Entries in Svithe (9)

Monday
Mar052012

Svithe: Strengthen Your Fort

People who have read this blog for a while know by now that a svithe is a more spiritual post than the usual fare. As always, I'm grateful to Th. for inventing the term.

Following is a slightly edited version of an address I gave at our Stake Women's Conference on Saturday morning.

We know the Book of Mormon was written for our day, for our profit and understanding. But when I was younger, I had to take that on faith sometimes. In particular, I didn’t understand why Mormon included the last 20 or so chapters of the book of Alma. It’s a lot of wars and bloodshed, often described in gruesome detail. How could reading about battles help me? Couldn’t I just read about similar things in the newspapers on any given day? In my study, I would often skim those chapters in order to get onto what I thought was the “good stuff.”

But now, as a wife, mother, and guardian of a home, I study differently. I think of those men of ancient times laboriously scratching words into sheets of metal that they created with their own, painstaking labor and the most basic of tools. When I see them in my mind’s eye, I recognize the enormous effort they put into creating this book for us, and I continually ask, “Why did Nephi or Alma or Ether, or especially Mormon, think this passage was important enough for us--reading it in 2012--to go to the effort of recording it? What is so essential about this verse/chapter/story?” Can you imagine the difference it might make to our study if we read with such questions in mind—and faithfully recorded our answers?

I hope that each of you keeps a notebook open and a pen at the ready when you study the scriptures. When the Lord gives us revelation as we read the scriptures, we show Him that we value that inspiration when we write it down. And when we show Him that we value communication with Him, He will give us even more knowledge. Always write down the impressions you receive when you study the scriptures.

I now see immense value in those “war” chapters. We as Latter-day Saint women can learn much about how to strengthen our forts as we study Book of Mormon battles carefully. Let me illustrate with a bit of what I now know Mormon was inspired to include in his abridgement.

In about the year 73 BC, the wicked Nephite traitor Amalickiah gains power among the Lamanites and incites them to war against the Nephites. In response, the great war leader, Captain Moroni—only 25 years old at the time he is called to lead—raises the title of liberty to inspire his people to defend themselves and their freedoms. In Alma chapter 48, Mormon tells us why Captain Moroni was chosen to lead the armies: Moroni was a strong and mighty man of God; he was a man of perfect understanding; he did not delight in bloodshed, but loved liberty. He remembered God with gratitude at all times. He worked hard for the welfare and safety of his people and was firm in his faith in Christ. Finally, Mormon writes this: “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:17) I think it is no coincidence that Mormon names his own son after this hero who lived some 450 years before Mormon’s day.

            So—Amalickiah is on the move. Captain Moroni senses that he will soon have significant trouble from the Lamanites as a result. He therefore rallies the people to strengthen their cities as a proactive defense. In chapters 48 through 50 of Alma, we learn that the people construct huge banks of earth, strengthened by stones. They put up palisades of strong timber topped by sharpened sticks. They then build towers so that they can monitor these defenses.

            These fortifications are so effective that we learn in Alma 49:18, “Now, behold, the Lamanites could not get into [the Nephites’] forts of security by any other way save by the entrance.”

            When Amalickiah leads the Lamanites to battle, he is frustrated in his attacks over and over again. Alma 49:8 reads, “But behold, to [the Lamanites’] utter astonishment, [the Nephites] were prepared for them, in a manner which never had been known among the children of Lehi. Now they were prepared for the Lamanites, to battle after the manner of the instructions of Moroni.”

            There is much to be learned from these few verses as we seek to strengthen our own forts. First, though, how do we define our forts? You may live alone. You may be raising young children or watching your older children find themselves and their way through life. You may have a husband, or you may not. No matter what our situation, we have a fort. In fact, we may have several. What are our stewardships? Whom do we visit teach? Do we teach a class? Who are our neighbors and friends? Where do we work? The lessons Mormon teaches through the history in the book of Alma apply to any situation.

            Now, let’s consider Moroni. We know that Alma is the prophet among the people, but Moroni is certainly a visionary and inspired leader. After reading about the man that he is, we can certainly liken him to our general and local authorities. What does he ask his followers to do first?

            Note that Moroni does not present the people with newfangled inventions or otherworldly weapons. Their materials of defense they use are humble and mundane: dirt, rocks, lumber. What is it that makes them effective? They are put to active and coordinated use by the people. The Nephites are unified as they build their defenses. In fact, Mormon is quick to point out throughout his history that any time the Nephites suffer defeat in battle, it is due to internal dissension and iniquity. Whenever the Nephites act in accordance with God’s will as revealed through his servants, they are preserved.

            Our weapons of defense may appear similarly ordinary. Daily scripture study. Fervent, humble prayer. Faithful obedience. Sincere repentance and forgiveness. Constant remembrance of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The world will never understand how these weapons work, but we know that they do, don’t we? When we put them to active, coordinated use, they work mighty miracles. And just as Moroni sets his people to maintaining and continually strengthening those defenses, we must do the same. We cannot afford to slack off in our efforts.

            Notice also that Moroni has the people begin preparing for war long before they can see any physical sign of danger. Because they trust their leader, they obey. They don’t wait to get ready for the attack until after the attack has begun. They work hard long in advance of the onslaught and are safe inside their forts’ walls once the aggressive armies appear.

            Finally, Mormon tells us that the Lamanites can only get into the Nephites’ forts through the entrance. This is a point that is easy to miss, but it is oh, so crucial to remember if we are to be successful in creating and maintaining strong forts. What is an entrance? It’s the place where we let things in. Consider your forts for a moment. I may have strong defenses in many areas, but are there things I am letting slip through my door? Pride? Self-righteous judgment of others? Doubt? Worldliness? What are the chinks in my armor?

            I will be brave and share with you one of my chinks. I sometimes give in to fear. Maybe you do, too; maybe that is why I felt prompted to share this with you. Patrick and I have six children. Our oldest is 18 and is a freshman in college; the youngest is three years old. Because of that wide age range, I can fall prey to a very wide range of fears concerning my children’s physical and spiritual safety. Fear, I find, is addictive. Even when I am doing my best to maintain my defenses, I sometimes allow fear to slip in through my door.

            Oh, that’s not so bad, you might think. It’s natural to worry about children—or money—or our job—or our spouses—or our lack of spouse—or our weight—or our health—whatever it is we worry about. Some of us even wear our worry proudly, like a badge of honor. It’s a sign that we care. But what is worry? It is a courting, a hosting, a welcoming of fear through the door.

            And we should regard fear as our enemy. Fear is one of the adversary’s best, most flexible tools. It keeps us too preoccupied and distracted to hear the gentle urgings of the Holy Spirit. It causes us to forget the miracles that the Lord has wrought in our lives. It holds us back from righteous action.

            In his brilliant and inspired 1999 BYU address entitled “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence,” Elder Jeffrey Holland reminds us that the adversary often throws fear our way just before—or just after—a great miracle occurs. Think of Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. “Thick darkness,’ as he described it, gathered around him and seemed bent on his utter destruction.” It wasn’t until Joseph exerted all his powers and called upon God that the darkness was banished by light. (JS-H 1:15-17)

            Or consider Moses after the Lord shows him one of the greatest visions of all time high upon a mountain. Satan comes to Moses and commands his worship. Moses answers, “Get thee hence, Satan. Deceive me not.” Ah, but Satan doesn’t give up. He begins to rail and rant with such fury that Moses “began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell.” (Moses 1:12-22) Moses then does just as Joseph will do many centuries later; he exerts his agency and calls upon God to deliver him. And Satan is banished.

            But what if Joseph and Moses had given in to fear? What if they had sat and stewed and obsessed about the darkness and fury they witnessed? We must banish fear just as they did. Let us put fearful thoughts, worry, anxiety, stress, out of our minds vigorously, as we would any evil thought.

Above all, we must not parent in fear. There is a difference between being fearful and being alert to danger. We can be calm in the face of danger, both physical and spiritual, if we are prepared and remember to call upon our Heavenly Father. Gospel scholar Catherine Thomas reminds us, “Jacob says, ‘I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not, by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit, and stumble because of my over anxiety for you.’ (Jacob 4:18) Overanxiety can actually block the Spirit. Maybe that’s why the Savior of the world reminds us, “Be still, and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46:10)” (Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas, p. 185)

            As we seek to strengthen our forts and allow no evil to slip through our doors, faith, hope, and charity are our best weapons. Faith comes first. Faith is a principle of believing action—but it is more than that. Just as light has a dual nature—being both a particle and a wave—faith also has a dual nature. Faith is both a principle and a substance. Faith has mass; it is matter, just like flour or sugar or sand, but much finer—science cannot yet measure it, but it is real nevertheless. Can we imagine studying the topic of faith in the scriptures while thinking of it as a substance? Might we learn something new about the nature of faith if we do so?

            Like muscle strength, we accumulate faith as we exercise it. And like a pile of dry sand in the wind, faith will diminish and fade to nothing if we do not build it up constantly. As we obey with the eye of faith, we will cease to entertain doubt and fear. We will move forward with confidence, even when our circumstances look grim.

            Of the three virtues, hope is the least understood. In English, the common definition of “hope” has gotten pretty feeble.  We say, “I hope so,” when what we really mean is “That would be nice, but I just don’t see it.” I hope I don’t get sick; I hope I can pay my bills. But I began to get a handle on the real, gospel definition of “hope” when I served a French-speaking mission. Similarly, our Spanish-speaking sisters understand hope better than we Anglophones do.

            In French, “hope” is translated as “esperance.” In Spanish, it is almost the same: “esperanza.” For comprehension purposes, let’s talk about an alternate translation for hope: expectation. Expectation is dynamic and powerful. An expectant woman looks forward with joy to the inevitable. When we keep our covenants, we expect that God will keep His. When we exercise faith in the Atonement of Christ, we expect that He has suffered for our sins and griefs; we expect that He will lift us as high as we are willing to go.

Near the end of his life, Mormon asked, “And what is it that ye shall hope for?” In other words, “What should you expect?” He then answered his own question: “Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.” (Moroni 7:41) That is hope in Christ—a firm expectation that the Lord means what He says. A robust hope in Christ will strengthen our defenses and keep evil from slipping into our forts.

            The greatest of the three virtues is charity, the pure love of Christ. When we exercise faith through obedience, when we grow firm in our hope, when we have prayed with all the energy of our hearts, the love of Christ begins to seep into our hearts. It transforms us, hour by hour, almost imperceptibly. Nephi declares that the love of God is “the most desirable of all things…and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:22-23) When we have tasted it, we want to share it with everyone, just as Lehi did.

As Sister Bonnie Parkin put it in 2003, “Charity is our love for the Lord, shown through our acts of service, patience, compassion, and understanding for one another….Charity is also the Lord’s love for us, shown through His acts of service, patience, compassion, and understanding.” (“Choosing Charity: That Good Part”) Joseph Smith translated 1 Peter 4:8 as reading “charity preventeth a multitude of sins.” How does this happen? Christ’s love heals our weaknesses. Those that are filled with charity lose their desire for sin—and that is perhaps the best defense of all.

            Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing at the gate of the Nephite city of Ammonihah, listening to your stalwart young captain give you directions for strengthening your fort. Perhaps it is a peaceful, summer day. Crops are growing, animals are grazing. There is no sign of any danger. What the captain proposes sounds like an awful lot of work, and you are already quite busy.

Yet you know your people’s history and the nature of your enemy. Perhaps you have experienced a skirmish with the adversary before—or your loved ones have told you tales of previous struggles. Despite the serenity of the day, you feel an urgency to obey. The Spirit whispers to you, confirming the truth of the captain’s words. You catch his vision, and with your fellow citizens, you go to work.

And when the attacks come, days or weeks or months later, you are vigilant, but calm. You survey your stewardships from the ramparts of the Lord’s perspective. You have discernment and allow no smooth-faced liar in at the door. You are diligent in maintaining your defenses, and as you do so, you are held in the hollow of the Lord’s hand despite the raging war all around you.

That we may always so strengthen our forts is my earnest prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Sunday
Jun122011

Svithe: Transparency

Photo of Pigeon Point Lighthouse by Flickr's Photobud

"Svithe" is a word coined by Th.  It means roughly "to tithe a seventh," and refers to the blog posts he puts up on Sundays.  I have used it in the past and do so now with all proper homage and deference.

I spoke in Church back in February; the following is adapted from what I said then.

Matthew 5:14-16 reads,

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

This comes early in the Sermon on the Mount, just after Christ has given the Beatitudes.  What does Jesus mean when he asks us to let our light shine?  Certainly he hopes we will be good examples.  He wants us to show the world the fruits of living his Gospel, to be living testaments of God’s plan of happiness for us all.

But Jesus is careful to add that the goal is for people to see our good works and be led to glorify God as a result.  We shouldn’t want and don’t need people to glorify us for the lives we are living.  Elder Jeffrey Holland recently said,

Avoid self-serving performance and vanity. Don’t try to dazzle everyone with how brilliant you are. Dazzle them with how brilliant the gospel is. (Jeffrey R. Holland, "Teaching and Learning in the Church", Ensign, June 2007) 

I felt like he was talking directly to me when I heard that.  It was a little painful.  But I realized the truth of it immediately.

Often when I’m reading a really good book, I’ll be so transported into the world of the narrative that I actually forget that I’m reading.  Has that ever happened to you when reading or watching a movie?  You lose yourself entirely and become one with the story.  It’s like magic.

I’m a writer, and my goal when I create fiction is to create that kind of experience for my audience, to write what is called “transparent prose.”  I hope that my readers will fall through the words and into the story.  The writer seeking transparency never wants to draw attention to the writing itself.  But this can unfortunately occur.  There are basically two ways to draw attention away from your story and toward the writing or the writer:

1) by unwittingly making technical mistakes of one kind or another; or

2) by consciously overwriting, showing off your talent at manipulating the language.

This lack of transparency can unfortunately occur when performing music as well.  The performer may either be not competent enough for the piece, or may self-indulgently use his technical expertise to hijack the audience.

But when a song is sung or played with neither error nor inappropriate embellishment, the listener can fall through the notes and into the music.  It is a humble and wise performer who realizes that he or she is simply an instrument through which the music flows, and not the music itself.

In similar manner, the light that Jesus asks us to let shine isn’t actually ours.  It, like everything else we have in this life, has been lent to us.  It is Christ’s light. 

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the Apostle John introduces John the Baptist.  He writes,

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.   That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  (John 1:6-9)

The Lord Himself describes His light in Section 88 of the Doctrine & Covenants:

[I am] He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.”(Doctrine & Covenants 88:6-7)

So we do not create this light any more than a candle creates its flame.  Our job is to use our agency to create the best possible conditions for that light to flourish within us, to be as transparent as possible, and to do what we can to qualify to be trusted with even greater light. 

The light of Christ within us is best nurtured by daily, even hourly acts of service and devotion.  Earnest and humble communication with God through prayer and scripture study.  Putting aside selfishness and tending to the needs of those around us.  Repenting and forgiving.  Keeping our covenants.  The Lord promises that “He that keepeth [the] commandments receiveth truth and light...and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (Doctrine & Covenants 50:24)

Elder Robert D. Hales once used the image of a boy riding a bicycle through the darkness, with only the light of a lamp that was powered by his own pedaling to guide him.  He said,

Sometimes people ask, “Why do I have to go to Sacrament Meeting?” or “Why do I have to live the Word of Wisdom, pay tithing? Why can’t I have one foot in Babylon?” May I tell you why? Because spiritual pedaling takes both feet! Unless you are fully engaged in living the gospel—living it with all of your “heart, might, mind and strength” —you cannot generate enough spiritual light to push back the darkness. (Robert D. Hales, “Out of the Darkness into His Marvelous Light,” April 2002)

I love that metaphor: spiritual pedaling takes both feet.  You can’t ride a bicycle halfway.  It takes commitment and balance and is an act of faith.

The image of a lantern or a lighthouse is also helpful to me.  The light within may be burning, but if the glass housing is not perfectly pure and clear, the light will be distorted and diminished to the eyes of those who need guidance.   Again, the goal is transparency.

The problem that most frequently dirties the glass, so to speak, is pride.  Pride is like a shapeshifter, taking so many different forms.  Intolerance.  Narrow-mindedness.  Vanity.  Defensiveness.  Insecurity.  Self-aggrandizement.  Contempt.  Pride pollutes everything it touches.  We need to let it go and get out of our own way.

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote,

The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the centre—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. … What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come … the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

But if we turn away from those fruitless searches and the Adversary’s empty offer, we realize that Jesus didn’t make up the commandments just to keep us busy.  It’s not busywork to do your visiting or home teaching, or to go on a mission, or to clean the chapel, or to start work on your family history.  Jesus asks us to let our light shine in these different ways because He knows that doing so is the only path of true joy and fulfillment. 

When I was in Primary, the ten- and eleven-year-old girls were called the Merrie Misses.  We were each given a banner with the Articles of Faith on it, and we got to earn special badges to fasten onto the banner as we completed different challenges.  The Merrie Miss motto was written at the bottom of the banner: “I will radiate the light of the Gospel.”  We got to embroider that motto with colors of our own choice; I decided to do mine in green and gold.   “I will radiate the light of the Gospel.”  I thought it looked great.

At the beginning of the atomic age, President David O. McKay used this idea of radiation to teach the concept of letting Christ’s light shine within us.  He said,

Every person who lives in this world wields an influence, whether for good or for evil. It is not what he says alone, it is not alone what he does. It is what he is. Every man, every person radiates what he or she is. Every person is a recipient of radiation. The Savior was conscious of that. Whenever he came into the presence of an individual, he sensed that radiation—whether it was the woman of Samaria with her past life; whether it was the woman who was to be stoned or the men who were to stone her; whether it was the statesman, Nicodemus, or one of the lepers. He was conscious of the radiation from the individual. And to a degree so are you, and so am I. It is what we are and what we radiate that affects the people around us.

The Savior set us the example, always calm, always controlled, radiating something which people could feel as they passed. (Chapter 24: “Let Your Light So Shine”," Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay)

So: we all radiate.  There is no lead-lined shelter.  There is no decision I make, however private it may seem, that does not affect all of you.  We are either adding to or diminishing our God-given light with every choice we make.  When you obey a commandment, it strengthens not just you but also me.  When I sin, I hurt all of you as well as myself.  That is the power and strength of either Babylon or Zion.  The question is: which city on a hill are we hoping to build? 

 

Thursday
Apr082010

Svithe: We Rejoice in Christ

 

Les disciples Pierre et Jean courant au sépulcre le matin de la Résurrection, Eugène Burnand (1850-1921) 

Here's the brilliant originator of the term "svithe."  I spoke in church on Palm Sunday; here's what I said.

There is in every person to a certain degree a pleasurable longing, a sweet homesickness, a nostalgia for something we cannot remember, identify, or articulate. In German, this longing is called Sehnsucht; in Portuguese, it is saudade. Certain music or art or the beauties of nature may evoke it. The lyrics of a beloved song from my youth go: “When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse, out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look but it was gone. I cannot put my finger on it now. The child is grown, the dream is gone."

I, myself feel saudade keenly and often quote scriptures that bring it to mind. In The Book of Mormon, Jacob writes, “The time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness...wherefore, we did mourn out our days.” (Jacob 7:26)

And Saint Paul, describing the nature of faith to the Hebrews, says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.” (Hebrews 11:13-14)

C.S. Lewis, alluding to Paul’s epistle, wrote his description of Sehnsucht: “In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country...I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you...the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

What is this feeling, and what is it for? 

It is nothing less than a homing instinct of sorts that will draw us to be reconciled to God, if we let it. Our Heavenly Father sends us messages through all the glory of His creations and the aesthetic achievements of mankind that this life is not all there is. Wordsworth famously wrote, “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home.” (Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations on Immortality”)

Our spirits existed long before they were housed in these miraculous physical bodies. They were born to Heavenly Parents and were loved and taught by them; the ideal pattern of mortal family life is an echo or a type of our pre-mortal existence. To mature fully, to inherit all our Parents have, we must become more like them, which is why this earth was created. So, in a sense, this small part of our eternal existence is like a boarding school or sleepaway camp. We’re here to learn things by our own experience, as opposed to the theoretical knowledge we gained before we came here.

In His plan, God gives us rules to follow that will benefit us and keep us safe. But He knew we would not follow them perfectly; making mistakes, in fact, is one of the key ways we learn and grow. However, in the flawless, ever-dynamic realm in which God lives, imperfection simply cannot abide. 

And God wants His children back badly. So in his infinite and ardent love for us, God planned a way for our wrongs to be righted, for our pains to be healed, and for our shortcomings and frailties to be met and bridged. He told us all in a grand meeting in the pre-existence that someone would need to come to earth; live a sinless life; voluntarily take upon himself the pains, sins, and griefs of every single member of the human family; die; then through divine power take up his body again.

“Whom shall I send?” asked our Father.

“Here am I, send me,” replied our Oldest Brother, the Mighty One who would be known on earth as Jesus Christ. (cf. Abraham 3:27)

The prophet Lehi outlines the reconciliation process well: “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved. And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God....” (2 Nephi 2:8-10)

This intercession is brought about by the atonement Christ made for each of us. He began the atoning process by living a selfless, perfect life: teaching, healing, and loving. He continued it in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross of Calvary, and he perfected it on the morning we commemorate every Easter, by taking up his now glorified and immortal body from the tomb. Because of his infinite and divine sacrifice, we can return home.

The Lord tells Job that when he laid out the foundations of this plan of atonement, all the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy. (cf. Job 38:7) The knowledge of this plan is the gospel, which literally means “good news,” and when we receive this news in faith, we also feel like shouting for joy. In Proverbs 25:25, we read, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

When you read a wonderful book or make a perfect brownie, or even notice a fantastic sale on chicken at the market, you want to share it with everyone around you. So it is with the joy of Christ. “O taste and see,” encourages the Psalmist (Psalm 34:8), and I echo his words.

The joy of Christ informs all our actions as believers. It is why we come together week after week to worship. We find strength in one another’s company, and as we renew our baptismal covenants through partaking of the Sacrament. The joy of Christ transforms prayer from obedient words to a tangible and undeniable connection to God. The joy of Christ is the catalyst that makes our duties feel like a dance.

And incredibly, it is the joy of Christ that gives our trials meaning. The Lord spoke to Joseph Smith as he languished in a filthy, cold prison, unjustly accused: “And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man [meaning Christ,] hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way....Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (Doctrine & Covenants 122:7-9)

The joy of Christ may sound too good to be true, but it is both the source and the fulfillment of our Sehnsucht, our saudade, our exquisite longing for home. When you notice such feelings within your heart, nourish them as you would a tender seed. They will grow and serve as a guide to eternal truth: of this, I am certain.

I close with the beautiful words of longing of one of my favorite hymns, written by Bernard of Clairvaux nearly a millennium ago and translated in the 19th century by Bernard Caswell:

Jesus, the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see and in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can claim, nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blessed name, O Savior of mankind.

O, Hope of every contrite heart, O Joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art, how good to those who seek.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou, as Thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be Thou our glory now and through eternity.” (Hymns, #141)

Sunday
Jul122009

My First Svithe: Give Place

Two things: first, this post is all about my faith.  I treasure both my areligous readers and my readers of faiths other than my own.  If you fit into one of those categories and/or aren't in the mood for a religious post, feel free to skip this one and come back in a day or two.

Second, I recently met someone who came up with the portmanteau "svithe" from the words "seven" and "tithe."  He (and many of his friends) often post things of a spiritual nature on Sundays.  I think this is a lovely idea, and hope he doesn't mind that I'm adopting it, at least for this week.  I'm speaking in church today; the following svithe is from what I've written to say.

Before we had children, I knew I wanted to find a way both to write and to be a attentive and devoted wife and mother. I confided my dream one day to an older, wiser, very accomplished woman. This was a person who had pursued a Ph.D., taught at the university level, and written many scholarly works--all while raising six children, supporting a busy husband, and participating actively in the Church. I knew that if anyone had the secret to reaching my goal, it would be she. I’ll never forget the advice she gave me, though I regret to say I have not always followed it.

She said, “Once you take on a new project—a degree, a book, a quilt—don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll just ‘fit it in somehow.’ Assess exactly how much time, attention, and energy it will take. Then decide very deliberately what you will give up in order to fit the new project into your life. Once you start, don’t look back and flirt with what you have left behind. When your sacrifice is well-informed, conscious, and non-negotiable, success in your endeavor is assured.”

We all have been called to the discipleship of Christ, and we all have responded to one degree or another. We can look at the task of developing a Christ-like attitude as a project, and we can approach that project either with the “just fit it in” strategy, or we can do as my friend suggested: assess, decide, commit fully, and stay the course.

An attitude is a position, a manner, or a posture expressive of an emotion or state of being; therefore, a Christ-like attitude is a position, manner, or posture expressive of Christ-like emotion or state of being. Having a Christ-like attitude means we see as he sees, we feel as he feels, and we choose to behave as he chooses to behave. Developing such an attitude is a life-long endeavor of consecration, and we cannot assume we will just fit it in somehow. However, we know that it is a worthy project, one rich in rewards both in the process and in the result.

It is also a project that we cannot complete on our own. In fact, I believe the bulk of the work will not be ours but the Savior’s, and that a Christ-like attitude is largely a gift of grace. We, though, are granted the privilege of participating in its creation and development. Our part of the work consists of three actions: awakening, arising, and giving place.

The first two are often linked in scripture. Lehi tells his sons:

"Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust." –2 Nephi 1:23

Moroni, Nephi, and Jesus himself all quote Isaiah’s exhortation:

"Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion." –Moroni 10:31

Though they are companions, awakening and arising are two distinct actions, as I realize often when lying in bed in the early mornings, wishing to put off the inevitable. Let’s consider them one at a time. First, awake.

Sometimes we go through life on autopilot, allowing the urgent to eclipse the truly important, being merely busy instead of anxiously engaged. Sometimes instead of turning to the Redeemer with our sorrows, griefs, and inadequacies, we seek to anesthetize our spiritual pain through addictive behaviors, turning to excessive food, exercise, television, the computer, or other pursuits.

Note that all of these sources of potential anesthesia are good and important things when used properly. But when we set them up as gods, looking to them for escape, we are not hearkening to Jesus’ quiet request to follow him. We are spiritually asleep. And those who are asleep often mistake their dreams for true consciousness. Have you ever had that happen, have you been in a dream and been convinced that what you were experiencing was reality? Likewise, when we are spiritually asleep, we may assume we are awake, when that is not actually the case.

We need to awaken to the heightened awareness the Holy Ghost will afford us (if we allow it) and focus on what we really want. Examining our habits and how we spend the bulk of our time and mental energy reveals to us what is truly important to us, as opposed to what we say and even believe we want.

We may be shocked to realize that our desires for the things of eternity are not as strong as we thought they were. But being awake and aware of the state of our souls is not enough. The good news is that our weak, conflicting desires can be redirected and magnified. But for that to happen, we need to arise—arise from the dust, as the scriptures exhort.

The dust is a metaphor for our earthy and carnal tendencies, the Natural Man or Woman in each of us. The dust is good; God organized it and created our bodies from it. However, it is not meant to be our permanent state; we are not to wallow in it. We are asked to arise, unite our agency with the Lord’s, and become something more than dust—something eternal and incorruptible.

"To arise" in the gospel sense means to take action, to stand and go forth. We must shake off the chains that bind us—and our chains are unique and custom-made—and make use of the gifts the Lord has given us. Taking the journey from testimony to conversion means to build on the spiritual impressions we receive; merely receiving them is not enough.

So—we have awakened and arisen. Having done so, we must guard once again against mere busy-ness, or “zeal without knowledge,” as Hugh Nibley called it. This is where the third part of my recipe for a Christ-like attitude comes in: we must give place.

Alma teaches us about giving place when he gives us the parable of the good seed in Alma Chapter 32. Once we have planted the seed, or the word of God, in our hearts, we need to give place, or in other words, make room. Think back to my friend’s plan for successfully completing a new project. A crucial part of the plan is deciding what to give up in order to make room.

Giving place shows we are actively concerned, it means we are consciously surrendering. We realize our priorities must change, and we put our heart where our mouth is, if you will excuse my adaptation of a secular proverb. If we do not make room, Christ will find no place to put the gift of an attitude like his.

Elder Neal Maxwell said, “We ‘cannot bear all things now,’ but the Lord ‘will lead [us] along,’ as we ‘give place’ in our thoughts and schedules and ‘give away’ our sins, which are the only ways we can begin to make room to receive all that God can give us. (D&C 78:18; D&C 50:4; Alma 32:27, 28; Alma 22:18.) Each of us is an innkeeper who decides [whether] there is room for Jesus!”

There is a scripture from Isaiah that I love, one that is so well known that it is difficult not to sing:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. –Isaiah 40:3

The Lord amplifies and clarifies this passage in the Doctrine & Covenants:

Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound. –D&C 88:66

We often interpret these verses as exhortations to do what it takes to build up the kingdom of God—we see our service in our communities, ward, and families as paving the way for Christ’s millennial reign. And this is an appropriate interpretation. But we can look at these scriptures on a more personal and intimate level as well, and perhaps find new meaning thereby.

What if the wilderness is my soul, and the desert is my heart? When I put myself into the metaphor, I hear the Spirit crying within my soul from time to time, asking me to make straight in the desert of my heart a highway for the Lord—a path for him to travel, a place for him to abide.

Preparing the way for the Lord in our hearts means doing what needs to be done. It means showing up, even if we don’t feel like it sometimes. When our daily routine consistently includes the small and seemingly inconsequential things God asks us to do—praying, studying and pondering, practicing kindness and patience and unselfishness and forgiveness—we show Him that He can trust us. Our behavior is a manifestation of what our covenants mean to us, and it helps us give place within ourselves for the riches of heaven.

The quest to develop a Christ-like attitude—the vision, emotion, and behavior of the Savior—is not the easy, broad path of the world. But as Catherine Thomas says, “We set aside the lethargy of the Natural Man. We cultivate enthusiasm, even when we are tempted to be too tired for spiritual things.”

Brothers and Sisters, as we heard in the Sacrament Prayer today, to begin, all we have to do is be willing, and even with that, God has promised to help us. We have everything that is needful to awake, arise, and give place.

Let us gather up all that impedes us from doing so and set it on the altar at Christ’s feet; let us make the sacrifice the Lamanite king was willing to make, that of giving away all our sins in order to know, to see, to feel, and to behave as Jesus.

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