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Jane and Emma and God and Me

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Jane Elizabeth Manning James

I had paradoxes, divine contradictions  (like justice and mercy) and Rainer Maria Rilke’s words on my mind last week as I went to the Chicago Temple.

[R]esolving the tension requires a supply of love that comes from beyond ourselves, provoked by the tension itself. If we are to hold the paradoxes together, our own love is absolutely necessary—and yet our own love is never enough. In a time of tension, we must endure with whatever love we can muster until that very tension draws a larger love into the scene.” Rainer Maria Rilke

I wasn’t sure I could make sense of Rilke’s words. Why can’t the world just make sense? Why is one person’s pain another person’s joy? Conflict. It’s everywhere. Deep thoughts for a Friday morning.

Then I was handed a paper with the the name of  the women for whom I was about to do initiatories. The name leaped out at me: Emma Jane Smith. (b. 1852 in Ohio)

I recently saw the elegant film “Jane and Emma” in Utah where I live. The film reveals  the complexities of those two women – Emma Smith and Jane Manning and their paradoxical lives. It invites us into their inner tensions, their fraught and ardent faith, their determination to follow God’s will – as confusing as that often is to discern. While I heard the words pronounced on me for the Emma Jane Smith born in 1852, I also heard them blessing Emma Smith and Jane Manning. (Literally) God knows all the burdens and challenges those two women wrestled with – matters of life and death, covenant and conviction – all thrown into the whirlwind that attended (and still attends) the Restoration.

And here was God, in the voices of mortal women wearing white, pronouncing holy blessing upon blessing on each of us. (Bless that generous woman Emma Jane Smith of Ohio who shared her own initiatory with three other women last week!) God, who knows all the dire challenges and terror Emma Smith and Jane Manning endured  – and the less cataclysmic ones I juggle – washed them clean, blessed their scarred and traumatized bodies in every particular, and bundled them in protection, the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the power of the priesthood through the incomparable gift of Christ and His atonement.

Did all of that divine generosity resolve their tensions and challenges? No.

They still faced chaos, prejudice, grief, abandonment in various forms and all the disappointments of mortality. Those tensions continued unresolved. But they were also simultaneously blessed beyond their comprehension by the love of God, beyond mortal time and limits. Tension and love coexist.

So it was a moving day at the temple for me – topped off with a little grace note of seeing a lovely enamel pin saying “Mama Dragons” on a coat hanging near mine in the coatroom. Tensions and love co-existing. It’s everywhere.

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

3 thoughts on “Jane and Emma and God and Me”

  1. For someone who had such a tender experience with the movie, this is such a tender temple tender mercy. God is amazing.

    And I adore that quote about the tensions. Dancing in the tensions is a life theme for me. Thank you for sharing it.

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