TRUTH, TRUST AND TRADITION

I was having lunch with my friend, Sue, recently and we got to talking about our relationship with the LDS Church throughout our lives. We’re both Mormons in our 50’s, so our experience is long enough to make some general observations and comparisons. We’re both committed, practicing church members, but our underlying motivations differ. Or maybe they don’t. That’s what I want to talk about with you today.

Sue has been a church member all of her life, raised in the truths and traditions of the gospel. She admits that her church activity is largely based on habit, and even supposes that had she not been born into a Mormon family, she likely would not have embraced the gospel. I have many close friends, and even family members, who echo her sentiments. For them, the church is a wonderful framework for a life of ritual devotion, service to others, rich community, and protection from some of the world’s pernicious traps. I can’t find a thing wrong with this approach. But nor can I understand it.

No, I take that back. Although I am a convert to the LDS Church, I come from a long line of devoted Christians. My great-grandfather, a Methodist minister, christened me as a baby. Two of my cousins are in the clergy. I grew up attending church every Sunday, so I have strong religious habits and traditions myself. But being a Mormon is different from my family traditions. It requires a stronger commitment to religious practice. My participation in the LDS Church is entirely intentional, the result of my spirit’s instinctive search for truth. For me, and for most other converts (like Sue’s husband) church activity is far less habit and much more choice. We tend to be a little intense about our approach to gospel living because we are largely driven not by tradition, but by our visceral need to know the truth.

Truth be told, I am not actually sure that this distinction (convert or lifer) has anything to do with the differences I note in people’s religious motivations. Maybe it is simply a difference in order, or timing. Converts come to the Church because they are seeking truth, and lifelong members seek truth at some point because they are members of the Church.

So maybe the difference isn’t in how people come to be members of the  Church. Maybe some people are innately truth-seekers, due to their premortal history or their basic spiritual makeup. But not all faithful saints, whether convert or lifelong member, are interested in truth. Some of us are keenly interested in correct doctrine, in understanding how things really are — or should be — and that is a continual, driving pursuit. Others simply can’t drum up concern about such things. I know and love many faithful saints who show up, do their duty, serve the best they can, and couldn’t care less whether women are supposed to be ordained to the priesthood, or if we can progress to higher heavenly kingdoms after mortality. But some of us care deeply about finding answers to such questions.

I know it’s not as simple a dichotomy as “truth-seekers” and “trusting followers”.  All true saints care about both truth and trust. It makes me think of this favorite bit of scripture from Doctrine and Covenants 46:

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every one is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

 12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

 13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

My observation is that those with the gift of knowing Jesus Christ tend to be the questioners, the ones endowed with a burning need to know divine truth. And those with the gift of believing seem to have an enviable, gentle kind of faith, a willing trust in the faithful traditions they’ve been taught. Sometimes people think that believing is not as cool a gift as knowing, but that’s not so. Both are spiritual gifts and I choose to believe that God gives us the gifts that will best bless us and consequently, those we love and serve.

I notice, too, that truth-seekers tend to be future-oriented, always looking ahead to the “improved” version of life, the expansion of knowledge. They seem to need experiential evidence of truth, but when they get it, they cannot be shaken from their knowledge of what is true. Trusters tend to look back to the past with a faith-of-our-fathers sort of approach, looking for models to emulate. They seem to be able to rely on other people’s experience as a basis for belief.

What do you think about truth, trust and tradition?. Do you have the gift of knowing or believing? Are you a convert, a lifelong member or a non-church-member? A truth-seeker or a traditionalist? And if, as I presume, you acknowledge a mix of all of these in yourself, how do you balance truth-seeking, trust and tradition? What motivates you to spiritual activity?

Margaret Atwood and the Spirit’s Voice

Margaret Atwood

Of all the books I read for my book group last year, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin was my definite favorite. I’m ashamed to say I have not sampled more of her works (The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace, Oryx and Crake, etc.), but I love her style and look forward to discovering more of it in the future.

Today is her birthday, and in honor of this event, I’d like to recognize one of her poems. But first, a little context . . . I’ve been thinking about how the Spirit whispers to me—what language it uses. One woman in my Relief Society commented on Sunday how learning to speak the Spirit’s language is just as difficult as becoming fluent in a second language. I would argue that it is even more complicated, since the Spirit’s language varies with each individual. Fast-forward to later that day when I was feeling deficient and overwhelmed: my prayers were rote. I didn’t study my scriptures enough. I felt like a shadow of a Saint in Zion.

Continue reading

Peculiar Treasures: Tongues, Chomps, Champs, Choice and Twos!

117H

Wherever you may be in the world, and whatever your country’s name in its official language, it’s time to sink your teeth into this week’s Peculiar Treasures!

You could chew on the history of the ramen noodle, or be gobsmacked at the zombies floating in Lake Michigan.

Speaking of unusual jobs to perform like a champion, what about a midwife to women with Ebola, or teaching kids to solve fractions using dance?

Of course, we’re all more than a job – read this great interview with our very own Artistic Director Leslie Graff, breaking down the myth of only being able to be one thing at a time. Then there’s a discussion on being Mom/Mum doesn’t mean ONLY being Mom/Mum, and the joy and responsibility in being our real selves, for the good of the women and girls coming up behind us.

Finally, some links brought to you by the number two: how a second language is better brain food than Sudoku, the two best traits of successful relationships, and a cake showing two beloved guests who will be performing at this Christmas’ MoTab celebration.

This week’s First Draft Poetry has a zombie theme, penned by Lara:

I used to like zombies
less.
And alright, maybe I don’t like them more now . . .
I might just be used to them. Date night with the Walking
Dead once a week and all.

I try to keep this new
interest
quiet
as my daughter had the living daylights scared out
of her during a flash mob in the Wal-Mart parking lot last Halloween.

I find there is quite the
variety
of undead
these days, but they all smell, they’re all rotting from the inside out
and their grip can reach you from as far as the bottom of the ocean

I meet them sometimes—
line
at the gas station,
running for office, cheating on their spouses. I see them wrench their
two-year-old’s arm, as if because they are zombies, they think it shouldn’t
hurt.

Sabbath Revival: Stars Bright

Today’s revival post was originally written in November 2009 by Melissa Y. This month our family continues a tradition established by my parents of adding little “thankful” leaves to the vinyl tree stuck to the kitchen door. At first it’s easy to think of 2 different things to be thankful for each day, but as Thanksgiving gets closer, you have to think more about the small things–the things like the heavens and the stars. Melissa’s post reminded me of this Wendell Berry poem, one of my favorite from college and the many back-packing trips I took with my friends. We used to lay in our sleeping bags under the night sky and take turns telling stories or quoting poetry:

The Peace of Wild Things
BY WENDELL BERRY
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998. Published and reprinted by arrangement with Counterpoint Press.

Source: Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Counterpoint Press, 1985)

Stars Bright
November 17, 2009 Daily Special darkness, light, stars Melissa Y.

After several hours of driving, I stepped out of the car and felt the breath rush out of me. In my thirty years I could not remember seeing the night sky appear as it did then. It was literally stunning. I felt like I’d been lifted into space, like I could touch the stars or breathe them in. It had been years since I’d been in a wilderness at night.

When we moved to a small rural community, I spent many nights out on our deck star gazing. The scuffle in the city council at the time was over an ordinance that would minimize the wattage allowed for outdoor lighting. How quaint, I thought, that an issue like that is even on the agenda, let alone heated. But evening after evening as I sat and marveled, I came to appreciate the emotion behind the ordinance.

The place we live now has more light pollution and the stars are not as breathtaking. I barely give them a second glance. I didn’t spend even one night this summer looking heavenward, and now that it’s too cold to do so, I’m feeling the lack. Somehow in the vastness of space, I find it easier rather than more difficult to feel connected to God. Like somehow my very awareness, the fact that I’m feeling my own existence in the face of that dark expanse, connects me to the divinity in my spirit.

I’m not schooled in astronomy. I can’t identify any constellations other than the Big Dipper and Orion. The celestial symbols of our faith are mostly a mystery to me. But even with all of my ignorance, I find that I’m able to learn something about light by spending time in the dark.

Passion: Windows of Agates

Cincinnati Death Record

Cincinnati Death Record

Sunday morning

During the passing of the sacrament I decided to prep myself for Sunday School by reading the scriptural passage we’d be studying. Isaiah 54. That first verse caught my attention in a visceral way:

“Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.”

I know many women for whom fertility issues are a great source of anxiety and grief. My own three children were hard to come by, but relative to those who want children but can never have them or lose them early I can only imagine the heartbreak. And, given Isaiah’s setting where being barren (even though it may have been the guy’s problem!) was deemed “shameful”, the problem was exacerbated by that unjust layer of societal disrespect. Continue reading