Monday, July 15, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wifeflower

Okay, that was a really dumb title.

But here's the thing: every time I leave the bathroom light on long enough for Jacob to see it before I can scurry and try to turn it off, I owe him a substantive blog post. He says when he reads my writing, he loves me more. Right now I owe him seven blog posts.

And so, here is the first of many entries wherein I will actually write about the thoughts and problems and mental struggles that betoken my every day living. The following is the transcript of a talk I gave in my ward (that's Mormon for when a lay member presents a sermon to their congregation) a couple weeks ago.

The problem now is that if I start writing about things that I really really care about, then I'll be vulnerable to people who are smarter and meaner than me . But oh well. It's time, you know?

I've included a couple pictures from our stay in Florence, because it is the most inspirational place I've ever been.

Come From Where it May
Sacrament Meeting Talk 6/23/13
Jacob reading at the Accademia

               I have always been a bit of a bookworm. Long before I could read I would insist that “I turn!” the pages when my parents read me stories, and I remember distinctly volunteering my four year old self to “read” picture books to my friends. (I’d beextremely interested now to hear the captions I came up with for the pictures then)
 So, over the years many works of literature have become so precious to me, as to be something like scripture. From many wonderful books have I read, re-read, re-read, filled the margins with scribbled notes, cross-referenced, and memorized quotes to adopt as personal mantras. In works of every genre I’ve learned much of what I know about sin, repentance, redemption, salvation, charity, and the greatest extremes of evil and of human and divine kindness.

As I grew older I discovered the other arts; visual, performing, vocal, instrumental. There was a whole beautiful world of Godly language to hear and to learn to speak! Every day of my arts-filled childhood contained many sermons. So for me, the divide between what was scripture, what officially belonged to the True and Living Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and what was merely inspirational never seemed incredibly material.

When I became a teenager, though, that time when you start to realize that you pretty much know everything, before you go to college and discover that you don’t know anything- -I started to notice that in many of my meetings, lessons, and activities, Gospel truths were usually expressed in very specific language, namely King James English. Very few of the Hymns in the hymn book were actually sung and my favorite authors and poets were usually only quoted in General Conference. As a young girl I began my personal journey, the one we are all continually on because we’re alive, to gain a testimony of what living the restored gospel meant for me and in what languages I accessed its truths.

Now, when we speak of “The Restored Gospel”—of what that phrase really means, it’s difficult to pinpoint what is gospel and what is merely good.

As Joseph Fielding Smith said,“… There is a great fund of knowledge in the possession of men,” ,“that will not save them in the kingdom of God. What they have got to learn are the fundamental things of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” [1]

Many of us audibly breathe a sigh of relief here. Phew, good. “I only need to learn the fundamentals, because the rest is extraneous. I want to be saved in the Kingdom of God“. Reassuring, right? All those novels I consumed as a child were childish things that it’s now time to put away.

I’ve met many people over the years who take this kind of council to fuel their pronouncement that “the only books I read are the scriptures,” or “I only listen to the MoTab and EFY CDS”.
And yet, we embrace as an article of our faith (the thirteenth one to be exact) “ If there is anything hvirtuous, ilovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things”.
SEEK is an extremely active verb. It connotes much more than merely absorbing gospel truths through osmosis as we sit in church. In fact, the act of seeking is often very uncomfortable. If something is right in front of you, you can’t seek for it. You can look for it maybe. But seeking implies that it may be far away, or out of reach, soul-stretching or mind-blowing. After you find what you’re seeking, you’ll be different. And that’s uncomfortable. Seeking is a process, a journey, never immediately ended.  Maybe you’re not even sure what it is you’re seeking for, and that requires faith.

So in saying that we seek after anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy are we saying that, as Latter-day Saints, we commit to actively living an uncomfortable life of scraping, stretching, seeking and making ourselves vulnerable and uncomfortable? Yeah, I think so.

Our prophets seers and revelators of the restored gospel take this idea even further:
Brigham Young said, It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with…the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church…[and I would add members of this church] to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.[2]
A highlight of my life at Badia Fiorentina

Joseph Smith said: “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from where it may.”[3]

And the Lord says, in Doctrine and Covenants 88:118, Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom.”

So here we are, with not only council but a duty and calling to SEEK for truth, well, basically everywhere. Something of a daunting task.

So how do we possibly sift through all the good and bad teachings of the world in books and religions and find the valuable ones that have a rightful and useful place in our understanding of the restored gospel? How do we determine which ones are the best books and which are merely a waste of our time—or worse, detrimental to our spiritual education? How do we avoid the pitfalls of embracing unrighteous philosophies of men mingled with scripture?

As Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy famously said, “While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages”

All the great teachers are servants of God? How do we distinguish between the good, the great, and the bad? With this kind of council, how do we possibly prioritize our spiritual education??
The answer lies in the topic of this sacrament meeting, which is beautiful in its simplicity: PROPHETS TEACH US TO LIVE THE RESTORED GOSPEL.

Prophets teach us. With so many beautiful, useful truths in religions of the world that we have a duty to seek after and embrace, the Restored Gospel is singular in the fact that we have living, breathing, teaching prophets. Indeed, our Gospel is true and living, meaning it is changing and growing, just like a living human being—like we are. We believe in continuing revelation that is given us through prophets and through the Holy Ghost directly from our Father to us. That’s pretty cool.

I keep on my computer, so it’s always within view, a sticky note that serves as a gentle caution in my insatiable drive to seek after knowledge and beauty. It’s Second Timothy 3:7: Ever learning, never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

As we follow our duty to seek and learn and embrace and discover, we always come back to the beautiful, grounding fundamentals of the gospel, as President Smith reminded us. In making our central study that we base everything else around the words of prophets, both ancient and modern, we will be able to recognize the other truths we are seeking for when we come across them. We’ll recognize godly language elsewhere because we’ll know it so well from the scriptures, from prophets, and from speaking to God ourselves through prayer.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) put it well when speaking to members and nonmembers alike during an area conference in Tahiti: “Keep all the truth and all the good that you have. Do not abandon any sound or proper principle. Do not forsake any standard of the past which is good, righteous, and true. Every truth found in every church in all the world we believe. But we also say this to all men—Come and take the added light and truth that God has restored in our day. The more truth we have, the greater is our joy here and now; the more truth we receive, the greater is our reward in eternity.” [4]

I have a personal testimony of the limitless beauties and truths that exist for us to discover in churches, mosques, synagogues, ashrams, libraries, concert halls, museums, movie theaters, and in all the limitless languages of divinity in the world around us. I know that we’ll have a more complete appreciation of the restored gospel if we better come to know and understand all of God’s children and recognize the light of Christ that pervades and infuses all of His creation.

I love this Gospel with my whole soul and I come to love it more the more I study, seek, and embrace truth, “come from where it may.”

[1] Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation (Bookcraft, 1954), 1:291.
[2] Journal of Discourses 7:283
[3] Sermon of Joseph Smith, 9 July 1843 (Sunday Morning), in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), p. 229
[4]  Bruce R. McConkie, comp., Doctrines of Salvation (Bookcraft, 1954), 1:291.


Dana said...

Anna! I LOVE everything you shared in your talk. And I give a hearty AMEN! You've found a way to articulate some of my own recent thoughts, so thank you! And for the record, I love that you owe Jacob posts because I also love reading your writing. And your adventures. And you!

davenash said...

Fabulous talk. Are you familiar with the "Exploring Sainthood" ( blog/podcast community? I think you could have a lot to contribute.

Brandon said...

Well said, Anna. The more I learn from other people's experience in the LDS Church, the more I realize what a blessing it is to grow up with a view that can appreciate all truth as a seamless whole. This old world is too big, complex and, yes, beautiful, for any other framework to survive.

Aly said...

I just stalked your blog for...a while..and I just like you so much. This is spot on. Your passion for this topic radiates and I can FEEL it way over here on my couch. Love it, thanks for making me want to go read a book and sing a song.

Jennifer said...

This is so wonderful! And spot on!


I want to carry you
and for you to carry me
the way voices are said to carry over water.

Just this morning on the shore,
I could hear two people talking quietly
in a rowboat on the far side of the lake.

They were talking about fishing,
then one changed the subject,
and, I swear, they began talking about you.

Billy Collins

that's all, folks


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