Thursday, December 24, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Jesus then proceeded to give a discourse on light and darkness, sin and judgment, His impending death, and His Messiah-ship. When the crowd questioned Him, Christ declared His divinity, which enraged them, and they sought to kill Him for blasphemy, "Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (John 8:59). It is in this setting that His next great miracle takes place.
"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:1-3).
The disciples assumed that the man's ailment was caused by some sin--either his own or his parents'. But Jesus set them straight--no sin had been committed here--the man had been born blind so that in him, God's works could be shown.
We tend to think of the disciples' worldview as primitive, but is ours really that different? Modern psychology and psychotherapy, especially among the various Freudian schools, are convinced that all ailments are caused by one's parents--your mother was too overbearing, your father too distant or cruel, you didn't develop proper attachment to or detachment from your parents, etc.--or oneself--you're neurotic, you're avoiding reality, you have a complex of some sort. So parents of children with problems feel that their poor parenting must be to blame, while their children blame their own actions.
Sometimes they're both wrong.
Sometimes the pains, the secret heartaches, the afflictions visible and invisible, the "thorns in the flesh" that we experience, are not the result of our own sin or our parent's sin. Sometimes the works and glory of God are being manifest in us.
"When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam...He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing" (v. 6-7).
The Pharisees questioned him about the source of his miraculous healing, unwilling to give the credit to Jesus, who, they said, had broken the Sabbath day. They questioned the man's parents, who were hesitant to take a stand, but the man born blind knew the source of his healing. When the Pharisees instructed him, "Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (v. 24-25).
What a beautiful summation! "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."
There are so many things I don't know. I don't understand the Lord's designs, His purposes, or His timetable. I don't understand the pain, the afflictions, and the blindness, that He causes or allows to remain in the lives of those who love Him. But one thing I do know with certainty--that whereas in the world I was blind, now, through the grace of God, I see.
I see the Lord, creator of worlds without end, born to a peasant couple, members of a captive nation, laid in a manger, raised as the carpenter's son. I see His miracles, His life, His love, His example. I see his Atonement, His great sacrifice, and His glorious resurrection. I see His light, shining upon and filling a world overcome with sorrow and darkness. I see His all-consuming love, His transformative power, His redemptive glory.
And I rejoice to see the works of God being manifest in me.
Picture from http://jonathangroover.files.wordpress.com
Sunday, November 15, 2009
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican" (v. 10).
The publicans, in Christ's day, were the tax collectors, traitorous Jews who colluded with the occupying Roman authorities. They were seen as corrupt and hated by the other Jews of their day. The Pharisees were the respectable people, the doctors of the law, the scholars and teachers.
Something snapped inside of me this month. Maybe it was when a friend made a hateful comment about my worthiness. Maybe it was just a lot of built-up irritation at living in "The Bubble" for too long. In any case, I realized that so much of what was bothering me, and what I had been learning the past few years, could be summed up by this parable of the publican's prayer.
I recently wrote about how tired I am of philosophies that divide the world into "us" and "them," that shut others out while vaunting ourselves, that allow "family values" to trump Christian charity. It is in this spirit that I write about my own inadequacy and unworthiness. As was the case with Joseph Smith, "in making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature" (JS-H 1:28). After all, we are all sinners, all in need of Christ's infinite Atonement. I think we all recognize that, at least mentally. But one of the most frequent errors we make (and I'm certainly guilty of this, from time to time) is to believe, in some small, perhaps unspoken, part of us, that "of course we all need the Atonement. I just need it a little less than most, thank you very much. I'm doing pretty well on my own." How incredibly presumptuous!
Maybe that's why I like sinners so much. I've had the opportunity to mix with some communities of very broken people, people who only came to their senses when they hit rock bottom and realized how much they needed their Savior. Whatever other problems they may have, they've been honest with themselves about what a big mess they've made of their lives. They sincerely want to change but know that they will need a power greater than their own to conquer the demons of each day. They are acutely aware of their reliance on their Redeemer. They have callused their knees in prayer. They have broken hearts. They are acquainted with the Lord in their extremities. My two favorite books about the Atonement (see here and here) are written by such people. Their challenges may be peculiar to them, but their understanding of the power of the Atonement is universally applicable. They realize in humility the truth that many of us try to avoid--we all need the Atonement, and we need it desperately.
I remember talking to such a friend one night. Despairing because of the mess he had made of his life, my friend was only beginning his journey toward understanding the true meaning of the Atonement (as, I suppose, we all are). "We're all sinners," I told him, as we talked about that great gift. He scoffed. "But Amy," he said, "my sins are so much bigger than yours." I hesitated. And then, the Spirit bore a powerful witness to me, and I began. "No, John. Both of our sins separate us from God. They keep us both from enjoying His love as fully as we could. Our sins differ in degree, not in kind." In the following months, I learned the truthfulness of those words.
There is a lot of humility required to admit that we are all "prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love." It's hard to admit that we're broken, profoundly damaged, not just superficially wounded. But the scriptures continually testify that the Atonement is not a Band-Aid for a flesh wound, it is a quadruple bypass for a stony heart. And it is that heart that must become new in order for us to return to our Heavenly Father. It is that heart that must be given to the Lord, wholly and without reservation. It is that heart that must be carried into the land of Moriah, and left there on the altar.
This is not easy. But it is sweet, and oh, so necessary. God can only give us a new heart if we are willing to give up the old one. It is easy to imagine that we can obey the gospel, and do all the right things, and thereby become good people, better versions of ourselves, but still retain our own natures. It is easy, but it is wrong.
I am beginning to understand that the Lord requires more than that, but that what He offers in return is infinitely more than I had imagined. He offers His holiness. He offers exaltation. He offers blessings beyond our comprehension. As He told His children in an earlier time, "Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation" (D&C 58:3). He offers to make us saints through the Atonement of Christ, but only if we are willing to put off that which is natural and normal and and corrupt, and put on that which is eternal (see Mosiah 3:19). And we cannot do this without admitting that what we are is so far below what God wishes us to be that only the infinite Atonement of the Infinite One can save us. The people of King Benjamin learned this, and "viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth." Only then could they all cry "aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mosiah 4:2). The Lord gave them what they asked for, and they experienced a "mighty change of heart" (Mosiah 5:2). They felt to sing the song of redeeming love (Alma 5:26).
And so have I. Not because I am so very worthy, so very good, so very righteous, for I am a sinner. I am redeemed, not on my own merits, but "because of the righteousness of [my] Redeemer" (2 Nephi 2:3). I am saved because of His love and His holiness, not my own. And having caught a glimpse of that great love, that infinite holiness, and my own carnal state, my own tendency to wander from my God, my heart cries out in the words of a beloved hymn, "Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it for Thy courts above."
For, in the words of the publican, God has been merciful to me, a sinner. (Luke 18:13).
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
This month I once again remember an event some years ago that was a watershed for me in my spiritual development. It hurt more than anything in my life ever had. It forced me to face some of my greatest fears. It drove me to my knees. It taught me to rely on the Lord, to trust in His mercy, and to feel of His great love.
I have recently had the lessons of that struggle repeated, and been humbled. I have seen the hand of the Lord guiding me, shaping me into the person He wants me to be. It has not been easy--I am stubborn and not easily shaped. My creator's medicine is, as ever, a bitter pill to swallow. In tasting it, I am reminded of Joseph Smith's words to the early Saints, "God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings." He wasn't kidding.
What I learned many years ago, and what I have learned many times since, is that there are some experiences that only the Lord understands, some paths that only He has walked, some roads that have no earthly map. To travel these paths requires great faith in the Lord, and at times I have had to walk in darkness, unsure of my footing, unable to see, with my natural eyes, the way ahead. My prayers have become more earnest as I have learned to quiet my heart so that I can listen for the Lord's voice up ahead, still and small but insistent and penetrating.
This deep stillness of soul comes only after earnest prayer and searching. It brings with it a quiet humility, a firm resolve, and a power beyond what I had imagined possible. It fills me with love. It allows me to be taught of the Lord and to receive "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding." It radiates through my being and leaves me speechless, gasping in wonder.
I have felt some portion of what Enos described: "The words which I had often heard... concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul" (Enos 1:4). And in the stillness, the Lord spoke to Enos, in words that must have filled him with unspeakable joy: "Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed." Trusting in the assurance that he had received, Enos records that "my guilt was swept away." And then, filled with wonderment and awe at the total transformation that had taken place, he asked for understanding of the power he had just witnessed, "Lord, how is it done?" When I imagine this scene, I see Enos, his eyes filled with tears of overwhelming joy, whispering his question in complete astonishment, baffled at the mighty change that had transformed his heart and satisfied his soul's deepest hunger.
And the Lord's simple answer was, as it has always been, "Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen...wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole" (v. 5-8). I have tasted some portion of that great wholeness, and I testify that it is far more than a story. The "mighty change of heart" that can and must take place in each of us through faith in the Savior really IS "mighty." It is so utterly removed from the ordinary that its power is stunning and breathtakingly beautiful. Confrontations with such miraculous divine power cause us to exclaim, as did Moses, "Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed" (Moses 1:10). We sense in some measure the grandeur of that which is beyond us, but mercifully within reach.
Enos learned, that day in the forest, of the Lord's miraculous transformative power. He learned what the minarets daily proclaim to the world in joyful solemnity--Allahu Akbar! God is most great, or God is greater. Today I stand with him as a witness that the power of God is greater than any trial we may face. It is greater than the storms that rage about us, the billowing deep that threatens us, the powers of evil that oppose us. It is greater than sin, greater than death, greater than our infirmities, and even greater than our hearts. When my soul has hungered, when my heart has cried out for relief, I have felt the Lord's comfort in the painful stillness. I have been taught miraculous truths from on high and endowed with a power beyond my own. I have felt the Lord's transforming power and felt to say with Enos, "Lord, how is it done?" To describe this glorious reality, I have no adequate words.
Our trials may wrench our very heart-strings, but we have the assurance that God will be with us forever and ever (Doc. & Cov. 122:9). "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 54:10). No matter what I may face in the days ahead, the cry from the minaret will always echo in my heart--Allahu Akbar! God is greater.
Picture from http://www.twainquotes.com/
Thursday, October 15, 2009
"Yes," I replied, simply.
With a bemusedly quizzical tone he asked, "WHY are you wearing a cross??"
My reply was again simple. "Because I am a Christian."
You see, friends, I wear a cross. Outside the Mormon world, that's not an uncommon thing for Christians to do, but inside the Mormon world, it just doesn't happen. We have no crosses on our buildings, in our chapels, on our temples, on our priest's clothing, in our homes, in our artwork, or around our necks. If you ask a Mormon why that is, he'll probably say something about how "we worship the living Christ, not the dying Christ," or, "if your best friend died from a gunshot wound, would you wear an image of a gun on your necklace and mount another on your wall?" You see, we're great at coming up with after-the-fact explanations for why we do what we do, when the real reason is "uh...it's Tradition."
Most early Mormon converts came from Quaker and Campebellite backgrounds, and from other churches of their ilk They were anti-papist and iconoclastic, accustomed to un-ornamented meeting halls and services that lacked the pomp and ceremony of other high-mass churches. When they changed denominations, they didn't change worship styles, and thus our worship styles--and attitudes toward the cross--were born. Had the early Church drawn mostly Catholic converts, our worship would be very different, though the Church would still be just as true.
So why do I break from tradition? For one, because I don't think there's anything very holy about this custom. For another, I like the cross. It identifies me with Christians the world over. It's a public way of saying, "remember Jesus, who died on the cross? I believe in Him. I accept Him as my Savior. You should too." I think if Mormons used more crosses in their worship, they would face fewer accusations of "not really being Christians" from other denominations. And I think that sometimes we overlook the cross, eternally to our detriment.
I also wear a cross because it reminds me of the duties of a Christian. It reminds me that I ought to be kinder, slower to anger and judgment, quicker to extend mercy and understanding. I ought to be cheerful, inclined to serve, in tune with the pain in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, and desirous to heal it. I ought to have more faith, more hope, more charity. I ought to forgive more and judge less. I ought to be a better example of the believers (1 Timothy 4:12).
I wear a cross to remind me of the triumph and resurrection of Christ. You see, the cross is a gloriously triumphant symbol, for the cross is empty, just as the tomb was. Christ no longer suffers there, for He is victorious. The cross is what the early apostles preached, even though, to the enlightened minds of their day, it was utter foolishness to worship a God who had died in agony. Said Paul, "The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).
In Paul's day, the cross was the symbol of ultimate mortal humiliation and defeat, and so it became a fitting throne for Him who had "ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" (Doc. & Cov. 88:6).
My cross reminds me of my duty to my Savior far more explicitly than a CTR ring ever could. It reminds me that one day I will stand before my God and give an accounting of how I lived, and who I loved. As Jesus reminded His Nephite disciples, "My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil" (3 Nephi 27:14). It reminds me that because of Christ's sufferings in Gethsemane, His death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection, I can be drawn to Him, lifted up in my greatest agonies, that the same power that transformed the Lord's cross into His throne can convert my despair and my heartaches to transcendent, joyful song.
I, like Nephi, "glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell" (2 Nephi 33:6). And, in the words of Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14).
Thursday, October 1, 2009
In writing this, I have tried to soften my words, to find balance between the absolute truths of the gospel and the very real heartaches of those I love who struggle to find answers in the church I have come to love. Perhaps my greatest realization has been that I do not have all the answers. Many of my feelings are only partially-formed and even more partially-expressed. I pray for your patience as I share with you a piece of my journey. I hope that you will feel my sincerity as you read, and that perhaps as you do so, you will overlook with kindness my slowness of speech and my clumsiness in writing.
I used to be the sort of person who would debate anyone who disagreed with me. I would summon facts, arguments, philosophers, and studies that supported my view. I was always so sure that I was right that I closed my mind--and my ears. I listened to my opponent only long enough to find a point I could refute--and then I would refute it with a vengeance.
I am still a passionate woman. But I've softened a lot. And as I've softened, I've heard others espouse views I used to hold, muster arguments I used to trumpet, and I've cringed. I've cringed to think I could have been so insensitive, so clueless, so heartless. It pains me to hear opinions of which I used to be totally convinced, and to know the pain being caused by well-meaning people, spouting off about things they know nothing about, framing the world in black-and-white, drawing a circle around them and their rightness, unaware how many they had excluded from their circle. I have grown tired of "family values" constantly trumping true Christian charity.
I had heard dozens of talks on the evils of pornography and masturbation. I had the audacity to condemn all people who committed such sexual sins. I imagined that they were all dirty old men, craven sinners, with no redeeming virtues.
And then I discovered that one of my close friends was a long-term porn addict. Another friend confessed the same weakness, and then another, and another. These were men I loved whole-heartedly. My paradigm was shattered. I saw the secret heartache that these men shared, and my heart broke under the weight of their pain, and of my own unkind judgment.
Pornography use is indeed a great sin. But, like all sins, it springs from the devil, and not from its victims. The pain it causes them is real. And though they are not blameless, they need our love, not our scorn. If we are to rescue our brothers and sisters from its deadly grasp, we have to work to destroy the atmosphere of shame that surrounds it, which stops those caught in its web from getting help for years. We have to let them know that they will not be shunned, no matter what they've done. We have to let our love for the sinner be greater than our disgust for their sin.
I no longer have the desire to march with a picket sign, protesting obscenity. I only have the desire to wrap those I love in my arms and hold them. I want to turn them toward the Savior--because ultimately He is the only one who can heal a broken world. He is the "light that shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5 NIV). He who would not condemn the woman taken in adultery will surely enfold His wandering children in the arms of His love. Let us take them by the hand, turn to the Master, and ask for His love. He will teach us the way out of any darkness, even the seemingly unconquerable darkness of sexual sin.
I had homosexuality practically thrown in my face in high school. One school club seemed designed to foist its "gay pride" agenda on the student body. I cared little for political correctness in those days. I had been taught that homosexual "orientation" was a choice, and I believed that. I wrote vicious polemics attacking gay marriage. I scoffed to think that anyone could argue their "abominations" were somehow inborn.
And then I discovered that a childhood friend was gay. And then another, and another. I read about two Mormon guys, returned missionaries determined to keep the commandments, who nevertheless struggled with feelings of attraction that they did not choose. I went to firesides where other such men told their stories. I saw the pain in their eyes. These were all good men. Once again, my paradigm was shattered.
I'm still no proponent of same-sex marriage, or of any sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage. I still believe that, whatever our feelings or inclinations, we all have the power to decide what we will do, whether or not we will act on our feelings. But, having known and loved these good people, I cannot find it in my heart to condemn them. Having read evidence from many different sources, I have found no scientific or social consensus regarding the cause of these inclinations. I do not know if same-sex attraction is inborn or learned, whether it is fixed or can be changed, whether it is the result of genetics, defensive detachment, abuse, hormones, or defective family relationships. I simply do not know. But I know they did not actively choose their feelings. And I know that many homosexuals suffer in silence, hating themselves and afraid of the condemnation of their peers and their families. Many of them have done nothing wrong, but their pain and loneliness haunts me. They desperately need our love, not our scorn.
I no longer have any desire to loudly condemn those with homosexual orientations, for I believe they have nothing to be ashamed of. I do not even have the desire to condemn those who act out those inclinations, because their pain demands my love. As President Kimball said, "Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner" (Ensign, Aug. 1979, 5). I only want to hold them tightly and whisper, "I'm sorry. I love you. And though I do not have all the answers, I know Someone who does." Let us take them in our arms, turn them toward the Master, and plead for His love. Let us plead for understanding, for the answers only He has, for the strength to love our brothers and sisters as He does.
I was brought up to be physically and mentally self-reliant. I didn't have a lot of confidants, and I learned not to need them. I have generally had a great degree of control over my emotions, especially around other people. And I've usually been too practical to dwell too much on negative feelings, preferring to avoid thinking about things that cause me pain, and instead to channel my energy into coming up with practical solutions to difficult challenges. In that respect, I fit in well among other engineers, who are far more disposed to left-brain analysis and problem-solving than to group hugs or talking about their feelings. (Whether such an approach is emotionally healthy is a topic for another day.)
So I had trouble understanding depression and other emotional and mental illnesses. "So you're depressed," I thought. "Well, suck it up. Deal with it. Your life is not that bad. Quit whining." And then--you guessed it--I had a friend who was depressed. She was more than just sad--she needed anti-depressant medication to function. Then I found another friend, and then another, and another. It seems like half of my girl-friends and roommates have suffered from one emotional illness or another--Clinical depression, anorexia, bipolar disorder, insomnia, compulsive self-harm, anxiety disorders, and the list goes on. Their illnesses have not been their own fault, though they often blamed themselves.
In many ways, it's easier to have a physical illness than an emotional one. If you're fighting leukemia, no one tells you that you "just need to have more faith." If you were born with cerebral palsy, no one lectures you that you "just need to pray more." If your leg is broken, no one questions your worthiness or asks if you've been reading your scriptures. No one makes insensitive comments in Sunday School about how people with your condition are those described in the scriptures as being "possessed with devils."
Don't get me wrong--both physical and emotional illnesses are difficult trials to endure. But if we treated those with emotional illnesses the way we treat those who are sick in ways we can easily see, I think we would be fulfilling more fully our covenants to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light" (Mosiah 18:8). Let us be careful not to smugly discuss things we do not remotely understand. Instead, let us hold our brothers and sisters close to our hearts, and with them turn toward the Lord, and pray earnestly for understanding and love.
The Lord said that when He came again, those whom He would greet with pleasure would be those who visited and cared for those who were sick and in prison (Matthew 25:31-40). There is so much of sickness and imprisonment all around us--so much pain, so much sorrow, so many wounds that need the healing balm that only the Savior can bring. There are so many hurting hearts that are wounded more deeply by our unthinkingly unkind rhetoric, our ignorant judgment, and our shame. So many of those we were sent here to love are leading lonely lives of quiet desperation, because we have not seen them as our brothers and sisters, so busy were we in vilifying those who most needed our succor.
Can we not do better? Can we accept the radically transformative call of Christianity to love one another, to embrace one another in bonds of unity and brotherhood, to offer an understanding and broken heart rather than a certain and stubborn mind?
I am convinced we can. And we must, if we intend this earth to be ready to receive her King when He comes in glory. It is only by being united as a people that we can be the Lord's people. For "if ye are not one," He tells us, "ye are not mine" (Doc. & Cov. 38:27).
This is not easy. It goes against our natural inclinations. But that is the call of Christianity--to put off the natural man and become saints through the Atonement of Christ (Mosiah 3:19). Through it, we become at-one with the Father, but we also become at-one with each other. As we are united with and show love for His children, we draw closer to and manifest our love for the Father.
If we wish to stand in holy places, we must stand together. We must draw circles around ourselves that take others in rather than shutting them out. We must hold each other close, and together turn toward the Savior, and plead for His love, for His strength, for His peace. He who commanded His disciples to "love one another; as I have loved you," (John 13:34) will surely help us as we answer His great prayer, "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).
"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God...Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another...God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him...And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also"(1 John 4:7-21).
Picture from http://www3.newport.ac.uk/
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, in ancient Israel, the high priest, dressed in simple white clothing and without his usual priestly finery, entered into the Holy of Holies and spoke the Ineffable Name of God, sprinkling blood upon the Mercy Seat, where the presence of God dwelt. In doing so, he made atonement for all of Israel, for the tabernacle, and for the world. He restored a right relationship with God, bringing together those who had been estranged through the blood of sacrifice.
Today, in synagogues throughout the world, Jews gather together before the Lord and recite the Kol Nidre prayer:
All solemn vows, all promises of abstinence and formulas of prohibition, and declarations of austerity, and oaths which bear a name of God, whatever we might have sworn and then forgotten, whatever earnest, well-intentioned vows we might have taken up but not upheld, whatever punishment or harm we might unwittingly have called down on ourselves, from the last Day of Atonement to this Day of Atonement, from all of them, we now request release: Let their burden be dissolved, and lifted off, and canceled, and made null and void, bearing no force and no reality.
They pray for forgiveness for thing they have done, and things they have left undone, for vows not kept, for harms inflicted, for rebellion and dissension, for failures to serve God as they ought to have done.
And today, I pray with them. For forgiveness for my rebellions, for my lack of understanding, for the oaths made in the name of God that I have not kept perfectly, for my failures and fallen-ness and fractious temperament, for the times I have not looked to the Lord as I should have. I pray for release for the punishment or harm I may have unwittingly called down upon myself or my loved ones. I pray for a release from burdens large and small, and for the strength to bear up the burdens that the Lord sees fit not to remove just yet. I pray for the ability to bear the burdens of others, and so in some small way to follow the Savior, who promised to make our burdens light.
I pray for renewed strength to follow the Master. I pray for greater understanding of His purposes, and for his aid in closing the gap between what I know and how I act. I pray that the blood of my Savior, the great and last sacrifice, might heal my broken heart, might grant me release, might mediate between me and the judgments of God, so that I might also part the veil and enter the presence of God, and stand clean before Him.
On this ancient holy day of atonement, my prayer—and my testimony—is centered on the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that if we look to Him in faith, He WILL wipe away the tears from off all faces, swallow up death in victory, heal the wounded heart and transform the life in shambles, if only we will see His grace more than we fear Him. I pray that when I meet Him and prostrate myself at His feet, He will lift me to Him and hold my face in His wounded hands--those hands that created the universe, healed the sick, raised the dead, and carried a cross--and wipe away the tears from my eyes, and heal my broken heart. And then, I pray that my Savior will embrace me, and call me His own, and lead me by the hand back into the presence of my God. That is a day I would give anything to see.
Picture from http://judaica-art.com/images/
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Did you catch that? The Lord told Lehi "Blessed art thou...behold, they seek to take away thy life." That sounds like a strange sort of blessing to me!
I find it interesting how different the Lord's perspective is from our perspective. Things that we now think of as great trials might someday, with an eternal perspective, be manifest as the richest blessings.
An elderly man in my ward who has been a friend of my family for years is in a care center with only days to live. Before his condition became critical, he would play bingo with the other residents to pass the time. Those who won each round would receive 10 cent coupons that could be exchanged for candy and other items at the gift shop. My littlest brother, when he went to visit this man, eagerly informed my mom that when he got old he wanted to live in THIS care center, too, so he could play bingo all day long and trade his winnings for candy. In his little mind, it hadn't occurred to him that the elderly people who live in such a place would gladly give up their bingo winnings for some of the youth and energy that he took for granted, or that great-grandparents probably place a much lower value on gift-shop candy bars than second-graders do.
I wonder if God doesn't sometimes look at us the way I looked at my little brother--with a kindly smile and a gentle assurance, "dear child, I know that your worldview might make sense to you now, but someday you will understand what really matters, you will see life from a higher plane, and you will realize what life is all about, you will see more and know more, and the things you experienced in this life will make infinitely more sense to you. Until then, please realize that all is not as it now appears to be."
All this is not to discount our struggles in this life, nor to belittle the very real pains and sorrows we must face, but it does give us hope that someday the things that we do not understand will be explained to us, that all will be right in the end, that eventually we will understand the meaning of all things. The sometimes-painful truths of our lives can be illuminated by him who "descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" (Doc. & Cov. 88:6).
Ether tells us that "whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God" (Ether 12:4). This better world is ours by covenant, as the Lord has stated, "Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord" (Doc. & Cov. 98:3).
The Lord's word is good. His promise is sure. And even when we do not understand, even when our perspective is limited, we can have faith that the infinite love of a perfect God will see us through the storms that lie ahead, and will guide us until we reach that better world, where we will be able to look back and see the Lord's hand in things we called trials as well as things we called blessings, and know that all things wherewith we have been afflicted have truly worked together for our good.
Picture from http://www.lindajlord.com/2009/01/
Saturday, September 5, 2009
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:14-17). Whereas before we were strangers, orphans, bondservants to sin, children without a father, now we are members of an eternal family, God's family. Through the Atonement of Christ, we become legitimate heirs, joint-heirs with the only perfect man to live on this earth. As such, we inherit all that our Father has.
The first epistle of John likewise speaks about becoming the children of God through the love of Christ, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God...and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:1-2).
One of Satan's most successful tactics is to obscure our divine nature, to make us feel worthless or unworthy of God's love. It was a trick he tried with Moses, saying, "Moses, son of man, worship me" (Moses 1:12). It is a trick he tries with you and me, saying, "You will never be good enough. You are dirty, you are unclean. God will never love you. You are not worthy." Sometimes we make the mistake of believing the adversary. We forget that he is the father of nothing but lies, while God is the Father of our souls. We allow our hearts to condemn us and thus fail to accept and bask in our Creator's great love.
John speaks of this tendency, and how to overcome it. He says, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth....For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God (1 John 3:18-21).
God is greater than our heart. He knows all things. Even when we condemn ourselves, even when we fall, God does not condemn us. He wants us for His own. He has paid the price of the blood of His Son to redeem us. And, having paid that price, He will not desert us now. As Paul put it, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?...Christ...is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8:31-37).
More than conquerors, he says. Because the Atonement, by which we conquer, was infinite for all mankind (2 Nephi 25:16), it is more than enough for us to prevail in whatever battle we fight. It is enough to make us more than conquerors.
"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
I, with Paul, am fully persuaded of the infinite and eternal power of the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is our Father. He loves us. And if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
The Apostle Paul, miraculously converted on the road to Damascus, relayed a similar experience in pleading with the Lord regarding his own weakness. "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10).
Moroni's words--and those of the prophets whose books he abridged--are great and powerful, and have been translated into over 100 languages. It was Moroni who penned the beautiful promise that has led millions to pray and ask God and thereby gain a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5). Paul, who complained about his weakness, wrote most of the New Testament--including great discourses on faith, grace, charity, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
I have recently become more acutely aware of my weakness and inadequacy. But I take comfort in the Lord's words to His servants, "Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit; And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me" (Doc. & Cov. 35:13). The Lord has promised to uphold, defend, preserve, and even strengthen those who serve Him, no matter their weakness. He has promised that through humility, weak things can become strong; that through the Atonement, all things can be overcome. "And by giving heed and doing these things which ye have received, and which ye shall hereafter receive—and the kingdom is given you of the Father, and power to overcome all things which are not ordained of him" (Doc. & Cov. 50:35). This He can do and He will do, if we will turn to Him. Our weak things will be made strong, and the thorns that pierce our flesh will draw us closer to our Savior who wore them as a crown.
"For the eternal purposes of the Lord shall roll on, until all his promises shall be fulfilled" (Mormon 8:22).
Picture from http://oneyearbibleimages.com/
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Had it been allowed
I would have snapped their picture
Buttoned it in my wallet
And taken it out when I needed comfort
The comfort of an eternity of women like me
Supplicating the God of the ages
Their lips murmuring the words
Like an ancient incantation
It was a common scene there
And should scarcely have warranted my notice
As I hurried past them into the fading light
Three women, their dark hair veiled in white
And their thoughts in mystery
Bent over their papers
Scrawling the name of one whose heart
Was joined to theirs in love
Dropping each slip into the box
And with it, a tiny prayer
Her heart’s whisper
Bless comfort heal restore defend uplift
I did not know each soul for whom they pleaded
But for many like them I had interceded
And at an altar sacrificed my will
Had it been enough
To bless the lives of those I never knew
To call down angels to surround our circle?
To get the attention of Their Infinity
Enough to send down Heaven’s dew
And fill the water-pots we carried to our homes?
I could not know
But in my heart I stood beside these women
Reminded by their quiet green and white
Of the sorrows that must come
From the knowledge our first mother chose
And of the power they held within,
An eternal currency.
I saw them stand in ranks ten thousand long
Ten thousand times ten thousand, through the years
With women in all lands, they stood to pray
And pierced the clouds with their silent cries
Pleading for the ones they loved
As their mothers had, their grandmothers,
And back and back and back
I stood and saw their white-robed figures
Disappearing behind a thinning veil to converse
With the Ones who heard them ever.
And, watching, knew
I stood on holy ground.
Image from http://blogs.e-rockford.co
Friday, August 7, 2009
I love to see the temple,
I'm going there some day
To feel the Holy Spirit
To listen and to pray.
For the temple is the house of God
A place of love and beauty.
I'll prepare myself while I am young.
This is my sacred duty.
I still love to see the temple. I love to worship inside its walls. I love to listen and to pray, to dress in white and feel the Spirit that radiates from its hallowed halls. I love the feeling of peace that I find there, a stillness best described by Paul as "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Phillipians 4:7).
I love the joy that fills the temple as heaven and earth meet and the veil grows thin. I love the power that rests on all who there prepare themselves to enter the presence of the Lord. I love the power of the priesthood that clothes all who worship at its altars. I love the ordinances that fortify me against the adversary's deception. I love the happiness that fills my heart as I go to the temple, the joy that lingers with me after I leave.
I love the temple. It is the house of the Lord. His glory fills His house. His presence rests there. His priesthood is exercised there. His children are taught there. His angels watch over and commune with all who make covenants there.
I urge you to go to the temple, to make yourself worthy and available to partake of the Spirit of that holy place. Truly it is a house of learning, of prayer, of order, of peace. It is the house of the Lord. Holiness to the Lord.
Picture from http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/nauvoo/gallery/images.
Monday, July 20, 2009
"Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time...And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away...And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man" (2 Nephi 4:23-25).
He then asks a question that I have asked myself recently,
"O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?...Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?" (v. 26-27).
Why, indeed? When I have seen such great things, when the Lord has visited me in so much mercy, why should I allow Satan and the lies he spreads to have place in my heart to destroy my peace?
Yesterday, a friend asked me what changes I had noticed in my life as a result of a major decision I recently made. My answer was simple: I still have the same questions I always had. In fact, I have many more questions. There are many things I do not understand. But strangely, the questions I have excite me, instead of depressing me. My questions no longer disturb my peace and afflict my soul.
It is hard to describe the way I have felt lately. These past six months have been a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences, for me and for those I love. I have been driven to consider who I really am, and what I want to become. More importantly, I have reflected on whose I really am, and whose I want to become--and remain. I have considered the words of Nephi, "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul" (v. 28). I have commited myself more fully to a path I always knew was the right one. In doing so, I have found a greater measure of "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). I have found that the "enemy of my soul" no longer is given a place in my heart. I have once again tasted of the Lord's love and felt to proclaim with Enos, "Lord, how is it done?" And the answer is, as it always has been, "Because of thy faith in Christ...wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole" (Enos 1:7-8).
I have gained a greater understanding of what it means to be made whole. I used to think that being made whole meant being healed, or not being sick anymore. But I had forgotten the obvious meaning--to be whole is to be complete, to have all the pieces of your soul put back in place and welded together, to be unified in your heart instead of being fragmented and broken. Wholeness is more than not being sick--it involves being complete, unbroken, united. It requires divine grace to fill the "God-shaped hole" in each of us, to bind up our broken hearts and make us complete. I praise God for the wholeness He has given me, a wholeness only He could give.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).
Friday, July 10, 2009
Our first parents received a commandment. They obeyed the commandment. But it wasn't until "many days" had passed that an angel explained the reason for that commandment. And in the meantime, they had to be content with saying, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me."
There is great power in obedience, even when we do not understand the reason. Obedience to any law brings the blessings associated with that law. We know that "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (Doc. & Cov. 1130:20-21). And, it follows, when we do not obey a law, we have no claim on its associated blessing (see Doc. & Cov. 82:10).
Saul learned this lesson the hard way, when he defied the instructions of the prophet Samuel in going to war against the Amalekites. Commanded to destroy every living creature, he and his soldiers instead "spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them" (1 Samuel 15:9). When Samuel chastised him for his disobedience, Saul countered by insisting that he had saved the animals to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel rejoined, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Because of his rebellion, Saul lost his kingdom--a heavy price to pay for a few plundered livestock. Saul had forgotten the sum of all commandments, given through Moses, "what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
The Lord has repeated this instruction in our day: "Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days" (Doc. & Cov. 64:34).
Obedience requires submission, and submission is HARD. Well, it is for me, anyway. I'm pretty strong-willed and stubborn. I like to have a reason for things I do. I want my world to make logical sense.
Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I have questions that have no answers. Sometimes I'm asked to do something that is hard on me--physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Sometimes I wish there could be another way. Sometimes I wish the Lord would listen to my advice and do it my way.
When Christ prayed in Gethsemane, He admitted that He wished there could be another way. He admitted that He didn't want to do what the Father wanted Him to do. He admitted that His will was different from His Father's will. And this was not a sin, for in the same breath Christ made a choice--He chose to do the Father's will anyway (see Luke 22:42). And in doing so, He opened the way for mortals like me, who will readily admit a difference of will and a deficit of understanding, to submit our wills to God's and find peace thereby.
Though my "bitter cups" differ from the Savior's by orders of magnitude, I have found that when I have the humility required to say, "Though I do not understand why this must be, and though I do not like this, and though it causes me pain, I know that You have commanded it. I love You, therefore, I will do this thing," I find greater peace, strength, and hope than I thought possible. When I obey without knowing the reason, and allow myself to say, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me," I am blessed. Sometimes I come to understand the reason, often after "many days"--or years--of sincere and earnest seeking, and sometimes I realize that it will all make sense only in another world. But in each case, the Lord gives me His peace. Peace through the heartache, peace in the midst of the trial, peace in the storm, peace with the burden still on my back--a total and consuming peace that comforts and strengthens me. As I submit my will to His, I am given a great gift. It is an endowment of power from on high, a portion of the Lord's power to perform the Lord's will. It is a gift of knowledge and strength and understanding and grace and joy. It is a gift that is worth any price.
"And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it" (Mosiah 2:41).
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I love books. I read voraciously. I have an extensive library, and many books I love. But none of them have the same power over me; none of them call me back over and over again, offering me a glimpse of new insights and old friends; none of them bring more peace to my heart and joy to my soul than the scriptures. When I feel lost or alone, frightened or concerned, depressed, worried, or off-balance, I find solace in their words, words I have read scores of times before but have never grown tiresome, words that are comfortably old and familiar, yet everlastingly new and fresh, words that fill me up but always leave me wanting more. Their words reassure and console me, they inspire and uplift me, they challenge me to be better, to reach higher, to try harder. They teach me doctrines in plainness and in symbol, and principles in story and in song. They show me the reach of a Savior whose Atonement is both infinite and intimate, grand and sweeping in scope but quiet and personal in application.
The scriptures contain the word of God. I testify of their truthfulness. I cannot deny their power. They bring the companionship of angels (2 Nephi 32:3), protection from the deceiver (JS-M 1:37), hope and comfort (Romans 15:4), and wisdom unto salvation through faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15).
I invite you to recommit yourself to a study of the scriptures. As I have done this recently, I have felt the heavens draw near and have tasted of the Lord's peace. I know that you, too, will find strength, power, and comfort in their pages, that they will enlighten your soul and become delicious to you.
"He that hath the scriptures, let him search them" (3 Nephi 10:14).
Picture from http://www.geocities.com/DaveGarber1975/