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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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.