Mary’s Sense of the Sacred

I was asked to give a talk in church yesterday.  Because I eventually want to get all of  my church talks from over the years on the blog (for posterity more than anything else), I figured today would be as good a day as any to publish my most recent talk.  This one is deeply personal to me because at the end I used Mary: A Mother’s Testimony which I wrote back in 2003 for a different occasion.  Writing that was a daunting and humbling experience that drove me to my scriptures and to my knees and gave me a love and appreciation for Mary that I hadn’t felt so deeply before.  I was, uncharacteristically, nervous to give my talk yesterday because I was including that piece of writing in my remarks.  Writing it was a profound experience for me, the end result sacred to me, and my current congregation . . . well, I never know when somebody is going to take me aside to tell me what a horrible person they think I am or what a horrible thing they think I’ve done, so I was afraid to share it.  I was afraid I was casting my pearls, as it were.  I was afraid I was doing exactly what Mary didn’t do.  But it’s done now.  The talk has been given, and no rotten produce has been hurled my way.  Yet.

Anyway, enough blather.  Here’s the talk:

In his April 2017 General Conference talk, Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy said:

“The Savior performed His first recorded miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Mary, His mother, and His disciples were there as well. Mary apparently felt some responsibility for the success of the feast. During the celebration, a problem arose—the wedding hosts ran out of wine. Mary was concerned and went to Jesus. They spoke briefly; then Mary turned to the servants and said:

Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’

We usually remember this event because transforming water to wine was a demonstration of the power of God—it was a miracle. That is an important message, but there is another important message in John’s account. Mary was ‘a precious and chosen vessel,’ called by God to give birth to, nurture, and raise the very Son of God. She knew more about Him than anyone else on earth. She knew the truth of His miraculous birth . . . She had unshakable confidence in Him and in His divine power. Her simple, straightforward instruction to the servants had no caveats, no qualifications, no limitations: ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’”

Mary had an unshakable testimony of her son.  It is interesting to contemplate and try to study her testimony of and relationship with her son.  There really isn’t a lot in the scriptures to go on.  More than anyone, she would have reason to have that unshakable testimony, to know that her son was the Son of God.  At the same time, as a mother, I can see how it might be difficult at times to remember that that child whose hair you have washed, face you have scrubbed, and, let’s face it, diapers you have changed is your Lord and Savior.  On the one hand, motherhood is a high and holy calling, and being the mother of Christ himself is the highest and holiest version of that calling.  On the other hand, motherhood is filled with a lot of mundane tasks and moments that can quickly and easily dull the sparkle of it all, no matter how many times we are told we are doing the most important work we can be doing.  Yet Mary, even through the monotonous moments that must have existed, maintained not only her testimony of her calling, but also her testimony of her Son.  I think, though only in part, this can be attributed to Mary’s strong sense of the sacred.

The scriptures don’t really tell us a whole lot about her, but in Luke we are told that, after the angels appeared to the shepherds, the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see the babe in the manger and, after seeing Him, “they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child,” yet Mary, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”  So while the shepherds ran around sharing the sacred experiences they had just had, Mary kept her sacred experiences and knowledge to herself and pondered them in her heart.

Looking at Luke 2, verses 17-19, we read:

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

From the perspective of a writer, I think it is interesting that we are told first how the shepherds reacted, next how those that heard the shepherds reacted, and finally how Mary reacted.  The juxtaposition of the first two reactions with the third, that of Mary, emphasizes her sense of the sacred.

Now, I’m not saying the shepherds didn’t have some fantastic news to share.  I’m not even saying that they weren’t supposed to share it.  But I’m also not saying that they were.  The scriptures don’t really clarify that one way or the other as far as I can tell.  Regardless, as I read these verses, I get a picture in my mind of the shepherds eagerly saying things like, “Guess what I saw!” and “Have you heard?  Well, let me tell you . . .” as people are wont to do when they have witnessed something spectacular.  And from there, I imagine the news might have spread pretty quickly in a “Well, my cousin’s wife’s brother told my next door neighbor who told me” kind of fashion.  Then, in stark contrast, there is Mary keeping all of these things and pondering them in her heart.  She could have been saying to every shepherd and wise man that came along,  “Look!  See my baby? He is the literal son of God.  Yeah, that’s right, I gave birth to the son of God.”  But instead, she heard what the angels had told the shepherds and “kept all these things and pondered theme in her heart.”  I can only imagine that she was thinking about what the angels had said in the context of what the angel Gabriel had told her, and she knew that all of it was sacred.

Later in that same chapter of Luke, Christ was 12 years old, and his parents had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem before realizing he wasn’t with them somewhere in their company of fellow travelers, so they went back to find Him and Mary said, essentially, “Why did you do this?  We were so worried!” We know the reply, “How is it that ye sought me?  Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (v.49).  The very next verse tells us, “they understood not the saying which he spake unto them,” but instead of a typical, “don’t talk back to me, young man,” Mary, once again, “kept all these sayings in her heart” (v. 51).

So, again, though the scriptures don’t tell us a whole, whole lot about Mary, I think we can safely infer that she was a thoughtful woman with a strong sense of the sacred.

In his 2004 CES broadcast address, A Sense of the Sacred, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in part, “A sense of the sacred should lead us to act . . . with reverence . . .”  Can we question whether or not Mary acted with reverence where her son was concerned?  I don’t think so.  Elder Christofferson also said, “. . . those who do not appreciate holy things will lose them.  Absent a feeling of reverence, they will grow increasingly casual in attitude and conduct.”  As we see later in the Savior’s adult life, Mary still appreciated the holiness of her son, she still had reverence for Him as the Savior, the Savior of mankind as well as the Savior of a wedding feast, as she said, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Way back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, in 2003, I was asked to participate in a skit in which various sisters of my ward were asked to deliver monologue testimonies of Christ as if they were a woman from the scriptures or church history.  A few years back we did this same Testimonies of Christ dinner theater activity for our Relief Society here in Canada South, so this may be familiar to some of you.  Anyway, I was asked to portray Mary, the mother of Christ.  Additionally, I was asked to write my own part, as the script had not yet been finished.  It was a daunting, humbling, and moving experience for me that involved a lot of scripture reading and re-reading, pondering, and praying, so I hope it is not inappropriate to end my remarks today by sharing with you what might have been Mary’s testimony:

Mary:  A Mother’s Testimony

Mine was the unparalleled privilege of bearing the Son of God and watching over Him as he increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.  I would not have chosen to bring Him, or any child, into this world in such surroundings as I did — a stable, a manger; but looking back, I understand that He who is greatest among us all had to descend beneath us all in order to complete His mission, and so this was a fitting beginning to His mortal life.

Mine was a unique role as I was His mother, responsible for his care and upbringing; and He was and is my God, responsible for my eternal welfare.

I watched Him turn water to wine, heal the sick, bless the children, and raise the dead.  No other mother can possibly know the profound joy I knew in the presence of my son.  Yet, through it all, the words of Simeon the prophet came to my mind, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”

As we fled Egypt to escape the slaughter ordered by King Herod, I thought perhaps I was understanding Simeon’s prophecy.  Then, as we had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem only to find my son was missing, I felt sure a sword was piercing my soul.  Finally, I knew I understood his prophecy as I watched my tortured son dying on the cross.

No mother will know the pain I knew, for I was not merely watching the agony of my son, I was watching the agony of the Son of God — agony that I knew was being suffered on my behalf, and even on behalf of those who were inflicting it.  Even as God in Heaven left Him to suffer His final agonizing mortal moments alone, I, his mother, stood helplessly watching, and a sword truly pierced my soul.

What do I think of Christ?  He is the son of my flesh, the brother of my spirit, the father of my world and the author of my salvation.  He is the son of the Living God.  He paid the price for my sins, and your sins.  He overcame death for us all.  It is by Him and through Him that we can reach our full eternal potential and return to live with our Father in Heaven.

I hope this is an at least somewhat accurate portrayal of Mary’s testimony.  I can say with certainty that it is my testimony.  I am so thankful for Mary and other faithful women who have come before us and set the unshakable example: Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

 

 

Prayer and Politics

Because my trusty Suburban is too old to have satellite radio, I was flipping through stations the other day as Spuds and I were making the hour-long trek home from Costco.  In the midst of this flipping, I heard a soothing male voice talking about hurricane Harvey, so I stopped (station flipping, that is, not the car).  I like soothing voices, especially soothing voices on the radio.  The soothing voice very quickly transitioned from talking about the possible weather repercussions of the hurricane to talking about President Trump pledging to donate one million dollars of his own personal stash to hurricane relief efforts.

The soothing voice went on to say something to the effect of, “I really respect the president for that.  I don’t know how anyone could not respect that act.”

That got my attention because, even thought I am no fan of Donald Trump as a “reality” television host, President of the United States, or pretty much anything else, it still seems pretty obvious to me that the media are showing their bias like a two-year-old in a sun dress shows her underwear — with gleeful reckless abandon and completely unaware.  So to hear the words “I respect the president” spoken over the airwaves was a bit of a surprise.  The soothing voice had my attention.

Next it started talking about how Governor Abbott had issued an official proclamation calling for a day of prayer in Texas, and how this was a positive step, and I was left driving down the road thinking, “Whoa!  I have stumbled into the Twilight Zone!  Or, wait, maybe I’ve stumbled across a Christian radio station.”

Then the soothing Christian radio station voice read the entire proclamation word for word, clear to the end where it says:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GREG ABBOTT, Governor of Texas, pursuant to the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim Sunday, September 3, 2017, as a Day of Prayer in Texas.  I urge Texans of all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds to offer prayers on that day for the safety of our first responders, public safety officers, and military personnel, healing of individuals, rebuilding of communities and the restoration of the entire region struck by this disaster.

I was so moved by this.  I was moved by the inclusion of everyone and everything, all faiths, the victims and the rescuers, the here and now and the work to be done in the future.  I was moved that a government official would throw political correctness to the wind and urge his constituents to turn to their God.

And then the soothing voice proclaimed in its soothing manner, “Now, as a Christian, I can’t agree with the part about all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds.  As a Christian, I know there is only one God of the Universe, so I can’t support urging others to pray to their false gods.  There is only one God we should be praying to.”  I’m paraphrasing, since I couldn’t drive and write down direct quotes that I never ever expected to hear, but that was the general gist of what he was saying when I changed. the. station.

I didn’t want Spuds to think that we should scoff at the prayers of others.

Which brand of Christianity, I wondered, does the soothing voice practice.  Is he Methodist?  Presbyterian?  Baptist?  Evangelical?  Pentecostal?  Catholic?  Don’t they all disagree, at least a little bit, about who and what God is?  So are they really praying to the same God?  Does he also scoff at the prayers of his fellow-but-different Christians?  I suppose he would scoff at my non-mainstream-Christian prayers.

I can’t speak for the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor can I speak for other members of my church, but here is what I personally believe about prayer and praying, regardless of your faith and religious tradition or background:

If you believe there is a God, if you approach that God with sincerity and faith in your heart and you humbly pray your righteous desires to that God, the God of the Universe (to directly quote the soothing voice) will hear you.  I don’t care what you or I or anyone else calls that God, and I don’t care what you or I or anyone else knows or thinks we know about that God. If you are approaching your version of God as God, He will hear your prayers, because He knows you, and He knows you are putting your faith and trust in Him and appealing to Him, and He loves you regardless of what your level of understanding of Him is or isn’t.  If you’re sincerely praying then you’re sincerely trying to know Him, too, and that counts for a whole heck of an awful lot.

What parent among us hasn’t heard a child’s voice call the word, “Mom!” or “Dad!” only to turn around to respond and discover that it’s not our child, and it’s not us to whom they are calling?  I believe it is kind of like that with God, except that we are the children doing the calling and He is the parent to whom we are calling, always, because we are all His. Maybe we are calling to a parent who we don’t fully know or understand, maybe we are calling to a parent about whom we have some pretty big misunderstandings, but God hears us anyway, because He is THE parent.  There is no one else.

Unless you’re a satanist or something, but I think I pretty much excluded you in the above paragraphs anyway.  You know you’re not praying to God at that point.  Run along now.  I hear Hot Topic is having a sale.

Bottom line:  If I am, or a loved one is, ever involved in a crisis, either as a victim or a rescuer, I welcome your prayers on my behalf, on behalf of my loved ones, on behalf of my community.  If you believe there is a God, if you believe He can help us put the pieces of shattered lives, homes, and communities back together, then I welcome and appreciate your prayers.  I suspect there is a large part of Houston that welcomes your prayers as well.  I am sorry there are those who don’t.  Please know they don’t represent all of us, no matter what you hear over the airwaves after a bout of channel flipping.

Tewt the Christian Newt wishes you well (and, admittedly, has made one or two purchases at Hot Topic — but he got in and out as fast as he could).

 

 

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should, Or: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about that non-denominational pastor in Florida who is planning a Quran burning event.  If you haven’t, just Google “Quran burning” and you’ll find all sorts of articles about it.

All I can say is, “Really???”

I just don’t get people.  Does this man have a Constitutional right to burn the Quran?  Sure.  But is doing so the right thing?  Yeah, not so much.  It’s rather tacky, and what purpose does it serve?  It’s not like he’s going to rid the world of the Quran, so what does he think he’s accomplishing?  (For the record, I don’t think anybody should be trying to rid the world of the Quran).  He’s just thumbing his nose at Islam, and, quite frankly, I don’t think anyone with an I’m-sticking-my-tongue-out-at-you mentality should be leading a congregation.  But that’s just my opinion.  And you know, if he’d just held a quiet little book burning with his congregation?  Whatever.  But the fact that he seems to have made sure the media caught wind of it?  Really reinforces the idea that he’s being rude just for the sake of being rude.

I feel almost the same way about the whole mosque/community center/whatever-you-want-to-call-it at/near Ground Zero.  Do they have a right to build it?  Sure.  But is it the right thing to do?  Maybe not, given how offensive it is to so many people.  Are they purposely thumbing their Islamic noses at New York City and the United States in general?  I don’t know.  It is certainly possible they are.  I think it is equally possible they aren’t.  If they are, shame on them – it makes them no better than Pastor Whatthehellishethinking, even worse.  But if they aren’t?  Well, I’d say shame on America except I can understand why people would be a little wary at this point.  Unfortunately.

However, as much as I can sympathize with those who don’t want a mosque/Islamic community center/whatever-you-want-to-call-it at/near Ground Zero, I can’t add my voice to the opposition.  Likewise, as idiotic as I think it is for Pastor Whatthehellishethinking to have a big Quran burning, I like to think I would die defending the right of all Americans to burn whatever book they want (and, for the record, I find book burning, in general, to be a rather sophomoric practice).

Both cases are about the First Amendment, and I am all for the First Amendment.  The problem inherent in such freedoms, however, are that they leave stupid misguided people free to do stupid poorly thought out things; but that is something we have to be willing to live with if we want to retain our freedoms.

As much as I might think the religious leaders (using that term so loosely in the case of the Fla. guy) in both of the aforementioned situations should rethink their plans, I can’t attack them or their freedom to carry out said plans.

However, no matter how misguided you or I or anybody else may think their plans may be, that does not justify anger and violence and hatred from anyone.  If you are opposed to the mosque/community center/whatever it is in New York or the book burning in Florida, then by all means feel free to protest.  It is your right.  And if you want to be angry and hate-filled and violent, that is also your right, it is your choice.  But if you stoop to that?  If you make that choice?  If you protest or retaliate angrily or violently to the book burning or the building?  Then you are no better than the people you are protesting, and are, in fact, possibly worse.

(Let me be clear:  I’m not saying it is wrong to protest or speak out.  I am saying it is wrong to do so angrily or violently.  Especially violently.)

The book burning isn’t going to hurt anyone.  It will offend people who choose to be offended, but it isn’t going to inflict any physical or emotional harm.  The same goes for the building in NYC, assuming that the idea of it being a radical, militant training center is erroneous (and I’m just not going to take a side on that one because I. don’t. know.).

Yes, we have a right to be angry and violent, but is it the right thing to do?  Yeah, not so much.

I know a bit about angry, violent people and religious intolerance.  It never goes well.

I owe my faith to people who were beaten, tarred and feathered, raped and killed by angry mobs.  I owe the things I love most about my life to people who were the objects of a government issued extermination order, who were driven from state to state, forced to leave their towns and homes to cross the continent on foot through horrible weather and deplorable conditions.  They buried spouses, children and babies along the way so that they could find a place where they could worship unmolested – a place where they could grow and thrive as a religious community so that they could eventually share their beliefs with others.

Really, did you think the Mormons went to Utah just for the skiing?

And?  I know what it is like to have people lump my specific religion in with its various permutations and transmutations, to lump my Christianity in with people like Pastor Whatthehellishethinking, to have someone wave a knife in my face* as he angrily told me I am not a Christian, to have a relative ask if the ring my husband wears on his right hand is his other wedding ring from his other wife (and, by the way, where’s he hiding her anyway?), to have a protestant pastor tell my then-15-year-old sister she needed to get out of her church or she would go to hell, to be told that I am a member of a cult, etc. etc.

Sometimes I just want to stand at the top of the world and yell, “GET OVER IT!”

You worship the way you want to, you worship the way you want to, you worship the way you want to, you don’t worship at all if you don’t want to, and I’ll worship the way I want to.  And in the process, everybody just take a step back.  Stop using other people’s differences of opinion or faith, other people’s ignorance or stupidity, as justifications for your own anger, rudeness, violence or poorly thought out plans.  You are gauche. 

The fact of the matter is, if people would take the time to actually study different religions (which I had to do a bit of in college, you know, at Brigham Young University) (and just for clarification:  a Sunday School class in which your pastor/preacher/whatever tells you all about the evils of a different religion or sect does not actually count as studying that religion or sect) . . . where was I?  Oh, yes.  If people would take time to actually study different religions and read their various holy books, you would find that we all have quite a lot in common (and I’m not just talking Christian denominations).  If we would choose to focus on our similarities rather than obsess over our differences, what a much better place this world would be.

And George, if you’re out there . . .

*In his defense, we were working at an ice cream shop making banana splits.  I was scooping the ice cream and he was cutting the bananas, hence the knife.  However, that obviously doesn’t justify him pointing the knife towards my face and wagging it around as he informed me I am not a Christian.

Will They Resurrect It By Easter?

Well, it’s all over the news this morning.  I mean, if you consider several southwestern Ohio Facebook friends to be purveyors of the news (and of course I do), then it is all over the news.

Touchdown Jesus, Big Butter Jesus, Drowning Jesus, whatever you want to call him, is gone.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this tutorial video):

 

Last night Big Butter Jesus was struck by lightning. 

I am not even making that up.

Reports are pretty clear that he burned rather than melted.

In a Springfield News-Sun article, one gawker who came out to watch Jesus burn was reported as saying,

“It sent goosebumps through my whole body because I am a believer.  Of all the things that could have been struck, I just think that that would be protected. … It’s something that’s not supposed to happen, Jesus burning.  I had to see it with my own eyes.”

Dear Gawker:  That wasn’t really Jesus burning.  It was a statue.

I thought his reaction was interesting because, you see, I, too, am a believer.  I believe in lots of things, like phonics and gravity, wind and magnetism, and, yes, Jesus.  And?  Being a believer?  My first thought years and years ago was, “Who builds a ginormous statue of Jesus that makes it look like He is drowning in a pond?  Everybody knows Jesus walked on water.”

So when I awoke today to the flurry of Facebook “R.I.P. Big Butter Jesus” messages, my reaction was sheer and utter surprise that it took this long for that thing to be struck by lightening.

Honestly, it was something like six stories high (not making that up) and framed in steel, so it was pretty much one, big faux oleo lightning rod (two if you count each arm as its own separate rod).

Rest in peace, Touchdown Jesus, and may that church use whatever insurance money they get from your loss to help succor the weak, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give hope to the downtrodden and strengthen the feeble knees.  Because then your existence will have been good for more than a laugh.

THIS JUST IN:

Edited to add some eyewitness video

Family Can be Together Forever

Kelli is having an interesting discussion on her blog right now about the term “forever family” as it relates to adoption.  Is it appropriate?  Is it inappropriate?  Does it diminish the birth family?  I threw my two cents into the conversation (and if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you can easily figure out what I think: it’s fine, and as soon as someone decides it isn’t fine and comes up with a “more respectful” term, then somebody else will decide that one isn’t fine, and on and on the cycle of adoption PC language will go (though that isn’t the comment I left) ).

No, the comment I left is something to the effect that “forever family” implies a permanence which our adopted children didn’t have before coming to us.  “Forever family” helps them understand that we are the last stop, the end of the line.  There will be no new caregivers, no new moms or dads.  We are here, they are here, this is it. 

And believe me from my experiences with my almost five-year-old son who we adopted at nine months:  adopted kiddos need to understand that.  Yes, they will all deal with it differently, and I suspect my second son won’t struggle with it all as much as my first son (though I could be totally wrong), but I have watched my oldest little guy cry as he wondered aloud why his birth mother and foster mother didn’t keep him.

They need to understand the permanence and love that we, as their parents, have for them.

Does that mean I think you have to walk around talking about your “forever family”?  No.  While I will defend the use of that term, it isn’t one I actually use in regular conversation.

And you want to know why?

Besides the fact that we don’t constantly bring up “adoption stuff” in regular conversation?

Because what we do talk about, almost on a daily basis, is our eternal family, and it has nothing to do with adoption.

What is the difference, you ask, between “forever family” and “eternal family”?

“Forever family” is a nice term that adoptive parents use to help their children understand that they will always be a family, nobody is going to pass the child on to new parents, there will be no going back to live in the orphanage, whatever.  It is a term that conveys permanence here and now, but I don’t know how many people actually believe that their family can be, truly, forever.  Do you?  Maybe you do.  I hope you do.

Eternal families are real.  Eternal families are God’s plan.  He didn’t send us here to live in families only to have us forever separated by death.  We really can be a family forever.

Gordon B. Hinckley, the last president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “Can you conceive of eternal life without eternal love?”

I can’t.  It doesn’t make sense to me.

Eternal love, eternal marriage, eternal families are, “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”

I know that my family can be together forever.  For real.  It isn’t just a platitude we use to bring comfort to our adopted children.  It isn’t a subjective term that we find up for debate.  It is a reality that we have been talking about with our older children since before adoption ever touched our lives.  And that reality?  Does bring great comfort to my son who is old enough to have questions and struggles about his adoption.

So, where does that leave my sons’ birth families?  I know some of you are wondering that.  If I am laying claim to my children for eternity, does that not diminish the birth parents?

No.

I believe in a loving Heavenly Father who is the creator of us all.  As such, we are all brothers and sisters, all family.  If God intends for us to be together as eternal families (parents, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on), and He does, then that means that, somehow, we can also be connected to my sons’ birthparents.  Extended eternal family, if you will.

I hope, if they want to, that my sons will have the opportunity to meet one or both of their birth parents in this lifetime.  I know they will in the next.

In the meantime, we talk regularly about being an eternal family, about serving each other and those outside our family, about being kind and loving, about setting specific goals to be the kind of people we’d all actually want to be with for eternity, because, you know, eternity is a very. long. time.

I am so grateful to know that we can all go through it together.