For over a week now I have rejoiced and grieved/danced and wept/ felt free-at-last and still a tad bit bound. Sorry to be so oblique. I’m sorry, also, that I have been instructed that “oblique” is the best I can do. (That isn’t an apology; it’s a regret.)
The other day, weighed with these joys and burdens, I fell into a deep three hour nap. As I surfaced back to consciousness a crisp thought came to me: “Find peace in ambiguity.”
The first time I heard this phrase was from Virginia Hinckley Pearce, a former member of the Young Women General Presidency, who spoke at the book launch in 2017 for the fabulous volume called At the Pulpit: 185 years of discourses by Latter-day Saint Women . At that occasion those words resonated like a crystal bell for me. They were an answer to a prayer I hadn’t known I had been praying. (I have now discovered the Gilda Radner coined her own version of it. See above.)
With all the turbulence of recent changes on top of my previous 4+ decades of conflicted temple experience and faithful church service I had briefly lost track of that mantra. (I will add that 9 of those 40 years I served as an ordinance worker which was both a sacred and a head-scratching experience for me.)
Ambiguity is the territory I inhabit where I roam without gagging too much on any particular roughage or weed that might come my way. I invite you to join me in my pasture land.
Here I offer two musings. For me they are related and significant. For you they may not make sense. As with parables – suss out what you find useful and don’t fret about anything more.
#1 – Yin and Yang of Mourning the Injuries of the Past
Back in 1990 – 29 years ago – I was impressed by an interview I watched between journalist Bill Moyers and the poet Robert Bly. They were talking about men and the psychic wounds that are exacerbated by not grieving. Here’s part of the transcript:
Bly: We hired four presidents in a row who promised us that we would not go into the grief about the Vietnam War… if Lincoln had been alive, do you know how he would have gone into that grief? He would have gotten everybody five years after the Vietnam War, and he would have said, “We’ve killed so many people, and these veterans are here, we have destroyed them! “Aaaah! Let’s all weep! Aaah! Aaah! Aaah!” (soul-wrenching wails.) That’s what Lincoln would have done. He would have encouraged America to grieve over the losses in the Vietnam War.
MOYERS: America never really has come to terms with the shadow of its past.
BLY: That’s right.
MOYERS: The Indians, the blacks.
BLY: We didn’t mourn over the death of the Indians, and we didn’t mourn [regarding slavery.] Lincoln did moderately well in mourning the Civil War. But after that, it’s been a process of not mourning. Alexander Mitschlich in Germany has written a book called The Inability to Mourn, about the Germans after the Second World War. Now, we’re in that same situation. We have an inability to mourn. So again, you see, how can we have men or women if we can’t go into grief at all?
Elder Dallin Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, on the topic of improved civility in discourse surrounding LGBTQ issues, said in 2015:
I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them….We sometimes look back on issues and say, “Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,” but we look forward and not backward….The church doesn’t seek apologies, he said, ‘and we don’t give them.
#2 – the Healing Power of Apologies
In a radiant essay called “Pastor to Pastor” in 2012 my friend and author Margaret Blair Young describes the occasion when Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray, the pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, visited BYU and met with professors and Church leaders. The founder of Pastor Murray’s church had been Biddy Smith Mason, a slave to Mormon Pioneers, who was “given” as a wedding gift to her master. When Pastor Murray met then President of the Church Gordon B. Hinckley, President Hinckley offered him an apology for the LDS Church’s participation in slavery and in racism.
Recalling this occasion Pastor Murray said:
President Hinckley is a true messenger of our Lord. Two years ago, I was invited to Salt Lake City by the LDS Church, and President Hinckley took his personal time to sit with our small group that was touring the many ministries and apologized to me in front of the group. That was amazing! Now the [LDS] Church pushes Blacks to learn their lineage via the Church. That will open eyes and doors that will open new avenues of life.
In the April 2006 General Conference, President Hinckley minced no words:
No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ . . . . How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?
In response to Sister Young’s request for help with a family relationship, Pastor Murray suggested a script much like this:
My dear one, I want to ask your forgiveness. Forgive me for whatever things I have done or failed to do that caused you such anger and anguish of spirit. Forgive me for the months and years and feeling your hostility and knowing that in some way you were responding to me, convinced that I trigger these negative feelings in you. Forgive me for not having asked forgiveness before. Forgive me for not being able to sit with you and ask about your pain. Yes, I know that there are two sides to every question, but my side is not important right now. You will see a change in me from this moment on. I ask no change in you, just that you notice a change in me. I accept you just as you are. Now I shall sit and listen to you. I love you.
I find it healing and expansive just reading his words.
Specialists in the field of psychology are among the first to praise the benefits of appropriate apologizing and forgiveness.
Apologizing opens up the doors to communication, which allows you to reconnect with the person who was hurt. It also allows you to express regret that they have been hurt, which lets them know you really care about their feelings; this can help them feel safer with you again.
When seeking to understand how to apologize effectively, it’s important to understand the value of expressing regret. Taking responsibility is important, but it’s also helpful for the other person to know that you feel bad about hurting them, and wish you hadn’t. They already feel bad, and they’d like to know that you feel bad about them feeling bad. “I wish I’d thought of your feelings as well.”
Almost like magic, apology has the power to repair harm, mend relationships, soothe wounds and heal broken hearts. Apology is not just a social nicety. It is an important ritual, a way of showing respect and empathy for the wronged person. … Apology, when sincere and intentional, is a powerful, perhaps even life-altering, tool for both the giver and the receiver. There are also two important underlying aspects of an apology—intention and attitude. These are communicated non-verbally to the person to whom you are apologizing. If your apology does not come sincerely, it will not feel meaningful to the other person.
Perhaps you have found some resonance with my two musings. My task is to continue to find peace in ambiguity – as Virginia and Gilda recommend. I also want to be counted as “a repairer of the breach” for all our ancient and neglected mournings, and a celebrant in all our further light and knowledge:
And they that shall be of you shall build the old waste places: you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. Isaiah 58:12