate arrangements for a date. I don't like games with millions of rules (think Axis and Allies or football), and I don't like complicated relationships. I think outings should be simple and meaningful, and leave lots of time for personal interaction rather than creating a contrived activity to fill time. I think games should have a few simple, easily explainable rules, and rely mostly on skill, rather than chance, to win. (Think Spit or Blokus or Snatch or Set) I also think games should start and finish in under half an hour. (Maybe I have a short attention span.) I think relationships should be open, full of honest communication, with game-playing and other such stupidity held to a minimum. (They should start and finish within half an hour, too. Just kidding. My attention span isn't quite THAT short.)

I like simple things. Life is already too complicated.

"I glory in plainness; I glory in truth" (2 Nephi 33:6).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The First Christmas

Spending the night in the airport coming home got me to thinking about travel at Christmastime. It wasn't comfortable, but I'll bet the first-ever Christmas journey was a lot less posh.

We tend to have a funny portrayal of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. Mary is always a sweet young woman of about twenty with perfect teeth and shiny black hair, Joseph a young man of twenty-five with a full beard, and he always patiently leads Mary's donkey, which she sits upon with a clean blue robe wrapped around her heavily pregnant form. When they get to Bethlehem, they set up shop in a clean barn with fresh straw, where she quickly gives birth to Jesus, and then peacefully attends to wrapping him in a lovely white blanket and looking on him adoringly. She isn't at all fazed when a bunch of idyllic-looking shepherds show up to gaze at him.

Let's think for a minute about how the first Christmas more likely transpired.

The governor sent out a decree to all his people that they should all go to their homelands to be counted in a census. This angered the people, who already chafed under Roman rule, but home they went. Joseph left Nazareth to go to Bethlehem, because he was of David's lineage, not because he had any ties to the area. (He must not have had any family there, which explains why they sought shelter in an inn.) They traveled about 70 miles as the crow flies, much more when you figure in the winding mountain trails that lie between the two regions. It would have taken them more than a week, and these were the days before hotels and rest stops. There is no evidence that they had a donkey--they could just as easily have been making the journey on foot, with Mary about to deliver a child. Mary would have been about fourteen years old (imagine Mary as a Mia Maid), and Joseph significantly older. The trail would have been dusty and poorly suited for a pregnant woman, and it would have delayed them significantly. They would have had only what food they took with them or bought along the way (and that gives a whole new meaning to complaining about road food).

When they finally reached Bethlehem, there would have been no "Silent night" with choirs singing "all is calm, all is bright." The town was packed with people whose ancestors had come from the lineage of David, with their animals and families. The streets would have been noisy. The inn was full.

Having no family in the area, they sought refuge in a stable. This wasn't the quaint, thatched-roof barn we place in our New England-themed manger scenes--it was a small cave where the sheep were kept for the night. We don't know how long they were in Bethlehem, but at some time during their stay, the baby's time came, and Mary gave birth at night. I submit that she wasn't up and about immediately after the birth, smiling delightedly when the shepherds showed up. Giving birth to a baby is hard work--they call it "labor" for a reason--and Mary was probably exhausted and in considerable pain. Her feet were tired, she was exhausted from the journey, and giving birth by lamplight in a cave as a fourteen-year-old girl with a man she barely knew (or with some foreign midwives) was probably not exactly her idea of a good time, and definitely not what she had imagined for her life.

Then strange men with weather-worn faces and clothes smelling of sheep started showing up, running to see her child. No violins played sweet strains of beloved carols, no bells rang, no smell of Christmas ham wafted through the air, no stockings were hung by the chimney with care. Her baby cried (that "no crying he makes" line is nonsense. Babies cry.), her husband left to go pay the taxes, and Mary was a stranger in a strange land.

She must have been a very strong young lady. How many of us could handle any part of what she experienced, and still praise God?

What an interesting God we worship--a God who would send His Son to be born of a young girl, cradled in a cave, laid in a feeding trough, greeted by shepherds, raised by a poor craftsman, and die ignominiously, nailed to a tree, killed for sedition---and still have it be the greatest miracle of all time. What a humble Savior we have, who would be born in the poorest of circumstances, He who had formed worlds born as a helpless child, He who had sat on the right hand of God living His life without beauty or glory, and He who created life relinquishing His that His persecutors might live.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

"And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things" (1 Nephi 11:16-17).

Monday, December 24, 2007


They pulled out foam sleeping mats sometime last night, so I got a few hours of fitful sleep on the mezannine of the airport. Bless the merciful employee who turns off that confounded PA system during the wee hours of the morning. We're leaving in a few hours, and we'll be home before noon.

I've learned a few things about traveling over the holidays. I present the following:

Amy's Top Ten List of Things to Bring While Travelling:
1. A toothbrush. I feel like I have green furry things growing on my teeth.
2. Noise-canceling headphones. I would have loved to make that stupid computerized voice welcoming me to the airport and reminding me that it was a non-smoking facility shut up.
3. Something that can double as a blanket. I was lucky not to have room in my suitcase, so I grabbed two winter coats and a hat as I was running out the door. When we got stranded, both of us had blankets, and I had a hat to pull over my eyes. I wish they'd shut off the lights in these airports.
4. A neck pillow. Seriously. They're great for sleeping (or staying awake) on the plane, in what may be the most uncomfortable seats ever engineered. And it doubles as a sleeping pillow should you get stuck. This is the second time I've used mine on the floor of an airport. That curved neck pillow may be the best $13 I've ever spent.
5. Food. And cash. If you're not going to sleep, you may want to eat. Sometimes, nothing but hot food will do.
6. A water bottle. Empty, of course. So you don't have to pay the exorbitant prices they charge for water--if you can find a drinking fountain.
7. A laptop, and some movies to watch. 'Nuff said.
8. A change of clothes.
9. A hat, to put over your hair when it gets greasy and yucky.
10. Some books, and your scriptures.

And now, a few things I've noticed:

Does anyone really need to be told, never mind every ten minutes, that:
1. Don't smoke in the airport
2. Don't accept packages from strangers
3. Don't try to bring guns through security
...? If you don't know these things, perhaps you shouldn't be traveling unaccompanied. Just sayin'.

Another PA announcement I can't understand is the one (and they have it in every airport I've been in) that talks about that ridiculous Homeland Security Threat Level system. Apparently we're at a threat level "orange," which means there is a "high risk of terrorist attacks." This is as compared to yellow, "elevated risk," and red, "severe risk." Whatever the difference between those is.
This color system is Tom Ridge's brainchild, and is supposed to provide a "comprehensive and effective means to disseminate information regarding the risk of terrorist acts to Federal, State, and local authorities and to the American people." I'm not sure how knowing that we're at "orange" helps me have any relevant or useful information whatsoever regarding terrorist attacks. Are we supposed to be more alert...more alert than what, exactly? The threat level has been at "orange" almost nonstop since the system was created. How much does it matter in the lives of ordinary people? Am I supposed to feel an "orange-y" level of scared now? Do the Feds feel orange-y scared?

And, for the record, is it possible to make a LESS comfortable seat for an airplane? I swear, the engineers are sitting around calculating d(comfort)/dt=0. (Yes, I'm a nerd. Props to anyone who got that.) Optimization, anyone?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It Is No Coincidence...

"It is no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase 'As pretty as an Airport' appear." --Douglas Adams

I'm stuck in an airport tonight. Our first flight got delayed for several hours on the runway, and we missed our connection by half an hour. The next flight doesn't leave until tomorrow morning. So we'll be sleeping on the floor with hundreds of other weary Christmas travelers.

The happy things:
* We'll be home for Christmas, if only barely.
* We've got lots of leg room, which was in short supply on the plane
* I didn't die of cardiac arrest, which I thought I might after running to catch that flight.
* We have a neck pillow
* I bought 24 hours of wireless Internet access, so I have something to do.
* I also have several books to read
* I even thought to bring food (and I make really good food).
* I'm going home!!!!

I'm exhausted. I should have brought some movies. And the PA system goes off every few seconds paging somebody or other or announcing another flight. It's going to be a rough night.
I just sent David down for some more food. If you're still up and about, you're welcome to get on and chat with me. Or show me your favorite website. Or, you know, whatever.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Smallest Part Which I Feel

I've been reading about Ammon's missionary journeys lately, and I am in awe. Not only was Ammon a great warrior and a missionary, he was also a poet to rival any psalmist. When he got together with his brethren, he rejoiced in the Lord's goodness to them and to the people they had served, saying,

"I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever" (Alma 26:12).

What a great thing to remember--as to my strength I am weak. When we excel in an academic or work environment, it's easy to think we've "prospered according to [our own] genius, and... conquered according to [our own] strength" (Alma 30:17). But the work of the Lord isn't like that--we do everything by His power. It's His work, His message, and when it sinks into the hearts of those we teach, it is He who gets the glory for such success. It's the opposite of the world's emphasis on self-esteem--this is God-esteem.

God-esteem makes a lot more sense than self-esteem, anyway. We're only mortals, after all, and as mortals we're going to fail a lot. Why not base our worth on our relationship to our Father, who "
is the Rock, his work is perfect... a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he" (Deut. 32:4)? Then we can rejoice, not in our own innate goodness, but in the chance He has granted us to be instruments in His hands, to bring to pass His great work and glory (Moses 1:39).

Ammon continued, praising God for delivering so many of the people with whom he has labored:

"Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice? Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.
"Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.
"Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel" (Alma 26:13-16).

I feel like Ammon. I have been given some incredible opportunities to testify of Christ, and they have humbled me, as I have come to understand that when I do good in the name of the Lord, He strengthens me and gives me power, but He calls the shots and gets the credit for any success. For I, as John, "came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through [me] might believe. [I am] not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light" (John 1:7-8). Ammon's opportunities were difficult, as some of mine have been, but I, like he, rejoice in the opportunity to be an instrument in the Lord's hands in doing His work. Truly, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Should Not the Heavens Weep?

I couldn't sleep for hours last night. I cried, because so many of the people I love are in such great pain, and I hurt for them. When you love someone, it's impossible not to be affected when they hurt. Even God, who is perfect and omnipotent, can't help but weep when He sees the suffering of His children.
Last night I thought of Enoch's vision of the earth. Moses records:

"And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced...And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations...and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever...and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?"

Enoch is asking God, essentially, "You're perfect. With your eternal perspective, how can you be sorrowful about a tiny fraction of your innumerable creations?"

God's answer is beautiful. It gives me insight into the character of the God I worship, and the person I should strive to emulate.

"The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father...and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren....wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?"(Moses 7:26-37)

The God we worship cries when we suffer, even when our sufferings are caused by our own poor choices. His love for His children is infinite, even though we are such a tiny part of His creations. His love is great enough that He gave His Son for us, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

I bear witness of the reality of that gift of God's Son, of His Atonement, and of its great and transcendent power. I know that His Atonement has power to heal every hurt, every heartache, and every sin. I know that, although the Lord weeps, He has the power to "wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Rev. 21:4).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Twisted Roots

Daniel sent me this article today. Now I feel better about spending hours writing essays about religious (and other) topics.

In other news, I've been transcribing my great-great-great grandfather's journal recently. It's about 800 pages long, and the handwriting, spelling, and grammar are often hard to decipher, so it's slow going. It recounts his missionary work in England. I just got through Christmas and New Year's, and now it's January 1892. He seemed to do a lot of the same things each day, but reading about my ancestor's life fascinates me. With the connections I'm making and the puzzle pieces I'm putting together, it has become really enjoyable.

My uncle put together a family history book recently, and I've been reading bits of it. It's an incredible wealth of information. I never realized what fascinating (and at times shady) lives my ancestors lef.

I'd better quit procrastinating and go study for my programming test now. Good luck to those of you taking finals this week!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Since Feeling Is First...

I re-realized something today: I love to feel music.

Okay, I confess. I'm an audiophile. It's true. When I grow up and get a home and a job, I'm going to buy real sound equipment. I'm going to install high-quality speakers in my home, and turn off the lights and listen to Rachmaninoff's Vespers in the darkness in my living room. I'm going to install a sub-woofer that can rattle the windowpanes.

Tonight I listened to Daniel play the piano, stretched out on the floor (I was stretched out, not him, silly!) We were in an old house, with a loud piano and fairly good acoustics, without padded walls and industrial carpet to dull the sound. It was wonderful to feel the notes resonate through the floorboards and inside my lungs, and throughout my whole body. It's a very different experience from my normal music-listening habits. In this world of MP3s and electronic music played on tinny speakers, it's a real joy to hear music live--to
feel it, to let its vibrations course through me. There was an intimacy, a realness to the experience that left me hungry for more. It was like the difference between talking to your Dad on the phone and leaning up against him, feeling the vibrations of his voice in his chest.

Speaking of which, I can't wait to go home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And They Took Up Stones Again to Stone Him

Tonight was the last night of Hanukkah. It was a beautiful celebration. Thanks to all who attended. Thanks especially to Daniel for hosting, and to Owen for cooking the latkes.

We talked today, as we sat around watching the candles burn out, about some of the other Jewish celebrations. As I've said before, if I wasn't LDS, I'd be Jewish. They have such incredibly beautiful, richly symbolic holidays.

Tonight we read the account of Christ celebrating Hanukkah, and His sermon in Solomon's porch of the temple at Jerusalem (John 10:22-end). It's one of the few times in the gospels that Christ announces his divine Sonship and Messianic mission. It's a beautiful sermon.

A beautiful sermon that almost got Him killed.

As Daniel pointed out, you know the Pharisees understood Him because they picked up rocks to stone Him. The Savior handled the situation with a remarkable wit, considering what a dangerous situation He was in.

I thought of how appropriate it was that Christ, on this day of dedication and celebration of the miracle of light, and in the court of the temple, would announce His godhood. He is the light of the world. He is the Holy One of Israel, the one dedicated to atone for us, and the One to whom the temple had been dedicated. How appropriate, then, that He should make such an announcement at such a feast.

How appropriate, too, that we should celebrate Hanukkah at this time of year, a time of giving gifts to the Savior, of New Year's resolutions--in short, of re-dedicating ourselves to the Savior whose birth we celebrate. He is the light of the world. His is the miraculous light that we celebrate. His is the cause to which we dedicate ourselves, and all that we have and are.

On the last day of the original feast of dedication, the temple altar was dedicated. May we, on this final day of celebration, dedicate ourselves to sacrifice to the Lord whose altar and temple it was.
Happy Hanukkah, all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ode to the Nameless Wife of a Once-Wayward Man

I talked last time about my love of stories of exemplary women from the scriptures, even though they are fairly few and far between. One woman that I've thought about a lot lately is the wife of Alma the Younger. We never learn her name. In fact, Alma never even mentions her existence, but he had children, so I figure he must have had a wife.

What of this woman's story can we reconstruct, without any mention of her? What lessons can we learn from her life? I've managed to gain a lot from her. Bear with me for a moment as I construct what I believe is a convincing picture of her character.

First, let's review her husband's life. His father, also named Alma, was the high priest over the church in his land. Alma Jr., therefore, was in line for the office, and should have been among the most righteous, given his noble parentage. Instead, Alma and his buddies, the sons of Mosiah, went about trying to destroy the church of God. Alma "became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities. And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them" (Mosiah 27:8-9).

So Alma, in spite of his father's teachings, was a bad apple. I imagine, based on his description of his torment and his later attempts to make restitution for his sins, that he was guilty of apostasy, idolatry, adultery, hedonism, and a few other fairly heinous things. I also imagine, leading the wild lifestyle he was, that he wasn't married at the time. (This argument also holds up if he was married, but it's simpler and more intuitive if he was a wild, wicked bachelor.)

Now the short version of the rest of his story (this post is supposed to be about his wife, after all): An angel appears to Alma and his buddies as they're out worshipping idols, sleeping around, and generally breaking every known commandment. The angel gives Alma a royal telling-off, and he falls into a coma for a few days wherein he is tortured with all his sins, comes to Christ, applies the Atonement, repents, wakes up, and testifies of Christ, his past sins, and his current saved condition. The he and his buddies spend years going around preaching the gospel, confessing their sins, and trying to repair the wrongs they had done. Alma eventually becomes high priest (Alma 4:4), like his father. He has some sons. He gives some of the most powerful and profound discourses in the Book of Mormon, and, at the end of his life, was translated (we think) (Alma 45:18-19).
(For a more complete account of his life, see Alma 36, Mosiah 27, Robert Millet's article, and the Wikipedia article on him.)

Great. So how about his wife? We don't know much about her. Maybe she isn't mentioned because she died in childbirth. Maybe she outlived Alma. No idea. We don't have any of her words recorded.

But, going with the assumption that she married Alma after his spectacular conversion, we know one major thing about her: She must have understood and had faith in the power of the Atonement. Think of it--Alma and his father must have been well-known in their community. Alma's people must have known of their leader's greatness and his struggles with his wayward son. They would have heard him preach to them, and seen the sorrow in his eyes as he preached against the sin that was growing in the hearts of his people, hearts he knew were being led away by his own son. There must have been sleepless nights for Alma Senior and his wife as they wondered how they had failed as parents, and what they could do to reclaim their son. Alma Senior organized a group fast and prayer when Alma Jr. was struck down, and Alma Jr.'s testimony, confession, and missionary work were public. So his wife would have known of his prior rebellion. She would have known of the depth of his apostasy and wickedness. She may even have personally known the people whose testimonies he destroyed, the women whose virginity he took, the people he flattered away from their covenants and responsibilities. The community could not have been so large that she would have been unaware of Alma's past, for "this thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26).

Yet she married Alma and bore him three sons: Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton (who strayed while on his mission but later returned and repented). She must have been a great woman to be the wife of such a great prophet, and to raise such great sons.

I wonder if her husband's past ever tortured her. I wonder what she thought about before she married him. I can't believe that his past didn't cross her mind. I imagine that she thought long and hard about his repentance, and about what repentance really means. She must have understood that the Atonement really does have the power to change a person, to give them a different character, to change their desires. She had the faith required to marry him because she knew that the power of the Atonement was real, that she didn't have to worry about her husband straying again, because he had experienced a "might change of heart," and had "no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2).

One of my greatest fears has always been that I would marry a man who was abusive or unfaithful to me or to the Lord. What Alma's wife did strikes me as terrifying, which may be why I admire her so much for her understanding of a principle I believe, but have yet to fully comprehend.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already...And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:16-19).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I wonder as I wander

I've said before that I'm not a feminist. But I still appreciate female role models from the scriptures. Yes, we can all learn something from Alma and Moroni and Nephi, but there's something special about having an exemplary woman to look up to that speaks to me more. I can connect with her, feel like she had some of the same struggles I face. There's a bond of kinship, even though I don't know her. I strain for every detail of her life, each recorded word she spoke, and the stories that were told about her. I imagine myself in her place. I imagine the story from her perspective, and it gives me hope and comfort.
But the task is difficult. Women in the scriptures never write their own stories; they're always a footnote to the story of some great prophet, king, or general. Most of their words aren't recorded, and often their very names are lost to history. But occasionally they leave clues as to the women they were and the lives they led.
Take Sariah, wife of Lehi, mother of Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, Joseph, and probably a few daughters. She had a comfortable home in Jerusalem, land for her children to inherit, and was likely well-known and respected in the community.
Then her husband saw a vision, and her world changed. Lehi announced that they would leave Jerusalem--a city, he said, which has become so wicked that it would soon be destroyed. They're leaving in a hurry, and they're not coming back. In her day, that meant she would never see her friends or extended family again. Her previously well-stocked kitchen and trips to the market would be replaced by cooking whatever her sons killed with their bows, in the desert on an open fire. Saintly though she may have been, I can't imagine her being thrilled by the prospect. Then, after another vision, Lehi announced that her four sons must go back to Jerusalem, a journey of many days in a hostile land, to retrieve gold plates from their clan chief, a greedy madman and a notorious drunkard. For weeks, there was no sign of her sons. I imagine a Sariah who hourly scanned the horizon for some sight of her sons' return.
When the appointed day had passed, and still her sons were missing, Nephi records that "she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father... saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 5:2). Sariah gets a bad rap for her harsh words--she comes off as the complaining wife who added to the burdens of an already-weary prophet. But how many of us would bear up under any portion of what she experienced with so little complaining? For a woman who had been heartbroken to leave the land and the people she loved, and then had lost all of her sons, and "she truly had mourned because of us," it's a wonder she didn't hurt anyone physically.
I see her as a woman of great love. She left Jerusalem without complaining. She traveled many miles in the wilderness to a destination she could not conceive of. She mourned the loss of sons she loved. And she rejoiced at their return.
I love the scene of her reunion with her sons. Nephi records:
"And it came to pass that after we had come down into the wilderness unto our father, behold, he was filled with joy, and also my mother, Sariah, was exceedingly glad...And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full" (1 Nephi 5:1,7).
And then, these beautiful words, which are Sariah's transformation:
"...and my mother was comforted."
"Comforted" comes from Middle English, from Old French, from late Latin. The word originally mean "strengthened, filled with strength and power." It means that not only was Sariah was no longer sad, she was filled with testimony, with understanding, with the power it would take to spend the next eight years and at least two pregnancies in the wilderness. That's the only way I can explain what happens next:
"And she spake, saying: Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them" (1 Nephi 5:8, emphasis added).
"Now," she said, she knew that the course she had been pursuing all this time was correct. This is Sariah's transformation.
Before this moment, she was a dutiful wife, following the direction of her husband according to Middle Eastern custom. Lehi said he was acting on commandment from the Lord, but Sariah had seen no visions, heard no heavenly voices. Now the Lord strengthens her, gives her the knowledge that surely she had sought. Now she becomes a willing partner, a participant in the Lord's miracles to her family. She took a step into the darkness, and then another, and another, and when her challenges had been sufficient, the light followed her, and strengthened her.
From this point on, we never hear her complain. She eats of the fruit of the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:14-16). She rejoices in her family's triumphs, and trusts in the Lord when the journey is difficult. Even when her family is without food, and all the men, including Lehi, murmur against the Lord, Sariah is faithful (1 Nephi 16).
Sariah became ill on the voyage to the promised land, amidst fraternal squabbles, a great tempest, and general unrest. Her young sons, who needed her, were distraught. It is not known whether she ever reached the promised land.
Sariah was a noble and great woman who endured much. She saw her family ripped apart by injured pride and insincere repentance. She crossed a hostile wilderness, giving birth amidst great afflictions. She loved her family deeply, and their fighting concerned and hurt her. She will be remembered for her great love and faithfulness. Sariah is my hero.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Come Light The Menorah!

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the miracle that occurred at the re-dedication of the Jerusalem temple in about 165 B.C. The temple had been desecrated by the Greek soldiers under the command of Antiochus IV, and turned into a temple for the worship of Zeus. Jewish worship was forbidden, and the Jews were commanded to worship Greek gods, eat the meat of pigs, and engage in rituals repugnant to their faith. Many Jews complied with the new decrees, but the Maccabees led the Jewish revolt against the Greek soldiers, and succeeded in retaking the temple. They found the temple looted and in disarray. Needing to rededicate the temple before it could be used for sacrifices and ordinances, they searched the temple for oil with which to light the menorah, but were only able to find a small container of oil, enough to light the menorah for only a day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, long enough to dedicate the temple and to press and consecrate more oil. Jews today celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights, in commemoration of that miraculous event.

Those of you who are in the area are invited to join me in celebrating the second night of Hanukkah tomorrow night at 9pm in S205. (Food contributions are always welcome). We will have traditional food, games, music and culture, along with lighting the menorah.

Most (all?) of you reading this aren't Jewish. So why should you care about Hanukkah? Apart from the great food (who doesn't like potato pancakes and jelly donuts deep-fried in oil?) Hanukkah has great significance to the Christian world as well. Had there been no Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas. Had the Maccabees and their companions not stood up to the Greek soldiers, Jewish religion would have ceased as we know it. There would be no temple for Christ to teach in, no synagogue for Him to preach in, no Galilean Jewish virgin for Him to be born to. If Antiochus had had his way, the Jews would have been worshiping pagan gods, not looking forward to the coming of the Messiah.

The miracle of Hanukkah is the miracle of a God who blesses His chosen people when they obey Him, a God who strengthens those who keep His law. We worship a God of miracles, a God of glory, a God of light. Just as He lit His temple, He will light our hearts this Christmas season as we remember the birth of His Son, the Light of the World. Jesus Christ, who performed this miracle, will perform miracles for us. He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New Testament, the "light which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5)

Barely Legal Blondes want your Savings Account

As you've heard me rant about before, Wells Fargo Bank holds about 20% of the stock of Playboy Enterprises, Inc. (PLA--click on the link for stock information). Since pornography is against my personal value system (not to mention good common sense for healthy relationships), I don't feel comfortable allowing my money to go to support those who produce pornography. Accordingly, I closed my accounts with Wells Fargo today.
Consider doing the same. If you bank with Wells Fargo, consider whether or not your values support the causes that your bank is choosing to support using your money. Vote with your pocketbook.
The banker was a bit taken aback when I told her my reasons for terminating my relationship with Wells Fargo. She may have thought I was a little bit nutty, but I bet if we all refused to bank with them for that reason, it would send a clear message that the way they choose to invest is not okay with their customer base.
If that isn't enough incentive, several of the other area banks and credit unions have better interest rates, fewer fees, and more perks.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Song of The Heart

I love music. It fills up my soul, makes me want to sing and dance and shout and twirl and praise God for something so beautiful. When I went to the last Men's and Women's Chorus concert, my date (thank you, dear boy!) commented about how fun it was to watch me sit on the edge of my chair in ecstasy as I listened to selection from Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil (Vespers)--one of my favorite pieces of music. I had forgotten that music could be so beautiful. I love the convenience of CDs and MP3s, but nothing can replace the sheer beauty of hearing a first-rate choir in a concert hall. The notes resonate differently--they fill the air--in a way that's hard to replicate without spending millions of dollars on sound equipment.

I got to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir last night. It always amazes me what a perfect blend they have--it seems as if there's only one singer--a single voice with a whole lot of power. And they are always so purely musical--as if they have no need to overdo anything, to embellish unnecessarily, no need to add the cheap gimmicks that so many choirs and soloists use to make up for lack of technique and simple beauty.

There are a few numbers that make me shudder with their beauty--Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen, Handel's Messiah, Mozart and Brahm's Requiems...--pieces I want to listen to in a dark room with some quality headphones. I want to let the music course through me and take me away, enfold me in something beautiful. Especially during this Christmas season, I want to listen to the angels sing.

"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart" (Doc & Cov 25:12).