Aspiring Mormon Women recently published a post about getting to know other women by asking good questions. The author, Christanne Harrison, encourages women to discuss dreams, interests, and aspirations beyond the usual “church questions”.
This got me thinking. I wondered: “Are we truly authentic in our discussions with other church members when we talk about our faith, our concerns, our feminism, our ideas about scriptural references, our spiritual experience?” and “Do we ask others to share their authentic feelings, ideas, and experiences with us?”
Even more important: ”Do we seek to understand another’s spiritual point of view with an open heart?” and “Do we seek to communicate our feelings in a language that will be understood by others?”
My guess is that we don’t talk about our faith – in the faith – as authentically as we could. I know I don’t. And maybe that’s OK. For example: I am very involved in the Ordain Women movement – and, for me, it’s an integral part of my faith and my worship. I share my feelings often, but not always. I don’t hold back because I fear judgement, but I do hold back when I sense it will be upsetting to others.
If you hold back your authentic faith in discussions, why? What questions could be asked to explore faith more fully?
Stephanie Lauritzen, an OW action participant, being turned away from Priesthood Session. Photo taken by Josh Johnsen.
On Sunday morning I flipped through picture after picture of women being turned away from the doors of our worship places. The Mormon Tabernacle choir sung in the background. Tears streamed down my face; many of those women are my friends. All are my sisters.
As I was reading through October’s lessons, I was very excited about the focus on Christ and love. The lessons on the Come Follow Me website are very good. In this lesson, I tried to get away from the cerebral aspects of “we need to love everyone” and go into the “how” to love everyone.
The week before the lesson, I think it would be good to ask the students to spend time thinking of their favorite story of Jesus. You could ask some of the older girls who studied New Testament last year in seminary to share a story they learned about that was important to them to share with the younger girls, or you could ask everyone to spend some time reading in the Gospels this week in their personal study. Then when you start class, you could ask each to share the story they picked and write it on the board in a list.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I Corinthians 13:12
You know how strings of musical instruments that share harmonic likeness, sometimes when struck or plucked, respond to each other with sympathetic vibration? Well, sometimes when I’m sitting in fast and testimony meeting I begin to feel something like that. Only, it’s inside me. Maybe you’ve felt it too. Maybe it’s the spirit whispering, or our own spirit recognizing the truth in someone else’s words. Sometimes it’s not in a church setting when it happens. But whatever it is, or whenever it happens, I’ve learned to pay attention. I try to listen to my heart and to the words being spoken. Most importantly, I seek to understand why I am responding to those particular words or ideas. I allow myself to wonder: Why does this resonate with me? What am I really hearing? Then I wait for answers.
Earlier this month, as the men and women in my ward began bearing their testimonies, I felt that familiar vibration. My emotions began to soften, and somewhere in my adrenal glands preparation for fight or flight had begun.
As I listened to one of the local full time missionaries share his thoughts about how God looks upon the heart, I noticed my inner truth harp vibrating wildly. I began to see or feel an image of what we typically term the “veil of mortality.” I’ve always imagined the veil as a sort of curtain, behind which the world of spirit and our memories of heaven are concealed.
But on this particular day I saw or felt awareness of another kind of veil. I saw each human being veiled by the effects of the fall, each soul walking the earth, clothed not only in mortal flesh, but also in accoutrements of hardship, disability, and various distortions of truth inherent in earth life. When viewed this way, mortality separates us not only from the presence of God, but the veil also separates us from each other.
For some this veil takes the form of homelessness or addiction. For others it looks like crippling shyness, boisterousness or mental illness. Maybe rigid religiosity or inactivity in the church–or being a person of a different religion, race or sexual orientation is how the veil appears to us. Whatever keeps us (personally or individually) from connecting freely and lovingly with each other may be part of the veil. I have come to believe that heaven is not just a place we “go” when we are done with mortality. It is something we work to create as we live our lives. We are helping God prepare our eternal mansions with our every thought, word and action. Likewise, the veil isn’t just a curtain; it’s also a state of being.
In my understanding of celestial glory, we will return to that place we left by learning to shed our own personal veils; learning to live our truest lives and to love one another the way our Savior loves us. We must do this in order to be comfortable in His presence. We attempt this monumental task in what are perhaps the most challenging circumstances of our eternal existence–in mortality–where each of us is veiled in so many ways. Indeed, we see through a glass darkly.
Yet, on occasion we are rewarded for our efforts. The scales fall from our eyes, the beam is cast out and whatever normally keeps us separate or at a safe distance from one another seems to disappear. In these rare and wonderful moments the veil is rent and we see each other as God sees us, clothed in light and love. We feel profound humility and respect as we experience communion and reunion with our eternal sisters or brothers; God is in our midst and, for a moment, we are home.
Have you shared a moment of loving clarity with a friend or stranger?
This January marks the two year anniversary of the formation of the Potomac Ward, a mid-singles ward in my stake (Mount Vernon Stake in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC). There are hundreds of mid-singles (ages 31-50) in my stake and I am one of them. I have a love/hate relationship with my own status as a mid-single – just as I have a love/hate relationship with the Potomac Ward.
The ward has seen much success; many of my single friends attend the congregation, enjoying the spiritual comradery of other singles, the quiet sacrament meetings, and the wide range of activities. The ward impacts my single too – though I prefer to attend my family ward in Alexandria – because its critical mass dictates the lion’s share of single’s “goings on” in the stake.
The Potomac Ward has acquired its own church building, which it shares with the two YSA wards in the stake – and this, in my opinion, is unfortunate. I can appreciate that congregations of singles have different logistical needs, but I feel the negative side affects of a separate place of worship outweigh the positives of large classrooms and activity spaces. In this set up, the singles congregations are separated from the main body of the church on the sole basis of their marital status. This is a strong message to the single individual that they are different and “removed from”. Some individuals worship away from the main body of the church for up to 20 years and their unique experience in singles congregations deny them of continued experiences with children, couples, and elderly members.
I think the annexing of singles also has a negative side affect on the family wards, who do not enjoy the dynamic personalities of single individuals. Because singles are removed from them, stereotypes grow and integration dwindles. (And, in the case, of my family ward, which is small, we feel the lack of talented singles who could help fill much needed callings.)
So, to family wards everywhere who feel the lack of single association, I dedicate these comments (and suggestions) about singles. I hope that you will find them useful in integrating singles into your wards and lives, that we may be one in Zion.
Singles are Happy
*Gasp* It’s true, though some stereotypes indicate that we are continual sad as we await our marriage. The singles I know live full, happy lives with fulfilling careers, involved extended families, meaningful service, and interesting hobbies.
Singles are Different from Each Other
I know this should seem obvious, but stereotypes are strong, lumping singles together in large categories. Primary is a good example. A married friend once told me that her ward puts all its single members in as Primary teachers “because they are the only ones not exhausted with children during the week.” While many singles are not involved with children during the week, that doesn’t necessary mean they enjoy children on Sundays. And some do. Conversely, many married individuals I know enjoy involvement with children during the week AND on Sunday. And some don’t. These differences extend to career choices, friendship connections, desired interaction from Bishops, etc.
Singles are first, Individuals.
Singles have Life Experiences beyond “Being Single”
In his 2011 talk, Forget Me Not, Elder Uchtdorf told the story of a single woman who became sad and bitter when her lifelong dream of being married was not realized. This story was later turned in to a dramatized video which horrified many singles because of its dark images of single loneliness and one sided representation of a single life: the fixation on getting married. While some singles would like to be married, this does not consume our entire lives. We are involved in many other things, as I have indicated above, and many other relationships – platonic heterosexual relationships included. Discussions with singles can including dating AND a wide range of other topics like church, politics, hobbies, travels, books, sports, family, education, career, etc.
Singles Look for Connections Beyond their Single Friends
I loved being invited by members of my family ward for dinner, movies, game nights, and children’s recitals and Birthday parties. Many of my friends do too. I like being including in mixed groups of different types of people. I try to extend invitations as well.
Singles Look for Meaningful Church Service
One of my single friends recently to her bishop, “Give me something meaningful to do!” And he did. Enough said.
Back to the video dramatization of Elder Uchtdorf’s story. It seems to indicate the being sad and grieving for life’s unmet expectations is a bad thing and individuals who grieve demonstrates a lack of gratitude for the gifts God has given. I think this is unfortunate. All people grieve over life’s unmet expectations. Grief is messy and hard, but necessary. The loss of a spouse and/or family is huge and can be recognized and supported. Supporting each other in grief rather than offering a “consolation prize” is a good way to go. I believe we can be happy, have gratitude, AND feel loss and anger. I see many people hold these varied emotions at the same time – single people included.
It’s 9pm and one of my favorite 14-year-olds just walked out the door. I’m her (unpaid) math tutor and she has a geometry test tomorrow. We spent about 45 minutes on triangles: altitudes, medians, perpendicular bisectors, how long the third side of a triangle can be given the length of the other two sides, a proof. Just in case you haven’t figured it out already, I’ll out myself now: I am a geek. I get a huge kick out of math. I realize most people don’t have this reaction to numbers and shapes and algorithms, and that’s the reason I tutor some of the neighborhood kids for free: it’s something their parents can’t do, either because they’ve mentally painted over what they learned in high school or because they’re too busy/tired/at odds with their teenagers for such a relationship to work. I can, and it’s delightful.
A year ago my friend Jaimee taught my kids to jump rope. It was something that had never crossed my mind to teach them — odd because I spent a whole lot of time jumping rope as a kid. I went over one day to pick up the girls and they were in the middle of the driveway with a long rope and Sarah was jumping. With this enormous grin on her face. She’d accomplished something pretty big for a four-year-old, and she’d learned it from someone outside of her family. I was amazed. And proud. And grateful.
On another note, my oldest daughter was sick last week with a stomach bug, which started the night before school started up again after the winter break. The thought of loading her into the car so I could drive her sister to school and dealing with the upchuck aftermath was more than I could handle. So I called my next-door neighbor and explained. Could Sarah go to school with her kids?
Oh, absolutely, she said. Send her over.
I have this intense need (and intense gratitude) for community. It’s one of the very best things about being Mormon, this knowing that you’ll have peeps wherever you land. But I’m especially grateful for what I have in my neighborhood, where a handful of families who live near each other look out for one another. Some of them happen to be LDS, which always feels safe, but the best part is that many of them aren’t. I’m really digging the community right now. I have teenagers around the corner and across the street who are responsible, caring, low-priced babysitters. I have the swing set that we built with two other families a few years back in the only yard that was big enough for it, specifically because the family who lives there wants the neighborhood kids to have someplace they can all play together. My girls went through a cooperative preschool where they learned that if you’re goofing around too much, and your friend’s dad tells you to knock it off, your own parents will tell you exactly the same thing.
I’ve also been really struggling with some of the more dogmatic Mormon practices: boys having to wear white shirts to pass the sacrament, women having no formal influence in Church affairs, the simpering tone of the only female voices we hear in general conference, requiring Primary classes to have two teachers just in case.
And I’m reminded of something a Buddhist friend told me about a year ago. Her prayer bracelet has three strands, each representing one of the Three Refuges: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha — which can be translated as the Prophet, the Message, and the People. It’s important, she said, because each of the three refuges connects the other two: the Message connects the Prophet to the People (and vice versa), the Prophet connects the People and the Message, et cetera. They’re called refuges because you can spiritually take refuge in each. If the people drive you crazy, you can take refuge in the message; if you can’t believe in the message you can see the people living the prophet’s words and find your solace in the prophet.
So right now, because I’m having a hard time with some parts of the message, I’m taking refuge in the community: the people around me who, whatever their beliefs or troubles or tolerance for crazy, consider me and my family to be part of their lives. I know I’m lucky to have this — blessed, even — and there’s something that seems to whisper into one corner of my mind, “This is the message. The fact that these people love you and treat you as one of their own is proof of God. How else could such a community exist?” Somehow there is something inherently godlike about caring for other people, claiming them as your own, making sure they don’t fail. And things that make me hope (Wear Pants to Church Day! The bishop in my friend’s ward talking about using the young women as ushers during the sacrament! Women speaking up at ward council!) also make me think that there is more wisdom in the Three Refuges: sometimes the community is itself the message. And sometimes, when we are of one heart and one mind, the people speak prophetically, and the message changes.