Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Funeral Potatoes and Turkey

Perhaps it seems strange to write about funerals on Thanksgiving. But since Thanksgiving always reminds me of loved ones who died around that time, I suppose it's understandable. Especially at this time, I miss them.

Death is hard on me. Not in the abstract--after all, I believe in the eternal existence of the soul, and in a universal resurrection. I understand that death isn't the end of existence. I'm not afraid to die, to be done living, or to meet my God. I know that death is a part of life, that people live on after they die, and that, after my death, I will be reunited with those I loved in life. I know that the answer to Job's question, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14) is a resounding "Yes!"

But despite these noble platitudes, death is hard to handle. The pain caused by the physical absence of a loved one is sharp, especially during times of celebration--times when they should be there--times when their presence is sorely missed. We mark milestones for the departed--the day our son would have graduated high school, the party we would have held for Grandpa's 60th birthday, the wedding reception that Mom would have danced at.

Encounters with death affect us deeply. They remind us of our own mortality. They connect us to each other and to the Divine. We come through the experience changed beings, capable of new feeling, filled with new understanding. But the understanding we gain comes at a high price, and the peace that can fill our hearts often comes only after much despair. Even with our knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, such encounters are often unbearably painful.

At religious funerals, we tend to give short shrift to the physical body in order to emphasize the eternity of the soul, saying, in effect, "Do not be sad, for what lies here in the casket is just his body, just his shell. His spirit is still very much alive." But, as a dear teacher reminded me, "Yes, that is true. But we loved the body, too." The body is what we held close to us, it was what interacted with us. The body had the eyes that lit up with excitement, the voice that sang with us, the hands that held ours. It had the arms that carried firewood and cleared brush, the feet that grew calloused and sore, the stomach that always seemed to be hungry. We know that the spirit lives on, but we loved the body, too. And in closing the casket and covering it with earth, we are bidding farewell to a large part of a person we love.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my loved ones, both here and on the other side of the veil. I am especially thankful for those I can no longer see--for a brother with a passion for life and a genuine concern for all those he "bumped elbows" with, and for a grandmother who, even in dying, taught her family how to live in unity and love. In joining their voices with those of angelic choirs, they have taught me to raise my own voice in praise to God.

Most especially, I am thankful for my Savior Jesus Christ, whose atoning death will make it possible for me to see them again, and whose resurrection from the grave will bring to pass their resurrection, and thus allow me to hold them close to me again.

"He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it" (Isaiah 25:8).

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fighting on the Wrong Side

"It has been declared in the solemn word of revelation, that the spirit and the body constitute the soul of man; and, therefore, we should look upon this body as something that shall endure in the resurrected state, beyond the grave, something to be kept pure and holy. Be not afraid of soiling its hands; be not afraid of scars that may come to it if won in earnest effort, or [won] in honest fight, but beware of scars that disfigure, that have come to you in places where you ought not have gone, that have befallen you in unworthy undertakings [pursued where you ought not have been]; beware of the wounds of battles in which you have been fighting on the wrong side."

James E. Talmage, CR, October 1913, p. 117, quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland in Souls, Symbols and Sacraments, BYU Devotional 12 January 1988.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Allahu Akbar--God Is Most Great

In Arabic, there is a common saying: Allahu Akbar! It has gotten a bad rap lately as the battle cry of Muslim terrorists, but it's really an expression of faith, not of war--God is most great, or God is greater.

This week marks the anniversary of a very pivotal change in my life, the first in a series of events that were, at the time, unbearably painful, but have also given me great understanding, peace, and even joy.

In all areas of life, the Lord tests us and tries us. He gives us experiences and people who will change us. At times, He allows us to be deeply hurt. But He feels our heartaches and offers us His peace. He knows the storms that rage about us, and, as He did two millennia ago, He still has the power to command the waves, "Peace, be still."

I am reminded of Enos's experience with gaining forgiveness and peace. After praying all day and night, a voice came to him, saying, "Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away."

Think of what Enos must have felt! What great joy and peace must have filled his soul!

His words have come to me often, and touched me. After feeling this great peace, Enos says, "Lord, how is it done?"

I have felt like Enos. I have tasted the beautiful peace and wholeness that comes from Christ's Atonement. When I felt that same "peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Phillipians 4:7), I have been led to say with Enos, "Lord, how is it done? How is it possible that I could feel this wonderful, this complete, this joyous? How can You take pain away so completely and replace it with such exquisite joy?" And the answer, as was the Lord's answer to Enos, is simply, "Because of thy faith in Christ... wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

The power of the Atonement is real. It is the power to overcome all things. It is the power to be free, to be at peace, to rejoice. This I know from personal experience, for when I have cried out to the Lord in the depths of my sorrow, “Oh God, where art thou?” I have heard the Lord’s gentle answer, “My daughter, peace be unto thy soul” (see Doctrine & Covenants 121:1,7). I have come to know that the Lord’s promise through the prophet Isaiah will always be fulfilled: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer…For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Isaiah 54:7-10).

Life can be hard, and our trials, at times, seem too great to bear. But I know that no matter how great our trials, Allahu Akbar!--God is greater.

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