Bring Them Home: Lessons about LDS temple work and the film Dunkirk,part 1

Last Saturday we had the opportunity to do family file work at the temple. We did initiatories followed by an endowment session. As my husband and I are the only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that were or ever probably will be, the family history aka genealogy task lays with us. The temple rites are a symbolic rescue of deceased ancestors who do not have a way to help themselves progress beyond this life. In a way it is similar to the Catholic masses of intentions said on behalf of loved ones beyond the veil in purgatory. Both Catholic and Mormon temple rituals must be done by the living in order to help the departed progress. It is a mystery (in the Catholic use of that word) that the dead need the living even though they are not part of this physical world. Their spirits are stranded at some point along the way and are brought home to their Creator, God, by efficacious rituals.

 
Our temple work takes quite a while to complete for each individual yet God commissions us, or I should say, the entire church is commissioned, to perform the appropriate rituals in order to unite families across the chasm of time and space. For Catholics, ancestors’ purgatorial experience is characterized as personally challenging with restitution affixed to certain mortal sins. Prayers and masses said on behalf of the dead are believed to relieve the duration and perhaps severity of repentance.

 

LDS do not have purgatory per se, but ancestors are believed to be taught and able to repent in some fashion after death yet cannot progress without the necessary ordinances being made available along their journey. To be clear, post mortal ordinances are required for those who did not personally obtain them in mortality. No additional prayers or rituals have been revealed to be required. Yet, some ancestors will not be in a ‘paradise’ after this life as their rejection of the gospel, their personal choices to sin without repentance, their disobedience , sent them to spirit prison where one last attempt is made to teach, convert and call to repentance. Still, be it temple work or mass of intention, there is a lovely outreach across the veil which ties into the Dunkirk experience.

 
Recently we watched the film Dunkirk at the IMAX. I really enjoyed this movie for a variety of reasons , which will not be addressed here. Although Dunkirk was a historical event highlighting the horrors of war, I pictured the mission of bringing countrymen home to England as perhaps filled with spiritual meaning. The ‘living” civilians set with the task of crossing the English Channel to rescue the ‘dead’ or ‘would be dead’ soldiers. This resonated with temple work in the living not only perform ordinances but first must seek out ancestor’s vital information then submitting and performing the necessary ordinances considered salvific.

 
The ancestors stuck on the Dunkirk beach those without the keys to be released from their prison and gain fullest admission into God’s presence. For those departed who were not valiant after mortality they initially land in spirit prison. Hazards in the form of lack of personal repentance, spiritual knowledge or acceptance of the Savior’s gospel keep them pinned at a supernatural beach. Similar to the action of some British soldiers, those who inhabit spirit prison may have despaired, committed atrocities against others to gain advantage, deceived and lied, believing that they would not be held accountable. On the other hand, spiritual ‘paradise’ is a place for those who were heroic, compassionate, valued honor and duty, but they still need rescuers to get them all the way ‘home’. English rescue boats and temple work come for both the heroic as well as the non-valiant.

 

Across the sea came boats big and small, all with the singular goal of bringing home the troops. These rescuers faced their own obstacles and made very dear sacrifices to reach the stranded. Not all survived the journey, as not all of us living will be able to find our ancestors and complete all the necessary work during our own lifetime.

 

At Dunkirk, the enemy did everything in its power to prevent successful rescue by attacking mercilessly from air, land, and sea. Older men and boys risked life and limb in their private vessels to rescue their compatriots symbolized intergenerational outreach. “Turn heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal 4: 6)) This reminds me of temple work that traverses time and space similar to the timeline arc in the film wherein land takes place over a week, sea –one day, air—one hour. As the timelines merge at the climax of the film, we see a convergence of perspectives before they again diverge in reverse order in terms of timeline. Perhaps this is how our omnipresent God operates in past, present, and future simultaneously. Anyways, in operation Dunkirk, as in the temple, both ends of humanity (living and dead) struggle to unite individual families and harvest the family of mankind while the adversary attacked by land, sea and air to thwart this rescue plan of salvific temple work. In all of this, we know the ending from the beginning in terms of victory in salvation and Dunkirk history.

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Sing Your Own Contemplative Part

It has been about a year since I posted on my blog. I lost interest in posting. Of course I should write no matter what but my own confusion as to my relationship to the LDS church and to contemplative life has me on a personal journey that this blog captures.

April 2017 General Conference featured wonderful talks. I especially enjoyed Elder Holland’s talk about expressing your unique voice in God’s choir. Each person has his/her own voice that God, the creator, fashioned to fully harmonize with all his other children.   Maybe my voice is indeed to be a contemplative. A voice of silence and solemnity amid the raucous of the world. See, I feel immensely drawn to the life of a hermit, a monk, a contemplative a opposed to the typical daily emptiness or superficiality I see in other LDS wrapped up in the world of their families. But, you know, God probably has just as much need for quiet as for bustle. However, last night challenged my hope for reconciliation.

Time Out for Women is a Deseret Book sponsored event featuring inspirational speakers and singers part of a feel good gathering.   There were about 800 sisters in attendance. Deseret Books had set up tables with books and trinkets for sale. Other LDS oriented clothing and food storage vendors also participated. I look for any familiar faces but recognized no one. I sat half way back on the aisle by myself. I was still raw from having to euthanize our 13-year-old Labrador on Monday. The speakers introduced themselves—cheerful and upbeat as the screen flashed with photos of their families with the resultant crowd responding with “awws”.

After an hour I became bored by the event.   With no living children to brag about, I felt so out of place.   I think the event should have been called Time Out for Mothers rather than for Women. At the break I sat on the couch taking in the buzz of moms calling home. How many of these perky moms had to hold their daughter for a lethal injection? How many experienced the deep sobriety of motherhood?   Very poignant for upcoming Holy Week.

I was feeling very alone so I walked towards the adjacent mall figuring where to spend at least another hour while my husband attended a baseball game across the street.  Emerging from the restroom, I looked across the street through large glass windows that faced a catholic church with double spires. Between the spires was a pale full moon. THAT is where I wanted to be. Surely the church would be closed at 8pm on a Friday night but to my astonishment the thick wooden double doors were open.   Like a moth to a flame I walked deliberately towards the church.   Entering, I found I was absolutely alone.   I found a side chapel with a few pews, an alter and covered statue and burning votive candles. The statue later I learned was the Pieta had been covered entirely by a violet cloth in preparation for Holy Week.   In the peace and quiet I poured out my heart to God, to Mary, to Christ, to anyone who may listen. In the stillness I felt that THIS is where I belonged.

I cried over Lucy’s death. Mother Mary of the Pieta knew about death as her dead son draped across her lap. She understood the sorrow I was experiencing.   Forty minutes passed in a spiritual communion when a tall young man named Brian, came through and explained regretfully that he needed to lock up as he proceeded to escort me out through a side door.

My happiness had been there in prayer and quiet and not in a room of sisters who could care less about me.   Christ knows me. Christ calls me. Calls me to a contemplative life. Yet having heard about the amazing sex slave rescues of the LDS speaker, how does a contemplative life “DO” anything? It sure sounds like a self-centered, passive life to others but like the Heavenly Choir has all sorts of sounds, perhaps this is my sound. My role seems to be a contemplative. To be a prayer specialist. Perhaps God wants me to ‘sing’ solo for him? Could this be why my physical strength has been taken from me? Why my incessant physical pain keeps me home and in bed the day after any excursions? So I have nowhere to turn but to HIM?

This is the start of Holy Week. I have kept the Lenten fast and look forward to taking each day and treat it as Holy.   Christ died for each and every one of his children so that we may be reconciled with God the Father.   Our spiritual debt has been paid by the only one who could answer the law of justice with an “an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34: 10)

Mormon and Catholic : a friendship

Mormon and Catholic: a friendship 

For nearly ten years my Catholic friend, Carol, and I have grown closer as I made retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Though not geographically close, she became my mentor into the world of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani, a laiety group to follow Cicstercian charism and spirituality while living in the world.

 

Becoming a Lay Cistercian does not require conversion to Catholicism but does require to abide by the core of Benedictine/ Cistercian daily practices: prayer, work, study, silence, hospitality, contemplation, and church worship. Nothing in this is beyond expectations of a faithful Latter-day Saint. Particularly poignant was how this devout spiritual life seemed tailor made for me: a childless LDS married woman, with a husband who is also the only LDS member in his family. A small and distant extended family. No personal academic career prospects due to disability, and no close friends in local LDS wards. So, basically, not busy with family, few commonalities with local ward women, unemployed and bedridden. I do love the Book of Mormon and my temple blessings; however, I struggle to discover my purpose and meaning in a family-centric church. Also with a strong desire for a quiet, prayerful life (contemplative) in a very action –oriented church.  

 

Little did I guess that Carol and her husband did not have children either and as a result she experienced similar loneliness in the Catholic Church. We could empathize with the trial of childlessness amidst family-friendly church cultures. Many of my days are spent in bed due to incessant widespread pain and fatigue that allow few avenues for normal daily activities. Again, Carol experienced similar health issues earlier in her life and could empathize. I wished to devote much of my day to God through prayer, study and reflection, as did she. Along the way, we would compare each other’s practices and tenets. Our shared primary goal is to live eternally with our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

 

 

We regularly read and discuss a variety of faith books related to monasticism, contemplative laity, and literature for biweekly phone discussions. We came to realize that though our churches were very different in some aspects, many core ideas had a familiar ring. Jesus Christ, emblematic in the (Eucharist/sacrament) is the center of our religious services. Family is very important. Our deceased need to be remembered and honored. Prayer, scripture study, fasting, blessings on the sick, baptism as a required ordinance, compassion for the sick and poor, and the afterlife as a real place are but a few topics we could discuss. The more we shared, the more we could respect and appreciate. That led to interfaith visits to tour the new Indianapolis LDS Temple, and an upcoming excursion to visit a special year of mercy door at a cathedral. Our friendship includes regular prayer and fasting for each other within our particular faith rituals.

 

What Carol and I enjoy as laity mirrored the friendship and discussion in the 2015 book Catholic and Mormon: a theological conversation by Stephen Webb and Alonzo Gaskill., representing the Catholic and LDS perspectives respectively. We had just started to read for a book discussion in early March. The book is a dialog on various topics to compare and contrast respective theologies. In many ways the tone of discussion reflected a genuine friendship and mutual respect without compromising rigorous academic standards.  

 

Stephen H. Webb as a scholar was remarkable in the world of comparative religion, in that he was fair and respectful of Mormonism. In kind, Alonzo Gaskill could give due to contributions of Catholicism. A full book review would be too disjoined in this personal discussion. I will say more in another post.  

 

Tragically, the world lost Stephen H. Webb on March 5, 2016. A scholar, a father, a friend to an LDS co-author and the Latter-Day Saint Community in general. I would like to imagine him view Carol and I with a huge smile reflective of his enthusiasm for Catholic and Mormon dialog. The fruit is Carol and I: two simple women who have grown through interfaith friendship.