Bring them Home Part 2: Dunkirk as a metaphor for mortality

Film Spoiler alert

 

In a previous blog, I wrote about the film Dunkirk and how I saw parallels between that story of rescue with LDS temple work. In this blog, I will explore another parallel, an allegory of militant secularism vs Christianity ravaging American society.

 

As in the film, Dunkirk shows war brings out the worst or the heroic in people.Current culture wars in the United States highlight the enmity of militant secularism against Christianity and conservatism.   Some say we live in a post-Christian age. I don’t see it that way. I see Christianity pushed to the margins (the beaches) of culture and society with the goal of annihilation. Christians and conservatives have been targeted as “the enemy” who must not have any say or influence on society or politics. Yet, it goes beyond that. No longer is live and let live on leftist agendas, but rather total destruction of any opposition. We see it in the primal hatred, violence, oppression, ridicule, propaganda against Christians and Christian culture that formed the bedrock of American culture and history.

 

Militant secularist/atheists draw on fascist tactics of the Germans in the film Dunkirk with merciless bombing of even protected Red Cross hospital ships, “the Church”. Soldiers on the beach become easy targets like fish in a barrel. Christians, the British, in the case of Dunkirk, endure while being shelled, bombarded: picked off on land, sea and air. What started out as orderly evacuation became chaotic as threats came from all directions.   Soldiers either became solitary survivors, or formed alliances to get to safety. How each person responds to such condition really reveals true character and ultimate loyalty

 

Those lucky (later known as unlucky) to have gotten onboard awaiting ships were rapidly killed or thrown into a new terror of trying to get off sinking, burning ships. Many perished. In Dunkirk, an abandoned vessel in which the film’s protagonists took refuge, became subject to German target practice rendering it unseaworthy as it eventually flooded and one friend did not make it out alive.

 

In a way, those today who hold Christian and conservative values are under intense fire from all directions and how individuals react are quite varied as on Dunkirk beach. I do not judge reactions to the stresses of bombardment, as our personal temporal journeys are so different. As prophetic Doctrine and Covenants 1:19 warns that day when “man should not….trust in the arm of flesh”. So, too in war, even fellow countrymen may not be trustworthy to have ‘your back’ as they say. We witness this in contemporary political climate with tremendous fracturing of people into more and more self segregating identities with some identities in opposition to the militants, vilified and targeted as ‘the enemy’.

 

Mortality is in a way Dunkirk with its chaos, hostility, destruction and death just a second away. A somewhat pessimistic view of life yet realistic as no one knows their hour (or second) of death. The enemy of God roams the ‘beach’ of mortality as a lion ready to devour. I am not talking about merely physical annihilation, as I am spiritual destruction. Followers of Christ should not be shocked that we are stalked as prey; that we are hated as Christ was hated.

 

Escape from physical death is of course desired, but it is the state of one’s soul at death that really matters. Each individual must ultimately choose sides– to surrender to hostile forces, or to fight, claw, our way ‘home’ and the sweet love that awaits. Many Dunkirk survivors arrived in England feeling defeated and awaiting mass public condemnation for their ‘cowardice’. Instead, they were greeted as survivors and overall heroes to have made the perilous journey across the channel while under enemy fire. Will our heavenly welcome be such? Our consciences may feel ashamed for having failed to act valiantly in mortality and so our guilt braces for Godly condemnation. Instead, gratitude, love, and admiration may be our welcome as mortal survivors. As Dunkirk shows, even those heroes we rooted for died or were captured, their spirit lived on long after the event. That is known as the “Dunkirk spirit”.

 

 

 

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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.

Pain and Spiritual Warfare

Huddled in bed not being able to move or tilt the neck without a sensation of sawing neck muscles, one’s attention is focused on that pain and that pain alone. The battle is not merely physical (though pain relief is in abundant supply if only mildly effective), but rather there is a battle in the soul to dispel darkness, dark thoughts, dark images from utterly consuming your psyche. Incessant is the pain and a reminder that sadness and gloom and disability may be all there is to reality. Happy thoughts are not reality so are not dwelled upon. Reality is here, now, in your neck, shoulder and deep within the sinews of your body: deep in untouchable places.

In my research into redemptive suffering I have stumbled upon a tangent I had previously dismissed: a preternatural source for my pain and suffering. I have read and listened to Father Vince Lampert, Father Gary, Father Malachi Martin to name a few. I had never even considered curses or dark forces possibly be partly a source of physical suffering. I have read detailed accounts of possessed people seeking exorcism who were exposed and experienced physical manifestations from some sort of malevolent force. I have read accounts of priest exorcists being thrown, punched, mentally tortured in the course of performing an exorcisms. Yet, never ever did I think at all that what I am feeling would bear any relationship to that.

I truly believe in good and evil. As a Mormon Christian I believe in Christ and God the Father who is the source of all good and divine. His enemy is Lucifer/Satan who in premortal times challenged God’s plan for humanity and sought God’s honor and power for himself. When rejected, Lucifer rebelled and took 1/3 of the host of heaven with him in battle. The rebellious were kicked out of heaven and sent to earth (yes, earth, not hell, according to scripture). Satan’s anger at this injustice was then directed at humans with the premise: hurt the child to hurt the Father. We though were given a precious, uniquely individual gift of free will or personal agency which neither Satan or God can control without our voluntary consent.

We humans also possess a physical body which seems to be coveted by Satan and demons. Yes, that corruptible, evil body as described by so many other Christian creeds has value, has something uniquely human according to Mormonism. How can something so frail, so animalistic have value? Christ said he never created anything temporal; everything has eternal significance –even our bodies. When I suffer from my incessant pain and maladies the body sure seems to indeed betray me. Yet, spiritually, my body as a place for my spirit and does have worth in the eyes of God. And Satan knows that. Why would the legion in the New Testament exorcism story ask to be translocated from a possessed man into a herd of swine? Even an animal body is preferable to nothingness.

So, how does this tie into preternatural influence upon someone’s health? Isn’t that superstition to blame unjustly a person’s suffering upon themselves or upon innocent others in some sort of irrational witch hunt and ignorantly denying natural causes for malady? No. There is a ton to be unpacked by all of this and no, I am not suggesting demonic causation for everything in some sort of paranoid rant. I am saying that after all psychiatric and all medical explanations with limits on their expertise and effectiveness—possibly, just possibly, could a spiritual component be related? Just related. Not total causation or paranoia. How would one then go about investigating that? How? Evil does exist and other people can wish you ill as much as they can wish you well. Satan’s mission statement is to destroy humans and their souls by any means possible: be it temptation, rejection of God, doubt, hedonism or thousands of personalized means. Any tool to break down a person’s will or turn it away from God at least. Extreme examples of persons being enticed to hand over their wills to Satan or evil would be the ultimate trophy.

But some very good people; saints included; Jesus included are also attractive targets. My reading of very holy Catholic saints reveal that their lives were not some sort of nirvana but rather fraught with frightful and even violent attacks by demons. I had always dismissed these stories as exaggerations of hagiography, but now…. Maybe there is some truth to them? These good people did not ‘merit’ evil through a sinful life.

Anyway, I am exploring evil’s influence on a person’s health. It seems according to exorcists and even Satanists say that curses may be real. Generational curses are those an ancestor took upon themselves in a blood or oath covenant to a demon or Satan (they go by other demi god names). That curses the family line with misfortune, infertility, mental issues, misery. Sounds way out there, doesn’t it? The Articles of Faith seem to counter that as the sins of Adam are not upon the sons of Adam. Curious. Is that only for the ‘original sin’ or for all oaths and ties subsequently entered into. In the temple we do proxy work which is good work, blessed work for that ancestor which affects family lines. Could there be the opposite? A curse that can be consecrated upon posterity?

What about individual illness? Can a generational thing be going on or could this be part of an attack plan by Satan to wear one down? Wouldn’t Christ intervene? Wouldn’t our temple blessings protect us? Should. Yet, temple covenants do not protect from other temptations or tragedy. We have our free will at all times to choose God or not. If we do not actively choose God then by default we are allowing a crack in our will or our armor of God to be open to other forces. And in my case, at this particular time, the enemy is pounding to enter…. Seeking any entrance at all.

There is so much I could explore and maybe later blogs will. Mormonism does not have a good theology of evil. We do not really explore the tricks, techniques, and destructiveness of this very real power. I get it, we really need to focus on the light, of God, as only through Christ’s power and authority can the real presence of evil be banished. We do not have anything like Catholic exorcism or protestant deliverance prayers. I have had to study this on my own. Surely, we must never dwell on evil as that curiosity is itself an opening. Yet, we need to understand this very formidable enemy to motivate us to keep close to God, to discern situations that do have direct and indirect evil involvement. [And when I say evil I mean true demonic presence and not merely a flippant “I don’t like that/you” feeling]. The scriptures are replete with admonitions, warnings, and encounters with the devil. I am blown away by just how much is written in holy scripture about the devil and how to overcome him. May write a subsequent blog about this as well.

I know from personal experience recently that the tools of active religious life [not mechanics of church activity without active engagement] are critical to maintaining a shield of protection. And paramount is a real testimony of Jesus Christ. I, and all the exorcists, have found that we humans are helpless to confront demonic power on our mortal strength. The supernatural power of evil is real, it is superhuman. We MUST call upon Jesus and invoke his power and authority which even demons must obey. To me, this just shows our utter reliance of Christ to navigate this life. Not because I am terrified, paranoid about every little bump in the night has demonic origins. Rather, this is a partnership in a much grander scheme of things. God wants us to choose His side but we cannot be forced to choose Him. We must be tempted and tried as part of this mortal experience. I personally think that we gain some experience with evil so that we can discern it from God and goodness as did Moses. Moreover, that experience will be called upon later perhaps acting as angels for others battling evil. And for sure we know of the great and final battle wherein we will all be enlisted.

In the here and now, for the chronic pain member, realize that despite the actual source of pain be it natural or partially preternatural, you are in a very sensitive state. Again, not saying that all illnesses are demonic in origin. Easier would be to give up. To allow your spiritual life to succumb to despair and darkness. Despite what whispers into your ear that you deserved this; that God hates you and that is why you suffer; that this will be with you until the end of your life with no let up in sight, recognize that the Deceiver will use this to his advantage. You may be in agony physically but you do not need to be in agony spiritually. Keep close to the Lord by listening to or reading scriptures daily, pray continually, ask for divine assistance through God and His angels to sustain you, get priesthood blessings, wear the temple garment as a shield and a protection, have the sacrament even if you cannot get to church—have a priesthood holder give you it, listen to conference talks. Fill your home, your room, yourself with light. Darkness despises light.

 

Yes, Teresa, animals go to heaven

For quite a while I have done without cable TV and other popular entertainment during extended bed rest periods. Eternal Word Television Network has been one programming I have allowed myself. Though it is Catholic and I am LDS, I could stream their TV and radio shows on my ipad.   One well-known daily radio program is Catholic Connection, a talk format with interviews and discussions on current moral and political topics. Many topics cross denomination interest and Teresa’s switch from secular to religious media added professionalism to the show. She often bemoaned the pro-abortion and blatant anti Christian bias of the mass media despite tons of facts and arguments which get ignored in favor of a leftist political agenda. So, what occurred this week on her Facebook page was truly disheartening.

She posted a photo of a giraffe who gave birth and she remarked how people are much more interested in animal births than protecting the millions of human babies aborted each year. True enough. This giraffe did get loads of media attention while the plight and rights of the unborn go ignored. However, I thought the birth of a new beautiful animal as a gift and remarked based on sound biblical and revealed doctrine that animals have spirits and go to heaven. Jesus loves the animals and he redeemed them as part of the atonement. The whole creation in fact was redeemed by Christ. But oh…. Her reaction was sharp. Only humans are in the likeness of God. Animals do not go to heaven. Jesus did not die for animals. My Christianity is whacked. OK. Catholic doctrine. Fine. But what happened next was astonishing in its harshness. She removed me from her facebook page so I could not respond to defend myself. Wow, talk about overreacting. What is so horrible about animals going to heaven? Many even Catholics believe that pets will be waiting for us beyond the rainbow bridge. Now, hints of this along with modern revelation and scripture do support my view which I will get to in a minute.

I found Teresa’s show email and asked her why she did that to me and explained that I am not Catholic and we do hold that doctrine. Her response was that Jesus suffered on the cross for humans not for animals and that Christianity believes the way she does based on biblical text. She said I had no biblical texts to support my position. Really? How sure are you, Teresa?   What is odd though is that Catholicism as I understand from EWTN cannot base all of its doctrine on scripture. In fact, they say that scripture alone is not the source of all knowledge as the bible as we know it did not come into existence for centuries after Christ. Christ did not tell the apostles, “go and write scripture”. No,rather, oral tradition gives a fuller context to how Christianity should be. So, imagine a devout Catholic demanding biblical support for doctrine of another faith? Seems rather circular logic.

I did gather all sorts of scriptural support for the doctrine of the salvation of animals due to the infinite scope of the atonement. Most of which is going into a much longer piece elsewhere. I did want to write to Teresa again with all these ‘facts’ because as my husband wisely pointed out, she would not accept proof that she does not agree with. Similar to the pro-abortionists who will not accept that the growing clump of cells in a mother’s womb is a human being, a baby, neither will Teresa accept scriptures that challenge her ideas. Debate and argument never change people’s minds who do not want to be changed. So, I leave it to this post to share in a loving way why the atonement was a whole lot bigger than just saving Adam and Eve and their posterity.

First, in salvation history, we need to understand relationship of humans, and animals and nature to God. Catholics believe all living things including humans were created ex nihilo ie out of nothing. God just conjured us up. Humans were created on the spot and had never existed at any time before the Garden of Eden. We were created in the image of God which makes us higher than other forms of life but really deep down we are not much better than a cockroach: prone to sin, evil from birth. Makes me wonder why Teresa would spend so much energy trying to save such disgusting creatures. Mankind does have a soul –LDS call a spirit –but that soul was placed in us sometime in the development process. That soul does indeed have a chance to go to Heaven. Only souled creatures go to heaven. Animals on the other hand are also creatures but have no souls. They were created for us to have dominion over but they will turn to dust, poof, no big deal. LDS theology gives God much more credit. All living things were ‘conceived’ in the spirit before they were given temporal/earthly bodies (Moses 3:5). Meaning, that as a living thing, an animal has a spirit. We see this with our eyes. We can tell the difference between a living and a dead creature. That animating force is the spirit. And spirits cannot die. Even physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed but rather changes form. In a way, it is immortal. Spirits are immortal. Humans have spirits, animals have spirits, even plants and the earth has a spirit of some type as they will all be renewed, we are told from scripture. (D&C 29:23; Rev 21:1)

Now, pro-animal people can be a bit zealous and say that animals have the same rights as do humans; that they are equal to humans. No. Humans are clearly closer on a sliding scale to God, the creator. We have a greater will than do animals. We feel that animals run on instinct alone and do not possess agency. Yes and no. Animals do run on instinct; however, they adapt and learn; they have personalities; and recent science is showing that they are smarter, feel pain, possess emotions, communicate, even some can compute. There is a lot once thought about animals that has proven false. I believe that when we see animals as does God, we will feel ashamed of our arrogance and ignorance. It does ring arrogant to wail, “God love us best! God loves us best!” which many Christians seem to do. How does that prove their argument? It sounds like a spoiled, insecure child when met with a new sibling. God’s love is infinite. Human love is finite. It is not a matter of being loved more or less, but rather God loves all of his creation. It is our task as stewards as disciples of God to see the creation through God’s eyes. To see honor what he called “Good”. To respect other living creatures as maybe having their own mortal experience, their own trajectory whatever it may be, instead of our toys to domineer. We often think dominion means lording but is that how God has dominion over us? By lording over us? By abusing? By minimizing OUR life and spirit? If anyone has claim to belittle others not on the same level, it would be God reigning over us. Yet, modern revelation reveals that humans are indeed made from ‘god stuff’. Our spirits were made by the creator in a special configuration and relationship.

The holy scriptures recount the salvation of human kind from the fall, but this does not mean that is the only story going on? The scriptures do tell of a greater purpose and narrative that we humans are not alone in God’s plan. “My work and my glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind, said God to Moses”. (Moses 1:39). True. What an honor to be so beloved and the center of God’s work, but maybe there are subplots for other living things? Animals must matter to God otherwise why create them at all? Edenic humans were vegetarian. Only after the fall did humans consume animal flesh.  Why put Noah through such hassle to build a huge ark and gather breeding pairs of animals? Why did Christ stop animal sacrifice? Why include animals in LDS temple narrative? Why are animals in heaven (Revelation 4: 8-9). God must love animals; must have their interest at heart, have a purpose for them that we may not know. Remember, creation did not sin; animals did not disobey God. Humans did. Humans brought the fall and with it came the fall of creation. Why should the divine grace of the redemption which hit the refresh button on humans, not also do so for creation?  Catholics called Christ and new Adam, and Mary, the new Eve. What about the creation? Logical sense to believe the ‘infinite and eternal sacrifice” was by definition for ALL things (Alma 34:10).

There is so much more I have written elsewhere about the salvation of animals. Whether or not you agree with this, one should appreciate the beauty and gift of a baby mammal and not diminish it, or others who believe so. To dismiss such is to be guilty of the callousness you ascribe others. No baby giraffe has kicked me off facebook. Teresa, evangelization is not ‘my way or the highway’ attitude but rather it starts from finding commonality, building a friendship and then allowing love to convert. We have so much that we do share and can appreciate of each others’ religions. I am puzzled why you cannot see the good in others and not wish to engage in meaningful dialog. Consider the leftists who refuse to acknowledge your perspective but rather dismiss and denigrate you, so too I feel you have done to me. Those who complain are guilty of the same, my husband says.   There is no discussion where there is no love.   I sincerely hope your love of unborn babies will translate to love of God’s children not of your faith who share so many of the same values.

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.

Eve: Mother of All Living: a Mother’s Day examination

Eve: Mother of All Living: a Mother’s Day examination 

One of Eve’s titles was Mother of all living. So, on this day as we pay tribute to biological mothers, I wish to examine the first mortal mother: Eve.

What do we gain from understanding motherhood in terms of what God has called it? First, as mother of all living, Eve was given stewardship over the natural world with its vegetation and animals. She must have loved and cared for the living things because we do not hear she broke that commandment to care for the garden and the animals therein. This must been her initial exposure to motherhood in this mortal world for she did not conceive until after the fall. I wonder what she learned from her stewardship? Did she learn how animal mothers nurtured their young? Did she develop empathy that prepared her for caring for her own offspring? Eve, from accounts, was a new creature and did not seem to bring any knowledge, wisdom or experience with her to mortality. How could she have known how to fulfill her calling? Not by instinct as the animals are born with. So, Eve must have learned through practice and experience.  
If we really consider Mother of All Living then it would follow that motherhood encompasses much more than reproduction. It seems to be, rather, a title; one that is earned or confirmed rather than ascribed. There seems to be throughout history those women defined as good or bad mothers. Bad mothers are those who precisely do not acquire the maternal priority of offspring over self. Wicked mothers do not feed, cloth, or nurture her children rather starve, beat and withhold affection from them. Good mothers on the other hand, act the opposite with taking measures of supreme personal sacrifice for the good of the child. The child’s interest surpasses her own. We love this slightly romanticized image of motherhood and even elevate it to the divine. Mother Mary (Virgin Mary) epitomizes this idealization of motherhood such that she is the role model instead of say, Eve. Yet Eve, in a way had more to love besides her flesh and blood. She had the world and all living organisms in it. Christ said that to love one’s own is not meritorious as even the sinners do such (Matt 5: 46).  

Typical Mother’s Day church service will include many laudatory talks about mothers: one’s own or the mother of their personal nuclear family. Do not get me wrong; setting aside a day to acknowledge the sacrifice of good mothers is commendable. Yet, what about those women in the congregation who do not have or will never have children? What about the wicked mothers of childhood? For non-mothers, Mother’s Day can be very isolating and painful particularly when narrowly defined motherhood is glorified. Isaiah reminds us “more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife.” (Isaiah 5:1) From this we see that merely bearing children is not a marker of righteousness for such can quickly become self-righteousness.  

 Just these past few weeks on Facebook, encounters with co-religionist mothers dismissed others’ spiritual needs at church in favor of their own children’s ‘rights’. Those who do not meet their self-exalted status of motherhood are to stay away from sacrament meeting. What a selfish position and narrow understanding of motherhood. For, love is not a piece of finite pie. Love has no bounds or limitations. So, loving your neighbor and your neighbor’s children is a commandment intended to stretch our hearts.  

 Moreover, love should extend to non-humans as it does in the heart of God. Sometimes if seems as though mothers chant as spoiled children seeking their father’s attention: “my children are best!” Totally disregarding that God can and does love all his creations. This is the model we should follow. Yes, perhaps humans seem to be given greater divine tragectories IF they can imitate God’s nature–God’s capacity to love. Not only that, but he created a maternal role model who, despite her imperfections, showed us motherhood includes loving all living things. This, I believe, is the destiny of those who develop the divine capacity to love. Then God will confer the true title of Mother.  

 

 

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.

 

 

Growing the Good Seed Despite Illness

Since my last posting I have been battling ill health and pain. I have not felt much like writing .   Feasting on the scriptures and offering prayers have carried me through.

In a weakened state I have pondered what use my body is. Did you know that even if you are suffering, the word of God can still take root? Imagine that. What the natural condition makes desolate, God makes fertile.

I was reading the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.   Alma, a preacher, came across a few disenfranchised Zoramites. A group of poverty-stricken people denied access to the synagogues. Instead of feeling depressed about their status, Alma “beheld [them] with great joy; for their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in preparation to hear the word. “Alma 32:6

Poverty had made these people open to hear the truth of God’s word, God’s gospel, because poverty compelled them to be humble. Sickness is a form of spiritual poverty that may compel some to become humble. Of course, Alma reminds us better would be to be humbled by the word rather than be compelled by external circumstances.   However, either way, humility opens a door.

Alma 32 is called the discourse on faith but really it is about the word of God – described as a fertile seed.  “Now if ye give place to that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that it is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, ye, it beginneth to be delicious to me’ . Alma 32:28

So, to take hold of the word, to plant it, and experience its growth is the beginning of understanding and enlightenment.   The verses continue to expound upon the signs of a good seed. It sprouts and brings forth fruit of its own likeness. Of course faith parallels the development of the seed. However, whereas the seed goes on to produce the tree of life and the fruit ‘which is sweet and above all that is sweet’ (vs. 42), faith if allowed to maturate fully becomes knowledge and not faith. It can overripen, if you will.

The good seed’s success is dependent upon soil condition and nourishment. “if ye nourish it with much care it will get root , and grow up, and bring forth fruit.” Vs. 37   Within a sick person’s body, one may wonder where is any good, healthy, nourishing soil?   It lies within the heart or the spirit. As long as the spirit seeks God as the body seeks water to quench thirst, there will be fertile soil where the word of God can take root. Watering and nourishing are only partially fulfilled by one’s Will. The word of God provides the physical materials. Our spirit merely needs to apply faith that is so light that even the frail can carry.

Even while in pain, one can exercise ‘diligence and …faith and …patience with the word.” Vs. 42   And harvest and feast upon ‘this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.’ Vs 42   All of which can foreshadow death and heavenly rewards of partaking of the Tree of Life.

Within the limitations of chronic illness, we always have access to the word and can till the seed and watch it blossom within our spirits. Perhaps on occasion savoring the sweetness of the ripened fruit.