I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
(Thanks to Caroline for bringing this fantastatic poem to my attention!)
This is the sacrament talk I gave in my ward two weeks ago. I quoted from Chieko Okazaki, Joan Chittister’s Called to Question and Valerie Hudson’s Women in Eternity, Women in Zion but because I wrote it as a sermon, I did not include citations. I hope you enjoy it.
A wise woman once said that “vision is the ability to realize that the truth is always larger than the partial present.” It is easy to become enmeshed in the partial present, to be so concerned with our daily existence, that we forget that our lives serve a greater purpose and is part of a grander whole. Indeed, it is hubris to believe that we live our lives purely for our own sake, for we are all interconnected in the great plan of God. This plan connects us with every other spirit and intelligence in the universe. It connects us with God and makes the atonement of Jesus Christ operational on our behalf.
The plan of salvation is like a grand tapestry. Each of us is a small thread in this tapestry; intersecting, connecting, separating and intersecting again. Moving from color to color, dark to light. We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to the great tapestry. We may not understand the pattern that our lives make, but God does. It is God’s plan that incorporates and connects us all. It is that plan that will bring us eternal happiness.
As Moses 1:39 tells us, God’s purpose is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. No matter the time period and regardless of the culture into which a spirit is born, every life is infinitely precious because God’s purpose extends to every individual. In the pre-mortal existence, our intelligences were organized into individual spirits and we became the children of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. In our primeval childhood, we were nurtured by the side of God. We grew and developed and desired to progress further. We desired the opportunity to discern good from evil; to prove to our Heavenly Parents our ability to become like them and live as exalted beings in their presence forever.
And so, in their great love, they came up with a plan that would insure our happiness and immortality. Each spirit child would have to leave the presence of God for a time. In order to fully prove ourselves, it would be necessary to withhold the recollection of our former friends and birth. As we sojourned through mortality, we would make choices based on our discernment of good and evil. Our Heavenly Parents knew the mortal weakness each of us would suffer, and so in their mercy, they provided us with a Savior. Because he first loved us, he desired to be the propitiation for the sins we would inevitably commit. Our older brother would be the door through which, if we entered, we would be saved.
We are told that at hearing this plan, the hosts of heaven rejoiced. Two-thirds of God’s children happily chose this plan. All of us are here in mortality because we chose the plan. Everybody who has ever been born, or ever will be born, chose God’s plan of happiness. This fact should be a source of great hope and confidence to us. We all trusted God. We all loved the Savior. We were willing to take the frightening risks of mortality because we desired to be like them. We assumed the burden of freedom because we loved Christ so much. And he assumed the burden of being our Savior because he loved us so much. Before we were born, then, we had become part of a web of love, part of the grand tapestry that is the plan of salvation.
The tapestry begins with the creation of the Earth. In order for the plan to commence, a place for mortal existence had to be created. As Moses 1:4 tells us: “And the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.” A great Mormon poetess beautifully captures the primordial event in her “Song of Creation”:
Who made the world, my child?
Father made the rain
silver and forever
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas,
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas
to bring the rain home
Father bridled winds, my child,
to keep the world new.
fire free from stones
and breathed it strong and dancing,
and breathed it strong and dancing
the color of her hair.
He armed the thunderclouds
rolled out of heaven;
Her fingers flickered
weaving the delicate white snow,
weaving the delicate white snow
a waterfall of flowers
And if you live long, my child
you’ll see snow burst
and lightning in the snow;
listen to Mother and Father laughing,
listen to Mother and Father laughing
behind the locked door.
The first chapter of Moses tells us how the gods created the world; first organizing matter to create the bedrock that would form the hills everlasting. Then the gods divided darkness from light, creating the satellites of the sun, moon and stars in the heavens. The gods formed seas and fountains and then decorated the new earth with flower, fish, bush and beast. But their crowning achievement came in the creation of humankind; a man and a woman, fashioned in their own image.
Adam and Eve were the first to come to this earth, though the Garden of Eden was a transitional and paradoxical existence. They had the veil drawn over their eyes and yet, they walked and talked with god. Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence; they could not sin, they could not die but they also could not progress. They were given two commandments; the first was not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the second was to multiply and replenish the earth. But they were given the gift of choice, the first gift of heaven, to choose whether or not they would keep the commandments of God. This is where the beauty of God’s plan was manifest for it is not in God’s nature to expel his children from his presence. And so he designed a plan that would allow Adam and Eve the ability to choose for themselves whether they would progress or remain in a state of innocence.
As we all know, Adam and Eve fell that men might be. Throughout the ages, our first parents have been criticized for breaking the commandment of God. But the restored knowledge of the plan of salvation has given us the vision and understanding to know that their transgression was essential to the progression of all men and women.
Though underestimated and vilified throughout history, Eve understood the greater vision of God: that man must be that they might have joy. Her statement in Moses 5:11 is perhaps the most doctrinally profound in all of scripture. “And Eve…heard all these things and was glad, 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.” Eve knew that it was the perpetuation of life, the continuation of the plan of salvation that would bring true happiness not only to herself, but to all her children. And so Eve became the first agent of light, providing the way for God’s children to receive bodies and progress to immortality.
All members of the human race must enter mortality through birth. Those of us who accepted the plan were permitted to pass through the veil that shrouds mortal life. We know women play an important role in the passage through the veil; they escort every soul through the veil, even the soul of the Savior of mankind. In a sense, they serve as the gatekeepers to our mortal world. Presiding over those who pass through the first veil, they clothe each traveler with a physical body and introduce them into mortality and agency through personal suffering and sacrifice.
This is something that I have had occasion to think a lot about recently. My own experience with the birth of my two children has been sacred and I have reflected often on the power there is in bringing life into the world. There is a point during labor where one leaves the mortal realm and is caught between life and death; it is in this sacred realm that the veil is at its thinnest. As I labored with my beloved children, I could feel a godly presence, not only sustaining me through the pain but entrusting me with the lives of two precious children, charging me to nurture them and bring them back to light.
As latter-day saints, we have been given the vision to understand that it is our families that unite and exalt us. When a man and a woman marry, they are committing to life, to love, and the perpetuation of life and love. Their mutual love for each other, unites them in a sacred cause, the perpetuation of love and life in their posterity. Both men and woman are creators of new life. Both have an obligation to nurture that life. Men help in the nurturing and loving of new life, just as women do. Parents have the responsibility to teach those to whom they give life, that there is light and love in this world, and to seek it. In this way, young souls are prepared to recognize and be receptive to the fullness of the Word of God. Women and men jointly teach their children goodness so that they might return to the presence of God.
It is, of course, up to us children to follow the light that our parents have introduced us to. Mortality is designed as part of the gospel plan to bring us mingled experiences with good and evil; that we may learn from experience to make wise choices. And many of these experiences are painful because we fail. We know ourselves to be weak. We stumble along, being less than we can be, never living up to our own standards, let alone anyone else’s. We try to obey the laws of God. The more our actions are in accordance with those laws, the more blessed and God-like we will be. If we choose, if we even desire to choose, if we even hope for the desire to choose, we set in motion the powerful forces for life that are led by Jesus Christ himself. He responds to those tender tendrils of crippled life with the force and energy that will bring them to flowering. Listen to these promises of love and yearning desire for us. Feel the hope they bring that with Him we can overcome the world. “[I] am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for [his] sheep.”
A true vision of the plan, one that does not see the tapestry as a single finished point, gives us the right to grow, to progress. It implies not only a God who made us, but a God who is with us, in us, and in everything around us. Whoever we are, whatever we are, this God knows us, understands us, walks with us to the melting point where what we are and what God is become one.
We are God’s children and God knows our greatest potential is to live as He does. We know why we are here. We have been given a vision of the great tapestry, the plan of salvation, through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We may not know what contribution our small thread makes to that tapestry. We may never know how far the effects of our service will reach. By our good works we magnify what is mighty in us all, one step at a time, one day at a time. We can never afford to be cruel or indifferent or ungenerous, because we are all connected, even if it is in a pattern that only God sees. We are all part of the pattern; black, white, brown, male or female. We are all connected in the merciful plan of our Heavenly Parents and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
May we all have the vision to know the full truth of this plan.
This was a sacrament talk that I just gave in our new ward. I am sorry about the run on sentences and bad grammer, I wrote the talk out as I would say it. I relied heavily upon an article by Carol Cornwall Madsen, entitled “Mormon Women and the Temple.” As this was a talk in Sacrament Meeting, I shied away from the more controversial topics. There is alot I could say about women and the priesthood, especially as it relates to the temple but I did not feel like it was an appropriate place to do so. I have come to a peaceful understanding of the temple, but there are still issues that bother me.
The genesis of my topic is a talk by Sister Elaine S. Dalton, entitled “We Did This For You.” This is a very nice talk about the sacrifices our pioneer forefathers and foremothers made in order for us to have temples. As I was reading the talk and pondering on what I should talk about, I felt my thoughts directed to Mormon Women’s relationship with the temple. My thoughts are often drawn towards the situation of women in our world. I received a degree in history with an emphasis in women’s history and women’s studies. As I mentioned before, I work on behalf of women, and the post-baccalaureate degrees I will be pursuing deal primarily with women’s issues. I have felt a great deal of inspiration over the past few days from the Lord and I pray that I can convey what the Lord desires. Though I am talking about women, given from a woman’s perspective, the things that I will be sharing are equally applicable to men. I hope that the history, quotes and thoughts I share with you will help those of you who are preparing to go to the temple and give deeper meaning to those of us who are preparing to return to the temple.
We have all heard the faith-promoting story of early Mormon sisters crushing their precious china to put on the outer walls of the Kirtland Temple so that the temple would gleam from a distance. LDS women’s history with the temple, however, is much more complex and fascinating. When Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society in 1842, he promised them that he would give them, as well as the elders and the church, the keys of the kingdom “that they would be able to detect every thing false.” He then turned the key over to them in the name of God and declared that “this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.” Reynolds Cahoon later confirmed Joseph’s intent to the Relief Society, saying “You knew no doubt [that] this society is raised by the Lord to prepare us for the great blessings which are for us in the House of the Lord in the Temple.”
When the Lord called on the saints to build the Nauvoo temple, women were instrumental in its completion. Mercy Fielding Thompson received inspiration to have the sisters subscribe one cent per week for the purpose of buying glass and nails for the temple. She was able to collect nearly $1000 from the sisters in Illinois and England. Another interesting contribution from Sarah Kimball provides a great example of the ingenuity of women.
Three days after the birth of her son, Sarah Kimball asked her well-to-do, non-Mormon husband what he thought the son was worth. Her husband had a difficult time assigning a price tag to their new son, so Sarah suggested $1000. Hiram Kimball agreed to the sum. Then Sarah asked “And half of him is mine”. He agreed again. Sarah then said, “Then I have something to help on the Temple…and I think of turning my share right in as tithing.” Some days later, Hiram related the conversation to Joseph Smith. “I accept all such donations,” Joseph promptly answered, “and from this day the boy shall stand recorded, Church property.” Then he added, “You now have the privilege of paying $500 and retaining possession, or receiving $500 and giving possession.” Hiram Kimball readily deeded to Joseph a piece of property well worth the $500, thereby gaining title to his child and closing the transaction. So sisters, here is a new way of getting money from your husbands. Some of you could be doing very well for yourself.
It is easy to see that the temple meant a lot to these early sisters, but why? The temple ordinances are applicable to both men and women and promise the same level of exaltation, this was incredibly significant to women of the time. The Victorian Era, in which time the church was formed, was particularly oppressive to women; they could not vote, own property, speak in public forums.
The temple opened up a new concept of spiritual participation relating to the “privileges, blessings and gifts of the priesthood” which not only enhanced their position in the church but also offered limitless potential in the hereafter. The introduction of temple ordinances in Nauvoo opened to all worthy Mormon women a new understanding of their place in the plan of salvation and in the church. They joyously received temple ordinances for the new dimension of spiritual life and hope they offered. They accepted the opportunity to participate in temple work as an honor and cherished the sacredness of their temple experiences. Eliza R. Snow recognized that Mormon women were on the forefront of a new dispensation for women and declared, “We are at the head of all the women of the world.” And she was absolutely correct. The gospel was, and is, the most progressive and revolutionary of all religions and teachings on this earth. The temple plays a key role in giving us this revolutionary knowledge.
When Joseph Smith met with the Relief Society in 1842 and spoke of giving them the keys of the kingdom, it was clear that he was exhorting them to put their lives in order to receive the “knowledge and intelligence” that he would soon reveal to them. Joseph Smith told Mercy Fielding Thompson at the time of her endowment that “this will bring you out of darkness into marvelous light.” The temple can provide the miracle of knowledge and intelligence for us as well, but how do we prepare ourselves for the marvelous light that can be ours.
There are, of course, the fundamental principles that we must live in order to get into the temple. These principles are asked about in our temple recommend interview. We need to keep the commandments, including keeping ourselves morally clean. There are temple preparation classes that provide a good, basic understanding of what we learn in the temple. True scripture study and prayer are an invaluable tool for helping us gain understanding into what the temple is trying to teach us.
Though the principles I mentioned above are important and helpful, we may need more help in order to understand the knowledge and intelligence that Joseph Smith promised was in the temple ceremony. Might I suggest several things that were invaluable to me as I prepared and learned about the temple? These measures are helpful to all preparing to go to, or return to the temple.
The first is education, both spiritual and secular. Training one’s mind to understand the complexities of our world allows us to see and understand the complexities of the temple ceremony. The temple ceremony is veiled in symbolism; it is our job to decipher those symbols and use the knowledge we have gained in order to get back to our Heavenly Father’s presence.
The second is an understanding and belief in the goodness of the Plan of Salvation. Of all the doctrine in our gospel, the Plan of Salvation is perhaps the most simple and beautiful, and yet the most misunderstood. We cannot break through the symbolism of the temple unless we fully understand our roles as sons and daughters of God within His glorious plan.
The third tool that was useful to me was a process that Abraham Maslow called Self-Actualization. Inherent in the nature of women and men is a desire to become the best person they can. To press towards “unity of personality, toward spontaneous expressiveness, toward full individuality and identity, toward seeing the truth rather than being blind, toward being creative, toward being good…That is, the human being is so constructed that he presses toward what most people would call good values, toward serenity, kindness, courage, honesty, love, unselfishness, and goodness.” The steps to self-actualization are the same ones we should be taking in order to get back to the Kingdom of Heaven:
We do not have to be our very best when we enter the temple, but we should have the desire to become our best through what the temple teaches us. The sincere desire to receive light and knowledge is often enough for the Lord to bless us with it.
I now would like to share with you my first experience with the temple. I do so with some trepidation because it is very personal. I ask for your compassion and understanding. I do not offer myself up as an example of faithlessness. Rather I am sharing with you one woman’s relationship with the temple and how a loving Father in Heaven has blessed her because of that experience.
I did not go on a mission, so a month before Brandon and I were to be married we met my parents and Brandon’s parents at the Winter Quarter’s Temple in Omaha, Nebraska (which was the closest temple to where my parents were living at the time). I had gone to temple preparation classes, studied my scriptures and prayed, discussed with Brandon a little bit of the temple ceremony.
I was not prepared, however, for the actual ceremony and I quickly became overwhelmed by the symbolism and language of the endowment. I was also unprepared for what I saw as the hierarchy of men over women put in place by Eve’s choice to partake of the fruit. This simply did not, and does not, fit with my understanding of the gospel and Plan of Salvation. Towards the end of my endowment, I broke down and sobbed. I sobbed through out the remainder of the ceremony and into the Celestial Room. I could not contain myself. I was embarrassed; I felt I had let down my future husband and my parents. And yet my sense of duty to those I loved could not overcome the feelings of hopelessness that were rushing at me. Brandon and I spent an awkward evening with our parents and then went back to BYU.
I pause here to remind you of something I said earlier. If we have a sincere desire to receive truth and light, the Lord, in his infinite mercy, will grant it to us. In my case, the Lord had already given me a tender mercy in the form of a beloved professor and mentor. This woman had helped me with understanding my purpose as a woman in this life and the next.
Monday afternoon I went to her once again, sobbing, begging her to give me peace. And she was able to. What I learned in her office is too sacred to share, but it stands as a testament that our Heavenly Father desires to bless his children with marvelous light.
Brandon and I visited the temple frequently before our wedding. A week before we were to be married we went to the temple to do a sealing session. The officiator was the old temple president of the Provo Temple. Half way through the session, the man stopped and said that he had a prompting and that he needed to share important truths with us. The temple president then proceeded to reiterate almost word for word what my teacher had shared with me in her office. It was so important to the Lord that I receive the light and knowledge that I so desperately needed that he provided two separate ways to bless me.
My experience at the temple, while not perfect, has been one of the biggest blessings in my life, the relationship with my husband, and it has continued to bless the lives of our families.
I said before that the restored gospel is the most revolutionary for women of all those taught on this earth. This is not to say that there are not problems, the church is an imperfect earthly institution populated by imperfect people. But the gospel is perfect, and in it there is full equality between woman and man. The gospel, which is the only concern of the Church, was devised by the Lord for men and women alike. Indeed, our prophet recently said, “Now, my dear sisters…I remind you that you are not second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. You are His divine creation…Without you, our Father’s plan of happiness would be frustrated and have no real meaning.”
The temple ceremony provides the proof of women’s equality. Both men and women officiate in the temple ceremony. Eliza R. Snow recognized the unique blessing it is to be a Mormon woman. “They [Mormon Women] occupy a more important position than is occupied by any other women on the earth…sharing in the gifts and powers of the holy Priesthood…participating in those sacred ordinances, without which, we could never be prepared to dwell in the presence of the Holy Ones.” Women are just as much saviors upon Mount Zion as men are.
D&C 132:20 promises married couples that they “shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things.” The truths taught in the temple give us a glimpse into eternity and the blessings that are ours as women. If modern scripture is correct, a woman’s godhood, which, like a man’s, is “above all” and encompasses “all power,” is neither limited nor subservient. No distinctions are made as to the dimensions of male and female godhood. Elder James E. Talmage taught that “woman [shall] be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state.”
It is our duty to prepare ourselves for the glorious knowledge and intelligence that can be ours through temple attendance. Once we have prepared and received truths, it is then our calling to be instrumental in restoring the equality which existed when the world was created. We are literally endowed with power from on high when we go to the temple. This gives us a sense of divine grace and approbation that sets us apart from the rest of the world. We have the assurance that we can become like Christ.
Whatever indignity is forced upon women in this world; the meaning of the temple is clear. Its power, its purpose, and its promises for women are eternal. I pray that all of us, women and men, will prepare themselves to receive the marvelous light that the temple can bring.
I am waiting to be healed, I am waiting for the Balm of Gilead promised to those who sorrow. My sorrow is that of all the disenfranchised women in the world and eternities. I have pushed the fears of eternal inequality to the back of my mind. My longing for a relationship with a more present Mother in Heaven is reserved for when we sing ‘O My Father’ in church. The absence of female role models in the scriptures elicits only a brief murmuring from me. It isn’t that I have stopped pondering these issues, on the contrary, they are ever present in my mind. I am just waiting for the intangible resolution.
I work for a woman’s non-profit domestic violence program where the injustice of our legal system and society is painfully evident. Going to church reinforces my fear of injustice and inequality in the eternities. I constantly wonder if my feelings are valid; it depresses me that a majority of women see nothing wrong, they feel no pain at the situation forced upon them by nature’s chance. My husband often jokes that I can’t be happy with my own blessed situation, that my very being requires me to feel the pain of women whether they need or want me to. His joking insight is true, I have chosen to feel pain for those who can’t or don’t need to feel it for themselves. I have chosen to feel that pain and then use my own opportunities to speak out against it.
Sorrow is an instructive tool meant for brief times in our lives, brief because it can so easily turn into despair and bitterness. This is the point where I find myself, on the fence between instruction and the destruction of my faith. The God I know, the one that must exist, weeps when his daughters are abused by a fallen patriarchal system. My God loves me for all my femaleness; He does not see me as cursed, less than or unimportant in mortality or eternity.
The peace and understanding I have received are the result of my times of sorrow. The redemption that followed came in the form of tender mercies from a loving Father and Mother. My first foray into the sorrow of women introduced me to a wonderful woman and professor who healed my heart with an idyllic understanding of the eternities and Plan of Salvation. It is an understanding that I cling to in my darkest hours. Later, when my frustration at the male sex and patriarchy threatened to overwhelm me, my now husband soothed the anger by proving my idealism could be a reality with him.
The sorrow of women has returned to me once more. As I sat in church this past week allowing myself to feel sad, the Lord spoke to me. “The child will heal you.” I felt the wriggle in my womb as if the baby I am carrying was trying to assure me of this truth. My first child, a son, will be born in February. Something other than myself knows that being this child’s mother will provide the balm to my weary and wounded soul. I have postponed the ultimate battle between my faith’s sorrowful instruction and the destruction of what I want so desperately to believe. So I must wait.