Thursday, October 10, 2013

Priesthood and the Family

At the beginning of the school year, I gave my kids a priesthood blessing. It's a tradition I pass on from my father, who would place his hands on my head every September to bless me to be guided by the Holy Ghost during the school year. I am grateful for those blessings. They helped me deal with untold struggles through those years, providing strength for things that my dad did not even know about, but was guided by revelation to pronounce upon my head.

My daughter goes to Catholic School, and it's been a great experience. At the beginning of the school year, her grade 1 class were told they would go to Mass and receive a back to school blessing from the priest, where, according to my daughter, he gently touches each child on the head with holy water. I have tried my best to teach respect for other beliefs, and I have been able to point out doctrine we have in common, and clarify areas where we differ. She enjoys learning and participating in their teachings. But this time, my daughter refused to participate, and I didn't make her. Instead, I had a chance to talk to her about the priesthood. The priest has the authority to do many good things to inspire faith, I told her, but he does not have the authority to bless her. I have it, I said. I am her father and I hold the priesthood. The Catholic Priest is trying his best to emulate the blessing I gave her already, but he does not have that authority.

Jacob Blessing His Sons
There have been voices criticizing the Church's exclusionary practices of the priesthood to women. Why don't women have it? Why can't a women administer a priesthood blessing? It's definitely a discussion worth having, and I respect the thoughts on both sides of the argument. But putting gender aside for a moment, I find it remarkable that I belong to a church that does something astounding, something absolutely revolutionary. This church distributes its priesthood authority and power freely to ordinary fathers like me. There is no intermediary clergy that I go to in order to bless my family. So long as I am worthy, I am expected to baptize and confirm and ordain and bless and interview and minister to my own children. The church is set up to support me in that role, but it does not supplant me. There is no other church that does that. I am grateful for a church that places its priesthood power directly in the home.

Consider this recent quote from President Boyd K Packer:
We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be. (Packer, The Power of the Priesthood, April 2010).
The priesthood is not about church ecclesiastics, not really--bishops and deacons and stake presidents and so forth. Men and boys do administer ordinances and are placed in callings that oversee those ordinances (for reasons I do not fully comprehend yet), but the priesthood is not focused within a Bishop's office or an Apostle's ministry. Priesthood organization, the way we consider it in the church in terms of quorums and presidencies and so forth, exists to empower a family.
“The ultimate end of all activity in the Church is to see a husband and his wife and their children happy at home, protected by the principles and laws of the gospel, sealed safely in the covenants of the everlasting priesthood” (Boyd K Packer, April 2012 Conference).
Many of us do not have the ideal family situation of "a husband and his wife and their children happy at home," often through no fault of our own. Sometimes husbands are unworthy or are not members, or absent altogether through death or divorce. Sometimes a person does not marry. Sometimes a couple has no children of their own to bless. How can they receive the full blessings of the priesthood? The Church and its members, in a unified team of both men and women, are expected to serve and love and minister to them, to support them and provide the blessings of the priesthood to any who desire to receive them:  "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Members sometimes fail in their responsibility, but sometimes we succeed, and always we are urged over and over again by our leaders to keep trying, to reach out and serve and lift and love unconditionally.

Sometimes there is pain in belonging to a church that teaches an ideal when one does not fit that ideal. I know because I have felt it. But in spite of the pain of mortal shortcomings and disappointment, I have found peace and power in the atonement. I have found strength in the covenants of the gospel, because though we board the ark two-by-two, the Savior blesses us one by one. The priesthood of God opens the door to the atonement of Christ to heal all wounds. The Church of Jesus Christ and its priesthood is a stepping stone--a necessary one, but only a stepping stone--to the salvation of an individual in the family of Christ.
There might be wards and stakes in heaven—I don’t know anything about them—and there may well be some other organization that we don’t know much about. But what we do know will exist in heaven is families. And most of anything that has been revealed about afterlife and our eternal life, our celestial life, focuses on family organization, and thus the high principles of the temple, the covenants we make there. (Elder Holland, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting 2008)
I am grateful for the priesthood of God in my home, that I can partake, with my wife, in God's power to do his work--"to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life" of three of his children. I look forward to understanding better the work of my Heavenly Parents as I try my best to emulate the patterns they reveal through the prophets.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Child Is This?

Welcome to the world, Jack.


I am humbled--no, baffled, really--by the creation of a human being. It is so unreal. You hold this squirming, squishy thing and it squints its eyes at you and you look into them in bewilderment and can only ask questions:  "Who are you, anyway? Where did you come from? And what will you become?" And then you realize that this is a person, not just a combination of you and your wife, but a being completely separate and distinct from either of you. He is an individual with his own personality, his own agency, his own spirit, his own future.

Elder Holland says, 
"There are those special moments in your lives when the other, more formal ordinances of the gospel--the sacraments, if you will--allow you to feel the grace and grandeur of God's power...But I know of nothing so earth-shatteringly powerful and yet so universally and unstintingly given to us as the God-given power...to create a human body, that wonder of all wonders, a genetically and spiritually unique being never seen before in the history of the world and never to be duplicated again in all the ages of eternity--a child, your child--with eyes and ears and fingers and toes and a future of unspeakable grandeur." (Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments, BYU Address January 1988)
This concept of birth as a sacrament--a union with God to participate with Him in his work and glory, the creation and eternal progress of his children--baffles me more than just a little.

There is so much I still do not understand about the Plan of Life, but my new son has taught me, again, of my little pilgrimage down from heaven to this imperfect world, and reminds me of the grace that can transform imperfection into strength. Jack's birth also reminds me of the purpose of family in the Plan of Life--that "marriage between a man and a woman is essential to His eternal plan" (The Family:  A Proclamation to the World) and that I have an overwhelming responsibility to this child that I have helped bring into the world.

To be a father--that is one of the most surprising and miraculous gifts I have ever been given. I only hope I am up to the task. I hope that I am able to pass on the things I have learned, and spare him the mistakes I have made. I hope that I can point him to his Savior, so that he can experience not just a birth, but a rebirth, a real and spiritual conversion; that I can give him the chance of a round-trip ticket back into the presence of his Heavenly Father.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Book of Mormon and the Test

I recently finished reading The Book of Mormon and was, once again, blown away by its spiritual depth, its complexity, its doctrinal fullness, and its personal voice to me. Above all, I felt its spirit. It teaches about the atonement in simple and beautiful language. It teaches charity, forgiveness, kindness, helping the poor, humility, obedience, and a lot more.

Ezra Taft Benson said:
Once we realize how the Lord feels about this book, it should not surprise us that He also gives us solemn warnings about how we receive it. After indicating that those who receive the Book of Mormon with faith, working righteousness, will receive a crown of eternal glory (D&C 20:14), the Lord follows with this warning:  "But those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation" (D&C 20:15)...The Lord warned the Saints that they are not to trifle with sacred things. Surely the Book of Mormon is a sacred thing, and yet many trifle with it, or in other words, take it lightly, treat it as though it is of little importance. (The Book of Mormon--the Keystone of Our Religion, October 1986 Conference)
I am often surprised by how easily the Book of Mormon is discountedaccounts of looking through a hat here, DNA of Native Americans there, etc.without ever addressing the weight of the book itself. More often than not, though, it is not something brought up in a web search that causes a lack of faithjust a general casual or lukewarm feeling toward it. "It's pretty okay, but..." Here's Hugh Nibley:
The Book of Mormon is a colossal structure. Considered purely as fiction, it is a performance without parallel. What other volume can approach this wealth of detail and tight-woven complexity, this factual precision combined with simple open lucidity...But this terse, compact religious history of a thousand years is something utterly beyond the scope of creative writing...One stands aghast at the presumption of those journalists, professors, and hack-writers who through the years have made merry over the quaint language and unfamiliar subject matter of the Book of Mormon while choosing to ignore its unparalleled scope and mastery. One is amazed by the easy effrontery of those who still assure us that anyone with a little time on his hands and an open Bible at his elbow could produce a Book of Mormon. (Since Cumorah, chapter 6, par. 4,19)
But The Book of Mormon does not provide proof to the unbeliever, and without faith it remains unremarkable. There will always unanswered questions, about Native American ancestry or method of translation or whatever, for both the believer and the doubter; I almost think it is intended to be that wayas with other principles, faith is built into the test to attract the honest, humble followers of Christ. Nephi explains the test of the Book of Mormon:
Hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach men that they should do good.
And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye--for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day. (2 Nephi 33:10-11)
A testimony of Christ and a testimony of the Book of Mormon build on each other, because the Book contains his words, and thus the Book of Mormon establishes his work: the gathering of Israel, the spread of truth, and the work of salvation through the Church of Jesus Christ.

I am quite certain that I could not believe in this Church and all its outrageous claims if it were not for the Book of Mormon.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Family History Spotlight: The Fleetwoods

My great great great great grandfather was Thomas Robinson Fleetwood, the son of James Fleetwood and Selina Stork. He was born in Cheshire near Northwich. T.R. Fleetwood came over to New Brunswick sometime between 1854 and 1856 and settled in Saint John.

I don't know where the "Robinson" part of his name came from, since no one in the family was Robinson, and the name doesn't show up until after he moved to Canada, but coincidentally he did have a brother-in-law named Thomas Robinson who married his sister Ellen. Robinson may have been an adopted middle name out of friendship or respect. Who knows.

Ellen Jane Fleetwood Bissett
Thomas Robinson Fleetwood moved to Staffordshire as a young adult where he married my gggggrandmother, Elizabeth Millward in 1845 at Tipton, Staffordshire. They had four children in England:  Ellen, Sarah Eliza, John, and James, born in Yorkshire and Kent before they finally immigrated to Canada.

The oldest, Ellen Jane, married my ggggrandfather, George Whittaker James Bissett, a handsome sea captain from Saint John.

After moving to Canada, Thomas R and Elizabeth had three more
Mary Lodge. (Photo compliments
of Kathy Sheehan)
daughters, Elizabeth, Emma Louise, and Clara Flavilla. Four years after their youngest daughter was born, Elizabeth died in 1866, leaving Thomas Robinson a widower with six children to take care of. He remarried Mary Lodge in 1868 and they had two more children together, Annie Ledia in 1872 and Edward Jewett in 1873. The family moved from Saint John to Moncton, NB sometime before 1881. Census indicates the family was Methodist and Thomas Robinson was a machinist/engineer.

I worked on the family of James Fleetwood and Selina Stork, Thomas Robinson's parents, and was very surprised to trace family members living in Lethbridge, Alberta in the 1880s. Yes, Lethbridge of all places, where I live. A surprise to me since the Bissetts and Fleetwoods were all in New Brunswick until my great grandfather Aubrey Allison Bissett came over to Alberta working on the trains in the early 1920s.

Original Fleetwood school in Lethbridge
Before it was torn down in 1970
John Henry (Harry) Fleetwood, a nephew to Thomas Robinson Fleetwood and a few times removed cousin to me, came over to Lethbridge in 1885ish (his father James, my great uncle came later as well) to work with coal, and he ended up becoming very involved in civic affairs, especially establishing schools in town. I believe he was superintendent of education or something like that. I need to go over to the Galt Museum and learn more about him, but I do know that he was known as "the father of Lethbridge Schools" (see here) and the old Fleetwood school, established in 1911 (which has since been rebuilt and now currently known as Fleetwood-Bawden), was named after him.

Funny thing is? My own grandfather attended that school, not ever knowing that it was named after his cousin, or that there were ever any Bissett relatives living in the city. So the moral of the story, kids, is to do your genealogy! Your school may have been named after your cousin.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Appendages

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated,

The Atonement of the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh is the crucial foundation upon which all Christian doctrine rests and the greatest expression of divine love this world has ever been given. Its importance in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cannot be overstated. Every other principle, commandment, and virtue of the restored gospel draws its significance from this pivotal event.” (The Atonement of Jesus Christ, March 2008 Ensign)

When the atonement is emphasized first, then all other pieces of testimony should find correct context and function properly. In the words of Joseph Smith,

“the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and the Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)

A person can fixate on some appendage or another in the gospel, an arm or a leg or finger, but without exercising faith in the Savior’s grace, such appendages become only lifeless, disconnected limbs used to fumble around in the dark with. When our understanding of the gospel is in proper context with the grace of Jesus Christ, every limb and finger work together to form a powerful and complete organism of faith.

In the Book of Mormon, the brother of Jared came to the Lord for him to touch stones so that they could give light on his voyage across the sea, and he saw the finger of the Lord and "fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear...and the Lord said unto him:  Arise, why hast thou fallen?
"And he said unto the Lord:  I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood.
"And the Lord said unto him...Sawest thou more than this?
"And he answered:  Nay, Lord, show thyself unto me." (Ether 3:6-10)
On our dark voyage to the promised land, we bring our dull and lifeless stones of faith to Christ and ask him to touch them and give them light. It is not just the finger that lights the stones, some appendage of the gospel, but Christ, all of him; his atonement and his power. When we exercise faith in the atonement of Christ, our stones will shine brightly. Christ will illuminate our road of doubt, and we shall one day receive Christ, all of him, not just his finger, and we will "behold him within the veil" (Ether 3:19) and will finally be home.

The atonement is not just a principle to be understood, but a power to be used. We choose for ourselves how much, or to what degree, we will partake in Christ’s sacrifice. We accept and use the atonement when we live his teachings. There are many alternatives for how we may lightly use the gift of the atonement, but there is only one path to receive it fully, for "strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein" (3 Ne. 27:33).

In the end, we can only become true latter-day “saints through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mos. 3:19).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Branches

One of my favorite scriptures about Jesus Christ is John 15:5:

I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

It’s a radical and controversial claim. Certainly we can imagine plenty of people doing plenty of good without ever believing in or following Christ. However, Jesus Christ is here declaring, without reservations, that unless a person abide in Him, anything one does, as magnanimous or kind or heart-warming as it may be, is nothing. "You cannot enter in at the strait gate...by your dead works. (D&C 22:2)

Of course a person, any person, will be duly rewarded for his good works, and one does not need to accept Christ in this life in order to receive some reward. But without Him, at best our acts are only as temporary as the earth, which has an end. Moses says, "Now I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed." (Moses 1:10) Only Jesus can offer us more than nothing, and he does so by connecting us to him.

The gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is meant to connect us to Christ. We live in an age that is very concerned with the idea of being connected:  we connect to the internet, connect to facebook, to our iphones; we try to connect to people, ideas, social movements, news. But for all our hours spent connected to this world, there are those quiet moments when we look inside ourselves and feel a spiritual disconnection in our souls, a yearning for the presence of God.

Try yoga. Go to India. Eat really decadent ice cream while watching a sunrise. They could offer you some very real peace in body and mind. But overcoming the spiritual disconnection that is part of our existence on earth requires something much more extreme, something that has transcended and triumphed over every possible malady in this world: the resurrection and atonement of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Still Small Voice

The months before I left on my mission, I felt confused and frustrated. I had been through a rough year away from home, and I doubted my faith. My mission papers were in and I was waiting for my call, but at that time I did not want to go.

The internet was a fairly new thing then (crazy, I know), and during the past year I had been studying and reading and questioning online. I felt unsettled. It was not that I heard anything new--my Dad had always talked freely about the big issues of the Church with us--but as I seriously considered the arguments, embracing the possibility of doubt that combined with my own personal concerns, I felt lost. There was an unending supply, page upon page of articles and blogs and websites and reasons why my spiritual feelings and knowledge were delusional.  It made my beloved, tried and tested faith seem unreasonable somehow.

I remember at first that it was almost liberating to hear and read things that challenged my faith. I always loved the intellectual side of the gospel, and I liked to see how my faith stood up to argument. After a while, though, I found myself mulling over my doubts more than my faith, and the hope that had buoyed me up so much, all of that optimism that had grown up within me, had waned to almost nothing. As I waited for my mission call, I was to the level of crisis, coupled with other circumstances that made me doubt seriously my future as a member of the church.

One day in early summer, I drove several miles to a lake to contemplate how to eliminate the struggle. Death seemed like a possible option, but running away sounded nice too. Bear in mind that I am occasionally prone to melodrama and so, sitting alone in my car, I breathed out my ultimatum in a storm of anger and frustration to God, yelling about promises unfulfilled, and faith unrewarded:  I wanted answers, or else I would die. I swore. I remember this experience vividly. After I sat for about an hour in my car in an exhausted stupor, staring at the waves through my tears, there came a feeling of peace and love and understanding that crept up on me gently. It was the Holy Ghost, that quiet comforter, and He filled me with love and told me to return home. I knew at that moment that I was not alone, that He knew me, and that I was where he wanted me to be. I drove back with a feeling of peace about my future in The Church that has never since left me for very long. When I walked in the door, my mission call was lying on the kitchen table. I was able to accept it.

Elijah
After Elijah the prophet had fled for his life, leaving behind his calling to preach, he “went a day’s journey into the wilderness…and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). After he had been fed and watered by the Lord for forty days living in a cave, the Lord said, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” and He commanded Elijah to

     "stand upon the mountain before the Lord. And behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

     And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice" (Kings 19:9-12).

I believe that after all the storms of discussion and frustration and studying and searching, and all the social and political movements and jabbering unrest that I participated in and went through, after all of that, there came to me the quiet voice of truth, spiritual truth, the kind that nourishes and uplifts the soul and allowed me to continue on in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord was not in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake. We all will experience those kinds of moments in our journey of faith, and they can be a powerful and startling display. But after it all, if we are still around to listen, we will hear that quiet voice of the Lord that is calling us back down, to continue on in our work to build the Kingdom of God.

We can and should ask questions and find out information about any sort of troubling issue. I still have plenty. The world excels at providing me with more and more questions, heaps and piles of thousands of complicated, twisted questions, but when it comes to matters of faith, it cannot give me the answers. And when times come for me to evaluate my faith, like Elijah I can imagine the Lord whispering to me, "What doest thou here, Christopher?" And then, in quiet moments, I can stand on the mountain and for yet another time compare the wind, the earthquake, the fire (and the Lord was not in them) to the still small voice of revelation.

Like Joseph Smith, we must find answers in this "war of words and tumult of opinions." Like him, my mind has at times been "greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant" (JSH 1:8-10) but while Joseph Smith listened well and weighed all the arguments, he did not stop there. He knew that the answers lay beyond the storm of words and reasoning of men, and so he retired to a grove of trees in humility and faith, seeking the will of God, and there he received truth directly.

Only God has ever filled my hunger for simple, real, spiritual sustenance. He answers my prayers. He always has. That has been the singular, most amazing miracle of my life. It may take time, and the process is often gradual, but when I go to him with my questions, quietly waiting, His truth has filled me up, and I can feel His promise for a time of greater understanding, when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And Thou Shalt Be Like a Watered Garden

I am really enjoying my garden. I feel just a bit of a thrill whenever I see something green coming out of the ground. Mostly it's just weeds. But whatever it is, it is so magical, so unexpected. How does a seed contain all those leaves, those buds, all that growth? I have a few flower beds and I have been out there almost every morning, puttering mostly. Playing around with the soil, pulling up crabgrass, waiting for the danger of the infamously late Canadian frost to finally be over so I can really get serious about plants.

I planted tulip bulbs last fall. Thinking about them all winter long, lost in the frozen yard, I didn't actually believe they would grow at first. I had never done it before, and it was like burying a stone. When early spring came, I peered over the beds and saw nothing stirring. How could I expect anything else? But when they finally did poke their little heads out of the soil, I was overjoyed. I checked on them everyday. Spring continued to show its surprises and now the trees, which were so recently covered with nothing but bare knobbles, are bursting with leaves. Peony stalks lifting themselves out of the darkness. It's all so incredible to me. I don't know why I am so surprised every spring, but I am.

It is hard not to believe in God in a garden. The prophet said to plant a garden, but I am convinced that it means more than self reliance, or food storage, or any of that stuff, though I think self reliance is important. It is about creation. It is about miracles. It is about seeing the hand of of God in the tiniest details, and the connection of all life to Him. It is about witnessing the steady organization of inert, useless materials--dirt, water, carbon dioxide--into something complex, beautiful, and regenerating. Entire forests spontaneously rising up out of the chaos by nothing more than a few seeds and time.

There is much symbolism in gardening and watching things grow. Some days, I feel rather like a seed, myself. My immortal soul was sent here in the dark and silence, and I stretch myself against the cosmic current of disorder, defying entropy. It is an impossible act, this miracle of sprouting in the stillness, reaching for the light, capturing the power of the sun with my delicate leaves, reaching into the earth with my hungry roots, sending forth a bud, a flower that bulges into a fruit that contains even more seeds. Impossible as it is, yet I try.

Noli Me Tangere; Fresco at Convent of San Marco, Florence,
by Fra Angelico - 1425-30
The greatest acts of God occurred in gardens. Knowledge and experience were introduced in the garden of Eden, and redemption and resurrection burst out of Gethsemane. "On that first Resurrection Sunday, Mary Magdalene first thought she saw a gardener. Well, she did--the Gardener who cultivated Eden and who endured Gethsemane. The Gardener who gave us the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley, the cedars of Lebanon, the tree of life" (Jeffrey R. Holland, Missionary Work and the Atonement) Though his plants, flowers, and trees are great and beautiful, above all Christ is a gardener of souls.

And we who are His children really are like plants cultivated in His garden, the vineyard of the world. Once scattered and wild, we are collectively put back together into the family tree of Christ to become His people, and we become Israel, the seed of Abraham, each of us forming part of God's beloved and often rebellious olive tree. Christ watches carefully over the olive tree, and He gathered me and grafted me into it. I, perhaps one of the more wild branches, am trying to put forth tame fruit before the great harvest of the end (Jacob 5).

In my garden I think about these kinds of things, faith and seeds. It gives me comfort to know that I am watched over, and that he is patient with me and my halting growth. I love the spring. I love the hope and the transformation. I love the miracles of change and life and order, all of which symbolize so beautifully our own journey to become something more than just a seed lost in the dirt.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring Has to Come


An elderly friend told me about an old Hungarian farmer that worked at their farm when she was young. Winters are long in Canada, of course, and when it seemed that spring had finally arrived, it would snow again, a sad reality with our Canadian seasons with blizzards tormenting us well into May. He would shake his head, cluck his tongue and say, "Spring has to come."

It snowed heavily again last night, and I say that phrase to myself every time I look out the window and see the cold evidence everywhere. I think of my plants that are just starting to come up in my flower garden and how this frost and snow is going to set them back again. I think of my driveway that I have to shovel yet again. I think of the kids' scattered hats and mittens I can't pack away yet. I am frustrated by it, but I know that spring has to come.

There have been some unpleasant things going on in the world, some of which has been on the news, but most troubling to me is the waning of faith and love among people, including friends, and the coldness that follows. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matt. 24:12)

“And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth.” (D&C 45:26)

The bleakness of today's social and moral landscape does indeed feel like a long, long winter.

However, as surely as spring must follow winter, the Second Coming of Christ has to come. It will be as welcome and full of change as springtime is to winter. The icy thrall of doubt and fear that seems to grasp the whole world will be released. In C.S. Lewis' analogy, the White Witch who makes it always winter and never Christmas will be dead in Aslan’s jaws. When Christ comes again, all enemies will be put under his feet. (1 Corinth. 15:25) When He comes to rule, it will be a different world, almost unrecognizable to the frozen wasteland that we live in now. It will be full of peace, love, joy and understanding.

Living in these times, as Saints in Latter-days, we must open our eyes to see the evidence of His coming everywhere. “Ye look and behold the fig trees, and ye see them with your eyes, and ye say when they begin to shoot forth, and their leaves are yet tender, that summer is now nigh at hand; Even so it shall be in that day when they shall see all these things, then shall they know that the hour is nigh."(D&C 45:37-38)

In spite of setbacks and sorrow, "spring has to come."  If we hold onto that faith, I believe we will rise up with joy to see Christ come again in glory and bringing with him eternal spring.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Doors


Totally stolen from the internet
Death makes sense to me because it is so certain, one of the only certainties I have. No matter what stage I am in, there is a flat horizon somewhere ahead, an unchanging landmark that I sometimes would rather forget about. See that over there, where earth meets sky? That is a straight line, like a flatline on an electrocardiogram's screen. That’s where mortal life ends, where we must all fall off head first into the unknown. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" says T.S. Eliot. Death is the overwhelming end of this reality. This is sobering knowledge to me, and I realize that much of my day-to-day preoccupations are a waste of time. However, I accept this absurd wasteland with faith because I believe in Christ, the resurrection, and the promise of a new birth.

Birth has some parallels to death. Both seem a lot like being flung through a door. Have you seen the way a child enters this "vale of tears"? It is not usually a very graceful, tender performance. I actually thought my first child was dead when she was born. Her face was squashed and purple and she lay there on a tray like some lifeless invertebrate wet with blood and horror. I looked at the doctor with concern as he whisked her up and onto some sort of ventilator for her first breath of life. She was fine, but it made me realize how savage and crass this life is, in spite of all our efforts to make it seem sanitary and decorous.

I wonder how it will be when I exit, what sort of receiving party waits on the other side of life. Will I flop into the next world looking as ridiculous and unprepared as I entered in?

As I look forward to the arrival of our third child, I can’t help but think about this life. I have a strange but wonderful job right now as Health Care Aide at a care facility, taking care of dying people. My day is filled with reminders of this short, fragile little pilgrimage, and just how unreliable our bodies really are. I am particularly intrigued with palliative care, when someone is preparing to die. It is strange to see their open, toothless mouths, and watch their last breaths as if they are exhaling their very souls into some vast unknowable realm. It is so easy, the way they leave their bodies behind, like a hermit crab that outgrows its shell and scuttles out into the sea. For the most part, they are ready and willing to go. Old age does not generally "burn and rage at close of day" (Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.)

Some days, I feel like an usher stuck between two wide open portals of mortality. During the morning I take care of my children, make them breakfast, change their diapers, and in the evenings at my job, I do much of the same. I begin to see patterns in the cycle of life. Good morning, children, and welcome to earth. Goodnight Mrs. Pierson, and farewell. The beginning and end, and all in a day's work.

Covered in blood and water and spirit, I was once placed with limbs outstretched into my mother’s arms, and I cried, in discomfort and insecurity. I must have known it was a temporary existence, that it would someday end. Perhaps that is what Adam and Eve were hiding from in Eden. “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10) Perhaps their nakedness reminded them of their vulnerability. Maybe it was the promise of death that filled them with terror and sent them scurrying for a hiding place, a reminder of God's decree and promise: “Thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

Ezekiel writes, “O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord…I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:6). The dry bones, shaking in the valley of death, will once again receive their breath in the same way that I, as a newborn child, first cried out for air and life.