As It Is or As I Am – the Art of Becoming

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Sacrament talk – life is messy

Introduction:

Latest talk from Church. There have been a couple of others since my last, but those were delivered without notes or being written out. Always a slightly dangerous thing for myself, as I never know where I’ll end up 🙂

After delivering a talk there is for me a pause to reflect on changes I might have made. I  don’t feel to alter anything here, though I could have added a lot more about empathy as being a key part of carrying others crosses, plus more about not trying to fix things. Empathy – perhaps a subject for my next talk?

The talk itself:

Life is messy. Things often don’t work out the way we want or anticipate. It would be nice if it were not so. To pretend otherwise is, well, ludicrous and a little bit crazy. And yes, often we do pretend life is not messy. I’m not sure it’s always a conscious, deliberate denial of the messiness. But, facing the messiness can be scary.

Occasionally someone will publicly own and share the messiness of their life. If they are doing so on their own terms, when they will ready to do so, I think that’s wonderful. It’s not something easily done. I recognise not everyone is happy to hear of other’s really personal issues. Whether such sharing is done one to one or more publicly in a lesson or perhaps a fast and testimony meeting, hearing the difficulties of others is an opportunity for compassion and empathy, for unconditional love.

Related to this, Fiona Givens, in September this year, at the 2015 International Affirmation conference in Provo, Utah, reported in the Deseret News, said this:

“But God has not left us alone to travel the darkness…. We as Mormons have made particular covenants at our baptism. In Mosiah 18 they are delineated. The first one is to bear each other’s burdens. Now I’m very visual person, and when Christ says pick up your cross and follow me, I see him out before us dragging his cross. And we’re all spread out behind him carrying our own. There isn’t a single person in this room not carrying a cross. We’re all carrying crosses. As we enter the waters of baptism, we covenant to bear each other’s burdens. Picture that with me. You are struggling along under the weight of your cross, and your friend besides you, or perhaps somebody completely unknown, collapses under the weight of his or her cross. As you bend down to help that person with the burden, of necessity you must touch that cross. It is only then that you understand the nature and the depth of the pain that person is carrying. Platitudes fail. It does not help to say, “Read your scriptures more often. Attend all three services, as boring as they might be, every Sunday.” It is only then when we touch the pain that we are in a position to be able to mourn. To be able to enter that second covenant. To mourn with that person. It is only then that we can truly comfort…. Only then, when we understand the pain, can we offer words of comfort that reach deeply. And only then can we take upon ourselves the name of Christ.” – my emphasis

I find that imagery of the crosses we bear wonderful. If I’m going to really be of any value in helping you, I must touch your cross. If you’re going to really be of any value in helping me, you must touch my cross. With permission, we must touch each other’s cross. Let me extend the cross analogy a little. Picture Christ carrying his cross to Golgotha, having been dragged along, it would have been caked in mud. Also, it would be covered in the Saviour’s blood, from where he had been whipped and beaten, also from the crown of thorns on his head. It would have been dirty. It would have been bloody. It would have been messy. As Christ collapsed under the weight of the cross, Simon was compelled by Roman soldiers to help carry the Saviour’s cross.

The cross we carry may not be caked in physical mud or blood – though it may be – our crosses may be covered in bereavement, depression, divorce, widowhood, failing an exam, missing a promotion, being made redundant, a child or spouse losing faith, or having a faith crisis ourself – this list could be endless …

Some of us may feel compelled to carry other’s crosses, by virtue of our various callings. I’m glad though that a great many just help other’s carry their crosses. I don’t know everyone’s cross. Though, following sacrament meeting, I see people still seated talking with each other. I’m sure some conversations are just regular exchanges. Others, by the hugs being given and the facial expressions, are more than that. I don’t know what’s being discussed and as bishop don’t need to know, unless the person carrying their cross wants me to. What is beautiful to see is crosses being borne, being carried together. And, of course, there are countless acts of crosses being borne outside of Church on a Sunday.

One thing we need to acknowledge about helping to carry or bearing someone’s cross with them, is that, unless the person specifically asks, we don’t try to fix the situation. Simon didn’t fix the Saviour’s situation. The Saviour was still crucified. He bore with him until then.

We can’t fix someone’s divorce, bereavement, depression, etc. but we can be there with them as they work through things. Some things take a short period of time. Others can take months or years.

as we each share our burdens with each other, as we each help carry each others crosses, it all becomes part of the ward them for this year, becoming one through the sacrament.

How can we cope with our crosses? Yes, as mentioned we have support from those around us. There will though still be times when we are on our own. Going back to Fiona Givens, she makes some suggestions:

The other thing I would like to finish with is our paths are often lonely, even with friends. We experience loneliness. There’s this beautiful scripture in psalms that encourages us to draw cistern water from our own cisterns. We need our own holy places, out of the holy things that nourish our lives. For example, the scriptures may be able to provide a wonderful text, but it is interesting that in D&C section 91 the Lord says, “And are you also studying the apocrypha? Because there are many true things therein.” And it is actually transmitted correctly, something the Book of Mormon actually does not say about the biblical text. And then in section 90 the Lord says study all nations, kindreds, tongues and people. Joseph said if you want to become a true Mormon, a good Mormon, study every faith tradition. Truth is out there. We are not the only repository of truth. Joseph never said that. Truth is to be found in all sorts of places. Most definitely in the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling is a prophetess. She is part of my canon. So is The Hunger Games. There’s a lot of truth in that. I love Virginia Woolf. I love Oscar Wilde. Oh my gosh, that brilliant man! Every thing that he writes is brilliant. And his religious writings, which are covered in children’s literature, are stunningly beautiful, in his knowledge of Christ’s love and his atonement. My favorite band is Metallica. I have Radioactive as my ringtone. I find Macklemore’s The Heist really pertinent with profound truths. I love French rap. I love Vaughn Williams… Now these are my things. This is music that Terryl does not share with me particularly. But what I’m trying to say, beloved brothers and sisters, is if we fill our hearts with those things, the music, the literature, the good books, not scriptures… Those, yes, but whenever the Lord talks about good books, he’s not talking about the scriptures. You fill your lives with beautiful, uplifting music. I do want to remind us that arguably the greatest religious music of our time was written in the heart of the apostasy, where you will find much truth and much beauty.”

I want leave you with a final quote from Fiona Givens, but before hand I want to mention something about God’s love. It is for all. In preparing this talk, I discussed God’s love being unconditional. I was told that there are some members who feel His love is conditional. For me that is heresy. How can He love us with conditions? Perhaps some blessings might be conditional, but not God’s love. Fiona quotes Paul from Romans 8

“I would like to leave this with you because this is my absolutely favorite quote of all time. And it actually is in the Scriptures. It is part of the biblical text. It’s in Romans. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” I so testify in his holy name. Amen.”
– Fiona Givens, International Affirmation Conference 2015, Provo, Utah.

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