The Gospel of the Beloved Companion: A Review

The Gospel of the Beloved Companion by Jehanne de Quillan, published in 2010, is the first English translation of a gospel that was preserved by the author’s spiritual community based in the Languedoc region of France. Originally written in Greek, the text came from Egypt to Languedoc in the first century, and was kept at great cost since that time. de Quillan’s book provides an English translation of the text, followed by commentary that compares it to the Gnostic gospels of Thomas and Mary, and to the canonical gospels. The Gospel of the Beloved Companion (GBC) is most similar to the canonical Gospel of John. I would like to review the book as a whole, then provide my own comparison of GBC to the Gospel of John.

In the introduction to the book de Quillan writes that the original text for the GBC is extant, but protected and not available for public view. Therefore, there is no way to verify whether the text is a translation or an invention; she invites readers to determine whether the text is authentic based on its content, rather than on empirical evidence. In this sense it’s like the Book of Mormon; readers are invited to make up their minds about its veracity based on what they feel. My point of view here will be one of accepting the text as what it claims to be, a gospel written by Mary Magdalene.

The GBC is unique because it tells the story of Jesus’ life from the perspective of a woman. The Beloved Companion is Mary Magdalene, sister of Lazarus and Martha. Overall the message of the GBC is the same as the canonic gospels: Jesus is the way to eternal life.  The stories of the GBC are mostly identical to the stories in John.  So in many ways the message is not significantly different because it came from a female author, which is what I suspect may be true of what would happen if we had female prophets and priests in the church today: the message would still be “Come unto Christ.”  But it matters that the messenger can be female, and it calls into question whether an authoritative account by a woman could have been included in the canonic gospels but was excluded.

de Quillan uses textual analysis to argue that the companion whom Jesus loved, mentioned in the Gospel of John, was Mary Magdalene, not John. She argues that the GBC is actually an older text than the source documents for the canonic gospels, as well as older than the gnostic gospel of Thomas. She uses historical and textual evidence to argue that Mary Magdalene was the beloved companion present at the Last Supper, and points out that after Jesus’ death Joseph of Aramathea begged his body from Pilate, and would have given it to Jesus’ family. Traditional Jewish funerary conventions gave women the duty of preparing bodies for burial, and giving the body to Mary Magdalene’s care should mean she was family, possibly his wife. This idea would have been very unpalatable to the Roman church, which could explain Mary Madgalene’s reduced status in the canonic gospels.

An interesting feature of the GBC is the scarcity of the words “God” and “Father.” Whatever word gave rise to “Father” or “God” in the canonic gospels, de Quillan translates “spirit” and she uses the feminine pronoun for it.  Her reasoning is that in Hebrew the word for spirit (ruach), is feminine, in Aramaic the word (ruah) is feminine, and in Greek the word (pneuma) is neuter. The GBC refers to Jesus as the “son of humanity” not the “son of man” or “son of god.” It doesn’t use the word “father,” but instead “spirit,” for example John 5:19: “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.”  GBC 13:9: “For whatever things the spirit does, these the son does likewise.”

The GBC is perhaps somewhat lower in christology overall.  It does not include the mystical beginning of John 1 about Christ being the Word.  The GBC uses softer language when it comes to Jesus’ personhood and resurrection, for example GBC 24:1 “I bring light to the world” compared with John 8:12 “I am the light of the world.”  And when Mary Magdalene meets Jesus at the tomb, John 20:17 reads, “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” GBC 40:6 says, “Jesus said to her, Mary, do not hold to me, for I am not of the flesh, yet neither am I one with the spirit; but rather go to my disciples and tell them you have seen me, so that all may know that my words are true and that any who should choose to believe them and keep to my commandments will follow me on their last day.”  But the GBC is clear that Jesus points the way to eternal life.

The GBC follows the gospel of John very closely until about John 20, after which it differs. The GBC concludes with a sermon by Mary Magdalene, after which Peter and Andrew say her words are untrue, and Matthew defends her. de Quillan makes the point that Peter had a different understanding of Jesus’ teaching than Mary and Matthew, and perhaps the very first split of what would become Christianity happened very soon after Jesus’ death, and that this also represented the first attempt to silence the feminine from Christianity. This is an interesting idea to me as a Mormon, who has always been taught that a falling away from Christ’s full gospel happened fairly soon after his death.

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Now here, for what it’s worth, are some comparisons I made between the GBC and the gospel of John.

 

GBC starts with John the Baptist, not with the Nativity, just like the Gospel of John does, and proceeds directly to the calling of the disciples. Next is the miracle at Cana.  In attendance it mentions brothers of Jesus: Jacob and Joseph, and a sister Mary. Mary (the beloved companion) and Martha, sisters of Lazarus.  Also Matthew, and Thomas (a friend to The Companion).  However the GBC adds an interesting detail GBC 6:9: “This beginning of his signs Jesus did at his wedding feast at a place near Cana in the land of Judah, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believe him” (emphasis mine). I’ve heard speculation that this was Jesus’ own wedding feast, and in this text that is explicit.

Next we have the story of the overthrowing the moneychangers at the temple, in John 2. The GBC adds a striking commentary by Jesus.

GBC8:6: “You are like a dog sleeping in the cattle manger.  The dog does not eat, nor does it let the cattle eat. You have stolen the keys to the temple and locked and barred the door.  You have not entered yourselves nor have you permitted others who wish to enter to do so.  Instead you have become as dishonest merchants, selling that which does not belong to you and over which you have no power.”

The stories of Nicodemus, the woman at the well, healing a nobleman’s son, and healing at the pool of Bethesda (John 3-5) are nearly identical. Next is the feeding of 5,000, as in John 6.  He goes out on the sea of Galilee with the disciples, but in GBC he does not walk on water. Jesus said he is the bread of life, and that their father’s ate manna and are dead, like in John 6, but the GBC text is more verbose.  It continues into John 7, where the disciples argue about whether a prophet could possibly come from Galilee.  Instead of concluding just with “every (man) went to his own house,” GBC adds, “But Jesus went back to Bethany to the house of the Beloved Companion near the Mount of Olives.”  There is something dear about the possibility of Jesus returning to beloved friends for comfort. The exchange with Pharisees about being Abraham’s children and the story of healing a blind man follow closely (John 8 and 9). Unique to the GBC is a passage about the Pharisees wanting to stone Jesus for claiming to be the messiah. John 10 has no correlate in the GBC.

John 11 contains the story of raising Lazarus from the dead. The miracle is somewhat downplayed in this Gospel.  Jesus says, “Your brother is not dead but sleeping,” without the clarification in John 11:14 “Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” The part about Lazarus stinking and being dead four days is not there.

Next comes a passage that has no correlate in John.  It’s reminiscent of passages in Matthew that talk about the kingdom of heaven being like a mustard seed, or treasure in a field, or a pearl of great price, or leaven.  But also unlike anything I can think of in the New Testament.

GBC 30:3-5: “The kingdom is like a man who had a treasure hidden in his field but did not know it.  And when he died, he left it to his son.  The son did not find the treasure, nor did he use the field, but sold it on to a neighbor.  The new owner then, desiring to make best use of the field, set to plowing the soil in preparation for planting a good crop, and struck the treasure.  Have I not told you that the kingdom lies hidden within you?  Then the disciple Salome, the woman who had given Jesus water to drink at the well of Jacob, asked him, ‘Rabbi, who shall I find my treasure?’ And Jesus said to her, ‘If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the kingdom.  Only from the truth I tell you, unless you overcome the ruler of the world, you will never know the spirit and discover that which lies within you.”

GBC 38:8 “If your leaders say to you, look, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds of the sky will precede you.  If they say to you, it is in the sea, then the fish will precede you.  Rather, the kingdom is within you and it is outside you.”

There’s nothing in the New Testament that says the kingdom of God is within you.  That seems like a pretty modern sentiment to me.

John 12 (Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet) follows closely. But instead of John 12:7: ‘Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this”  the GBC relates,

GBC 32:4 “But hearing this Jesus said to them, “Leave her be.  She has anointed me for what I am come to do, and done what she is appointed to do.  Only from the truth I tell you, whenever they speak of me, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.  You do not know or understand what she has done. I tell you this: when all have abandoned me, only she shall stand beside me like a tower.  A tower built on a high hill and fortified cannot fall, nor can it be hidden.  From this day forth, she shall be known as Migdalah, for she shall be as a tower to by flock, and the time will soon come when her tower shall stand alone by mine.”

Note the difference between the two accounts of the last supper:

John 14:18-21: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

GBC 35: 16: “I will not leave you orphans.  When a father goes away, it is the mother who tends the children. Only from the truth I tell you, there is one amongst you who has had my commandments, and keeps them.  That one is the one who loves me, adn that one who loves me isa lso loved by me, and by the spriit.  To that one will I reveal myself so that you will know that what I have said to you is true, that I am in the spirit as the spirit is in me.  And that same one will the spirit complete in all ways, so that by this sign you may know my words are true, and that my testimony is of the spirit, the one who sent me… Those amongst you who understand and keep my commandments will not taste death.”

John 15 is mostly the same, but John 16 and 17, in which Jesus teaches of the Comforter, of his death and resurrection, and offers his intercessory prayer, are not found in the GBC.

John 18 and 19 align – this is where the Roman soldiers come for Jesus and Peter smites off one of their ears.  Mary Magdalene appears again, it says she is the one who let Peter in at the gate where Jesus met with Caiaphas (this is where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.)

John 19:25-27 is interesting.  It replaces Mary Magdalene for John the Beloved at the cross:
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”

GBC 39:3 – “But there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary the beloved companion, also called Magdalene.  Therefore when Jesus saw his mother and the companion whom he loved standing there, he said to his other ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the Companion, ‘Woman, behold your mother!’ From that hour, the companion took her onto her own.”

The GBC expands on the “they” in John 19:40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  GBC says it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jacob, Joseph, and Salome.  The Joseph is apparently Joseph of Arimathea.

After the scene at the tomb, the GBC relates a scene not found in the canonic gospels.

GBC 41:5 “Simon Peter said to Magdalene, ‘Sister, we know that he loved you more than any other among women.  Tell us the words of the Rabbi, which you remember, which you know and understand, but we do not, nor have we heard them.’”  42:1 “Magdalene answered and said, ‘What is hidden from you, I will proclaim to you.’ And she began to speak to them the words that Jesus had given her. My master spoke thus to me. He said ‘Mary, blessed are you…There is a great tree within you that does not change, summer or winter, its leaves do not fall.  Whosoever listens to my words and ascends to its crown will not taste death, but know the truth of eternal life.’ Then he showed me a vision in which I saw a great tree that seemed to reach unto the heavens; and as I saw these things he said, ‘the roots of this tree are in the earth, which is your body.  The trunk extends upward through the five regions of humanity to the crown, which is the kingdom of the spirit.  There are eight great boughs upon this tree and each bough bears its own fruit, which you must eat in all its fullness.  As the fruit of the tree in the garden caused Adam and Eve to fall into darkness, so this fruit will give to you the light of the spirit that is eternal life.  Between each bough is a gate and a guardian who challenges the unworthy who try to pass.  The leaves at the bottom of the tree are thick and plentiful, so no light penetrates to illuminate the way.  But fear not, for I am the way and the light and I tell you that, as one ascends the tree, the leaves that block one from the light are fewer, so it is possible to see all more clearly.  Those who seek to ascend must free themselves of the world.  If you do not free yourself from the world, you will die in the darkness that is the root of the tree.  But if you free yourself, you will rise and reach the light that is the eternal life of the spirit.”

It goes on to describe passing through the boughs, gaining wisdom, strength, courage, clarity, and truth, power, healing, and grace.  At the top of the tree, Magdalene says,

“I felt my soul and all that I could see dissolve and vanish in a brilliant light, in a likeness unto the sun.  And in the light, I beheld a woman of extraordinary beauty, clothed in garments of brilliant white.  The figure extended its arms, and I felt my soul drawn into its embrace, and in that moment I was freed from the world, and I realized that the fetter of forgetfulness was temporary.”

The GBC then relates that some of the disciples did not believe that Jesus said these teachings, including Andrew, and Peter. Matthew defended her.  And they were divided, and it says they went to teach what they understood of Jesus in their own ways.  This concludes the Gospel of the Beloved Companion.

 

 

 

 

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Discipleship

When I was in college at BYU I took a class on the New Testament from Camille Fronk, and I will be forever grateful that I did.  She opened the gospels up for me like no one had before.  When studying Matthew chapters 18-20, she asked us: what are the costs, or requirements, of discipleship?  I find myself returning to that question in light of the pending excommunications of Kate Kelley and John Dehlin.  Because it is hard not to see severing them as an indirect severing of those that share their questions and concerns.  Is a cost of discipleship a willingness to put aside my conscience, and to stay in a church that insists that my personhood never reach beyond the scope of my assigned gender role?  Do I insult myself by staying?  Would the church prefer that I leave?

In verse 1 of Matthew 18, disciples ask Jesus, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Who did they expect would be?  Abraham?  The one who perfectly keeps commandments?  The one with perfect faith, or perfectly orthodox belief?  The answer was whoever becomes as a little child.  Children are eager to learn, forgiving, they make no distinctions among people, they are compassionate, and faithful.  A cost of discipleship is to become as a little child.

In verses 8 and 9 Jesus says if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.  Rid yourself of whatever separates you from God, so that you can commune with God and your neighbor [Ref 1].  A cost of discipleship is unflinching self-examination.

In verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, how oft shall I forgive?  Jesus answered, don’t keep track.  A cost of discipleship is to always forgive.

In verse 16 of chapter 19, a young ruler asks Jesus, what good thing shall I do to have eternal life?  Jesus answered, be willing to forsake your possessions, and follow me.  A cost of discipleship is giving your will to God.

In chapter 20 Jesus gives the parable of the laborers.  A householder contracted with laborers to work a day for a penny.  And at the sixth, and ninth, and eleventh hours he contracted with more laborers, to work till day’s end, for a penny. The laborers who were hired first felt cheated, and he answered them, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Why must you see my doing good to another as taking something away from you?  A cost of discipleship is to serve with your whole heart, and without thought of reward, because the reward is the same for all: everlasting life.

I want to be a disciple of Christ, and according to Paul, this means I must be of the body of Christ.  I may not say because I am not the eye, or the ear, or the hand, that I am not of the body.  I think Paul is saying that it is impossible to be fully Christian in isolation.  For without a community, who will I forgive?  Who will I serve?  Who will nurture me in my child-likeness?  Who will hold a mirror up, kindly, so that I can examine myself?  Who will show me what it looks like to give your will to God?  “There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25)  A cost of discipleship is to remain, even, especially, when other members suffer.

I realize there are other communities of Christians, and I think joining one could be a legitimate choice for me.  But for many reasons, all of which are beyond the scope of this blog post, Mormonism is my incarnation of the body of Christ.  It pains me greatly to think of a member being severed against her will.  But just as our bodies will be made perfect in the resurrection, so, I believe, will the body of Christ be restored eventually.  If there’s a God in heaven then whatever wrong is done will be made right.  If Kate and John are severed, and if other members are severed, I believe they will eventually be restored, though there is a lot of pain between now and then.  Until that day, the only choice for me is to stay.

 

 

Reference 1: “The self is in fact called to rid itself of whatever in it leads to sin (vv. 8-9; the references to hand and eye do not, in Pauline fashion, represent members of the church; they are rather hyperbolic illustrations, as in 5:29-30).  The underlying logic seems to be that in order to avoid offending others (v.7) one must also take care of oneself (vv.8-9).” The Oxford Bible Commentary, p. 867.  John Barton and John Muddiman, editors. Oxford University Press.

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Relief Society Lesson 11: Honoring the Priesthood Keys Restored through Joseph Smith

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français
 

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“Women move from darkness into light, receiving new knowledge and authority as Joseph Smith turns the key to them. Illustration by Joseph A. F. Everett for the March 1936 cover of Relief Society Magazine.” [Reference 1, page 47]

The verb “honor” has more than one definition.  One is to fulfill an obligation, or keep an agreement, as in honoring terms of a contract.  Another is to regard with great respect.  Which definition of “honor” do you think President Smith had in mind when he said the following?

“When a man is ordained to the office of a bishop, he is given the keys of presidency over the ward in which he resides and should be honored in his calling by every member of the ward, no matter what office any man may hold.”

President Smith continued in the same paragraph to say that any priesthood holder, even an apostle, who wishes to perform a baptism or ordination must do so by first recognizing that the bishop of his ward presides and has the keys to authorize these things.  To a great degree this lesson is about recognizing where priesthood keys begin and end, thereby honoring their purpose and place in our lives.  President Smith explained priesthood keys this way:

“While all men hold the priesthood who are ordained to any office, yet there are special, or directing, authorities, bestowed upon those who are called to preside. These authorities are called keys.” “[Priesthood] keys are the right of presidency; they are the power and authority to govern and direct all of the Lord’s affairs on earth.  Those who hold them have power to govern and control the manner in which all others may serve in the priesthood.”

This lesson provides a general outline of the restoration of priesthood keys in the form of lengthy quotes.  For a concise outline of those events, I found the following helpful, from the book Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society:

“The restoration process began in 1829, when heavenly messengers bestowed upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the authority to baptize, to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, to preach, and to ordain other elders.  After the Church was formally organized in 1830, other priesthood offices were added during 1830 and 1831, including deacons, teachers, priests, bishops, and high priests.  In 1830 the order of the priesthood was more clearly defined when Joseph Smith received a revelation, Doctrine and Covenants 84, that distinguished the Melchizedek (Higher) Priesthood from the Aaronic (Lesser) Priesthood and affirmed that “the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.”  The First Presidency was organized in 1830, the firs stake council in 1834, and the Quorum of the Twelve and a quorum of the seventy in 1835. …In April 1836, as Joseph and Oliver Cowdery knelt in prayer in the Kirtland Temple, “the eyes of [their] understanding were opened” and they saw Moses, Elias, and Elijah, and the Lord Jesus Christ, each of whom conveyed a message or authority.  Elijah committed to the Prophet the “keys of this dispensation,” keys that the Prophet came to understand could be used only in connection with the sacred ordinances of the temple.” [Reference 1, page 40]

Later, in 1842, Joseph Smith responded to Nauvoo women’s desire to organize a “Ladies’ Society” by saying, “I have desired to organize the Sisters in the order of the Priesthood.  I now have the key by which I can do it.”  [Reference 1, page 41]  At the sixth official meeting of the Relief Society, on April 18, 1842, Joseph Smith gave a sermon of instruction to the women, which he concluded by saying “This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God has established – thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead – and I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.” [Reference 1, page 47] At the time of his death in 1844, Joseph Smith held all priesthood keys that currently exist in the Church.  President Smith explains that before he died he conferred them on the Twelve Apostles so that they collectively hold the full keys of the priesthood, but “they can only be exercised in full by the senior apostle of God on the earth, who is the president of the Church.” What does the restoration of priesthood keys mean for us?  Primarily, it means access to saving ordinances.  I liked Sheri Dew’s clear and concise explanation of that:

“Because the priesthood was restored, we have access to ordinances: baptism and confirmation, sealings and healings and blessings, miracles, and the ministering of angels.  Indeed, “the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” (D&C 107:18; emphasis added) are available through the power and authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood… All who are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost are eligible to speak the words of Christ and qualify for eternal life.” [Reference 2]

Still, one may ask why the rituals of baptism, confirmation, and temple ordinances are necessary for salvation and temporal blessings.  Could God save us without ordinances?  Why does God give us a system in which ordinances administered by priesthood holders are required?  This is a question I puzzle over from time to time, and while I don’t feel I have anywhere near a complete answer, there are at least two things ordinances do for us that a system without ritual would lack: unity in a community and equalization within that community.  Presidents Cheiko Okazaki and Julie Beck speak to those two things in the passages that follow.

“This week I celebrate the 54th anniversary of my baptism. People like me who are converts know the promise of Paul: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). We are truly all one in Christ Jesus.  Are we perfect…? No. We all have much to learn. Are we exactly the same…? No. We are all at different points on our journey back to our Father in Heaven. Did the Jews and Greeks whom Paul addressed in his epistle to the Galatians stop being Jews and Greeks when they were baptized? Did the men stop being men and the women stop being women? No. But they had all “been baptized into Christ” and had “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Here is a bottle of Utah peaches, prepared by a Utah homemaker to feed her family during a snowy season. Hawaiian homemakers don’t bottle fruit. They pick enough fruit for a few days and store it in baskets like this for their families. This basket contains a mango, bananas, a pineapple, and a papaya. I bought these fruits in a supermarket in Salt Lake City, but they might have been picked by a Polynesian homemaker to feed her family in a climate where fruit ripens all year round. The basket and the bottle are different containers, but the content is the same: fruit for a family.  Is the bottle right and the basket wrong? No, they are both right. They are containers appropriate to the culture and the needs of the people. And they are both appropriate for the content they carry, which is the fruit. Now, what is the fruit? Paul tells us: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Gal. 5:22–23). [Reference 3]

“…One day I sat in a temple next to a sister who lives in a humble house. I spent two hours at her side. I looked often into her beautiful eyes and saw the love of the Lord in them. As we finished our work in the temple, I had a powerful realization. In all of the eternal blessings, in all of our most important privileges and opportunities, we were equals. I had been “baptized unto repentance,” and so had she. I had spiritual gifts, and so did she. I had the opportunity to repent, and so did she. I had received the Holy Ghost, and so had she. I had received temple ordinances, and so had she. If both of us had left this world together at that moment, we would have arrived equal before the Lord in our blessings and potential. Priesthood blessings are the great equalizer.  Those blessings are the same for men and women, for boys and girls; they are the same for married and single, rich and poor, for the intellectual and the illiterate, for the well-known and the obscure.” [Reference 4]

You may wish to ask your class what they feel ordinances add to their lives, and which have been particularly meaningful to them.  It would be interesting to hear from adult converts about the experience of receiving the baptismal ordinance as an adult, and perhaps some women could be contacted beforehand to share their stories during the lesson. Finally, as far as I’m aware, a unique feature of Mormonism that is the doctrine that ordinances, though required for salvation, are available to all through vicarious work for the dead.  Joseph Smith revealed this expansive view of priesthood ordinances in September 1842, and some of his teachings on the subject are recorded as Section 128 of the Doctrine & Covenants.   After an explanation that baptisms for the dead hold eternal efficacy comes one of the most jubilant passages in modern scripture:

“Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy… And again, what do we hear? …The voice of God … voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensations, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!”

The phrase “line upon line” reminds me of the 9th Article of Faith: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”  Perhaps those great and important things will include additional priesthood keys. God restored priesthood keys through the prophet Joseph Smith.  They provide for administration of ordinances needed for salvation.  When we partake in these ordinances, we honor those priesthood keys.  You may wish to discuss with the class additional ways we honor priesthood keys, such as serving in callings, mindfully taking the Sacrament, and ministering to each other as disciples of Christ. Reference 1: Derr, Jill Mulvay, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach. Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992. Reference 2: Dew, Sheri L., “You Were Born to Lead, You Were Born for Glory.” BYU Speeches, December 2003. Reference 3: Okazaki, Cheiko. “Baskets and Bottles.” General Conference Report, May 1996. Reference 4: Beck, Julie B., “An Outpouring of Blessings.” General Conference Report, May 2006.

 

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Leçon 11 : Honorer les clés de la prêtrise rétablies par l’intermédiaire de Joseph Smith

 

Le mot “honorer” a plusieurs définitions. L’une d’entre elles et de remplir une obligation ou respecter un accord, par exemple : honorer un contrat. Une autre définition est de considérer avec beaucoup de respect. A votre avis, quelle définition du mot “honorer” Président Smith avait-il en tête quand il a dit le suivant:

 

“Lorsqu’un homme est ordonné à l’office d’évêque, les clés de présidence sur la paroisse dans laquelle il réside lui sont remises et il doit être honoré dans son appel par chaque membre de la paroisse, quel que soit le poste qu’il détient.”

 

Dans le même paragraphe, Président Smith continue en disant que tout détenteur de la prêtrise, même un apôtre, qui souhaite accomplir un baptême ou une ordination doit le faire en reconnaissant que l’évêque de sa paroisse préside et détient les clés pour autoriser ces choses. Dans cette leçon, il s’agit de reconnaitre où les clés de la prêtrise commencent et terminent, en honorant ainsi leur objectif et leur place dans nos vies. Président Smith a expliqué les clés de la prêtrise de la manière suivante:

 

 “Bien que tous les hommes qui sont ordonnés à un quelconque office détiennent la prêtrise, des autorités spéciales sont conférées aux hommes qui sont appelés à présider. Ces autorités s’appellent des clés. Ces clés [de la prêtrise] sont le droit de présidence, elles sont le pouvoir et l’autorité de gouverner et de diriger toutes les affaires du Seigneur sur la terre. Les frères qui les détiennent ont le pouvoir de gouverner et de contrôler la façon dans laquelle tous les autres peuvent servir dans la prêtrise.”

 

Cette leçon donne un résumé du rétablissement des clés de la prêtrise par de longues citations. Pour un résumé précis de ces évènements, j’ai trouvé utile ce passage du livre  Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society sur l’histoire de la Société de Secours:

 

“Le processus de rétablissement a commencé en 1829, quand des messagers célestes ont conféré à Joseph Smith et à Oliver Cowdery l’autorité de baptiser, d’imposer les mains pour le don du Saint Esprit, de prêcher et d’ordonner d’autres anciens. Après que l’Eglise a été formellement organisé en 1830, d’autres offices de la prêtrise ont été ajoutés en 1830 et 1831, dont les offices de diacre, enseignant, prêtre, évêque et grand prêtre. En 1830, l’ordre de la prêtrise a été plus clairement défini lorsque Joseph Smith a reçu une révélation qui se trouve dans Doctrine et Alliances 84, qui distingue la prêtrise (supérieure) de Melchizédek de le prêtrise (moindre) d’Aaron et affirme que « le corps a besoin de tous les membres, afin que tous soient édifiés ensemble, afin que l’organisme soit gardé parfait. » La Première Présidence a été organisé en 1830, le premier conseil de pieu en 1834 et le Collège des Douze Apôtres et un Collège des Soixante-Dix en 1835. …En avril 1836, lorsque Joseph et Oliver Cowdery priaient dans le temple de Kirtland, “les yeux de leur entendement furent ouverts” et ils ont vu Moïse, Elias et Elie, et le Seigneur Jésus-Christ, et chacun a délivré un message ou de l’autorité. Elie a conféré au Prophète les « clés de cette dispensation, » des clés que le Prophète ne pouvait utiliser qu’en association des ordonnances sacrées du temple. » [Référence 1, page 40]

Plus tard, en 1842, Joseph Smith a répondu au désir des femmes de Nauvoo d’organiser une “Société des Femmes” en disant, ‘Je désire organiser les soeurs selon l’ordre de la prêtrise. J’ai maintenant la clé par laquelle je peux le faire.” [Référence 1, page 41]  Pendant la sixième réunion officielle de la Société de Secours, le 18 avril 1842, Joseph Smith a enseigné les femmes en disant “Cette Société recevra de l’instruction selon l’ordre que Dieu a établi – par l’intermédiaire de ceux qui sont nommés à diriger – et maintenant je vous donne la clé au nom de Dieu et cette Société se réjouira et de la connaissance et de l’intelligence se répandront à partir de maintenant.” [Référence 1, page 47] Au moment de sa mort en 1844, Joseph Smith détenait toutes les clés de la prêtrise qui existe actuellement dans l’Eglise. Président Smith explique qu’avant sa mort il les a conférées aux Douze Apôtres afin qu’ils détiennent ensemble toutes les clés de la prêtrise, mais “elles ne peuvent être exercées pleinement que par l’apôtre le plus ancien de Dieu sur la terre, qui est le président de l’Église.” Que signifie le rétablissement des clés de la prêtrise pour nous? Ca signifie essentiellement l’accès aux ordonnances de salvatrices. J’aime l’explication claire et concise de cela :

“Grâce au rétablissement de la prêtrise, nous avons accès aux ordonnances: le baptême et la confirmation, les scellements et les guérisons et les bénédictions, les miracles et la ministère des anges. En effet, “les clefs de toutes les bénédictions spirituelles de l’Église (D&A 107:18) sont disponibles par l’intermédiaire du pouvoir et l’autorité de la prêtrise de Melchizédek…Tous ceux qui sont baptisés et qui reçoivent le Saint Esprit sont dignes de dire des paroles de Christ et se qualifient pour la vie éternelle.” [Référence 2]

Cependant, on pourrait demander pourquoi les rituels de baptême, confirmation et les ordonnances du temple sont nécessaires pour le salut et pour des bénédictions temporelles. Dieu pourrait-il nous sauver sans des ordonnances? Pourquoi Dieu nous donne-t-il un système où des ordonnances administrées par des détenteurs de la prêtrise sont obligatoires? C’est une question que je me demande de temps en temps, et même si je n’ai pas de réponse complète, il y a au moins deux choses que les ordonnances font pour nous qu’un système sans rituel manquerait : l’unité dans une communauté et l’égalité à l’intérieur de cette communauté. Présidente Chieko Okazaki et Présidente Julie Beck parlent de cela dans les passages qui suivent:

“Cette semaine, je célèbre le cinquante-quatrième anniversaire de mon baptême. Les personnes comme moi qui sont converties connaissent la promesse de Paul: «Nous avons tous, en effet, été baptisés dans un seul Esprit, pour former un seul corps» (1 Corinthiens 12:12-13) … Nous sommes vraiment tous unis en Jésus-Christ …  Sommes-nous parfaits dans tout cela? Non. Nous avons tous beaucoup à apprendre. Et sommes-nous tout à faire au même niveau dans tous ces domaines? Non. Nous sommes tous à un point différent de notre retour vers notre Père céleste. Les Juifs et les Grecs à qui Paul s’adressait dans son épître aux Galates ont-ils cessé d’être des Juifs et des Grecs quand ils ont été baptisés? Les hommes cessent-ils d’être des hommes et les femmes d’être des femmes? Non. Mais ils ont tous «été baptisés en Christ» et ils ont tous «revêtu Christ» (Galates 3:27) … Voici un bocal de pêches d’Utah préparées par une ménagère d’Utah pour nourrir sa famille pendant la saison froide. Les ménagères hawaïennes ne font pas de conserves de fruits. Elles ramassent suffisamment de fruits pour quelques jours et les mettent dans des paniers comme celui-ci pour leur famille. Ce panier contient une mangue, des bananes, un ananas et une papaye. J’ai acheté ces fruits dans un supermarché de Salt Lake City mais ils auraient aussi bien pu être cueillis par une ménagère polynésienne pour nourrir sa famille sous un climat où les fruits mûrissent tout au long de l’année. Le panier et le bocal sont des récipients différents mais le contenu est le même: des fruits pour la famille. Le bocal est-il bon et le panier mauvais. Non, ils sont bons tous les deux. Ce sont des récipients adaptés à la culture et aux besoins des gens. Ils conviennent tous les deux à leur contenu, c’est-à-dire des fruits. Mais le fruit, que représente-t-il? Paul nous dit: «Le fruit de l’Esprit, c’est l’amour, la joie, la paix, la patience, la bonté, la bénignité, la fidélité, la douceur, la tempérance» (Galates 5:22, 23). [Référence 3]

 

“…Un jour j’étais assise dans un temple à côté d’une sœur qui vit dans une humble maison. J’ai passé deux heures à ses côtés. J’ai souvent regardé dans ses beaux yeux et j’y ai vu l’amour du Seigneur. Quand nous avons terminé notre service au temple, j’ai compris quelque chose avec une grande force. Dans toutes les bénédictions éternelles, dans tous nos droits et nos perspectives les plus importants, nous étions égales. J’ai été « baptisée au repentir » 18 , elle aussi. J’ai reçu des dons spirituels, elle aussi. J’ai eu l’occasion de me repentir, elle aussi. J’ai reçu le Saint-Esprit, elle aussi. J’ai reçu les ordonnances du temple, elle aussi. Si nous avions quitté ce monde toutes les deux ensemble à ce moment-là, nous serions arrivées égales devant Dieu du point de vue de nos bénédictions et de notre potentiel. Les bénédictions de la prêtrise sont les grands égalisateurs. Ces bénédictions sont les mêmes pour les hommes et les femmes, pour les garçons et les filles ; elles sont les mêmes pour les gens mariés et les célibataires, les riches et les pauvres, pour les intellectuels et pour les illettrés, pour les gens connus et les anonymes..” [Référence 4]

Si vous le souhaitez, vous pourrez demander à votre classe ce que les ordonnances ajoutent à leurs vies, et lesquelles sont particulièrement significatives pour elles. Ce serait intéressant d’entendre l’expérience de baptême de quelqu’un qui s’est convertie à l’âge d’adulte. Quelques femmes pourraient être contactées à l’avance pour partager leurs histoires pendant la leçon. En enfin, selon ma connaissance, un aspect unique du Mormonisme est la doctrine des ordonnances disponibles pour tous par l’intermédiaire de l’œuvre pour les morts. Joseph Smith a révélé cette doctrine expansive en septembre 1842 et certaines de ses enseignements se trouvent dans Section 128 de Doctrine et Alliances. Après une explication que les baptêmes pour les morts ont une effectivité éternelle vient l’un des passages les plus jubilant des écritures modernes :

 “Or, qu’entendons-nous dans l’Évangile que nous avons reçu? Une voix d’allégresse! Une voix de miséricorde venant du ciel et une voix de vérité sortant de la terre, de bonnes nouvelles pour les morts, une voix d’allégresse pour les vivants et les morts, de bonnes nouvelles d’une grande joie.… Et qu’entendons-nous encore? …La voix de Dieu … Et la voix de Michel, l’archange, la voix de Gabriel, de Raphaël et de divers anges, de Michel ou Adam jusqu’à nos jours, tous proclamant leur dispensation, leurs droits, leurs clefs, leurs honneurs, leur majesté et leur gloire, et le pouvoir de leur prêtrise, donnant ligne par ligne, précepte par précepte, un peu ici et un peu là, nous apportant de la consolation en nous montrant ce qui doit venir, confirmant notre espérance!”

 

La phrase “ligne sur ligne” me rappelle le neuvième article de foi : “Nous croyons tout ce que Dieu a révélé, tout ce qu’il révèle maintenant, et nous croyons qu’il révélera encore beaucoup de choses grandes et importantes concernant le royaume de Dieu.” Peut-être parmi ces choses grandes et importantes seront des clés de la prêtrise supplémentaires. Dieu a restauré des clés de la prêtrise par l’intermédiaire du prophète Joseph Smith. Elles facilitent l’administration des ordonnances nécessaires pour le salut. Quand nous participons à ces ordonnances, nous honorons les clés de le prêtrise Si vous le souhaitez, vous pourrez discuter d’autres manières d’honorer les clés de la prêtrise, tel que servir dans nos appels, prendre la Sainte-Cène respectueusement et s’occuper des uns des autres en tant que disciples de Christ.

 

Référence 1: Derr, Jill Mulvay, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach. Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992. Référence 2: Dew, Sheri L., “You Were Born to Lead, You Were Born for Glory.” BYU Speeches, December 2003. Référence 3: Okazaki, Cheiko. “Baskets and Bottles.” General Conference Report, May 1996. Référence 4: Beck, Julie B., “An Outpouring of Blessings.” General Conference Report, May 2006.

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I know you are, but what am I?

I have two young kids, and they’re of an age when potty language and name calling happen all the time.  “Poop” is both the funniest word in their vocabulary and the worst insult.  My daughter laughs about making piles of pretend poop at home, but complains of being called a poo-poo-head at preschool.  It feels awful to be called something you’re not, and the immediate impulse when that happens is to correct it in the strongest possible terms.  The typical playground response when I was a kid was, “I know you are, but what am I?”

The reason name calling hurts is because it touches on the most core belief we have – who we are.  My daughter does not believe she is a poo-poo-head and is indignant at being called that, but when someone uses that term I wonder if there’s a flicker of a question about who she is, if not that.  The question is troubling, and terribly insistent.  For her, a soothing word from mom, dad, or a teacher is all that’s needed to answer it until the next insult comes along.

Gradually, I hope all those soothing assurances will accumulate to form a solid self esteem for her.  She’ll know she is an inherently and irrevocably worthy human soul with great potential, loved by Heavenly and earthly parents.  Of course, a healthy self image won’t protect her from ever being hurt by a word, and she’ll be exposed to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge her beliefs about her identity.

For me, the greatest assurances and the greatest challenges to my identity have come from the Church.  From singing “I am a Child of God” as a toddler, repeating the Young Women theme about being a daughter of God, and my own study of the scriptures and sacred music, I’ve acquired a solid self image of a person who is inherently and irrevocably worthy, with great potential, and loved by Heavenly Parents.  But sometimes things I’m taught at Church also challenge that self image.  And sometimes it’s the things I don’t hear at Church that challenge me most.

For example, I heard about the roles, responsibilities, and power of the priesthood in the last General Conference, and I also heard I’m an appendage to it.  Arms and legs are important and valuable, but they’re not what give people their identity.  In the temple men covenant to God, but the covenant I made was to a man, to hearken to him.  I pray daily and sing weekly praises to Father in Heaven, but I’m at a loss as to how to worship my Mother in Heaven.  I see how men are heirs to Father in Heaven.  I know who they are, but who am I?

I believe I’m a child of God and that Jesus suffered and died for me as much as for anyone.  But the lack of acknowledgement of Mother in Heaven, the asymmetrical temple covenants, the possibility of eternal polygamy, and the withholding of ordination could lead a woman to believe she’s a lesser creation than men.  I know that’s not true.  But I still get that flicker of a terrible, insistent question: Who am I, if not that?  I have no answer, and I can’t be consoled by a soothing word.  So instead of letting the question trouble me, I snuff it out quickly.

Tell me, why should I have to, over and over?

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Giving Up Magical Thinking

I learned to pray from my parents, not that I remember it. I don’t remember my first prayer any more than I remember my first word. I assume I learned to pray the same way I learned to speak – by listening and imitating. My parents no doubt instructed me to repeat their words, showed me how to begin and end, and taught by example what goes between the bookends of a prayer. I learned to thank God for blessings and to ask for things I needed.

While I’ve always known the importance expressing gratitude in prayers, I’ve sometimes felt that thanking God was a preamble to the real business of prayer – asking for what I need. All my life I have given God lists of things I wanted and needed. I’ve prayed for myself and for people I love. Occasionally I’ve even prayed for my enemies. I’ve prayed for my kids, for employment, for health, and for a testimony. Sometimes those prayers were answered. Or rather, sometimes events unfolded in ways led me to attribute outcomes to God’s intervention. But I no longer believe I can ask for a specific outcome in prayer, and no longer attribute life events, good or bad, to God’s direct intervention in my life. If that sounds cynical, let me explain.

Some years ago I was a graduate student working on biology research that was not going anywhere. I’d started out with a promising research project, but after several years of working on it, useful results were not in sight. I felt frustrated, but I had faith. Faith that perseverance in the laboratory was going to pay off, and faith that God would help me with my work. So I kept at it for a few more years, but my research was still not giving me the results I needed to graduate. Seven years into my doctoral training I found myself an exhausted new mother who was commuting 40 miles round trip every day, facing tension in my marriage, running low on money, and getting very little support from my thesis adviser. I badly needed to be done with graduate school. So I wrote a letter requesting a master’s degree so that I could quit school but still receive a degree. My husband and thesis committee chair talked me out of quitting, however, so I resolved to finish the Ph.D. I felt I desperately needed God’s help to get it done.

I fasted and prayed that my research would produce results. I worked as hard as I could in the lab and believed that if my efforts weren’t enough, that God would make up the difference. I fully expected God to help me with some kind of miracle. But it never came. After an additional year of working in the lab, my project had failed. My thesis committee decided to let me graduate on the results of a backup project that was not impressive, but passable. My poor publication record and poor relationship with my adviser made it impossible for me to continue a career in science.

In the end I got the diploma, but it was a pyrrhic victory. My faith in God had not weathered the strain of finishing my Ph.D. at all well. God had not answered my prayers, which either meant that he didn’t exist or that my understanding of things was very wrong. I was familiar with the rationalization that God always answers prayers, it’s just that sometimes the answer is no, but this argument was cold comfort. It also seemed like a tautology. God can never fail us if silence and miracles are equal answers to prayer. During my worst moments, my feelings of abandonment caused me to doubt God’s existence. The idea that God doesn’t exist was too hopeless for me to accept for very long, however, so rather that giving up belief, my doubt became anger. I was angry with God for leaving me alone when I needed help – so angry that I quit praying for a while. I’m not proud of the fact that I gave God the silent treatment because it shows how petulant I can be, but my feelings of disappointment and loneliness were overwhelming, and I simply couldn’t see the point of praying at that time.

After some time I resumed praying, but I still had to grapple with the fact that God hadn’t answered my prayers. Perhaps it was self-centered to believe that they’d be answered. But my religious education had been replete with the idea that God answers prayers. What was wrong with my expectations about prayer?

With a little hindsight, I can see that I was indulging in magical thinking regarding my research. I believed I had a connection with God such that asking for what I needed would result in God intervening in the physical world. I fully expected that prayer would result in God taking action to intervene in my life, as if prayer were part of an equation: Prayer + Faith + Fasting = Desired Result, with God acting as the catalyst. I could not have been more wrong. God’s power is not a reagent I can take off the shelf and use at will.

Praying for God’s intervention is a risky endeavor. If you really believe God will intervene, it can devastate you when he doesn’t. All my life I had prayed for things I wanted and needed. Please bless me to get well, to drive home safely, to have a good day. And when I was praying for things of small importance, I didn’t pay too much attention to whether or not those prayers were answered. But in praying for something that really mattered, the lack of an answer was a real shock. My experience with unanswered prayers has made me wary of asking God for many things. Asking for something intangible like patience or inner peace feels safe and proper to me, but asking for God’s intervention in my physical world no longer does. Perhaps I am afraid I’ll be disappointed again; perhaps I simply lack faith. But I suspect that my faith is not the issue. Rather, lived experience tells me that wars will rage, children will die of cancer, criminals will go unpunished, graduate student research will go awry, and God will let it all happen in spite of our pleading for him to intervene.

For much of my life I’ve engaged in magical thinking; I believed that if I asked for something righteous in prayer, having faith that it would happen, my request would set metaphysical gears in motion and the divine vending machine would spit out an answer for me. And even after realizing the error in this kind of thinking, I still find myself believing that my thoughts and prayers may actually affect the world around me. Whether it is habit or hope, I still sometimes find myself asking God to intervene in my life. I just can’t stop myself, although my prayers have changed significantly.

I am not sure if I should stop praying for material help altogether. But I am sure that God is not going to intervene in my life just because I ask. Even if I ask in faith. Even if I’m asking for a good thing. Even if I’m praying unselfishly for someone else. And even if someone is suffering. Christ has said he will heal our wounds, but he will not prevent us from being wounded. And if God is going to stop short of solving problems for me, I think I should stop asking him to solve them. Believing that he will is magical thinking, and I am trying to give that up.

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