Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ritual Washings Prior to Communion with God: Wudu', a Muslim Version of an Empowering Ordinance

Before every ritual prayer it was a requirement to wash certain parts of your body, not only for physical cleanliness but also for symbolic spiritual purification.  Each step had a prayer that accompanied it.  I washed my mouth: please put sweet words onto my lips.  I washed my face: let light shine from my face.  The words made me feel focused and uplifted.  I washed my arms between elbow and fingertips: let my hands do good, let them prevent bad deeds and injustice.  I ran my fingers lightly across the top of my head: when things get pressured let me stay calm. Finally, I wiped my feet: let them walk me to places where I can do good.

from Love in a Headscarf, by Shelina Janmohamed

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Home as a Haven

Today I listened to reports of the arrest of two middle school girls on charges of aggravated stalking due to bullying of a young woman named Rebecca Sedwick.  The story was that the bullying had started at a middle school.  When it continued, Rebecca's mother removed her from the middle school and home schooled her before transferring her to another middle school.  But the alleged bullies continued their hateful bullying via cell phone and facebook.  Rebecca eventually committed suicide.

As a middle school child I was one of my class's targets of bullying.  There were six of us who were deemed the obvious targets (two boys and four girls) and the bullying ranged from verbal to sexual to physical abuse.  Those were a rough three years.  When the abuse I was going through became egregious I finally got the courage to describe it to my mother who alerted the principal and one of my teachers and their intervention eliminated the sexual abuse, but not the rest of it.

During those years my home was my safe place.  Sure there were the usual squabbles between siblings, but it was the one place where my bullies were unable to reach me and my interactions were with family members and their friends who were fully present.  I am more grateful than I can describe for that sense of haven and person to person connection with people who were undistracted and mentally present and generally civil..

So, I have long been an advocate of a cell phones turned off and parked at the door policy for minors.  If their friends need to reach them they can call the land liine or a parental phone.

And I have long been an advocate of limited time online for pre-teens and teens too, simply because it is such a time sink and keeps kids from interacting with family members and focusing on whatever task is at hand.   And facebook?  Such a time sink and so trivial compared with real life and often inhabited by trolls?  Probably not a good idea for middle schoolers at all.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Heaven. Beyond Comprehension

We think about heaven. And we think about it from a position so firmly entrenched in our earthly lives that we veer far wide of the mark, though not completely off the target.

Prophets who've seen it in vision have tried to describe it, but have only earthly terminology with which to explain what they've seen. And their hearers get mired in their earthly contexts when they envision what is described. They envision the best earthly version of beauty and glory they can come up with,

For example, T.P. Cameron was a poet and soldier in WWI, eventually killed in action at the age of 29, in March of 1918. His poem “Sportsman's Paradise” which describes a longing for heaven and celestial peace reads:

“They left the fury of the fight,
And they were tired.
The gates of heaven were open quite,
Unguarded and unwired.
There was no sound of any gun,
The land was still and green,
Wide hills lay silent in the sun,
Blue valleys slept between.
They saw far off a little wood
Stand up against the sky.
Knee deep in grass a great tree stood,
Some lazy cows went by.
There were some rooks sailed overhead,
And once a church bell pealed.
'God, but it's England!' someone said,
'And there's a cricket field'.”

There is wistful beauty in those words. And it is a good example of the human tendency to envision heaven in earthly terms of one's own treasured earthly experiences..

Another example is the notion of “pearly gates” and “streets of gold”, phrases that John the Revelator used to describe what he saw in his vision of heaven (Revelation 21). A century ago and more ago, many people took those descriptions literally. It was the most glorious translation of what John saw that they could imagine.

However, there is a pitfall. If heaven is restricted to earthly parameters, it easily becomes ridiculous.

For example, look at the Sadducees at the time of Christ who thought that thought life after death was a foolish notion. Their famous question to Jesus was about the woman who was married seven times to successive brothers under Levirate law.   “In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be?” wasn't a question about whether marriage can be a part of heaven.  It was a clear attempt to show how ridiculous the notion of life after death was. And life after death would be be an odd notion to wrap your head around if, in fact, marriage (and other) relationships in heaven are simply extensions of marriage relationships and their roles, practices, and divisions of labor as they are on earth, transplanted into a heavenly sphere.

Another example: As a teenager I had a conversation with a fellow Christian who believed in life after death, but not a physical resurrection. “You believe that people are resurrected with a physical body?” he asked incredulously. “You mean there are bathrooms in heaven???"

Or as one woman recently worried, the LDS concept of heaven sounds to her to be one of endlessly birthing new spirit children while her husband is off creating worlds.

 (All of the above, by the way, do not reflect the description of heaven in DC 76 either)

I believe its important to remember that we are just as prone to this limitation of understanding as we contemplate God and heaven as anybody else is. I believe that we stumble too much over that limitation in our need for and longing for a true vision of heaven. And sometimes we get mad or perplexed when those erroneous visions don't seem fair or right, and forget that they are simply erroneous, simply because we are, all of us, earthbound.

.I think Paul's words to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:9), “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” is not just a “we Christians know something others don't know” message, but a reminder to the Corinthian Christians that they (and we) don't really fully comprehend how it really is either.

Passages in the Doctrine and Covenants also talk about this earthly limitation, and in terms that also promise the possibility of growing slowly closer to heavenly understanding by listening to the Holy Spirit and responding to light and truth (76:1-10 and 50:24) until “the perfect day”. But it's clear that we are, none of us, there yet. This is not “the perfect day.” Those few who have seen heaven in vision say that the response when one does see heaven as it is, is, instantly, worship (Rev.22:8).

We have been taught principles and concepts that are at the core heavenly life: love, faith, being washed clean, unity, glory, light, truth, the power of God, sealing, eternity, divine intercession and atonement. These are of heaven. And they are of heaven in a way far more enlightened, far-reaching, fair, just, merciful and glorious than the very best of earthly experiences that we have or that we create with those principles here.

We need to remember that. Earth does not circumscribe heaven nor is heaven simply a lovely, light-filled perfect version of the very best on earth. Heaven and life there is far beyond our wildest, most joyful, peaceful, just, honest, charitable, equitable, loving, powerful and light-filled dreams on earth. It is better than anyone, divinely inspired or not, has been able to describe to you, including yourself

Saturday, October 05, 2013

I watched the priesthood session of General Conference this evening

It was not the first time.

I heard much that will be helpful now as well as in the future.  And I am inspired to a better vision of what I can do with the challenges I find in the work I am doing.

While watching and listening to the session the following passage came to mind.  It's from a talk, "All Are (Really) Alike Unto God", given by Marcus H. Martins.  Marcus is the son of Helvécio Martins who passed away in his home of São Paulo in 2005.  You can read the Genesis Group page about Helvécio here

Marcus said:
 "When my parents and I were baptized, I was thirteen years old. When I was sixteen my father instructed me to learn how to perform the ordinances that a priest in the Aaronic priesthood would have the right and the authority to do. Learn how to baptize people, learn how to administer the sacrament, learn how to ordain other priests. And of course, I being sixteen years old, told my father, "But why? I'm not going to be ordained a priest. Why should I do that?" And he said, "Well, just because you are sixteen years old, and that's what's expected of sixteen-year-olds in the Church. If you were ordained to the priesthood, you would be a priest now. But because you're not, doesn't mean you're not going to do as much as you can without the priesthood. 

"So, I undertook the task of learning those ordinances. When I turned eighteen, my father told me the same thing. Learn how to confirm people members of the Church, learn how to administer the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood, learn how to administer to the sick. And I did that, and about a year later, when the revelation extending the priesthood came, I was ready. Because of the faith of my father, I was ready." 

Marcus H. Martins

Rudá and Helvécio Martins