Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bearing One Another's Burdens

Earlier this week, my roommate and I were talking about the covenants we make at baptism. We identified seven imperatives, many of them closely related. The ones that stuck out to me the most were these:

"Bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light...mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:8-9).

We promised at baptism to bear the burdens of those who are weighed down, to "succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees" (Doc. & Cov. 81:5). It is in this way, perhaps above all others, that we best stand as witnesses of Christ, for His earthly mission focused on bearing the burdens of His brothers and sisters. Of Christ, Alma prophesied: "and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12). According to the flesh--how beautiful! How compelling! To know that the Lord knows my heartaches and yours, not because He read a textbook about human suffering, but because He actually suffered them "according to the flesh" gives me great hope, and a knowledge that I can never turn to Him and say "you just don't understand what I'm going through."

Now, I'm not suggesting that we should all go out and try meth so that we'll know "according to the flesh" how to help a person with a drug addiction. Bearing one another's burdens and showing love to our brothers and sisters doesn't always involve perfect empathy. I don't have to be able to completely understand your experience to know that it hurts, and to love you through that hurt. I do have to listen to you, to refrain from judging you, and turn to the Lord and say, "give me Your love for this person."

I remember vividly the case of a friend some years ago, who was struggling with a trial I had never experienced and could not understand cerebrally. As I watched him go through it, I saw the depths of hell in his eyes. I saw his pain and anguish, and I chose to love him, and I hurt with him. But there came a point when I had nothing left to give him, no more emotional energy for him, when my heart was empty and I had exhausted my natural strength. And at that moment, I was filled with a love so deep I knew it did not come from within me. I saw my friend as the Savior saw him. I loved him the way the Savior loved him. When I had nothing left to give, the Lord filled me with His love, gave me His strength, so I could bear up under a seemingly overwhelming burden.

I know that when we keep the covenants we have made to bear one another's burdens, the Lord srengthens us and prepares a way for us to accomplish that vitally important commandment (1 Nephi 3:7). This I know from personal experience, for time and time again the Lord has blessed me with power beyond my own to bear the burdens of the dear children He loves.

Paul wrote "Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). Christ, after all, declared His mission in the words of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Luke 4:18). His mission was to heal the brokenhearted. And He has called us to follow Him, and given us power from on high to fulfill that mission. "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?" (Romans 8:31-32).

The Lord will give you power to bear the things that otherwise would destroy you. His work is a "marvelous work and a wonder" to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Isaiah 29:14, Moses 1:39). I know that as you bear others' burdens, yours will be lightened, and you will be strengthened as were the people of Alma, of whom it is written "that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord" (Mosiah 24:15).

Photo from http://www.beans2slovakia.com/images/burden.jpg

Monday, May 18, 2009

I Was An Hungered

Everyone who comes in my door gets offered food. That's just the way I roll. I make bread, soup, curry, and everything else that strikes my fancy. I have a principled objection to frozen pizza and Top Ramen, entirely apart from finding them unflavorful and unsatisfying. I believe that good food remembers where it came from; that is, that the food that is best for you will be recognizable when it is served, not processed beyond recognition. The vast majority of my budget is spent at the grocery store, often on fruits and vegetables and spices and other such things "to please the eye and to gladden the heart" (Doctrine & Covenants 59:18).

It's no fun cooking for just one person, so I make a lot of food. I get it from my Grandma. She fed everyone who walked in her door. We always felt comfortable rummaging through the fridge when we went to her house, knowing there would be some leftovers, and that nothing was off-limits. Even when her ten children grew up and moved away from home, Grandma never quite learned how to cook meals for just two people. She loved to make lots of food for her large family whenever we got together.

So there's something about food that says "hospitality" to me. I'm not the best entertainer or joke-teller, and I can't do any parlor tricks for my guests, but food--food I can do pretty well. Today I'd like to talk about the role of food in the gospel.

When the Savior finished His Olivet discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and the signs of His second coming, He followed up His doomsday prophecies with instructions on how to prepare for His return. To illustrate the principles He taught, He gave three parables--the parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats (see Matt. 25). He then taught them of the eschatological consequences of their mortal actions:

"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink...Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?...And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:34-40).

In listing charitable acts expected of true Christians, Christ explicitly lists feeding the hungry. And when we feed hungry people, the Lord makes it clear that that act has the same eternal reward as feeding the Savior Himself. Your guest therefore represents Christ to you, and in feeding Him you nourish the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).

I remember one occasion last year when a roommate and I were making food for an acquaintance and his wife, who were coming to dinner that evening. A mutual friend wandered in and, observing the preparations for dinner already well underway, the rolls rising in the corner while the soup simmered on the stove, one of us setting the table while the other made the salad dressing, she remarked, "Wow! This is fancy! Who are you having over for dinner? The President?"

I quoted to her the Savior's words in the book of Matthew, and then asked simply, "If Jesus were coming to dinner, what would you feed Him?" She laughed.

It was an honor to eat with our friends that night, as we came to understand Paul's admonition: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2). They were angels indeed, and they blessed our home with their presence.

I guess my point is this: I like feeding people. (And I'll feed you, if you're hungry!) It's one of the ways I show love. And I've come to realize that when I see my guests as representatives of the Savior, I am less inclined to judge them and more inclined to learn from them. After all, if Christ came to dinner I would ask Him to teach me--and everyone I meet has something to teach me, if I am humble enough to learn from even "the least of these my brethren."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother in Heaven

I was asked to give a talk in Church today about mothers. After much deliberation, I decided to speak about my Heavenly Mother. I approached my subject with both apprehension and determination, desiring to honor Her as a Woman worthy of glory and emulation without creating unneeded controversy. It is with both apprehension and determination that I post my talk here. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject, I ask you to exercise care in your comments, and I invite you to e-mail me personally if you wish to discuss this subject further (amygordonothello at gmail dot com).



As I debated whether or not to discuss this topic here, I was torn between a desire to refrain from sullying the sacred and a desire to proclaim the truth with power. Ultimately, my desire to provide doctrinal information and encouragement to those who long to know of the Divine Mother as I do won out. I pray that what I present will be edifying and uplifting, and that you will take the subject as seriously as I have these past few months.



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Mothers deserve a day of honor. The women who carried us inside of them for nine months, who gave birth to us, who raised us, who nurtured us and made us who we are, deserve our respect and love. I recognize, of course, that we all have different relationships with our mothers. Some of our mothers are members of the Church, some never were, and some have turned away from the light and knowledge they once received. Some of our mothers were kind and loving, and some were abusive or neglectful. Some of us have mothers who have passed away. Some of us never knew our mothers.



Regardless of our particular family circumstance in mortality, one of the most glorious and comforting doctrines of the restored gospel is that we are members of an eternal Heavenly family. We are all brothers and sisters, and we are all children of the same Heavenly Parents. Though we often speak of our Heavenly Father, it is equally true that we have a Heavenly Mother. On this day created to honor mothers, it is about our Mother in Heaven that I wish to speak. I invite the Spirit to be with me and with you as we discuss this sacred topic.



First, I will discuss why this doctrine is important to us in the broader gospel context. Second, I will describe some attributes of our Heavenly Mother. Finally, I will discuss how an understanding of this doctrine changes our behavior and makes a real difference in our lives.

First, why is this doctrine important? In the book The Articles of Faith, Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “We are expressly told that God is the Father of spirits, and to apprehend the literalness of this solemn truth we must know that a Mother of spirits is an existent personality.”(1) Joseph Smith has told us that “if men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.”(2) And speaking of the nature of God, Elder Erastus Snow said, “God consists of both an exalted man and an exalted woman... there can be no god except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, nor ever will be, a God in any other way.”(3) Therefore, when our scriptures refer to “God,” (or in Hebrew, the plural word “Elohim”), the word “God” is interchangeable with the phrase “Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.”

From these three prophets we learn the importance of the knowledge that we have a Mother in Heaven. Without that knowledge, the plan of salvation is incomplete, since without an understanding that we have a Mother we would lack an understanding of what it means to call God our “Father.” We would lose sight of the true nature of God. Without this crucial understanding, we could not grasp the nature and importance of eternal marriage and eternal families. If we do not comprehend the character of God—and remember that “God” means “Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother”—we do not comprehend ourselves, for we are made in Their image and with the potential to become like Them.

With the knowledge that we have a God that consists of a married couple, an exalted husband and wife, who desire us to become like them, we must ask ourselves: What are They like? What attributes must we possess in order to become like Them? We could all list many attributes of our Father in Heaven, but what are some attributes of our Mother in Heaven?

Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote, “In accordance with Gospel philosophy there are males and females in heaven. Since we have a Father, who is our God, we must also have a mother, who possesses the attributes of Godhood.”(4)

From Elder Widtsoe we learn that our Mother in heaven possesses the attributes of Godhood. As She is the Mother of our spirits and the companion of our Heavenly Father, we must also understand that She has a glorified body of flesh and bone. Melvin J. Ballard remarked, “No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, he does not stand alone; for side by side with him, in all her glory, a glory like unto his, stands a companion, the Mother of his children...a glorified, exalted, ennobled Mother.”(5) From Elder Ballard we learn that our Mother in Heaven is a noble and exalted being of great glory.

It is important to recognize that our Mother in Heaven is not merely an appendage to the work of the Father—She is in every way united with Him in Their work to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men and women (Moses 1:39). Elder Bruce R. McConkie has told us, “An exalted and glorified Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) could not be a Father unless a Woman of like glory, perfection, and holiness was associated with him as a Mother.”(6) She is His equal in every conceivable way. Without Her, He would not be who He is. And though we pray to our Heavenly Father in the name of the Son, the unity that our Father shares with His wife makes it clear that when we ask for the counsel of one, we receive the united counsel and love of both.

We know that our Mother in Heaven loves us and has a great influence on us, for we are Her children. President Kimball said, “we get a sense of the...queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?(7) Just as the best of mortal mothers love and teach their children as they grow to adulthood, so our Heavenly Mother loves and teaches us as we grow to become like Her and like our Father.

Finally, how does an understanding of this important doctrine affect us? How does it impact our behavior to know that we have a Mother in Heaven in whose image we are made who is a God, who loves us, and who is united and equal with our Heavenly Father? How does an understanding of this doctrine bring us closer to Christ and therefore closer to our Heavenly Parents?

From the example of our Heavenly Parents, we learn that we are to be as united and equal in our marriages as our Heavenly Parents are in Theirs. In order that we may be prepared to return to Their presence and live as They live, there is no place for superiority or inequality in a marriage. We learn that perfect unity between spouses gives a marriage power—Godly power—just as the unity between our Heavenly Parents gives Them power and dominion. Indeed, without unity between husband and wife, there is no exaltation, there is no godhood. Truly we can see that, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11), for in the Lord, both man (the Father) and woman (the Mother) are united as a couple, possessing the same power, dominion, glory, and exaltation to the same degree that they are united as one.

When we see our spouses as the other half of the God we will someday become, we will not be inclined to be selfish in our interactions with them, to put them down or to belittle them. Instead, we will see our husbands and wives—and indeed, all men and women—as children made in the image and possessing the Divine attributes of a united God, our Eternal Father and Mother. With this knowledge, we will better understand why They value marriage, motherhood, and fatherhood, both in this life and in eternity. Only by understanding our Eternal Father and Mother can we understand the true purpose of earthly fatherhood and motherhood.

I will close by reading an excerpt from an article in The Millennial Star, which was the Church’s newspaper in Great Britain: “The love of God is often illustrated by showing what an earthly father will do for a child. But does a mother do less?...When we draw nearer the Divine Man, lo! we shall find a Divine Woman smiling upon us. Much ... in music, ... poetry, and ... art, is the expression of the soul’s instinctive sigh for a Divine Mother. In the Father’s many mansions we shall find her and be satisfied.”(8)

I bear my solemn witness that we have a Mother in Heaven who loves us, who is the Godly equal of our Father in Heaven, who possesses with Him all might, majesty, and dominion in perfect and eternal unity. I bear witness that Their marital unity and Their parenthood are perfect examples for us as we prepare for and enter into marriage, the order of the Priesthood that is necessary to become exalted as They are. I bear witness that one day we will find Them both and know Them and be like Them, and our soul’s instinctive desires will thereby be satisfied, and I do it in the sacred name of Their Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 (A. of F., p. 443).

2 The King Follett Discourse

3 Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, p.269-271, Erastus Snow, March 3, 1878

4 A Rational Theology, p.69

5 Melvin J. Ballard, cited in Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, p. 205.)

6 Mormon Doctrine, p.517

7 Spencer W. Kimball, “The True Way of Life and Salvation,” Ensign, May 1978, 4

8 The Millennial Star, Vol 34 no. 9, Feb 27, 1872, p.140

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Meaning of All Things

I don't have sufficient words to express the pain and hurt I am feeling right now. I feel abandoned, betrayed, cast aside, unwanted, and unlovable.

I know that God weeps when His children suffer. Enoch saw the Lord's pain at His children's sorrow: "And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept" (Moses 7:28). Christ also wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, because of the love He had for him (John 11:35).

I don't have all the answers. I don't understand the reasons why the Lord calls us to experience great pain. With Nephi, "I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things" (1 Nephi 11:17). I know that my Heavenly Parents long to embrace me, to enfold me in Their perfect love. I know that They have perfect understanding and perfect empathy, that They weep with me in my sorrow. And I love Them for it. I know that Their Son was willing to experience my pain so that He could succor me according to my infirmities (Alma 7:12). And I love Him for it. I know that God loves me, but I do not know the meaning of all things.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Holy Envy, Part 3

For an introduction to Holy Envy, and Part 1 of this series, click here. Or, read Part 2, here.

I love the Lutherans. I had a chance to attend a Lutheran service a month ago at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. By halfway through the service, I was in tears. I have never been so deeply moved by a service with which I was so unfamiliar. For some reason, the ceremonies of that service touched me in a way I had not expected. They resonated with a part of me I had neglected. They felt right. And I learned that the Lord speaks to people according to the language of their understanding. I learned that we do not have the only right way to hold a worship service. I learned that the Holy Ghost can speak to my heart in many different circumstances, through many different vehicles. Several weeks later, I returned to services with a group of friends. And I returned again and again, as often as time would permit. There is something holy in that church. Here are some things I love about the Lutherans.

* They have a beautiful sense of the nature of communion (what Catholics call Eucharist and Mormons call the Sacrament). At the services I attended, the first liturgical hymn was a song whose words have remained with me ever since: "This is the feast of victory for our God. Alelluia!" What a beautiful understanding of the purpose of Sunday worship services--by taking communion, we celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death. It is the feast of the victory of our God! And indeed we must shout--Alleluia! For we are there to speak the good news, to pray for forgiveness, and to receive the body and blood of Christ, not to dress up in pretty clothes to show off, not to listen to dull sermons. Sunday is a day of rejoicing, for Christ has conquered sin and death!

* As in many Christian churches, the administration of the sacrament is the central focus of the service, and everything before that event is done in preparation for the real purpose of the service--to receive the body and blood of Christ. When I received communion, the pastor tore a piece of bread for me, and handed it to me, saying, "the body of Christ, broken for you." The atonement of Christ became very real to me then, and was reinforced in my mind as his helper, standing with the cup of wine, said simply, "the blood of Christ, shed for you." In order to participate in this beautiful ordinance, congregants have to come forward to the front of the chapel, physically witnessing their desire to come unto Christ. The pure holiness of this service moved me in ways that I cannot explain.

* The Lutherans are generally a hospitable group of people. They have a great sense of community that I didn't feel in some of the other Christian churches. After Sunday services, members gathered for tea and refreshments and socializing. It promoted a feeling of unity that contributed to the peace and the beautiful Spirit in the service.

* Lutherans have awesome music. It isn't nearly as boring as ours sometimes is.

* I love the sharing of the peace. There is something incredibly fulfilling about a public recognition that Christ's Atonement reconciles us to God and also to each other, and that having been thus reconciled, we can greet each other warmly with the peace of Christ.

* I used to say that if I wasn't LDS, I'd be Jewish. I still love Judaism and its rich traditions, but I think I love Jesus too much to be Jewish. So if I wasn't LDS, I think maybe I'd be Lutheran.