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)

Step Two: scripture study

In a previous post, I discussed increasing prayer times during the day. There, I briefly mentioned to read scripture. By scripture, I mean the Bible (Old and New Testament) for mainline Christians, and additionally, The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants for Latter-Day Saint Christians. One must develop a relationship to God and what better way than to immerse yourself into the texts of and about God and Jesus? In academia there is much debate about what texts comprise the cannon, how accurate the texts are, what are the meaning and intent of the books and of individual verses and words? All that I will lay aside because the ‘truth’ can be revealed directly from God by way of the Holy Spirit who, scripture says, reveals all truths. 

There are many ways to read the bible: in order presented, chronologically, by topic, church liturgical schedules, etc. For my first foray into the bible, I may read the New Testament in book order. It presents the words and teachings of Jesus Christ and of his apostles. Moreover, it is not long and easy to read. Unfortunately, some Christians stop there and never read the Old Testament. In my opinion, this is a mistake. Jesus quotes or alludes to characters in the Old Testament. Also, it is challenging to understand to understand how God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow if one does not get to know the God of the Old Testament. Sadly, people believe they are not the same being. I mean, the Old Testament God was cruel, vengeful, a lawgiver whereas Christ seemed to be the opposite. Yet, Jesus himself says I have not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Interesting, but what is The Law? The saga of the Old Testament fills in those gaps. Think of it as God’s dealings with a chosen yet quite rebellious Israelite people. He aids them, they turn their backs. He gives them rules, they break them. Not picking on the Israelites. Because they are a metaphor for all of humankind.

For LDS and non-LDS, I would then read the Book of Mormon. Before I joined the LDS church, I was very wary and skeptical of that book. We have the Bible so why would we need more. Remember, I said how scholars and atheists are challenging the veracity of the Bible’s message? Well, that is why another witness of Christ was needed: that is the Book of Mormon. I did not know that nearly 4000 references to Jesus and his litany of titles exist in its 500 pages! Furthermore, the Christian doctrine (gospel) is expounded on those pages. I also love the wisdom found in the Book of Mormon and how so much is cross-referenced with the Old and New Testaments.

Lastly, the Doctrine and Covenants are a collection of revelations given primarily to Joseph Smith in response to personal inquires and those of others. The Lord speaks points of doctrine so clearly that arguments over biblical vagaries are put to rest. For example, the sacrament (Eucharist) allowed substituting water for wine due to attempts to poison the early saints [..You shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies DC 27: 3] When I was a non-member, I was impressed by the scoldings the Lord gave to Joseph Smith. Usually, cult leaders never present their failings or God’s harsh criticism of their actions so for Joseph Smith to have these out in the open demonstrate to me humility and transparency so unlike charismatic cult leaders. I think as a reader, we can empathize with these flawed individuals of the Doctrine and Covenants. God is always trying to teach us, to love us, to guide but not coerce us back towards him.

When I was introduced to Cistercian ways, there was a huge interest in Thomas Merton, a 20th century monk, writer, and artist at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. I, too, was drawn to his early spiritual writings with such deep insights directed by his life as a monk. I wondered, if such deep wisdom could emanate from one with only the Bible (yes, Catholics also follow ‘tradition’ or the magisterium for additional teachings), how much more would a latter-day saint be capable of with additional light and knowledge of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants? Imagine, over 800 extra pages of text about God, Jesus Christ and the gospel—so many more spiritual mysteries upon which to meditate and contemplate. I truly believe that reading the sacred texts is the launch to greater revelation. We are promised to know the mysteries of God “To whom he [God] grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves” D&C 76:117
 
 

A Life of Prayer: getting started

How does one adopt a contemplative lifestyle? There are many ways to live a consecrated life. In this posting, I will discuss the initial steps I took to get started.
 

First, consider how dedicated to prayer you wish to be. You could start with a minimum of twice a day (morning/evening). Then, as you develop that routine, add a mid-day prayer. The prayers need not be long, drawn out activities. What is important is to establish a prayer line to God. I wish to adopt 7 times a day as do Cistercian contemplatives which works out to about every two hours. And before you say, that cannot be done with work and schooling, I did exactly this while working full-time plus attending grad school full time. I MADE time waking early, during breaks, during walks or even during swimming. Prayer can be anywhere as long as the mind can be directed to God. Right now, I am managing 4 times a day (morning, mid-morning, noon, and evening) but I hope to increase that.  

 Second, incorporate reading the scriptures into your daily routine. This is not about marathon reading. In fact, lectio divino (mindful listening and pondering) can be done in a verse or two upon which you will ponder during the day. Some call this ‘meditation’ but another way to consider it is ‘ruminating’ on the word of God. It is amazing how much more meaning and memorization can occur with this technique. Moreover, scripture study may involve listening as in mp3 or online. Sometimes, hearing the Word brings a different perspective that reading does not.  

 Thirdly, return to song and psalm. Reciting a psalm or singing a hymn (hopefully related to the scripture verse of the day) just adds that much more to the daily routine. The psalms were meant to be sung, or at least chanted. There is every kind of emotion in the psalms: from sublime love and worship to anger and desire for revenge. All that reflects the human experience. Now, I am not a singer by any stretch of the imagination but I know that God delights in song so I do my best. After all, this is about a personal relationship and there is a lot of divine forgiveness given for my song.  

 I know all this may sound daunting to a beginner, but it is not meant to be mastered immediately. This is discipleship and requires persistence and patience. Once you make prayer, study and song a habit you will reap the sublime rewards of such discipline.