Memory, Traditions, Christmas

Granny Jammies

I have been thinking a lot about memory lately, and a lot about traditions. The first is because of a very big book I read out loud twice while I was pregnant, called Memory, History, Forgetting. It is by the French phenomenologist, Paul Ricouer. He starts it by saying that the Greeks had two words for memory. One of them described the simple memories that just come to us without trying. We hear, or see, or smell something that reminds us of something else. The other term described memories that don’t necessarily come simply. Instead, they are the memories we actively search for, that we try to recollect. One of the main ways we do this is through telling stories, and essentially asking dear ones, “Remember when?” They might say “Yes,” and the story builds. It could also remind us that the same story can be recounted differently. For Ricouer, there are ways to recount a story so unfaithfully that they do violence or injustice, but there are also times that it is helpful to “recount otherwise,” to tell a different story. Remembering as story-sharing does something else. It helps answer a question some philosophers have had about memory: is it individual or collective? While one could make a case for either, it often seems to be both. We remember as individuals in a community, with narrative serving as the tie that binds. For us as Latter-day Saints, this also plays out each week when we sit in a room with those we call sisters and brothers and effortfully try to remember Christ. One of the ways we might attempt this, is by re-collecting the stories we have heard or read about Christ, including the ever meaningful, ever hopeful story of his birth.

I have been thinking about traditions, because I often think about traditions in December. I love remembering the way that my family celebrates Christmas and asking others the ways that their families do. I can feel close to my family, even when I’m an ocean or whole large landmass away. I feel part of something big and beautiful and sometimes messy, and I feel the warm feelings that I’ve come to associate as the spirit. (Or home. Or love.) Other’s traditions can feel a tiny bit foreign to me, but they can be wonderful to learn about, too. Sometimes I gain new insights, or new eyes to see those insights–to see inside something I have been looking at for a long time.

This happened to me on Sunday, but not quite with family traditions and rememberings of Christ’s birth. It happened with something slightly broader. My husband and I tried to sing along with friends, as we all tried to sing along with Handel’s “Messiah.” It was the first time for me, and because I am not a strong singer, it was hard. It was also beautiful and powerful, and a fitting tribute-tradition to our Savior’s birth, that I was grateful to experience first hand, in a chapel that I was grateful to sit in first hand, that was so different than the room I generally worship in.

A little while after that, my husband and I went with our sleeping babe to another church’s recreation of the journey to Bethlehem. It involved a 45 minute walk through a wooded path on a dark and frigid night, with a series of guided stops. There were two that gave me pause in the best way. One was to the shepherds watching their flock by night. They spoke amongst themselves, normally, casually, then a light appeared from a place that I wasn’t expecting, and I saw three angels. They spoke gentle, familiar words, and sang via a gentle (if still powerful), familiar song: “Gloria, in excelsis Deo!” And I started to cry. Not because I love the song, though there might have been a measure of that too. I started to cry because each of those speaking, singing angels was a young woman. Aside from a small number of beautiful paintings, I can’t remember ever seeing angels depicted as female. (All of the named angels in the scriptures are male.) The other soul-stirring moment was at the manger.

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On Welcoming.

Welcoming

A few years ago, my friend called me up and told me about the beautiful testimony meeting she had just experienced, that left her feeling the spirit more strongly than ever before. The one detail I remember now is that a lesbian sister spoke from her pain and her faith. I was surprised to discover later that the same meeting that meant so much to my friend, caused other members to walk out of the chapel, audibly voicing their distaste. I thought of these things again after a somewhat unfortunate series of events re-demonstrated that words that may be a balm for some may be a source of discomfort, fear, or anger for others. It has made me wonder if this will always be the case, and how a real unity–allowing for real differences–may be developed. It also made me remember something that I wrote here before, about belonging.

In that previous post, I wrote about a friend who was confident of God’s love, but didn’t quite feel like she belonged in her ward, because she was over a certain age, with a PhD, but without a husband or child. I wrote too, about another dear person to me, who had a husband and many children, but similarly felt the not-belonging feelings because she was older than many in her ward. And then I wrote about me, and how I have felt the feeling before, too, including during the period when I biked to church alone, and didn’t know who I would sit by, because my husband was in another state, with a relative who was not well. In my own instance, a dear women literally made room for me by scooting over, and inviting me to sit with her family. I felt the welcome.

So when I was recently asked to speak to the women in my ward about fellowshipping, I wanted to speak to all of these things. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might not feel like they belong. One of them is that they may feel like their truest thoughts and feelings don’t belong. It is why I was so grateful for President Uchtdorf’s remarks in his talk, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth” at this last General Conference.

The printed version includes the subject heading “There Is No Litmus Test.”

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Faith and Knowledge 2015

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A conference was founded in 2007 for LDS graduate students in religion and related programs (i.e., philosophy, women’s studies, history, folk lore, literature, etc.) to think carefully about the relationship between faith and knowledge. It has continued every two years since that time. If you happen to be an LDS graduate student in a related field, and have special insights, research, or experience on this topic, please submit a proposal. The deadline for the Fifth Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference is November 7th, 2014, so you have approximately two and a half weeks.

While I have not spoken at any of the four preceding conferences, I have attended one, and know the strength and beauty of what it can be. It was the Second Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference, hosted at Harvard in 2009. I moved to Boston a few months before to study library science, but wasn’t quite sure about either the East or my choice of study. I missed my undergraduate discipline of philosophy; I missed religion.

Listening to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Kathleen Flake, Claudia and Richard Bushman, Gwen Reynolds, Deidre Green, Sheila Taylor, and others, I found it again. I felt that good home feeling that I hadn’t felt in a long time, that I was so hungry for. It shifted the trajectory of my life by setting me on a course to apply for a PhD program in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University.

This is why I ask you to try. Submit. Add your voice. Especially, especially your woman’s voice. Mormon Studies, like most fields, needs more of them. Maybe like me, you will find your home place. Maybe like me, you will leave changed and inspired. Maybe like others, you will change and inspire.

 

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A Book Review (Of Sorts): Way Below the Angels

Craig Harline

Not very long ago, I read this post, that made me want to read this book, Way Below the Angels: the pretty clearly troubled but not even close to tragic confessions of a real live Mormon missionary. Even shorter ago, I did.

While it isn’t a woman’s story, I still feel that it is worth reviewing here, in this women’s story space for two reasons. 1) The author, Craig Harline, does a fairly good job pointing out when women’s stories, voices, and presence are forgotten.

One example of this is when his Salt Lake Mission Home President tells a mixed group of Elders and Sisters that they are to dress like “local businessmen.” Another is when his going-Belgium group was moved to the Rexburg, Idaho LTM, and they held a nightly devotional with the older going-Belgium missionaries, that fully excluded the Sisters because it was in an Elder’s dorm room. The saddest examples took place in Belgium. The first question they asked women who answered the door was if they could speak to their husband. Not because they weren’t allowed to speak to women, but because they were taught that they should focus on the man. A woman named Lieve demanded focus, because she had a dream and a wish to be baptized. She also had a husband who did not share that dream or wish. He was required to sign a permission slip, which he did. But then he took it back. Lieve learned that if her husband had the dream and wish, her signature would not be needed.*

2) Harline’s ofttimes funny/ofttimes insightful words created a space for me to remember my own mission story.

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September 2014 General Women’s Meeting: Sister Neill F. Marriott

Sister MarriottThis past Saturday eve, Sister Neill F. Marriott, represented the Young Women General Presidency. She began her remarks by suggesting that there are “two responsibilities we carry: adding gospel light and truth to our lives, and sharing that light and truth with others.” Then she asked if we know how important we are, and shared a quote from Elder Russell M. Ballard affirming that “we need more distinct voices of women.” She addressed us as “Sisters,” and told us, “You strengthen my faith. You carry a circle of influence with you wherever you go.”

Shortly thereafter, she shared a quote from everyone’s favorite, President Deiter F. Uchtdorf that I wish I would have recorded more in full. What I did record touched upon “a darkening world” and the gospel as “a joyous message.” Sister Marriott emphasized the light. “If you want to give your light to others, you have to glow.

Where there is a temple, it pushes back the darkness. As an earlier General Authority, President George Q. Cannon expressed “Every temple completed… lessens the power of Satan on the earth, and increases the power of God and Godliness.” Sister Marriott asked, “Isn’t our purpose similar to these houses of the Lord, to push back darkness in people’s lives?”

There was one moment in her life, when she prayed in the temple, and “was given a painful truth about herself.”

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