Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Allahu Akbar!

Each morning, a haunting voice calls over the ancient city of Jerusalem from green-painted minarets scattered throughout its neighborhoods. Its plaintive cries echo across the sleeping homes of that timeless land. For weeks, I awoke each morning before dawn, with that voice ringing in my ears, and heeded the call to prayer on my balcony, overlooking the holy city. Even today, though I have left that beautiful land, its cries still echo in my heart. The cry from the minarets is simple but powerful, filled with a deep longing and a firm resolve. "Allahu Akbar!" it begins: God is most great, or God is greater.

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.

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