Monday, April 13, 2009

Endued With Power From On High

On the day of His Resurrection, Jesus Christ spent the morning with the women he loved. He then spent the majority of the day with two of His disciples, as they traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Weighed down with grief and not believing the testimony of the women He had sent to declare the good news of the resurrection, the disciples left for the village of Emmaus, a small town about seven miles north-west of Jerusalem.

As they traveled, they met a man who seemed to be ignorant of the events of the past few days. When they shared their grief over the death of their Master with the stranger, the man chided them, " O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:25-26). The stranger spent the rest of their journey teaching them of the scriptural prophecies of the Messiah, and how the death and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled those prophecies. Somehow, these disciples did not recognize Christ until He ate with them that evening, and as He blessed and broke bread with them as He had at the Last Supper, "their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight" (v. 31).

The two disciples marveled, and immediately returned to Jerusalem, despite the late hour. The next day, presumably, they "found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,
Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon" (v. 33-34). The disciples told of their encounter with the risen Lord, but were interrupted by the appearance of the very man they had been discussing. "And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you" (v.36). Naturally, they were scared. But the Lord calmed their fears and invited them to touch Him so they would know that He had been literally and bodily resurrected. Luke records that "they yet believed not for joy, and wondered" (v. 41). As further proof, Christ ate fish and honeycomb in their presence, and then gave His assembled followers the same lesson He had given on the road to Emmaus, "that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures" (v. 45-46).

The disciples had all fled from Jesus in His hour of need. And yet His first words to them were words of peace and consolation. Though they had not understood His words in life, His first interest was in explaining to them the prophecies fulfilled in Him through His death and new life. And as He sent them out to tell the world the good news of redemption through Him, He promised His disciples that they would be "endued [clothed] with power from on high" (v. 49).

With that power, they were given great promises through their faith. Mark records the Lord's words:

"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark 16:15-18).

The stories of Christ's post-resurrection ministry give me great hope, and teach me about the loving, forgiving God I worship. That Christ would accept, love, and teach His disciples despite their lack of faith gives me courage to approach Him when I lack perfect faith. That He would comission them to do a great work and give them power to do it, and the promise that their faith would be accompanied by great miracles is a comfort to me in my inadequacy. That He would bestow His Holy Spirit on mere mortals is a gift beyond measure.

God be praised for His great love and mercy, and for the matchless gift of the companionship and gifts of the Holy Spirit, bestowed on all who exercise faith in Christ unto repentance!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Let Us Not Mock God With Metaphor


By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

From Updike, John. "Telephone Poles and Other Poems" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,1961).

I love Updike's beautiful poem, especially his sense of the literal nature of Christ's resurrection and the miracles that accompanied it, reflected in phrases like "weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair" (Call me a nerd; a reference to Max Planck in an Easter poem made me grin). I have appreciated the opportunity I have had this semester to visit the places where the stories of the scriptures occurred, and to become acquainted with the real places and real people involved in the stories I have long loved. Now these places are real to me--full of meaning, their dust blowing in my eyes and their birds chirping in my ears, their water lapping at my feet and their trees shading my face, their cool stones giving me a refuge and standing as a monument against time.

The scriptures are about us, it is true, but there is another side to the coin. The scriptures are about people who were very different from us, who lived in places far from our homes. They are beautiful metaphors, but they are not just metaphors, not just morality plays. They are also wonderfully literal explorations of the loves of real people, who lived in real places, felt real emotions, and had real experiences with the divine.

My testimony is of the literal reality of the scriptural accounts of the life of Christ. I know He was born in a stable, laid in a manger, and worshipped by shepherds. I know He fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes. I know He healed the lepers, gave sight to the blind, unstopped the ears of the deaf, and raised the dead. I know He suffered in Gethsemane, was crucified on a tree, died, was buried, and literally rose again the third day. I know He stands today at the right hand of the Father, and He will literally come again to judge the living and the dead.

Let us not mock God with metaphor, for He literally lives.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Joy Cometh In The Morning

"The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

"And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed" (John 20:1-8).

I love this picture, which beautifully captures the look in the faces of Peter and John as they ran to the tomb of Christ. It is my fervent desire that I might also be that anxious to run to my Savior and feel of His love, rejoice in His triumph, and partake of His victory.

My thoughts on the Resurrection can be found in an earlier essay: The Feast of the Victory of Our God.

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Weeping May Endure For a Night

Today is Holy Saturday. In the Jewish calendar, it was a Sabbath and a high day--the feast of Passover had come, the Paschal Lamb had been slain. While Jews throughout the land celebrated their ancestors' deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth mourned. In John Mark's home, there was no rejoicing. Truly they ate the bread of affliction that day.

Before this week, I had never thought much about the range of emotions experienced by the disciples on this day, because I had always focused on the joy they must have experienced at seeing their Savior resurrected. But this time around I have realized that their joy on Sunday morning came only because of their great sorrow the previous Sabbath.

I imagine His mother Mary weeping with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, a sword piercing her soul. I imagine Simon the Zealot and Matthew the publican together fasting for grief and refusing to be comforted. I read of Judas hanging himself in anguish at the realization of what he had done. I can see Peter, who went out and wept bitterly.

I wonder if the disciples blamed themselves for His death. I wonder if they thought that if only they had been able to persuade Jesus to stay in Galilee for the Passover, He would still be alive. I bet they wished that they had brought swords to the garden to fight off the guards, preferring to die with Jesus rather that live without Him. I am sure they were confused and bewildered. They believed Jesus to be the Messiah. But the Messiah was supposed to redeem in triumph, not to perish in ignominy.

I wonder how they spent that Sabbath after the crucifixion of Christ, a day they did not yet know as the day before His resurrection. They didn't know that their sorrow would only last for a day. As that day dawned, they imagined that it would be the first day of many without their Master and friend.

I can imagine my own feelings if the Lord I love were to disappear from my life. The hole left would be enormous, the void beyond repair. My heart would be left empty, my soul left in darkness and confusion. I would not longer have the power to smile.

Resurrection Sunday will come, but sometimes it will come only after enduring a Sabbath of despair. Praise be to God, who gives us the promise even in our despair, that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

While We Were Yet Sinners

Today is Good Friday, the day Christ died for sinners.

I have a confession to make. I am a sinner.

I have realized it more acutely this past week, especially as I followed the path of Christ's Passion. I have realized that the scriptures are not about other, long-dead men. They are about me.

Christ died for me. I'm the sinner who put Him up on that cross. I'm the one who fell asleep while He prayed nearby, when He most needed my company. I'm the one who betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss. I'm the one who came to arrest Him with swords and spears. I'm the one who mocked Him, and spit on Him, and deemed Him worthy of death. I'm the one who delivered Him to the authorities. I'm the one who brought false witness against Him. I'm the one who called for the release of Barabbas. I'm the one who washed my hands and delivered my King to the tormentors. I'm the one who scourged Christ. I'm the one who drove nails into the hands of a God. I'm the one. It was me.

Christ died for me, a sinner. For me. For me.

And for you.

And it isn't something we can skip right over, the way we often do in the Church, hurrying from the very indefinite mysteries of the sufferings of Gethsemane, past the arrest and trials and scourging and crucifixion and all the painful bits, and straight to the glories of Resurrection morning. The cross stands in the way.

It is true that Christ suffered for us. But even beyond that suffering, Christ died for us.

"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).

While we were yet sinners, he says. Christ died for us because we were sinners, not because we were good men. He died for us, not because we deserved His gift, but because we could never deserve it. His death paid for our ransom, not our signing bonus.

I know Christ lives. But that knowledge is only important if I know He died.

And I know He died for me. For me, a sinner.

This Is Jesus The King of the Jews

They set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? ...

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

Today is Good Friday. Today Christ was nailed to the cross. Today He hung in agony. Today the earth was darkened and the earth shook and the rocks rent.

Today He was abandoned by everyone, and even left alone by His Father. Today, in pain, He wept, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani--My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Today He was alone.

Today He saw us, His children, and pleaded on our behalf, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Today He was with us.

Today He saw the travail of His soul, and was satisfied, and cried, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. It is finished!" Today He was with God.

Truly this Jesus was the King of the Jews, the Son of the Father, the Savior of the World. Truly this was the Son of God.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Descending Below Them All

Today is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday. On this day, Christ ate the Passover meal with His disciples. On this day He washed their feet. On this day He suffered our pains and sins in a place called Gethsemane. On this day He was betrayed by His friend. On this day He was abandoned by His followers. On this day He was mocked and struck by Caiphas and Annas. On this day His chief apostle denied knowing Him.

Yesterday, on my last-day walk, I went to a beautiful church called St. Peter in Gallicantu. Below the church is a place that was, according to tradition, the prison pit below the home of Caiaphas, where Christ was kept between trials. And as I stood in the prison pit, I remembered the Lord's words to Joseph Smith, as he languished in the miserable pit of Liberty Jail,

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (Doc. & Cov. 122:7).

When we quote this scripture, we often stop with this verse. But the Savior didn't stop there. He continued, "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (v. 8)

I had never before realized that the Lord was being completely literal when He spoke these words of comfort to His prophet. Christ had been cast into a pit, and into the hands of murderers, and had the sentence of death passed upon Him. He had contended with fierce winds and the billowing deep. The very jaws of Hell had gaped open wide after Him. In speaking these words He wasn't referring to His vicarious experience of others' trials made possible through His Atonement--He was referring to actual events that He had bodily suffered. Truly He could say with perfect empathy, "The Son of Man hath descended below them all."

We can turn to Christ in our deepest agony, because He has walked the hardest road. We can bring our pains before His throne, for He has been acutely pained. We can come to Him with our terrible wounds and festering sores and find healing balm, because He has overcome all our foes and prepared a remedy. We can cry to Him from the depths of our lonely hearts, for He has known loneliness, deserted by all His mortal friends and, at last, forsaken by God. Because His suffering was infinite, His love is beyond measure.

How grateful I am to know that I can confide in and trust in the promises of a being who has known indescribable suffering and has developed indescribable, perfect love! He who descended below them all counseled, "Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood [i.e. the power of God] shall remain with thee...for God shall be with you forever and ever" (Doc. & Cov 122:9).

I know He will be. Forever and ever.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

I spent today doing something that I've been planning and wanting to do for some time. In the company of two dear friends, I set out after breakfast to retrace the Savior's steps during the last day and a half of His life, beginning with the Last Supper and ending at Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. At each stop, we read the scriptural passages related to the events that transpired there, sang hymns, and shared thoughts and testimonies. We wondered aloud about parts of the story where the details were fuzzy. We mused about the topics of unrecorded conversations involving Christ and the Apostles. We returned home this evening thoroughly exhausted, but strengthened, renewed, and with a greater appreciation of the life of the man we call Lord.

His path on that momentous day was long--longer than comes across in a brief reading of the gospels. Simply from reading the gospels, one might be forgiven for believing that all the events of Christ's Passion happened close by, and that He could proceed from one location to the next fairly smoothly. But in fact he retraced His steps repeatedly that day as He went from the Upper Room of the Last Supper to Gethsemane and back to Mt. Zion again to be tried before Caiphas, and so on. And He did it all without food or drink, without divine support, and without the companionship of his close friends, the Apostles.

In the Upper Room we watched the Lord institute the sacrament, and heard His prophecy that one would betray Him, and with the disciples we asked, "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26:22). With them we sang a hymn, and departed to the Mount of Olives, to a place we loved and knew well.

In Gethsemane we read about the apostles slumber, and Christ's agonized plea, "What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Matthew 26:40), and it became real to us. We knew that, like the apostles, sometimes our spirits were willing, but our flesh was weak. Sometimes we let our sorrows overwhelm us, and we turn away from the Savior's suffering, instead of watching and praying with Him one more hour.

We stood on the ground that had recieved His blood and heard His cry, "not my will, but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). And we rejoiced that He did not shrink in that crucial moment, that He partook of the bitter cup and finished His preparations unto the children of men (Doc. & Cov. 19:18-19).

We fled with the disciples when Jesus was arrested, and we realized that we had also deserted the Savior. In the home of Caiphas, we listened to Peter thrice deny his knowledge of Christ, and we knew that we had denied knowing Jesus by allowing a difference to exist between our knowledge and our conduct, by not loving our brothers and sisters as He had taught us to do.

With Pilate, we asked Jesus, "Art thou a king then?" And we marvelled at Christ's response, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world" (John 18:37). And we knew He was our king, and the King of all creation. We watched him scourged, mocked, and crowned with thorns. We stood with the soldiers and whipped the body of the God we loved, and mourned that we had done this awful thing, that for our sins He had endured such agony, that the punishment that brought us peace had to rest upon Him (Isaiah 53:5), the Son of the Blessed, the great I AM, the Only Begotten Son of the living God.

We saw the love of a man who had done no wrong, who was delivered because of envy and convicted to satisfy a mob. We saw Him nailed to a tree. We heard the jeers of the people, calling Him to come down from the cross and prove His divinity. We stood beside Mary and watched her pain at seeing her son in agony, and we saw the love that Christ had for this woman. We knew that He saw the pain of His mother and the steadfastness of the apostle John. We heard Him ask forgiveness for His persecutors. We heard Him cry out in agony, forsaken of His Father. We saw His lifeless body taken down by His friends, and hastily laid in a borrowed tomb. We felt their grief as they spent the Sabbath without their Lord. We wept their tears as darkness closed in around them.

Our day ended at the Garden Tomb, as we ran with Peter and John to the sepulchre, and saw, and believed. We stood with Mary at the sepulchre, weeping, and our tears changed to tears of joy as we saw the angels, and then as we turned and saw the Master, and clung with her to the Savior's resurrected body, the witness of His triumph, the evidence of His Godhood. We marvelled and we rejoiced. And we re-committed ourselves to serve our Lord, to obey when Christ directs, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me...and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29).

Monday, April 6, 2009

The House of Prayer

After Christ's triumphal entry the Sunday before His death, Christ spent the night in the home of Lazarus. The following day, He entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple again, as He had at the beginning of His ministry. Matthew records the event thus:

"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?" (Matthew 21:12-16).

After that sarcastic little jab, the chief priests couldn't do much to stop the popular sentiment that was rallying around Jesus, and the plot to kill Him thickened.

Today, to celebrate the cleansing of the temple, I visited the Temple Mount, which is now controlled by the Muslims, who, ironically, won't let anyone take a Bible up onto the Mount (ask me how I know). But the Temple Mount is a beautiful, peaceful place of prayer.

I have missed being able to go to the temple these past three months, as I have been traveling overseas, far from the temples of God. I love the peace that is to be found in the temple. I love the strength that comes from performing ordinances there. I miss the reminder that temple worship gives me of my baptismal covenants, the feeling it gives me of being completely clean. I miss the communion with God that I find inside its walls. I miss the chance to leave the world behind for an hour or two, to leave my cares at the door and bask in the light of the Spirit. I miss being refreshed as I leave its hallowed halls. I love the temple, and though I will be sad to leave this holy city, I am thrilled that again I will be able to visit the holy temple.

On the face of each temple are the simple words, "Holiness to the Lord. House of the Lord." Reminiscent of the high priestly garb of Aaron, this inscription reminds us of the purpose of temples: to be God's dwelling-place on earth, a place where His Spirit can dwell, where His children can worship Him in a manner not available outside its walls. Inside the temple, we can perform sacred ordinances that bind us to each other and to God.

I think it is no coincidence that the last week of the Savior's life commenced with the cleansing of His house, His temple. I'll conclude with the promises regarding temple worship that most inspire me, found in the dedicatory prayer on the Kirtland Temple:

And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them; And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets" (Doc. & Cov. 109:22-23).

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hosanna in the Highest

Today begins a powerful and poignant week in the larger Christian community. This week, Western Christians celebrate the last week of the Savior's mortal ministry, beginning with His triumphal entry, and encompassing his powerful teachings and parables of that week, the Last Supper He held with His disciples and friends, His Atonement, trials, and death, His burial, and His glorious Resurrection.

We begin with the day known as Palm Sunday, which marks Christ's triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. Two centuries ago, a man known as Jesus of Nazareth rode into the city from His night residence in Bethany, in the home of Simon the Leper and his children Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, all dear personal friends of Jesus. He rode on the back of a donkey, in the manner of the ancient kings of Israel as they went to be crowned. The symbol did not escape the notice of the people, who, having heard of His arrival, "spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:8-9). Hosanna, they cried--literally, "Oh, save us now!" They recognized Christ as the king He was, and quoted (and sang, perhaps) a Messianic Psalm (Psalm 118) to greet Him.

The scene was enough to interest the rest of the city's inhabitants, whose numbers had swelled tremendously in anticipation of the Passover, which would be celebrated in just a few days. Newcomers wanted an explanation, and Matthew records that "all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee" (Matthew 21:10-11). The disciples were not shy about proclaiming the greatness of their Master, as Luke records, "the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen" (Luke 19:37).

All this adoration bothered the Pharisees immensely, as Luke records: "And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples" (Luke 19:39). But despite their plots against His life, and the harm He knew would come from so much publicity, the Savior refused to rebuke those who acknowledged the truth: that He who then descended the Mount of Olives was about to descend below all things, to rise above all things, that He might be in and through all things, the light of truth (Doc. & Cov. 88:6). He was and is the "light [that] shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5). And though that week did not end as the disciples then expected, by the end of it they knew even more powerfully that Christ was the Lord, "for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me" (Isaiah 49:23).

Instead, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, and testified that He was the promised Messiah: "And he answered and said unto them...if these [disciples] should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:40).

I feel driven to echo the testimony of these disciples, and to speak for the mute stones that would cry out. Like the disciples, I praise the Lord for the mighty works that I have seen. Like them, I cry Hosanna!--Oh, save me! My heart shouts praises to the Holy One of Israel. I praise Him for His light, which pierces the darkness of my heart. I praise Him for His healing power and mercy. I praise Him because He weeps, and because He laughs, because He smiles and sings and loves and teaches and heals. I praise Him because He died and because He lives. I love Him. I have given my life to His service.

Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

Friday, April 3, 2009

God Grant Me Serenity in an Uncertain World

A poetic prayer that has impressed itself upon my mind of late is a well-known four-line sermon attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, American Protestant theologian. Originally untitled, it has become known as the Serenity Prayer, and is used widely in AA, NA, and other addiction-recovery circles. It is often found in the form:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Niebuhr's prayer continues beyond this well-known verse, however, with words that grow even more poignant:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Those of you who know me well know that I have long been looking for that pathway to peace in a world I do not fully understand. The past few years have brought major transformations for me and for those I love. Through it all, I have come to a realization that at first unsettled me, but now brings me great peace: I do not have all the answers. There was a time in my life where I knew all the answers (or so I thought), as I suppose we all do at one point or another. But being pulled into the hellish struggle of a dear friend changed that, as I confronted questions that wrenched me to the core, and as I found my answers lacking. I was driven to my knees with more questions, when old answers that no longer held the healing power I had envisioned they would. I felt something like the Siamese King from the musical The King and I, who, confused by new knowledge, sings,

There are times I almost think
I am not sure of what I absolutely know.
Very often find confusion
In conclusion I concluded long ago
In my head are many facts
That, as a student, I have studied to procure,
In my head are many facts..
Of which I wish I was more certain I was sure!

And when all else was called into question, still a few things remained firmly in the "sure" column: I knew the Lord loved me. I knew He knew me. And I knew He answered prayers. When no one else could hear, listen, or understand, I knew He did. And in painful stillness I learned that the Lord's understanding encompassed the answers to my questions, and to questions I had not yet envisioned. I learned that He knew that painful truths of this world, not just the pretty truths of the gospel, for "truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come," not as they should or ought to be (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24). I learned that truth--even ugly truth--was the domain of the God I worshiped, because He knew the world as it was, not merely as He would have it, and because He had overcome the world (John 16:33). I learned that "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it," even the awful things in it (1 Corinthians 10:26, NIV).

As I have encountered further crises, I have had to rely on that witness--the knowledge that the Lord knows the answers that I lack. In developing that reliance, I have become more comfortable saying, "I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question. It doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem fair. I simply don't know." Like Nephi, I have learned to say, "I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things" (1 Nephi 11:17). I know that God loves the woman whose children starve to death because she cannot find food, but I do not know why He allows them to starve. I know that God loves the child abused by those who should protect him, but I do not know why He allows the abuse. I know that God loves the spiritual gifts of His believing daughters, but I do not know why those gifts do not yet find their full expression in the church that bears His name. I do not know why God's answer to desperate pleading, sometimes, is "no," or why He appears to answer some prayers and ignore others. I do not know. I know that God loves His children, but I do not know the meaning of all things.

But, as I've said before, I'm a passionate woman. There is a mother bear inside of me, anxious to destroy the mean, awful, unfair bits of this world. Quixotic though it may be, in my heart of hearts I want to "sally forth into the world, righting all wrongs," leaving vanquished injustice, tyranny, and unrighteous dominion in my wake. It has taken me some time to find the balance between crusading and complacency--to find the courage to drive the engine of positive change while maintaining the serenity to accept the things I cannot alter. It is a balance I am still seeking.

Something that continues to amaze me, but that I suppose should not, is the repeated realization that God is not particularly interested in righting the wrongs of this world on my timetable. But strangely, He is interested in giving me peace in a world I do not understand. As I have learned to say, "I do not know," I have also found learned that "if I surrender to His Will...I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next." I have found the love of the Savior, the Prince of Peace, who proclaimed, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).

Perhaps Paul put it best, as he counseled the Saints in Phillippi, in a time when his theology was radical, when the land was a dangerous place for Christians, when apostasy was rampant, when the world did not make sense:

"The Lord is at hand. Be careful for [that is, worried about] nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue [i.e. power], and if there be any praise, think on these things...and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phillippians 4:5-9).