Friday, June 27, 2014

Becoming Dulcinea: life lessons of a kitchen slut

Being Aldonza is really hard. If you've seen my Instagram feed lately, I've polluted it with brag photos of my bruises, cuts, scrapes, and matted hair. 

But being Dulcinea is something altogether indescribable. I've been gushing to anyone who will listen lately-- including a nice reporter (article here)-- of the soul-stirring, redemptive powers of the creative process of developing a character for the stage. Boy oh boy. 

Whenever I get on one of these pontifical rants, Jacob tells me, half-earnestly, half-mockingly, that I should write a book called Life Lessons Learned from Theater: An Actress's Wisdom, or something like that, and include all my philosophies of the power of art and the letters I've received from audience members and whatnot.

Well here's my start, dang it, because my life and my soul and my person would not be what they are without theater, without art, and without the possibility of becoming Dulcinea.

Here's my full interview. Read it and weep. Or, better yet, come to the show and weep. Tickets here.

How did you first get involved with this project, with ‘La Mancha’?
 I've loved working with the Hale Orem in the past, and had just finished doing Les Miserables with Dave TinneyWhen I auditioned, I had almost no exposure to La Mancha, but I thought it would be a fun challenge. I had no idea!

Please briefly describe your character’s personality? How is it similar to your own? 
It's funny you should ask that, because one of the reasons this has been such an incredible learning experience for me is because Aldonza is so different from Anna. At the beginning of the rehearsal process, Dave said we were going to have to bring out my "inner animal". This girl has lived a terrible life, and she copes with that through grit and violence. But I'm the most passive, docile person you'll ever meet! The beauty of Aldonza's journey, though, is that you see her entire rollercoaster-- that verneer of toughness and control, the breaking of it, her exhaustion and depression, her desire to hope for a better life, and her ultimate redemption. Everyone goes through that rollercoaster, to some degree, and I've had to learn to empathize with and understand her experiences so I can make them truthful. I just have to translate her language into my own. Dave and Rob have helped me feel comfortable just being me as Aldonza. And because I'm a very un-Aldonza-like sensitive person, one thing I can do is bring home that tenderness at the end. What's been so difficult for me has been learning to let myself be ugly, dirty, wretched, and completely vulnerable in front of an audience. I talk with my mouth full. I get drunk. I scream and cry and froth at the mouth. And the audience still (hopefully) accepts me! This has definitely been the hardest and most rewarding role I've ever played.

What is it like performing in front of a live audience? Talk about what it takes to connect with an audience?
 Everyone loves working in this theater, because the audience is literally right there with you (It's a constant effort not to step on their toes or sit on their laps). Connecting with the audience, then, isn't a problem as long as we, as actors and crew, are connected with each other. Rather than beefing everything up for a giant stage, we have to work for subtlety and honesty. When we do it right, it's incredibly powerful.

Does your character experience a turning point in the story? If so, when? And is there a scene that you are especially anxious for audiences to see?
  Because of the intimacy of the theater, Aldonza's journey into Dulcinea is a brutal thing to experience-- which makes it all the more moving. My favorite response is when I've had audience members -- usually women-- just come to me in silence and embrace me. Often there's no need for words . Violence against women is a sickeningly relevant topic-- in the 1500s and today-- and when the audience sees Aldonza try to maintain control, then hit rock bottom, and then ultimately find peace and hope with Don Quixote's help, I think it's a character arch that everyone can relate to.  Luckily other characters provide plenty of comic relief, but my job is to make the audience uncomfortable, sad, and ultimately triumphantly hopeful. Ha! No pressure.                                                                                     
Please comment on how the performing arts are kind of universal language and using the arts as a way to share a message.
 Humans need a safe place to come together and feel. That's what the theater is for.

What message or feeling would you hope audiences leave with after seeing your performance? After experiencing and seeing your character on stage?
 I hope they (as I do) feel a little less lonely in their own journey, and confident that no matter who they are or what they've done, they matter. They are worth more. Every human soul has the potential for beauty and greatness.

How have you approached your character in Tinney’s rendition of “Man of La Mancha?”
 I've tried to approach Aldonza with complete empathy and vulnerability. It's a very scary thing to do, as an actor and as a person.

Any other thoughts or comments? Or something you would like to point out?
Come soon, so you'll have time to come back!

Love, fake blood, and the old man after the show that took my hand in tears and whispered "Dulcinea del Toboso...",

Friday, June 6, 2014

paying attention.

I have some really good things in my life. Don't believe me? Here's a smattering of examples:
  • Dr. Jacob Andrew Rennaker (Yeah, he's a Doctor of Philosophy now, which makes the predicament below even more obvious and degrading). And he just texted, asking if he could bring me an Old Fashioned donut. I almost cried. Now, that's matrimonial bliss, people!
  • My apartment is only $500 a month, and it's a perfect apartment. I'm serious.
  • The BYU Creamery wasn't out of Graham Canyon ice cream last time I went, therefore, I have the comforting knowledge that there it is, deliciously waiting for me in the freezer, at any given moment.
  • I'm working on the most personally difficult role  I've ever had (Aldonza in Man of La Mancha) and it's zapping my soul energy, fraying my nearly non-existent nerves, and it's really, really, rewarding.
  • I'm really good at distracting myself. I find teeny, unnecessary tasks extremely fulfilling and can spend the whole day doing them: copiously dusting my blinds, color coordinating my bookshelf, looking at every green colored item on Modcloth.
With that nice little list compiled, here's the other thing about my life:
I CANNOT, without exception, concentrate on anything academic right now. 
Big deal, Anna! It's Summer! You don't even have a job! Right? WRONG.
I'm not new to the whole being a student thing. Actually, I haven't stopped being a student for the last twenty years. Straight.

And yet... here, so near the finish line, My brain has turned into an Alex Mack puddle (without the benefit of having its own TV show), my motivation has dried up, and my ambition has retired to a nice Senior Center in Orlando or something.

I am entirely finished with my graduate school coursework, with the pathetic exception of a final exam (don't be fooled by the innocent title-- it's actually a twenty-page essay exam) and a paper (likewise-- don't be fooled) for a class last semester, for which I had to receive an Incomplete grade from an undeservedly magnanimous professor because my brain was starting the liquification process at the time. Oh, and I couldn't get out of bed, except to drag myself to my Les Mis performances, have a couple diet cokes, and then crawl back to bed. For a few months or something. But that's all over! Now that Incomplete work is all due, um, today.

And besides those little things, which feel huge but are, actually relatively small, all I have left is my thesis:
Look at him, all graduated. It makes me sick. JK.
But really, though.
Write it. Defend it. BOOM-- I'm a Master! Everyone else in my program is doing it! But here I am, on my sixth diet coke in the last couple days, puzzling over how to click on the file and open it. Let alone fill it up with words.

Here's what I just texted Jacob:
"...But my soul is cracked! My motivation is malfunctioning. I've lost all my student skills. I am a walrus."
Yeah, I'm not sure what that means either.

Any suggestions, besides Adderall? Because I can literally accomplish nothing all day, and feel totally occupied. 

Hold on, I have to go organize my nail clippers.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


I'm past overdue 
in thanking the world
for the overwhelmingly empathetic and generous response to my last post, "Mother".

I had little thought in writing down my feelings about miscarriage and motherhood other than to hopefully make some sense of it. But the grace and openness that flooded me in return was... humbling, to say the least. There are so many truly good people out there, and, if you're reading this, you're probably one of them. 
So thank you.

Thank you for the blog comments and Facebook comments and for sharing the post with others who could relate or who wanted to be able to.
Thank you for the texts and calls and e-mails and messages and mailed cards and in-person hand squeezes.
Thank you for opening up and telling me of past and present pain.
Thank you for telling me about tragedies much more tragic than mine.

Thank you for being vulnerable and, simply, being kind.
I can't thank you enough or express with these meaningless syllables what it means to me, so thank you.

Today I was up and at my office before nine. This never happens because, lately, getting out of bed is a four hour or so process. But this morning I did it! And whether it's healthy or just a little sad, I felt pretty accomplished.

And here's the part I want to tell you. Today is my very first time being at my desk early in the morning, and I have to wear sunglasses-- even with the blinds down-- because of the angle of my window and the power of the sunlight. 
It’s kind of beautiful.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mother (or, finally writing about my miscarriage five months later)

December, 2013
"I think I might be having a miscarriage. I have many feelings:
-fear, that it will hurt; that I killed my child somehow.
-guilt, that at first I thought of this possibility as a kind of possible 'solution'- that maybe, somewhere, I even hoped for it a little.
-guilt guilt guilt. What did I do wrong!? I went off my medication cold turkey. I've been sleeping a lot. Haven't missed a single pre-natal.
And yet, it may be nothing to worry about... just the waiting is terrifying..."

As Mother's Day fast approaches and I start to feel sorry for myself-- because, if circumstances were different, I would be very close to being a mother right now-- and I stop feeling happy for so many friends and relatives who have brand new little ones or are about to, I figure it's time to finally release into the blogosphere some of the pain and beauty and grace and agony I've experienced recently, in relation to becoming--and being-- a mother.

Yes, I had a miscarriage, and yes, it sucked, and yes, it was the ugliest and most emotionally painful experience of my life. To go from having so much hope and joy and expectation for the Little Bean inside of me, and then so quickly and so gruesomely to lose it all: to give birth to death; to be haunted by the guilt and the relief and the "what did I do wrong?"s and the incessant, constant, brutal re-livings of the most unceremonious burial imaginable for my first born-- an insultingly impersonal flush down the toilet... well, that was my purgatory for a long while.

A beautifully-written article in the Exponent II magazine resounded a little too well with me. The author, Heather Sundahl, writes, 
"I'm not saying it's the worst thing in the world. But don't tell me it doesn't suck to carry a life, make physical and emotional plans for that life, and then have it basically disappear, with nothing to hang on to. No memories. No photos. Nothing."
What I feared most was publicity. People feeling sorry for me. People acting weird around me. Trying to comfort me. Telling me that it would be okay. That we could try again. That It's really common. 

I hunkered down into a little shell of isolated self-sabotage and pathologically kept myself "busy". My mom asked me, concerned, why I sounded so "normal" on the phone. My guarded, maybe even slightly cheery tone was understandably unsettling. After all, it was one of the biggest days of my life-- my graduate thesis reading exam, and I had calmly walked to my professors first thing in the morning and explained that I wouldn't be taking the eight hour essay test, because I was pretty sure I was losing my baby, and it seemed logistically a little difficult. Oh, and, by the way, I was pregnant.

Why wouldn't I cry and scream and sob to my desperately empathetic mother who had experienced her own fair share of pregnancy loss? It was because I wouldn't be able to take the compassion and grief that would inevitably be thrust at me if I showed weakness. I told hardly anyone and thus refused to give them the chance to say the right things; well-meaning comfort is so acutely painful sometimes. If anyone had told me that it would be okay... Well, I didn't want it to be okay, okay!? If I tried to get better, if I tried not to mourn, it would only increase my guilt a million-fold, I knew it, and it would surely negate the  importance of the little life-that-was.

 Of course all those things are true-- about being okay and trying again for another one---  but didn't this one matter? Doesn't it still? I wanted to keep my grief private so I could really, really grieve and thus, somehow, make the grief mean something. For the small amount of time we were together, it had  changed so much about me-- for the first time in my life, my life-- my body-- was no longer my own. I was a mother... wasn't I? Didn't that count for something?

I wrote a poem for The Bean when the first waves of unbearable nausea hit that inevitably rendered the abstract idea of "pregnancy" into a strikingly new concept, so real and exciting: the idea of"Mother."

I Have a Secret (Words for Eve)

It's roughly the size of a sesame seed
this week.
I call it "Bean"
and sing to it in the shower.
I call it "her"
in my heart.
I will be her Mother.

My secret is Eve, she is first born.
She is my hope and my joy and my heart-gripping fear.
She is my nausea and my inexpressible "glow".
She will be born into a world of paradoxes--
heavens and hells; "women" and "men";
and endarkenment.
I will be her mother.

She will learn about her name
and the pain and fear and
centuries of weight it carries.
She will learn about her name
and the Mother of All Living.
She will learn that "mother" is not
synonymous with "rib"
or "sin"
or "hearkens".

To her, "mother" will mean

To her, "father" will mean

My secret sesame seed
will grow into a tree
with roots back to the sixth day of Creation--
with branches to a brighter day--
with a name that means
And she, too, will be mother.

 As the disgustingly ironic way of things would have it, that big, big day also happened to be the opening night of the show I was in at the time, Joyful Noise. And, as the sadistic fates decreed, my character's central conflict in the play was having her little daughter ripped away from her. 
I had no understudy. I had to perform. 
I had to waddle around in Depends, amniotic material still flowing out of me, and deliver every blessed line. I had to not tell anyone, because it might make me burst from the ache of it, and I had to sing the Coventry Carol ("lully lullay, thou little tiny child").

The reviewer that came that night said she didn't sympathize with or care for my character because I "cried too much." And that, my friends, was the cherry on top of the knee to my proverbial, achy groin.

Going to church was torture, and I had to leave more than once, choking down sobs as what seemed like every single other woman around me sat with their hands resting on their beautifully healthy, 8-month-pregnant bellies, or rocking their newborns, or chuckling at their toddlers. I tried not to feel sorry for myself, but, in a large way, I mostly felt sorry for my baby. Why didn't it get to experience life? Why didn't it let me love it longer?

But all this woe, this painful, painful woe-- was it all for naught? Of course not. I'm getting to the hopefully inspiring part. But it may not be all that inspiring after all, because I'm not especially wise, and I haven't figured this all out yet. I'm not going to pretend that I have. 

But I learned some things. I learned an awful lot about opening up. I learned how desperately and completely I love my husband-- that he's actually, literally, an angel (for Valentine's day, he wrote me a poem about Mother in Heaven and loss and motherhood that would make anyone weep. It's my prized possession). I learned that it's okay to let others in on your grief. I learned that sometimes the best thing to say to someone who's in deep, wordless pain is what my dear sister said to me: "I'm not going to say it's okay, because it's not. And I'm not going to say to feel better, because you won't for a long time. But I love you and I'm so, so sorry."

 Most importantly, though, I think I learned a little bit more about what it means to be a mother. Yeah, I consider myself a mother now, because I had a little life in me, and that little life came out of me, even though I don't get to help it keep living. But that's not motherhood. 
Mothering, is, well, loving someone so purely and completely that they are, for all intents and purposes part of you, whether it's in the literal sense that many lucky ladies get to experience, or whether it's in the simple, beautiful sense of unconditional love. Motherhood is love in its purest form, and pure love, in my belief, is the love of Christ. And if He can gather us up like a hen gathers her chicks, can't we all mother in that same way? Can't we all love purely and absolutely and so wholly that we become one?
I certainly think so.

This Mother's Day, I'm honoring literal mothers everywhere, because they do great things and beautiful and selfless things. But I'm also honoring the mother-like love that every human being can cultivate and experience. Sometimes, unfortunately, we can only come to really recognize it through pain or grief or, even, loss. But it's so alive and so real, and because of that, I have no choice but to smile.

Love, hope, and happiness.

Monday, August 26, 2013

5 goals I have for the semester

This is funny because this post has been up for a month or so with only a title and no actual post. I left it like that because it was so ridiculous to me... "5 goals I have for the semester." Leaving it blank seemed ironically existential somehow. The title was there because I entered it while showing my students how to start a blog on Blogger. Obviously I've been neglecting by blog.... but not my students, at least.

I've also been neglecting:
-my orchids
-my housework
-my family
-my health
-my exercise regimen

Maybe it's time to come up with some goals.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I love my husband

Because he sends me e-mails like this:

"I just re-read this passage by 17th century Cambridge Platonist and metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne, and it made me think of you:

“They [men in general] love a creature for sparkling eyes and curled hair, lily breasts and ruddy cheeks which they should love moreover for being God's Image, Queen of the Universe, beloved by Angels, redeemed by Jesus Christ, an heiress of Heaven, and temple of the Holy Ghost: a mine and fountain of all virtues, a treasury of graces, and a child of God.” (Centuries of Meditations, Second Century, #68)

I love you for all of those reasons, but especially the latter ones."

There is NOTHING more heavenly than sharing my life and my soul and my body with someone who loves me for the right reasons and who I can love, knowing that we share respect, solidarity, and a desire to become.

He is my earthly angel. It's really cool.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"I'm really passionate about parking enforcement. I'm going to live for that dream,"

said no one ever.

As you might have surmised, this is a post wherein I briefly elaborate on my magical week of baffling brushes with law, or, as
some may prefer to call it, "stuff" cops say.

I'm a regular outlaw.
But I need to learn how to keep my stupid mouth shut.
Incident the first:
It's a rainy, constructiony drive along the interstate 215. It's after midnight and I'm anxious to reach Kali's house for a brief repose because I must return from whence I came (rehearsal, of course) in less hours than the suggested sleep time for an adult female of my age and proportions. I'm achy and hungry. It's raining really hard.

-flashing lights-
-crunching footsteps, beating windshield wipers-

Officer (looking at me like I'm a supreme idiot): Ma'am, you need to turn your lights all the way on.
Me: Um. They are.
Officer (Obviously not believing me, looking down his nose at me with disdain, and fiddling with my lights): Oh, alright, your tail lights are out then.
Me: okay, thanks.
Officer (once more with the idiot look): You need to get that fixed.
Me: okay, thanks.

Which was fine. Normal, even.

Incident the Second
A few days later

Driving home from rehearsal, as usual. Tired. Achy. Starving. Approaching University Parkway Exit. Just one more! I can do it. Keep blasting that air conditioning. Must-- keep-- going-- a. little. bit. further.

-flashing lights-
-swaggering towards my window, taking his sweet, sweet time-

The officer tells me I need to turn my lights on. I tell him my tail lights are out and I haven't had time to take my car in. He starts writing me a citation. Wait a minute! Ugh. Fine. He says I was going five over. [If you're not familiar with Utah driving traditions, "five over" doesn't really exist because it's kind of under the speed limit. If you steadily go five over you will undoubtedly be tail-gated and probably rear-ended]
So I'm, like, WHAT!??????

But I passively say "okay, thanks" or something as he writes out my ticket.
And then.

He says that I need to "find an officer and show it to him" to which I blurt out
"or her"

after which he looks at me like I'm an amoeba and says "excuuuuuse me?"
and I say,
"Um, I can show it to a female officer, right?"
and he says angrily,
"yeah, I guess there are some of those".

Angel Morelli just needs to learn to keep her big mouth shut.

Incident the third
Today; about an hour ago

This time the officer IS a her, and she's parking police. I funny-run to my car when I see her because I'm holding a backpack, a plastic bag full of garbage, a yoga mat and a few other sundry items.
Me (looking pretty stupid and sweaty, and consciously trying to sound pleasant): Hi, um, that's my car.
Officer (inscrutable): Why didn't you park in the lines?
Me: well, um, there were three other cars parked here and I thought it was an expansion because of all the construction.
Officer (passionately): Conformity is NOT the way to live! If you see something a certain way, don't just do it. THINK and do it a different way!!!

Me: ??

note: I didn't have the heart to tell her what I wanted to, that "parking inside the lines" is probably the first example on under "conformity". In fact, parking regulations and laws in general require complete conformity and her job is to enforce conformity in the parking lot.
But instead of celebrating my non-conformist approach to parking that you would expect her to heartily endorse, she practices this strange, voodoo reverse psychology on me! I am baffled.

Me: Um. I don't think I was conforming....
Officer (Shooting laser beams from her eyes): Pay more attention next time.
Me: um. okay. thanks. [or something]

So, basically I'm *this* close to life as a fugitive, which sounds romantic, perhaps, but really probably involves the most baffling discussions with condescending, belittling individuals with some seriously fallacious thinking and a uniform.

Are those requirements to attend police school?

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.


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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