Sunday, September 26, 2010

Recent Tender Mercies

Just a few hours before a weekly meeting for my calling, I had been wishing that the evening meeting would no longer conflict with the newest endeavor I'm about to embark on. I'm trying to arrange things so I can become a midwife's assistant and attend a particular midwife's prenatal clinic on the one day a week she does them which just happens to be the same night my calling meets. I've been in that calling for close to 5 years so I was contemplating asking to be released. Then the Relief Society presidents asked out of nowhere if we could move the meeting to another night in the week. Everyone was amiable and just like that I no longer had a conflict in my schedule so my plan could proceed!

I'll recognize that as a tender mercy of the Lord. '

The other came from the same meeting. Like I said I've been in that calling for almost 5 years and I don't feel like I've done much in it. I've attended meetings and a lot of them over the years and I've assisted in projects and responsibilities where I could but I really haven't done much. Sometimes I've wondered why I'm still in the calling. Though a little over a year ago, I was introduced to a woman where I realized working with her was the reason I was still in that position. That was over a year ago though, so why am I still in the calling?

Again, out of nowhere, one of the men at the meeting asked to give an impromptu spiritual thought. He quotes from Psalms "Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord" and then went on to say that sometimes it is better to be ready to do something than it is to be always doing. If there is nothing the Lord expects of us at a certain moment, we still have the duty to be ready for him and wait for the direction to go forth and do something.

That's exactly what I needed to hear to help me realize that though I may not be doing much in my calling currently that if I am ready and waiting to do, that I'm doing what is expected of me. Having that unexpectedly given me and and in a surprising way as it was, I will definitely count as a tender mercy as well.

Two in one meeting! The Spirit definitely was at that meeting that night!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Notes from General Relief Society Meeting

Its short-hand so I will hopefully have time to come back and fill in more coherent thoughts in relation to what I heard. There were some specifically salient points made this evening that I believe are important to me because it was truth I was seeking but it also important in relation to recent happenings among women of the church. Those I will bold for emphasis.

Julie B. Beck, General Relief Society President:
quoted President Barbara Smiths (former Relief Society President from 1974-1984) last council to her family before her death: "Honor and respect the women of the church."
acknowledgement of the oppression and betrayal that women often experience
addressing the criticisms of Mormon women for being weak, too womanly, ineffectual
call and instruction for women to focus on activities within Relief Society [is this an example of retrenchment?]
new policy for church wide Relief Society: women should know and understand the history of R.S., hence a history book is in process of publication
the Lord's vision of R.S.: to perfect the saints through the women of the church
an acknowledged hunger within the women of the church to know women's value, identity and purpose
report on policy changes from last year--has had positive impacts
through studying the history of women in the church, women will find inspiration from historical female church members
in conclusion; The Lord is preparing the R.S. for a glorious future [though the details were not described]

Silvia Allred, General Relief Society First Counselor:
told that she became a member of the church at age 15.
"motherwork is the most important work" and it should be done in partnership with husbands
She asked women of the church: what helps you be faithful?
The answers she received helped her to develop this list: *prayer, *scripture study, *obedience and *service
her description of obedience was to the covenants of baptism and the temple
she emphatically stated that service includes the emotional and spiritual needs of women

Barbara Thompson, General Relief Society Second Counselor:
quotes Jude: "And of some have acompassion, making a difference"
counseled women to have compassions on people's needs, feel love, mercy, sympathy, and a desire to help one another
Christ called his followers to be compassionate
Visiting Teaching is a model of Christ's call to be compassionate
prayerfully consider those we visit teach.

Thomas S. Monson, Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
how do we view each other? are we making judgements without having all the facts?
Judge not
prophet admits none of us is perfect
Do not judge appearances or life circumstances
"if you judge people you have no time to love them."

[insight: it is helpful to have an outside voice of instruction and views, I can see how this talk would have been more difficult for one of the R.S. presidents to give)
paraphrase: we need to have the type of charity that comes from being tolerant and lenient of other's actions
Horace Mann: "to pity distress is to be human, to relieve it is god-like."
"Recognize that each is doing her best to overcome her challenges and we must do our best to help her."
charity is not just providing service to others, but it is also loving them without judgement
be guided by the R.S. motto in everything we do, "Charity Never Faileth."

Eve's transgression

A couple of days ago, I was having a phone conversation with Heather (TopHat in internet circles) and we were talking about Eve's transgression in the Garden of Eve. I kind of went off-topic and ended up thinking and speaking out loud about why Eve then is commanded to be obedient her husband's counsel (which then is still expected of women today). I know that some women in the church struggle with that expectation. Their question is along the lines of: If men and women are supposedly equal partners in marriage (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World), why does a woman need to be subordinate to her husband?

In our conversation with each other, we discussed how the fact that EVE ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is actually celebrated in our church. She made a wise and courageous decision to experience mortality and to know good from evil. As Sheri L. Dew said, "In addition to bearing children, she mothered all of mankind when she made the most courageous decision any woman has ever made and with Adam opened the way for us to progress."

But there has always been something that bothers me about her decision. She obviously saw the virtue of experiencing mortality and saw that the knowledge gained from it was necessary for her and Adam to progress and that becoming like God was a good thing and not a prideful motivation like Satan implied. But, she made a decision that forced Adam to choose a certain path and she did not consult with him first.

I am sensitive to this sort of injustice. I don't appreciate people speaking for me, or compelling me to make choices that I otherwise might not have chosen for myself. I most certainly would not appreciate it if it was my husband who forced me into that situation.

And, that, is what I think Eve did to Adam. Though she made a good decision, and perhaps the right decision, she did not consult with Adam, come to an agreement and act together in unity.

I feel badly for Adam to be in a place where he was stuck between obeying commandments: staying with his wife and fulfilling the command to multiply and replenish the earth or to not partake of the fruit of that tree. It was Eve that put him in that situation by hastily rushing forward and partaking of the fruit without consulting with Adam and taking into account the implications.

What if Adam had said, "I'm not going to partake of that fruit and I'm going to stay here while you are banished from the garden and we will both be alone?" What if he had gotten mad at her for limiting his choices instead of seeing the situation with the clarity of knowing that he needed to stay by his wife? Her choice and his compulsion to choose along with her had long lasting effects on him. He learned what suffering was as a result of her choice, and while he did freely choose it, it should have been a decision they made together.

I wonder if its for this reason Eve and in extension her daughters have the obligation to counsel with their husbands and to listen to their counsel. This begs the question however, if "men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression (Second Article of Faith), then are women being punished for Eve's transgression by being compelled to a subordinate status under their husbands?

I would also add its likely that women who are disturbed by the hearken counsel would comforted if men were also counseled to hearken to their wives and both husband and wife communicated with God with equal footing where both go through their spouse when making decisions, instead of one going through the other and it not being reciprocated.

The D. Michael Quinn Challenge

After finishing reading the book Women and Authority, I created a challenge for myself: go to the temple and listen carefully for wording that I had heard many times before but not with this new awareness of women's history in the church.

One of the chapters from the book that was most affecting for me was D. Michael Quinn's "Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843" where I was impressed by the sources he cited showing clearly that Joseph Smith and other early church leaders believed that women were given the priesthood through the endowment. It was unclear however where in the endowment this could be traced to. One of the clues that I took to heart was that there was a belief that women were anointed and thereby received the priesthood. Anointing only occur in the initiatory ceremony, not in the presentation of the endowment itself.

Thus, my specific challenge. Go to the temple, participate in initiatories and listen carefully to the wording of the anointing as well as the entire recitation. This morning, I had a chance to do that. We had planned to go, do an initiatory and then an endowment session so I could take in the whole thing in the context of this question in my mind. Through an unfortunate series of wrong turns and time constraints however, we only had time for a set of initiatories. That turned out to be for the best because it was only after hearing the ceremony repeated a few times did I clue in on the phrases that were applicable to my question.

The anointing offered no clue so I listened carefully for instances of the word priesthood in connection with women. The only time that appeared together was in the authorizing of the garment as a sacred article of clothing and this is referred to being clothed in the garments of the Holy Priesthood. I prayed to know if this wording (though not understanding specifically what it meant) was the indication that women were granted the priesthood through the temple ceremonies. I cannot deny the Spirit I felt confirming that to be true.

I should also say here that the time prior that I went to the temple and participated in an endowment session, I remember at one point having the distinct impression from the Spirit that because I had progressed through the stages of the endowment that somehow through that process, I possessed the priesthood in some manner. This was even before I read Quinn's chapter on women and the priesthood so before the idea was externally planted that women were given the priesthood through the temple ceremonies.

I don't understand it how it works but I have tried throughout this process to pray and ask specific and clear questions always being willing to accept any answer I was to be given. I don't understand all the implications of this and have many more questions. Was perhaps the wording changed over the last 180 years so more specific phrases referring to priesthood being removed from the women's initiatory? If yes, what did it used to say? And how does it work that women are conferred the priesthood if they are ordained after the order of Melchelizdek?

I was able to learn more about the men's initiatory process from my husband who described the point in time when names needing proxy are ordained to the priesthood and that process is obviously missing from the women's ceremony.

Its obvious that I may not ever understand more beyond the point where I currently am now, but at the same time for years, I said the same thing about where I was then. Who knows what further information or understanding may come to me as I continue this study and seeking? I will continue faithful, relying on prayer and having a much greater appreciation and desire to have the spirit of discernment which will help me to know between truth and error.

There will be many who believe I am in error and I'm scared as to what that might mean for me socially in the church. And yet, if I know if I were to deny the lessons from the Spirit that I have received in the last few months, I would also have to deny the Spirit confirmations that convinced me of the truthfulness of the gospel, that told me that my husband was the right man for me to marry, that told me it was God's will (or he was supportive) of me attending graduate school, or going to BYU, or any of the other many times the Spirit has testified to me of truth.

I do know however that I can't do much with this knowledge. If anything is meant to change in church policy, I must be patient for it and not push for anything or even recognition or corroboration that what I have been told is true. That's okay. That's the way it works on doctrine that hasn't been revealed through the proper channels. People can pray and know and its perfectly fine to believe whatever they are going to believe as long as they don't go out trying to convert people to their understanding. I'm concerned even by publicly saying this on my blog.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mothering Breakthroughs

I've lately been pondering the challenges of maintaining spirituality as a mother of young children. In my experience, its sort of like a pressure cooker where the effort required is so intense and sustained that there is barely any time for the quiet reflection of prayer and scripture study. At best, a morning prayer is a quick hail mary sent up as I fly out of bed to answer a baby's cry or help a child get to the bathroom. And yet, I've been experiencing what I'm finding to be a spiritual renaissance in my life where prayers are more effective, study is more frequent and I feel a greater excitement for the things of the gospel than I have for a long time. Then of course comes the guilt and fear that I'm not giving my children enough of the focus that they require and my gospel study is becoming a selfish pursuit that interferes with my care for them.

I have found inspiration, comfort and guidance in the words of faithful women recently. In both cases, I have been close to this realization. Its like its been off stage waiting in the wings for me to get to that point. Often for me, this can take weeks, months or years as I encounter experiences and thoughts that bring me to such realizations. Its very nice when I feel led almost right to the brink and then its the words of others who show me the waters to drink from are right in front of me, ready for me to take, read and digest.

First came from a new friend that I am getting to know through midwifery school: She wrote in her post
This week has been one of those weeks that I like to call: Foundational. In Proverbs 14:1 the Bible says, "Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands." Well, I have an imagination and I like to think about my "daily grind" as a building project. Some days I may be watching kids play pleasantly and giving some positive affirmation here and there. These are painting days (because I like painting). Some times, my days are consumed with breaking up fights, scolding and correcting. This is like putting up walls to me! Anyway, you get my point.

And second, a blog post that my friend passed along with me in mind, where the author reminds me of the opportunities for daily and constant devotionals that can turn my attention to my God and love for my children.

I have found myself trying to survive spiritualy as a mother the way in which she describes and I've just recently begun to realize the times throughout a day that I can connect with the spirit.

We spend the first decade of motherhood waiting for a moment of quiet. When the children are older, then I can pray. Once the house is clean and organized, then I can find peace. When we reach the other side of this trying time, only then can I be the wife and mother I truly wish to be.

Always missing the opportunity to engage the present moment, living for an imaginary one.

The treasure hunt within the present moment. Where is it? Where is the grace hidden in this moment in time? God is here. Where is He in this very moment?

My meal time prayers become more meaningful, as well as my time driving in the car. While children sleep in their carseats during car rides, I have quiet, time to pray, reflect and ponder. And I find the Spirit in those moments.

The author of the post says its the first decade of mothering. I will count myself lucky that I was exposed to this idea and was able to grasp it after only 4 years. Not that its a race, but the sooner the better it is to learn lessons such as this.

May I remember that laundry can be a time to reflect and pray for my family members, that each article of clothing is a tangible extension of my love and concern for them.