Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Scripture commentaries - an aide or a hindrance?

One of our sons was visiting us recently. We were talking about scripture and each of us shared times when we had read scriptures we were very familiar with and were struck with an application we had never considered before. Which led to talk of how we study scriptures.

Our discussion reminded me of a statement by Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994). He was the president and prophet of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1985-1994. Speaking of how best to benefit from scriptures, he said:

Always remember, there is no satisfactory substitute for the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. These should be your original sources. Read and ponder more what the Lord said, and less about what others have written concerning what the Lord said.
This seems to be a key to receiving personal revelation through the scriptures. There are various scripture passages which are especially powerful to me. And it's not because I learned something about them from a gifted speaker or teacher or from reading a manual or book or something on the Internet. I have learned in that way, but the learnings that have stuck and mattered came differently. They came because, as I was reading from the scriptures, I was taught by the Holy Ghost and enjoyed tremendous "aha" moments.

For instance, I could have read or listened to some wise person talk about the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as a sort of parable and been impressed. But I didn't. I read that section of the Old Testament that I have read too many times to count, and was focused and receptive and suddenly it was all new to me! I was excited about what I was learning and made copious notes and enjoyed the uplift that comes after spending time with the Holy Ghost for hours afterwards. I still get a warm feeling every time I read those particular chapters of Exodus that had been just a story to me for many years.

In this day when so much of others' thoughts are available to us through the click of a mouse, I wonder if too few of us take the time to do our own thinking and our own pondering so we can receive that wonderful, powerful, personal insight and revelation. It certainly doesn't happen every time I open scriptures -- or even most of the time. But when it does, it's amazingly wonderful!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Tyranny of the Mirror

In his January 1984 essay for the Walnut Acres catalog, Paul Keene made this statement:
The marvelous thing about growing older is the escape from the tyranny of the mirror. The wrinkles and blemishes are there, but we really don't see them. Rather than looking at our faces, we now appreciate more the feeling of life surging through us, and are thankful. There is too much to be done, too much that is wondrous to be experienced, to be held back by a mere piece of glass.
When I read that, I find myself chuckling at the thought that we probably don't notice the wrinkles and blemishes as much because eyesight is fading as for any other reason. Immediately following that thought comes the thought that it's probably the men-folk who are able to disregard the tyranny of the mirror more readily than we women are. And why is that?

For one thing, from the time I was tiny (and I think it is true of women in general - at least of my generation), approval was most often expressed by telling me I was cute or pretty or something having to do with my looks. My brothers, on the other hand, got approval for being smart or hard-working or athletic. Hopefully such things are changing, but I think there is still way too much emphasis on the appearance of girls and women - to the point that we tend to gauge our worth based on whether we are thin enough, or have a pretty face or wonderful hair, or the latest fashions.

As I am beginning to see an old woman gazing back at me in the mirror, I find I am still not immune to the mirror.  Rather than echo Keene's words, I am more likely to find myself singing along with Dave Mallett: "Sweet bird of youth, don't pass me by...."

I find myself bothered by thinning hair -- it's been white too long for that to bother me any more. I see my overweight self and feel like I don't want people to have to look at me. Maybe that comes at least partly from my intolerance of overweight people when I was young and thin - serves me right! I wear makeup more when I am going out and fuss over my hair more than I ever did when I was young. All of which is silly, of course. None of those things is going to make me lovely and young again. But Keene gives me hope that, in a few more years, I might grow accustomed to this aging body and not resentful any more. I need to find peace with the aches and pains and aggravations of growing old. I'd like to be blessed to live many more years on this earth and have continuing opportunities to grow and try to be better and to watch my much loved children as they progress through life. Guess it's time to work on learning to "escape from the tyranny of the mirror"  and to "appreciate more the feeling of life surging" through me. I am incredibly blessed with basically good health and a body that still pretty much does what I want it to do and a brain that continues to function -- most of the time. Time to set aside focus on the mirror and focus more on the gratitude for life and opportunity.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Difficult Issues and Faith

I hesitate to wade into the current mess of emotion and illogic regarding certain social issues of the day. But, given that my blog is rarely read by anyone and more of a place for me to record my thoughts, I do want to record a scripture and a quote that I find helpful in dealing with these sorts of things.

First, a scripture. In John 6, we find recorded an incident of Jesus teaching difficult doctrine. I quote some of verses 60-68:
Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying: who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?.... the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe  not.... From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Lessons learned:
1. All of us are going to run into difficult doctrine. The doctrine where I stub my toe might not be the same as that which threatens to uproot another's testimony. But those tests will come to all who try to follow Christ.
2. It is by design that these tests come. God will sift His people from time to time. He always has done so. In this dispensation, the issues of plural marriage and the Equal Rights Amendment spring to mind.
3. To get through these times, I need to constantly be working to build my faith and my relationship with my God. As I come to know Him, I come to better trust Him and am able to "be still and know that [he] is God". In that stillness I can examine myself. Whose wisdom am I relying on? The world's? Mine? Or the unfailing wisdom of He who knows all?

And, a quote  from Jane Eyre  by Charlotte Bronte:
Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigor; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?
Sticking with what we know is right, regardless of our desires, or the opinions of others is just not always going to be easy. If it were always easy, where would be the virtue of being steadfast? How would we grow into the beings we are meant to be?

I fear I am not a very courageous woman. But I know what I know and my confidence in God has grown over the years. I hope and pray I will have moral courage when it is required of me. Fortunately I have experienced siftings in the past and know that if I just hold on and trust, things become clear (or clearer) and the turmoil is survived, and I come out stronger in the end.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Beans and Daisies

One of my favorite of Paul Keene's essays was published in July 1983 and titled "Lesson of the Daisy".  In it he talks of daisies and making the best of difficult situations. I quote from his essay:
They [daisies] will grow in the most unlikely places - along railroad tracks, on steep banks, in wet fields. Yet how thoughtful of Nature to endow us with such sturdy, persistent, indomitable examples of beauty created from what one finds at hand.... This wondrous plant makes the very most of circumstances that may seem poor to us. Those copious roots spread in all directions in an incredibly thick, interwoven mat. As if by determined seeking they have found life.
The application to our lives is obvious. We can look at our circumstances and give up, or we can determinedly push down and spread out our roots and grow where we find ourselves. We can decide to make our circumstances have as much beauty as possible. In Keene's words:
Life and power and beauty are where you find them. Nothing is too much work in letting one's roots seek out  one's life sustenance. Nil desperandum: never despair. Take what you have and build beauty from it. It is possible; it does work. In times when the heart is slow, one must remember the daisies of the field.
Our society seems to encourage discontent with an individual's lot in life. We are encouraged to always want more and better. Perhaps we as a people need to step back a bit and learn to be content with what we have. As we determine to make the most of what we have, we can find contentment and beauty all around us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


In one of his essays, written in 1984, Paul Keene tells of the problems of dealing with spring floods on the farm. He closes the essay with this observation:
Out of having to cope, and in doing so, one can develop a strength, a depth of understanding, a realization that life does not promise us eternal ease and comfort and release from problems and difficulties. We learn that within us is a power we seldom realize we possess: the power to rise above. We normally use - or want to use - but a tiny fraction of the stamina and sturdiness that are our birthright.... Life goes on, people cope, they rise above. That is one of the beauties of the human condition.
I think he has captured much of the purpose of earth life and of problems during our mortal sojourn. It seems that we are sent difficult circumstances from time to time so we can learn what we're made of. Often I imagine we disappoint ourselves by not handling those trials better. But most folks learn,  grow, and do better with the next problem. 

I'm not sure why it is that some folks seem to be dealt more of those coping situations than others. Certainly we bring many problems on ourselves because of our foolish choices but many are no doubt sent to us so we can learn and grow. And I am confident that they are sent by the One who understands us perfectly and knows exactly what experiences we need to be enabled to progress toward perfection. For each time we get through a difficult patch, we find ourselves just a little stronger and better able to get through the next one. We are further down the road to becoming all we are meant to be.

Bottom line: while I certainly don't go looking for trouble nor rejoice when it comes my way, I have learned that the trouble has a purpose and hope to weather each of my personal life floods successfully.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Kites and Freedom

Continuing with reflections on some of Paul Keene's essays in his book Fear Not to Sow Because of the Birds:

In one of his essays, Paul Keene was reflecting on a kite-flying adventure. He is not the only person who has written about kites and freedom, but his are close to hand, so I shall quote from his observations:
Little did the kite realize that the pull of the string, which seemed to hold it back from reaching into the blue depths above, was the very thing that kept it sailing.... Its freedom, its very being, resided in its having been tied to Earth. To be free of its tie was to be lost.... I could not help thinking of that haunting verse that begins, 'Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.'.... It seems really to lie with us, whether or not to sever the strings.... All our strings lead back eventually into one healing, holding hand, which seems ever ready to tug us against life's storms into adventurous strength and power.
I grew up in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, when youth was anxious to cut the strings and supposedly soar to new heights of freedom. It was the age of "free love" and fighting against authority. Of "doing your own thing" and the assurance that "if it feels good" it can't be wrong. And yet, it doesn't work. As our generation and many others found, giving in to "the natural man" does not lead to any sort of lasting happiness.

One wiser than any of us gave us the formula for true freedom to soar in John 8:32: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

The Savior of the world went on to explain that sin brings us into bondage and obedience to eternal law brings us freedom. And yet, we selfish mortals don't think of obedience as being freedom. We kick against the pricks and want to do what we want to do. We don't want anyone - even God -  telling us what to do. We tend to feel that commandments keep us from expressing ourselves and being free. I have heard some who have decided to leave a gospel-centered life express it as a need to be free. But, are they free? Sure. Free from those commandments that they felt were tying them down; free to try things out and see if they find happiness; free to become addicted to various substances and habits.

I prefer the sort of freedom the Savior promised: freedom to progress and improve; freedom from addictions and habits; freedom from unpleasant consequences of foolish and selfish choices; freedom from my sins as I repent of them; freedom to feel pure joy even in the midst of troubles.... An old friend once expressed the sort of freedom that comes from obedience to God's laws by comparing it to obedience to man's laws.  He said that, if we obey the speed limit and other traffic laws, we are free to drive where we want and we free from fear of consequences when a law-enforcement officer's car appears.

I tried the world's freedom when I was a young adult and found myself quickly sinking into the mire. The most miserable times I ever experienced in my life came as a consequence of that sort of freedom. I still sometimes feel rebellious and cut the strings loose a bit -- but it never turns out well. I have also tried God's freedom - the freedom that comes from allowing him to hold the kite strings and keep me from flailing out of control. And that sort of freedom has allowed me to feel inner peace even in the midst of trouble. It has kept me free from many snares that could have engulfed me. With that freedom, I can soar and grow and become all He knows I am capable of becoming. That is a freedom I can truly enjoy for eternity.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Temple Moments

My husband and I typically attend the temple once a month. Our temple is 3 1/2 hours away, so it makes for a long day. In spite of the long day on the road for a couple of hours in the temple, we invariably find ourselves in good spirits after each temple experience.

This month we had the opportunity to be at the temple twice. We went down early in the month to provide ordinances for my mother. That was a joyful day as I felt my mother close and reflected on the wonderful promises made to her that day in the temple. Then, just this past week, we went down again. This time we were there on assignment to help clean the temple. And yet, I felt that same calm, peaceful, uplifting feeling of the Spirit as I was cleaning a restroom and a kitchen and dusting baseboards and chair rails.

As we drove back after our cleaning assignment I was reflecting on the wonderful way I feel in the temples. My mind went back to an occasion some years back when we were in the temple with one of our sons. We had picked him up from his university one Saturday so we could enjoy time in the temple together. The picture that flashed into my mind as I reflected on the feeling of temples was him sitting in one of the rooms of the temple where we have time to sit and reflect, ponder, and pray. I happened to glance up at him that day and noticed the look of absolute peace in his face and knew that he too felt that wonderful temple feeling.

When a new temple is constructed, an open house is held before the dedication. The public is invited to tour the facility prior to its dedication. They usually admire the lovely architecture, but even more they notice the peaceful feeling they have in these buildings.

Now, why is that? They are lovely buildings, but there are many lovely buildings in the world.  I have had the opportunity to be in some magnificent structures and marveled at them. I have been in wonderful churches and appreciated their grandeur and style. For instance, the church where my father attends and that has been his family's church for many generations is a lovely building. I like to be in that church. It has beautiful stained glass windows and I have memories of going there to church with my grandparents as a child. Many places and buildings have provided me with good feelings, even sacred feelings on some level, nothing compares to the unique feelings I feel in a dedicated LDS temple.

I think that the wonderful feeling of peace - of a divine presence - in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is best explained by the inscription on each such building: The House of the Lord. These houses are dedicated to God and we feel His presence there; a presence that calms the spirit, removes me from the world's cares for a time, and helps me to have the desire to be a little better. To me, temples are one of the primary places in which my faith in the reality of my God is strengthened and renewed -- and it doesn't matter what I am doing there; the Spirit is always there and always touches me for good.