Friday, July 27, 2018

Surrender

I sought Him, in long nights and through my days
In slow deliberate study and in prayer,
I sought Him, through the painful endless ways
Of my own raging mind,
And in the private space of fears,
Despite my poor unworthiness, I strove
My weakness to return
To He who all things knows.
In infant hope I pled
My sins he’d take away
The weight of my great load
Of human wreckage, to uphold.
And only when my voice had ceased to cry
Could I hear His — sweet stillness mild —
“My grace I give to those who ask
But thou, O daughter,
Gave no space in asking for reply” —
And I bowed down my weary head
In stillness and in silence
For to listen to His tread,
The molding of my will to His,
That taught my contrite heart to turn
And heal the sundered past
And then my load was gone at last.

The days moved on, I soon forgot
That voice which held all still
A wall ‘gainst mortal hubris which
Had foamed around me as the tide
Of weakness and of fear and pain
And all in asking came to Him again.
My pleadings were as anguished as poor Job’s,
Yet nothing was my answer then
As many times as learning, skill, and strength
Would bring me closer to the truth, I’d think,
Still farther from me was the one I sought,
As I forgot to silence all my thought —
In wisdom wide, in knowledge great,
I strove for answers to my questions sate,
And yet no answer came until
My pride was humbled down into the dust
Of which each man was made,
To which each man returns.
As ashed ambition, burning no more bright,
Was brought to nothing in a single night
When darkness deep showed all futility
That was not His, was of no worth to me.
In silence and with greater weight
Of ego like a pall
Still pressing on me, yet I let Him in
To see my poor reduced estate,
And then His voice, yet tender and yet mild,
At last returned — and said, “My sorrowing child,
I never thee forsook, nor will I yet forsake,
For as thy soul is precious to me will I take
Each pride and pain of thine upon me now,
As ever I have done for those who ask,
My grace is with thee in all things you lack.”

Soon time fled on again apace,
And all my memories erased
Of grace so given all despite my worth,
Of knowledge found and peace and mirth —
And once again I failed and fell anew,
In deep frustration cursed my mortal state
That caused such guilt in action wrong
Which I should yet control,
Control could not, but sought out sins anew
That I had banished, which yet laid in wait,
To taunt me in my weakened state —
I wept to think the wrongs I’d done
Were visited on Him whose love I sought,
And sorrowed for the sins I wrought
As prison bars, a cage that closed
With each successive day more strong —
I fell — I fell — so long
Into the darkness of my mind
Traversed with blinded clarity
My heart, its brokenness made plain.
I prayed again
Fell down upon my knees prostrate
And laid before Him all my fallen state
His voice came clear — “Your sin I see,
But even that is naught to Me.
The price was paid, your pain is mine
I bore it long ago, and time
Will turn once more your scarlet into white
Flee not from me, turn not aside
From that which I have asked of Thee,
Be faithful, I will always faithful be.”
To those who trust, who ever trust in Me.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Mother of All Living

   The following is a talk I gave in church for Mother's Day . . . reluctantly.

 Moroni, speaking to the Lord as he compiled the Book of Mormon, lamented that, “. . . Thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much . . . Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words . . .”
   Unfortunately, the Lord has seen fit to give me exactly the opposite weakness. I can write well enough to get my point across, but I am not great at public speaking. Also, I was asked to give a Mother’s Day talk to a congregation that has few mothers in it, and the topic assigned was something along the lines of ‘a mother from the Bible’. Finding a way to make this relevant to a young single adult ward is definitely on a whole different level of difficulty. Thank you, Brother Peterson, for this humbling experience.
   I pray that the Spirit will help you — and me — to learn something today.

   Before time began, or the world was created — so Abraham tells us — God stood in the midst of the intelligences which he had organized and saw that among them there were many of those whom he called “the noble and great ones”. Of these, there were many great men and women present. He saw that these souls were good, and he said, “These I will make my rulers.”
From these ‘noble and great ones’ he foreordained many to specific roles, and called a heavenly council where he proposed a plan by which each of us would be made like him. This would require us to gain a physical body, subject to death and the imperfection inherent in mortality. We would forget all that we knew about our Heavenly Father, in order to find out for ourselves whether we would be willing to follow him by faith.
   A Savior was appointed, our Elder Brother, whose sacrifice would bring about an eternal Atonement, allowing us to return home in spite of the sins and mistakes God knew we would inevitably make. Through Christ’s resurrection we would also someday be resurrected, our mortal bodies raised to incorruptible immortality. Through our faithfulness, we would become part of our Heavenly Parents’ eternal family, sealed by the power of the priesthood which our Father would grant us.
Together with our Heavenly Father, our Savior and the rest of those noble and great ones “[went] down . . . And [made] an earth whereon [we might] dwell . . .”, a world created as a testing ground for those who had kept their first estate. Though the mortal experience would include pain, suffering, sorrow, and death, God created this earth with its abundance of beauties to remind us of His presence. As Alma wrote, “. . . all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it . . .”
   When the creation was finished, the book of Genesis records that, “. . . The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden . . . And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” He then gave this garden to Adam and Eve, and granted them stewardship over Eden. His first commandment to them was to multiply and replenish the earth. He then warned them that if they wanted to stay in Eden, they must not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or they would die.
   It is here that modern revelation diverges from the multitude of narratives and explanations given previously. The world sees Eve as weak and foolish, easily tempted and without foresight or good sense. If only she hadn’t eaten the fruit! Theologians lament and churches condemn, seeing the first woman as an unfortunate afterthought, one which brought ruin on the human race before it had properly begun.
But one of the many things that has been restored to us is the plan of salvation and exaltation. In its proper context, Eve’s choice was fortunate and her actions necessary.
   Lehi tells us that, “. . . If Adam (and Eve) had not transgressed [they] would not have fallen, but [they] would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good for they knew no sin. But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”
   Scripture tells us that God walked in Eden. Surely he spent time with Adam and Eve and taught them much about the world they found themselves in, preparing them for the roles they had agreed to but forgotten as their souls were veiled in flesh. There is no record of what exactly Eve remembered of the Plan before she spoke with the serpent. However, there are hints of her struggle to reconcile God’s first commandment with His second, even as Satan came to tempt her. Moses records that, “. . . He sought also to beguile Eve, for he knew not the mind of God . . .” In other words, the Fall was intended, not a desperate last-ditch fix of a terrible mistake, and was necessary to our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.
   Then-Elder Dallin H. Oaks said it this way: “When Adam and Eve received the first commandment, they were in a transitional state, no longer in the spirit world but with physical bodies not yet subject to death and not yet capable of procreation. They could not fulfill the Father’s first commandment without transgressing the barrier between the bliss of the Garden of Eden and the terrible trials and wonderful opportunities of mortal life.
   “For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or “fall,” could not happen without a transgression—an exercise of moral agency amounting to a willful breaking of a law. This would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose.
   “. . . It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same. And thus Eve and ‘Adam fell that men might be’.”
   Eve’s choice to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge has been portrayed by the world as the easy deception of a thoughtless, impulsive woman, but there is some textual evidence that this is inaccurate — indeed, that it is slander. “Hebrew scholar Nehama Aschkenasy points out that the original Hebrew word that was translated as beguiled is a rare verb that has rich and connotative meanings. ‘Beguile’ suggests Eve underwent a deep internal process; she weighed, pondered, and reflected upon the ramifications of partaking of the fruit before she did so. The King James translators, themselves inheritors of the original sin cultural bias, used the word almost exclusively to mean deceived. They did not capture the original richness of the word.”
What does this change? Much.
   If Eve chose to partake not because of Satan’s urging but because of her own careful consideration — if Satan’s attempted persuasion to sin was instead a catalyst for deep contemplation on the reason for God’s conflicting commandments, it seems to me that she understood the consequence of her action, and chose to embrace it with faith in God. She didn’t know yet if her husband Adam would be willing to follow her in the Fall, but she was willing to act without a perfect assurance that everything would work out the way she hoped. That must have taken an incredible amount of courage.
   Sheri Dew, in her talk entitled “The Mother of All Living”, confirms this view: “Eve set the pattern. In addition to bearing children, she mothered all of mankind when she made the most courageous decision any woman has ever made and with Adam opened the way for us to progress. She set an example of womanhood for men to respect and women to follow, modeling the characteristics with which we as women have been endowed: heroic faith, a keen sensitivity to the Spirit, an abhorrence of evil, and complete selflessness. Like the Savior, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” Eve, for the joy of helping initiate the human family, endured the Fall. She loved us enough to help lead us.”
   Thankfully, Eve persuaded Adam to follow her in the Fall, thus blazing the path that countless generations would follow. They worked together to fulfill all of God’s commandments to the best of their mortal ability, trusting in the promise of a Savior who would come to redeem them and their children from the corruptibility that the Fall had introduced, both physically and spiritually.
   Eventually, Eve came to rejoice over her decision, saying, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Though our first parents were not immune to the sorrows of life — among other things, having one of their sons commit the first murder, and watching many of their children choose to follow Satan’s enticements — still they found  joy and peace in mortality, despite the effects of the Fall.
   This new understanding of Eve’s role in the Fall, given to us by revelation, has much to teach us about how to approach the decisions we face at this pivotal period of our lives.
   The first principle we can draw from her experience is that of trust in the Lord. Eve, though she had no real concept of good and evil, trusted that God had her best interests at heart. When she chose to, as President Oaks said, “[transgress] the limits of Eden’, she did so because she believed that God would not ask her and Adam to do something they could not in their current state — namely, to bear children — unless there was some way to change their possibilities.
   Sometimes our Heavenly Father asks us to do things that we can’t yet see the reasons for. When we choose to trust Him and do them without knowing why, the answer often comes, though much later than we would  hope. Take the example of President Nelson, who heard a seemingly throwaway line in a talk about learning foreign languages. He decided to learn Mandarin (which is, incidentally, a very difficult language to learn), and practiced diligently. He has since strengthened ties with the Chinese people in ways that he could not have possibly foreseen when he began that project!
When we trust in the Lord and lean not to our own understanding, I testify that he will direct our paths.
   The second principle we can learn from Eve is that sometimes we must make a decision without all the information, or even with incorrect information, and trust that the Lord will see the desire of our heart and honor it. As I have mentioned, there is some evidence that Eve did not partake of the fruit impulsively, but instead pondered the decision carefully before she acted. Satan may have beguiled her, but this does not mean that she was deceived. Eve likely believed Heavenly Father when He said that they would surely die if they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but she also trusted that knowledge of good and evil was important enough to risk death, even spiritual death. In Eden, there had been no chances to grow and progress, and I believe it was for this reason that the scriptures say that Eve “. . . saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make her wise . . .”
   Eve’s choice was ultimately correct, not because it had no consequences, but because it did. Yes, everyone will die physically — there is a 100% mortality rate for all of us eventually. But we can choose whether we will live or die spiritually. As Alma explained, “there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state . . .”
   We are all on a journey. There is a path, the strait and narrow way of which many prophets have spoken. Sometimes we may wander off the path for a while, but it is always possible to return, thanks to our Savior’s Atonement. When we repent, we can change the consequences of our evil action and turn back. This is not to say that all consequences for our actions will vanish, but they can be turned to our good when we allow the Savior to change us. There are no sins we can commit, except denying the Holy Ghost, that can possibly lead us farther from the way home than our Savior can reach. He can turn all sorrows to joy if we are willing to let Him. This is only possible because of the Fall that Eve set in motion, for without the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, we would all be lost, or forced to remain forever in the state we were in.
   Orson F. Whitney once said, “The fall had a twofold direction—downward, yet forward. It brought man into the world and set his feet on progression’s highway.” When we believe this and act accordingly, trusting in the Lord, we will be able to make decisions as Eve did, through careful consideration, seeking inspiration and guidance, but not waiting forever for the perfect moment to act, or complete knowledge of all of the consequences.
   I testify that because of the Fall, we have come to this earth to fulfill the plan of salvation in our own lives. I testify that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and that through His Atonement we can return to our Heavenly Parents someday — that the resurrection of Christ is a reality, and that because of Him we can have eternal life and joy in our redemption. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rain

   It's interesting how rain affects me. In the winter, on those rare occasions that it's actually warm enough to rain, a day of clouds and drizzle makes me long to curl up in bed and shut out the world, and if I had things to do, so what? They'll get done eventually. Winter rain is an excuse for sleep almost as much as snowstorms are - but really any excuse will do in winter, which, it seems to be forgotten, used to be a time of slow unhurried rest.
   In spring, rain no longer seems so dreary; instead, it makes everything feel finally clean as all the detritus of winter washes away. Strangely enough, the whole feel of a rainstorm changes with the change of seasons, no matter how much rain comes down in what amount of time. Every sharp edge feels softer, and it puts me in a contemplative mood (thus this post). This is the season in which rainstorms drive me to a cozy book-and-blanket nest instead of hibernation. Something about the sound of rain in spring makes every story more real somehow. Perhaps it's because the stories of the slowly waking world are coming back to life.
   When summer comes, with its thunderstorms and loud atonal raindrops and the petrichor smell of dust and parched plants rejoicing, my first urge is to stand and watch and feel the power of the storm in my bones . . . until I've had enough, at which time I'm grateful for a house to retreat to and a solid roof over my head. Summer rainstorms compel me to listen, to pay attention to the power and fury that nature can command; it can hardly be ignored, when thunder resounds like Titans clashing in the mountains that loom above my home.
   Autumn rains are bleak and colorless, washing away the last remnants of a seasonal splendor, bleaching everything brown in preparation for the winter's thick, silent shrouds of white. Again this is a season for stories, but for endings, not beginnings, for quietly letting go, for putting things to rest, assured that when spring comes once more, the soft implacability of rain will come again, in yet another way and meaning.

Friday, October 21, 2016

To Walk In Beauty

   Each day, I rise before the sun. The stars greet me as I step outside; few in summer, many in winter. Sometimes clouds cover them, filled with soft rain or quiet snow. Sounds sharpen in autumn, deaden in winter, brighten in spring, grow richer in summer. The wind carries keen fresh air from the mountain's heights down through the valley.
    I walk, finding a rhythm for moving meditation. Few people wake so early - often I am alone. In the near-silence I find peace to carry me through the day.
   As the sun rises, the mountains show me their mood. Now, with autumn falling quickly into winter, they are nestling down to sleep, solemn and barren of life. They are ready to rest under blankets of snow that deepen as the days grow shorter.
   After morning tasks are done, I look out my front door, startled by color - the leaves are brighter than gold, one last defiant display before they rejoin the earth that nourished them through the long, hot days of summer.
   The garden withers, first frosts now touching spent leaves. Its abundance has taught me again the law of the harvest. Short winter days will be enlivened by honey-colored peaches; red, orange, and yellow tomatoes - plain and in soup and sauce; jellies, jams, and preserves of various rainbow shades; clear garnet grape juice. I live richly, surrounded by wonders. How can I be ungrateful when I have been given so much?
   Each day I pray: Let me not forget the multitude of blessings that have been showered down upon me. Help me remember the moments of perfect stillness, the awe that comes in looking to the endlessly changing sky or taking in the vast complexity of the smallest blade of grass. Find me words to contain the overflowing joy that seems inexpressible, and I will try in my imperfect way to explain perfection.
   May I walk in beauty, and share that vision with those who walk around me.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Light in Darkness

   I wrote a short story for an assignment and thought I may as well put it somewhere. So I'm posting it here. I, ah, don't actually know whether it's any good or not, but it is a bit of backstory to the rather longer tale that this blog is named for. Constructive criticism is always welcome! So, random stranger, I hope you enjoy my odd little tale.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Way

   I am a martial artist. This is something I generally keep to myself, despite the way it's become a large part of my life. Sometimes I wonder why I'm so cagey about it. Why should I be? It's a good thing, a way of life that has kept me going through some very rough times.
   Part of the reason is that I am an introvert, and don't like to tell people everything about myself. But another part of me knows that most people do not understand that when I say "I do karate" what I really mean is "I practice the way" - because Karate-do is translated as 'the way of the empty fist', and the school which I practice in is Kyu Shin Ryu, or 'a place to learn mastery' over all aspects of self - mind, body, and spirit.
    What I learn from karate is far more than just self-defense or how to end a fight. I have struggled to learn grace, timing, and precision. These skills carry over into all aspects of my life. More important even than these, however, are the courtesy, kindness, strength of will, and calm that I have cultivated through years of persistent effort.
   The way is never easy. It means that I must strive to continue on, even when my body is about to give out, when all that's left in me is determination. It means learning when to move and how, gaining mastery of my mind so that I can concentrate completely on the task at hand, honing my spirit so that as I sharpen my sense of justice I also gain compassion for the world. It means learning patience. It is a never ending struggle, and that is just how it should be.
   There is another way which I also love, which the way of martial arts helps me understand more clearly. It is a strait and narrow path, 'strait' meaning difficult and bewildering, full of distress and hardship. But the end of that road is eternal life. 
   That way requires me to 'press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.' Now, sometimes I don't feel very much love for anyone, so this can be a hard commandment for me! But if I have learned one thing from my time in martial arts, it is to never give up. There are days when all I want is to quit - to just give up and let everything go. Yet I cannot, because I know there is an end to that rough road, even if I can't quite see it yet. And I suspect that the very roughness will make the sights at the end of that road more glorious than I can imagine.
   For now, I can only remind myself that 'it is better to move slowly than to stand still', and that when it seems that I'm making no progress in anything, it may be that it's my foundation that's growing, getting stronger and surer so that all that is built on it will be solid and true. That is my hope, anyway.
   The way is open to anyone who is willing to travel it. There are not many who try. Are you one of those few?
  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Admiration

Dear Mr. Tolkien,

   My parents read to me since before I could remember. One of the books I loved best began with, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit . . ." and when I learned to read, it was one of the first that I squirreled away into a corner to discover on my own. I read with delight of Elves and Eagles, riddles in the dark and maps that showed their full tale only by moonlight, and a hobbit whose size did not determine his bravery, but instead magnified it, for all he was so very small in a very large and confusing world.
   The summer of my seventh or eighth year was spent traveling - across country and through books. My mother, knowing that I loved to read, bought a complete copy of The Lord of the Rings, and I seem to recall little of the trip, for I was immersed in the old, slow world of the Ents; the fierce archaic culture of the Rohirrim; the immeasurable sadness of the Elves whose time is ended; and the high, valorous halls of Gondor, almost at the point of failing yet ready to flower. I learned again the meaning of the words green and silver and sable, and constructed for myself through your story the meanings of other words such as truth and light and courage.
   I have read and reread your books nearly ever year since then, and always I find more good things in them than I did the time before. Now that I understand a little more of the world, I think I see a little better the reason that my heart aches when I read of the rejoicing in the field of Cormallen as Sam and Frodo sit in honor beside the King. Your stories have brought back some few memories which I never had, and yet which are stamped in the very deepest part of my soul.
   As I read of Sam seeing, through the reek of Mordor, a single star, I am reminded that, "in the end the Shadow [is] only a small and passing thing: there [is] light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach." That thought has saved me and helped me to remember to look up when my small troubles seem too much to bear.
   So thank you. Thank you for teaching me not to despise the past, but instead to learn from it. Thank you for showing me that 'even the smallest person can change the course of the future'. Thank you for showing me that words can mean something. For all of these things, I am grateful beyond my ability to express.

Sincerely, Emily