Saturday, February 26, 2011

Getting Mystical on you...

I have always been drawn to the concept of the Tree of Life. I fell in love with it when I was introduced to the LDS church and read Lehi's vision for the first time. But even beyond that, I have loved the connection to family history with our roots and branches. Then there's the connection to ancient cultures where it has appeared in Meso-America, the Middle East, the Celtic Isles. I also love the natural world and greatly appreciate trees. But even with that, I didn't entirely understand why I feel so drawn to them. The color purple is the same way and I still haven't figured that out (though information on amethyst might explain a large part of it). The word Wisdom is something that I've been inexplicably drawn to a well. 

So here's the connection between Wisdom and the Tree of Life: 

Proverbs 3:18: "She [Wisdom] is a tree of alife to them that lay hold upon her"

There is a strong tradition in the Old Testament of Wisdom as a female goddess. I'm learning some of it from the book "Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God." Other sources where I've heard from is "Nephi and His Asherah" from the Maxwell Institute and "How to Worship Our  Mother in Heaven without Being Excommunicated." 

So not only is the Tree of Life, the love of God but it is also the gift of wisdom that comes to those who love God. It can also be called a symbol of the Goddess so the love of God that comes from that tree, then, is also the love of our Mother in Heaven. 

One insight I had a few years ago that has stayed with me is the different meanings of the phrase "love of God." The possessive is ambiguous. Is it God's love or our love for God? Both? I like to think of it as both, that feeling God's love through the Spirit is a gift but also our love of God is a fruit of faithful living. As we progress along the path to the tree, our love of God grows. In that way, the journey to the tree that each Mormon is on, is an archetypal journey to wisdom. 

Like Lehi, I find the promise of that fruit to be completely worth it. It is my hope that at the end of my life's journey that one of the fruits of the tree of life (which from the Old Testament is not just the love of God but it is also the gift of eternal life) is finding Heavenly Mother not just Our Father and the blessing it will be to learn of them through our eternity. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book of Jenne and Carolyn continued: Highlights from the Book of Mosiah

Updated July 2012: I stop summarizing the Book of Mormon for my mother because she is now reading on her own and doesn't need it anymore! In April 2011, she was baptized. As you read in my recent post, she was endowed in the temple in June 2012. I'm on to reading Women Who Run with the Wolves as my parallel scripture for women since the LDS canon is so lacking the feminine viewpoint. 

In my original post, I summarized and highlighted the first 4 books of the Book of Mormon. I'm continuing my effort to pull out what I feel are the most important lessons from these books so I can share them with my mother. The following summary is also part of the original post so it can all be kept in one place, as well as broken up into chunks as I feel that makes it easier to read. 

The Book of Mosiah: 

Mosiah begins with the reign of King Benjamin who is the king over the Nephites at the time. He was a faithful man and a conscientious leader. At one point in his reign, he gathered his people to together and expounded on the scriptures and taught them principles of the gospel. Chapters 2-5 are his address to the people. Linked verses are highlights of his address. 

King Benjamin's Discourse: 
Mosiah 2:17: Perhaps the most famous line from King Benjamin "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings are ye only in the service of your God." 
Mosiah 2: 19-22: Give thanks to God for creating you, recognize their (Father's and Mother's) role in your life
Mosiah 2: 23-24: What God requires in return: keep commandments and he/they "doth immediately bless you." 
Mosiah 2:34: "ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly father (+mother), to render to (them) all that you have and are"
Mosiah 2:41: "the happy state of those who keep the commandments of God, they are blessed in all things temporal and spiritual."
Mosiah 3: 5-11: prophesies of the coming of Christ. 2 important things here: King Benjamin reveals the name that Christ will be known by. Verse 7 teaches us that Christ, in his atonement, also experiences our suffering including our pain (from any cause), our fatigue (which can be caused by frustration, weariness in suffering, physical disability, etc). 
Mosiah 3:14: Little children cannot sin. They must come to an awareness of right and wrong before they can be held accountable for their mistakes. Cross reference: Moroni 8:8 
Mosiah 3:18-19: The Atonement does not work for those who do not accept and believe in it. We must "yield to the enticings of the Spirit" and "becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ."
Mosiah 3: 24-25: "whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works." At that time, it will be clear to each of us the results of our actions during life. Cross reference: Alma 11: 43 We will have a bright recollection of our guilt. Our understanding will not be clouded anymore and we will know perfectly where we went wrong. That awareness can be horrific to possess because we are our own worst critics. There is pain that comes from realizing our mistakes. That pain is what is being described by scriptural references to "fire and brimstone." Alma describes it as wishing that he could cease to exist but knowing that he could not and would have to live with his mistakes and the hurts he caused others. This is where the Atonement comes in and why it is so useful and necessary. It makes it possible for us to forgive ourselves for the hurt we cause ourselves and others. Once we forgive ourselves we can carry on with hope and assurance that despite our mistakes we are good people. 

Mosiah 4:9: "believe that [God] has all wisdom and all power both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things that the Lord can comprehend" Yet we are promised that we can and will comprehend all the things the Lord can comprehend IF we are willing to do what it takes to get to that point when we are ready to learn those things, even "all wisdom and all power." 
Mosiah 4:10: "if you believe all these things see that ye do them." 
Mosiah 4:11: Strike out "unworthy creatures" and its a great verse showing how we can feel God's love through forgiveness and how we can go about living a faithful life. 
Mosiah 4:12: if you are faithful, ye shall be "filled with the love of God" and "ye shall grow in knowledge of that which is just and true." To me, this means a perfect knowledge and understanding of what is right. The world needs a great deal more of that and I take hold upon the promise that I can find it from the source of all true and goodness with the hope that everyone else can do the same. 
Mosiah 4:13: Those who come to know the love of God (whether you think its how to love like God, be loved by God or show love to God), "ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably." 
Mosiah 4:15: I'm really just including this verse because its one of my favorites and is my hope for what my children learn: "ye will teach [your children] to love one another and to serve one another." 
Mosiah 4:16: Ye will succor those that stand in need of your succor, ye will administer of your substance unto him who standeth in need." And thus begins some of the greatest social justice verses in all of scripture. Also, cross-reference to the baptismal covenant (i.e. the covenant a member of the LDS church makes at baptism). 
Mosiah 4:19-22, 26: Like I said, some of the best verses on the topic of social justice in all of scripture, perhaps all religion in general. This is the gospel of Christ in word and action. 
Mosiah 4:24: Also empathizes and excuses those who feel guilty for not having enough to give. "I would that ye would say in your hearts, I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give."
Mosiah 4:27: Wise words indeed: "See that all things be done in wisdom and order, for it is not requisite that a  [wo]man should run faster than [s]he has strength."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lessons from King Benjamin

My son has shown us that he really likes being told scripture stories at night as we cuddle before at bedtime. He prefers it to reading scriptures out-loud (though I was really liking the idea proposed by Sister Wixom's General Conference talk). Our nightly scripture story has become kind of like those "Pick Your Adventure" books. After a series of questions, he'll let me know which book and often which person he wants the story to be about. Lately, its from the Book of Mormon and we've settled into Kind Benjamin's famous discourse in Mosiah.

We got started with Mosiah 2:17:

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

Which shows you, that basically, when I tell a scripture story I'm describing a principle and the context in which that principle was given. Each one becomes a lesson.

Next from Mosiah, we talked about the responsibility of the wealthy and those who have more than others to give to those who have less (from Mosiah 4:21).

There are so many other lessons that can be given and stories that can be told. I need to prepare myself for the next few nights with stories on hand. If I were to pick the principles that I most want to share with my young son, I would probably cover the following:

Especially Mosiah 4: 14 and 15
14 And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the devil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.

15 But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.

Then, using verse 16, I can teach the vocabulary word "succor" and the importance of meeting the needs of those who are suffering. It should be tied into the baptismal covenant as well.

I love the concept taught in Mosiah 2:19 as it gives the unique perspective of God as Heavenly King. This seems like an appropriate time to describe Heavenly Mother as our Heavenly Queen as well. Then, of course, to emphasize the importance of gratitude for our needs being met and our blessings.

It seems appropriate to tell the story that King Benjamin prophesied about the coming of Christ in Mosiah 3:5. as well as described Christ's actions in his life and testified of his Atonement.

My son has heard it described before that as a little child he cannot sin or be held accountable for the mistakes he makes, and King Benjamin is also one of the sources for that teaching in Mosiah 3: 16.

I would use verse 19 as it describes the attributes of a child "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things..." but in my experience, that is not this child and it makes me wonder what those parents had to do to that child to make them that way. Certainly, my child does not come by these attributes naturally, though he is learning (and I'm learning too how to model it).

The subject of trust is a big one in our house since my son is not very trusting and its something that we would like to encourage. Verse 6 in chapter 4 emphasizes the need for the children of men to put their trust in the Lord and be diligent in keeping his commandments.

I also especially love verse 9 and see this as another situation where I can relate the verse to Mother in Heaven as well. I can encourage my son to "believe in God, believe that they are, and that they created all things...and that they have all wisdom and all power." It is also an opportunity to teach him of the promise that someday we too will receive all that they have, and be able to share that knowledge of what they comprehend.

So far that eight more nights of King Benjamin lessons and stories. We'll see if we can cover them all or if my son will be ready to move onto some new part of the scriptures.

As you can tell, I am focussing on the positive in these accounts and on what concrete actions can be taken. Given that he is 4, and that is how children learn (and that there is plenty of fire and brimstone in these chapters as well as debasing of the individual), I recognize that I must keep these stories developmentally appropriate so he sees that he is capable of learning and doing what is right to the greatest extent of his ability now.

I'm excited to see how long we can stretch this out. Truly the King Benjamin chapters are a favorite of mine in the Book of Mormon. (Lehi's vision is my favorite and that has already been a topic of FHE and scripture stories).

Friday, February 18, 2011

Visitation Dream

Last week, I dreamed about my grandmother. She passed away in December of 2000 when I was a teenager. Her death affected me profoundly and played a role in my conversion as a Latter-day Saint.

The story there is that she was killed by a catastrophic stroke 13 months after my dad was killed in a car accident. Both deaths had me questioning the purpose of life and the possibility of life after death. Being agnostic, I struggled with the possibility of nothingness after life. The event that was a turning point in that struggle was attending one of my first LDS church meetings which just so happened to be a testimony meeting. A woman stood up and spoke of her grief at losing her mother to a stroke recently and she bore her testimony of the after life and the promise of being reunited with her mother again. She had the testimony of the knowledge that I wish I could have. At that point, I sought it and believed that sisters testimony was a sign to me. The similarity and the message given was exactly what I needed and seemed evidence that God was leading me to where I needed to be to find peace and comfort.

A couple of years later, I was a baptized member of the CoJCLDS and was attended the temple to perform her baptism by proxy. It was a commonly held belief in my family that the person who would have had the hardest time accepting my Mormonism would have been this grandmother. It was with some trepidation then that I approached the ordinance where I offered her an LDS baptism. The spiritual experience I had was unexpected. She is the only person for whom which I have preformed a temple baptism and felt it manifested to me at that moment their pleasure and appreciation at that opportunity being extended to them. The feelings I had were a unique combination of joy and elation that the next time I felt it was when I prayed to confirm my choice of marrying my husband. Both of these experiences are special, spiritual experiences that highlight my testimony.

In a way the dream I had was an extension of that impression I got from her baptism. Again it became clear to me of her happiness and joy at accepting an LDS baptism. (In life, she had been a devout Episcopalian).

I dreamed that I was visiting with a friend in a store where we had happened to run into each other. We were chatting and our conversation turned to the LDS belief in the afterlife. I shared with her how strongly I wished to be visited by my father or grandmother in a dream or vision. During the conversation, a person unknown to me came up to me and mentioned that someone was going to be coming to speak with me soon. This person, a young man slightly older than me, mentioned that he needed some help finding something nearby that he had been missing. In fact, it was a Subway sandwich. He was very excited about the idea of a Subway sandwich since according to him it had been years since he had an opportunity to eat one. I excused myself from the conversation with my friend and set out in search of the nearest Subway. Then, strangely, I realized that I had left my shoes behind so we had to return to the store where I left them before setting out again.

As I turned around to walk outside, I saw my grandmother walk through the door. She was wearing a bright turquoise tunic over ivory linen pants. Her hair was in her characteristic white teased shaped do (anyone who knows her know what I'm talking about) yet she looked younger than how I knew her in life. The sparkle in her eye was the same and she seemed so happy and healthy. I exclaimed, "Grandma!" and we embraced joyfully and then started chattering with each other. I caught the eye of my friend who realized the significance of this moment and cheered that I was seeing my grandmother again.

In the course of our conversation, I asked my grandmother a couple of questions about the afterlife and she communicated to me that the young man so excited about Subway was a guide from the spirit world to help make sure that she and I found each other. She told me about other men and women who were in the spirit world and how their bodies are made up of matter. At the end of our conversation, she held out a tray of cookies that she had made and offered them to me. This led to another series of questions about whether food existed in the spirit world. Obviously it did but something was lost in translation as it was difficult for her as a spirit to manipulate the matter of the cookies properly. She told me that it was done using the power of mind and visualization (similar to the concepts described in the book What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson). Because of the travel required from one plane of existence to another (spirit to temporal), the cookies did not materially appear the same to me as they did before she left. Not that this was an important bit of information, but it was still an interesting concept to learn.

As I began to think of other questions that I could ask her and wondered at how long I would be able to visit with her, I hugged her again. As I pulled away from her to ask her more questions, she disappeared from my presence, just as my father once disappeared mid-hug in a dream I had about him.

I woke up feeling so very happy to have been visited by my grandmother. I greatly miss her and feel at a detriment that I have not been able to learn from her as the last role model in my family to be a stay at home mother. I find myself similar to her in many ways especially as I show my love to my children through cooking with them and buying them toys. Those are my fondest memories with my grandmother and I find myself recreating those memories with my young ones.

As I pondered the dream, I realized the young man was a guide and I noticed the many similarities to how the afterlife was described in What Dreams May Come and how compatible those concepts are to the LDS understanding of the spirit world.

I am so grateful for this dream and for the happiness it brought into that day and the memory now that I can cherish.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lingering Questions

I just finished reading the newest work of Mormon scholarship on women administerring blessings in the early church written by Johnathan Stapley and Kristine Wright. Its surprisingly long-85 pages- most of which chronicles examples of women giving blessings between the 1830s and 1940s. The purpose of the article was actually to trace the changing views on the practice overtime and map how the practice was discontinued. Now that I have read it, I see a few places in which questions remain and I believe are worthy of further investigation.

A few questions that are lingering for me:

The 1949 statement of Joseph F. Smith did not actually prohibit the blessing and annointing of women during pregnancy (which was the only remaining allowable activity left to women of the church), so how and why then did it actually get discontinued? Where are the statements discouraging, rebuking, and correcting those who continued the practice? And if those statements do not exist, what then is keeping women of the church from continuing to give blessings to pregnant women?

What were the reactions of women of the church to the gradual restrictions placed on their religious practice of healing? Was there upset? Disappointment? Dissent?

The authors briefly refute the D. Michael Quinn claim that there is evidence supporting the idea that women were ordained to the priesthood but do not cite a more indepth refutation. Is there a scholarly work that does argue against Quinn's thesis?

Also missing from the article is the So What? An answer to the question, What do this mean for us now as Latter-day Saints? Is it enough to be comforted by knowledge of this heritage (e.g. that somehow knowing that women used to collaborate in the blessings of women, and the sick and afflicted makes us equal)? Ought there to be an effort to reclaim this privilege? What are the thoughts and feelings of LDS women to this knowledge? What is their response to the practice being phased out?

I will likely come back and write my more personal thoughts on this topic but for now I needed to get these questions down.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pondering on death, nature and eternal perspectives

In environmental biology, death is necessary in order to maintain population equilibrium when there is too much of one specie, it throws the whole system off. For example too many eagles in a population could kill off all of the frogs in an area and the area would be overrun with mosquitos and other flying insects because the frogs aren't there to keep their population in check. Death is a primary means of controlling population and maintaining that equilibrium. This then ties into the idea of "survival of the fittest," in order for populations to thrive, the weakest (often the young, old and sickly) need to not stand in the way of the overall population being healthy. If that means picking up and moving 2,000 miles, the weak are not able to make that trek, and they die either before the trip or along the way.

In that way, I do not think that death is a mistake of nature when all of the species of the natural world depend on a finite number of resources. The earth would not be able to provide for everyone and everything if everything lived forever. To maintain an eternal perspective, we must be willing to believe that this world is not all that there is. Is there an ideal place where there are enough resources to maintain life for everyone and everything without depleting those resources? Yes. Is it the earth in its state right now? No.

We do have the promise of a celestialized world where all of those concerns will not exist anymore or perhaps, we'll have been the ones to figure out the sustainable solutions rather that expect Christ to come and save us in our sins (e.g. fixing everything that we have so royally screwed up). So with that, you can find the eternal perspective of looking forward to when the earth is not limited by finite resources and have optimism that someday that ideal will be realized.

When it comes to connecting with nature, ritual and elements, while here on earth, I think it requires a healthy respect for death and an understanding of how all things work together for good. Nature is an intricate dance of interactions between species and systems. It finds a balance and has a way to correct imbalances over time. No mortal human or group of humans could work it out so well. I believe because nature is so finely tuned to work properly and that there are even good reasons for things to work improperly at times. Because of this, I believe that nature is worthy of respect and reverence. After all, without it, we could not exist. The elements are essential to our survival.

If we are to develop beyond where we are now and if we hope to turn our attentions to the things of the next world, we still have to respect and be mindful of the needs of now. I believe that as we make ourselves and our world healthier that we are more capable of learning what life has to offer us. This I believe is the intention behind of the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89).

At the same time, we are in the process of preparing to become gods (D&C 132:20). We are going to have to figure out at some point how to create and maintain worlds so life can perpetuate itself. If we are wise stewards on the earth now, we are like the servants in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). When we are given something to start with, we are capable of turning in to something more or better than what we started with. Isn't that what is happening with us? And isn't that what we are supposed to do as gods?

I truly fear the the people who believe that it is not useful to sustain and conserve the earth are being like the servant who hides his talent. To me, its not so much a matter of replenishing the earth (because that implies taking it back to a previous state) but it is a matter of making the world better than when we started. And really, this is leading me to a new idea, that replenishing the earth may be a direction to restore the earth to its paradisiacal state in the Garden of Eden. That us humans are expected to figure out how to make that possible. I suspect that its a case "after all you can do, it is by grace you saved"(2 Nephi 25: 23) or in other words the parable of the bicycle. The little girl works and earns money to buy a bicycle but her parents pitch in the rest after she did all he could to earn the money. The Atonement works that way for us (Believing Christ: subheading Give Him All That We Have). After we put forth our best effort, do all we can and get as close as possible to attaining a seemingly (or truly) impossible goal, Christ, our Older Brother, will make up the rest of us and makes our efforts successful in attaining the goal.

In fact, I kind of have a theory that Christ will not come again until we have done as we can do to make the world as healthy and sustaining for everyone as possible. Its not until we do all we can, that he will come again and pick up where we left off.

I realize this is somewhat in contradiction to the general teachings of the Second Coming, but it is how I am finding a way to continue caring about this life. The ethical, right, good, praiseworthy choice seems to be working to make the world a better place through comforting those who stand in need of comfort and mourning with those who mourn. Often that can be done by working to prevent the situations where mourning is necessary (as in the case of infant mortality or unemployment). There is much much good that we can do in this world, and it makes no sense to not do it.