Birth/Rebirth: The Birth of Adulthood

Guest Post by Bec

Bec is an amazing friend and woman. She completed her PhD on nurses in the Korean War and currently lives in Australia.

It began with a BBQ chicken. Well, it began a few days before, but let’s start with the chicken. I was standing in my Mum’s kitchen. Family friends gathered in the backyard waiting for lunch and I was confronted with the chicken, or more precisely the responsibility of slicing the chicken. Mum had always done this.

The author on her wedding day with her mother.

The author on her wedding day with her mother.

All my life, I’d watched her neatly separate the pieces, portion out the stuffing, and dish the chicken on to each plate.

Now, Mum was gone, I was left to cut the chicken and despite watching her all those years I really had no idea how to do it. I knew it was ridiculous, but in that moment, only a few days after she died, I found that responsibility overwhelming. It was the culmination of a realisation that had begun in the hospital, that I was now the adult and I no longer had my Mum around to guide me.

In many ways the death of my Mum signalled the birth of my adulthood. Although I was 28, married, had just submitted a PhD and had been living out of home for a few years I hadn’t really felt like an adult until I lost my Mum.

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Publish Peace

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The cemetery at Verdun

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.

Armistice Day, celebrated in the United States as Veteran’s Day, is a natural time to reflect on war and peace.  The horrors of the First World War led those who lived through it to swear there would never be another such.  Of course it didn’t work out that way, as we know.

This month I have been studying peace as part of my personal scripture study and reflecting on it more broadly.  The scriptures are full of warfare and atrocities, but the Book of Mormon also takes a clear stance on offensive wars.

The people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi promised that

“They would not take up arms, yea, they had entered into a covenant and they would not break it – therefore, if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites they would be destroyed.” (Alma 43:11)

Pahoran, in his letter to Moroni, averred that

“We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land.  We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us.  We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God, or if he should command us so to do.” (Alma 61:11)

The Savior taught the people of the Americas the same truths he taught in Israel:

“And behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (3 Nephi 12:39)

Modern day prophets and apostles also teach of peace, but it is generally within the context of inner calm:

Despite dismal conditions in the world and the personal challenges that come into every life, peace within can be a reality.  We can be calm and serene regardless of the swirling turmoil all about us.  Attaining harmony within ourselves depends upon our relationship with our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and our willingness to emulate him by living the principles he has given us.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Peace Within” April 1991)

President Hinckley took a stand on behalf of the church in regards to the conflicts in the Middle East:

“As Citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders.  They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally.” He acknowledged the right to express dissent, and then added, “We all must also be mindful of another overriding responsibility, which I may add, governs my personal feelings and dictates my personal loyalties in the present situation.”  Citing Captain Moroni, he concluded “It is clear from these and other writings that there are times when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat and oppression.” (Gordon B. Hinckley “War and Peace” April 2003)

I feel a deep sense of unease about justifying war, which it seems the Savior taught against.  What obligation do you have personally to publish peace? Does that obligation go beyond being peaceful within your own family and ward?  Did the Savior expect the same of nations that He did of individuals?

These questions have been swirling in my mind, particularly in light of the more recent debates over drone strikes and their terrible consequences for innocent civilians.  The recent story of a grandmother slain for inscrutable reasons, and the insouciant attitude of our own government to me raises grave questions about my complicity through inaction in programs that are in violation of my faith.

 

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Ashes to Ashes

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Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, image by Robert Lawton

I recently attended and participated in my grandmother’s funeral.  She was not LDS or an active member of any church.  As a veteran, she was entitled to military honors and burial in a National Cemetery.  She passed away a year ago and was cremated, and the family planned a reunion around the memorial service.

 

My family converged on Saint Louis for a weekend to celebrate her life and honor her.  The morning of the funeral we sat together in the hotel lobby and made up a program on a piece of hotel stationary.  My aunt is a Presbyterian minister whose ministry is to visit shut-ins and ill people and she was more than happy to conduct our little service.

 

We met at Jefferson Barracks and went out to a shelter on the grounds where two Naval officers presented my mom with a flag and three veteran volunteers fired off the shots.  It was a beautiful and solemn moment.  Then we congregated around the grave and had one of the most lovely, informal and pleasant funerals I have ever attended.

My aunt welcomed us, and my mother provided a short life history.  She encouraged anyone who wanted to share a memory to do so, and a resident of her senior home who had come volunteered that she was a good bridge player.  My sister-in-law offered an opening prayer, then I read from Ecclesiastes and my cousin read a Psalm.  My uncle, who is a non-believer, felt uncomfortable participating and instead took photographs of the service. Being a carpenter, he had also made a cherry box to hold the ashes. The LDS family members sang, “Families can be together forever” because my nephew loves that song.  Technically speaking, of course, few of the people present were sealed to one another.  My brother and his wife and children are sealed, and I am sealed to my husband who was absent.  My father is not a member and my parents are divorced. The rest of the family not being LDS either of course we don’t really fit the usual definition of “together forever.”  Yet in that moment I felt very strongly that we were a family, and we would be together forever and that it didn’t matter a whit that half the people present don’t even really know about the temple.

 

My aunt spoke of the glory of the Resurrection and led us in the Lord’s Prayer, encouraging everyone present to use whatever variation of words they had in their own service. I don’t remember everything she said, so what follows is an approximation.

Father, we thank you for your servant Shirley, whose baptism is now complete in death.  We praise you for the gift of her life, for all that was good and kind and faithful.  She lived a life of service and love.  We thank you that for her death is past and pain ended, and that she has now entered the joy you have prepared, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  We commend her to you now.

Then she offered the prayer of committal, as the waiting cemetery workers interred the box that my uncle had made for my Grammy’s ashes.

My brother offered a closing prayer, and then my aunt, who is justifiably famous for her shortbread, offered some to each of the mourners and we chatted in the park like atmosphere.  I gather that my brother quietly dedicated the grave in the LDS tradition, but it was not part of the main group.

 

I write all this because I loved having every part of the service be conducted by family members.  I love that every person participated in the way that they felt comfortable, and that two different faith traditions met seamlessly and beautifully.   I love that every part of it was about remembering and loving my grandma, and we did exactly what we wanted and needed for closure and peace.  I loved seeing my aunt minister to us, reminding us of the resurrection and of the joy and peace my grandma now feels.  I loved that she knew exactly what to do and took our disparate ideas of what we wanted and shaped them easily and with very little notice into a memorial service.

In an LDS funeral a woman could never conduct or preside, even if the family felt she was the proper person to do so.  Whether by policy or tradition, it seems LDS funerals always have at least half the time spent on a talk about the Plan of Salvation by the local Bishop, regardless of whether that meets the needs or desires of the deceased or their family, or whether the Bishop even knew the deceased well.  LDS tradition discourages cremation for reasons that are obscure to me.

After attending the funeral I realized that if I had my wish, the last thing I would want would be an LDS funeral. I am only twenty-nine, so I don’t anticipate dying any time soon.  Still, the beauty and peace of that service made me reflect on what I would want.  I definitely want to be cremated. I do not want a canned talk about the Plan of Salvation designed as a missionary tool for my non-member friends and family.  I want everyone who loves me to be able to participate in the ways that are meaningful to them, untrammeled by tradition or prescribed gender roles.  I want the women in my life to have the same opportunities as the men to express grief, and to offer consolation.  I suppose that means I want a funeral outside the church building, run by my family however they think it best.  It means more work in some ways, but it also means freedom to express and share grief in ways that to me feel more authentic.

How do you feel about LDS funerals? What aspects are meaningful for you? What parts of the tradition would you change? What elements from other faiths have you found to be powerful?

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Death Itself Shall Die

One of my favorite hymns comes from the Sacred Harp hymnal, and is called “How Long, Dear Saviour,” also known as “Northfield.”  The original song is about the Savior and uses entirely masculine pronouns to discuss the Millenium and Christ’s second coming.

 

Sacred Harp is a musical tradition that originated in the southern United States.  The music is sung a capella and the singers divide by section and sit in a square, facing each other. The notation uses not only ordinary staff lines but also a different shape for each note, indicating the place that note occupies in the scale.  This is meant to help untrained singers to learn music, and generally Sacred Harp groups will sing through using the shape names (fa sol la) first, before singing with words. The music is more about the experience than it is about performance and it tends to be characterized (at least around here) more by enthusiasm than by dynamics, blending or other common features of choral music.  There are many groups around the United States, as well as internationally, who keep this musical tradition alive.

 

My local group (which my mother affectionately calls the Sacred Harpies) chose to feminize the last verse of the song.  While the music is from a Christian tradition, many people who participate embrace other faiths or no faith at all.  As far as I know we are the only LDS people who participate in our town, and I only go on rare occasions. In an effort to acknowledge other faith traditions and be inclusive, the group sometimes changes words or sticks a supplement in the hymnal with alternate versification.

 

Ever since I first heard the feminized version of Northfield I felt like it was speaking to me and I really can’t hear it the other way.  I took the liberty of feminizing the entire thing to make it about our Heavenly Mother instead of the Saviour, not to denigrate our Lord but to acknowledge the glorious truth of His Mother. As we talk about the need for an anthem, the need for answers and the need for knowledge, perhaps sacred music not subject to church correlation should be the first place we look.  The following are the lyrics to the hymn, as I have changed them.  The original lyrics can be seen here, and you can watch a performance of it here or here.

 

 

How Long, Dear Saviour (Northfield)

Lyrics: Isaac Watts (1707)

(Some modifications of gender, by me)

————–

How long, dear Mother, O how long

Shall this bright hour delay?

Fly swift around, ye wheels of time,

And bring the promised day.

————–

Lo, what a glorious sight appears

To our believing eyes!

The earth and seas are passed away,

And the old rolling skies.

————–

From the third heaven, where God resides,

That holy, happy place,

The New Jerusalem comes down

Adorn’d with shining grace.

————–

Attending angels shout for joy,

And the bright angels sing;

Mortals, behold the sacred seat

Of our descending Queen!

————–

Her own soft hand shall wipe the tears

From every weeping eye;

And pains and groans and griefs and fears

And death itself shall die.

 

In the last year as I have lost two family members and succumbed to the worst bout of depression I’ve ever had those words came back to me again and again.  Her own soft hand shall wipe the tears from every weeping eye.  I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  Pains and groans and griefs and fears, and death itself shall die.

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Seeking information

When I was growing up my Mom referred to herself (facetiously I now realize) as “The Fount of All Knowledge.”  She comes by the title honestly, having a BA, an MLS, an MA and a PhD.  Like a good reference librarian, if she didn’t know the answer, she knew where you could find it.  If I asked her something unanswerable, like “did Adam and Eve have bellybuttons?” she would refer to me to The Great Information Booth in the Sky.  Evidently when you die, there is an information kiosk staffed by angels to provide you with answers to all your questions.

 

I have found the thought of the celestial information booth to be very comforting for a variety of reasons.  I hate unsolved mysteries and it is nice to think I will be able to sit down and watch video footage and find out who dunnit.  Who was Jack the Ripper? I’ll just queue up and find out.  Ever wonder why God made some bugs look so gross? Do you ask yourself why there wasn’t a better solution than menstruation?  It’s all there.

 

Recently I’ve been yearning for access to the information booth right now.  There are some questions that are far more important than why centipedes need to exist.  (Though really, why?!)  Who is my Heavenly Mother? Why don’t women have the priesthood? What was the deal with polygamy, anyway?

 

So my question for you is this.  You can get one informational pamphlet from the Great Information Booth in the Sky right now.  It isn’t a lot of information, a few paragraphs, some images or diagrams, maybe a few bullet points.  But it is all information that we do not currently have.  What brochure would you like to receive from the Celestial Chamber of Commerce?

 

I will tell you mine.  My grammy died in early November.  She was not a member of the church, nor was she particularly religiously active.  My grandpa died twenty-eight years ago, also not LDS.  I want to know what she is doing in a very real day-to-day sense.  I don’t want vague platitudes about missionaries, and I definitely do not like imagining her in Spirit Prison.

 

Who comes in the welcoming committee?  Was Grandpa there waiting?  Do you get issued robes right away? My Grammy was very self-conscious about not being very stylish and not fitting in with well-dressed people.  Will there be an orientation week for new arrivals explaining the schedule? Will there be tours of the facilities?  What about showing up to your own funeral or the temple? What are the guidelines for hovering near the living?  Is she happy? Is she scared by new things? Are you allowed to be snarky in the hereafter, because if not I’m not sure what she’ll do.  Is there a botanical garden to poke around?  Is there a Sunday Crossword, or did the cranky old ladies who declare Sunday Newspapers Are of Satan win the day? I’d just like an orientation schedule, site map and a few key facts.  Where do I send my request?

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In the face of violence

God, and Enoch, and I all weep:

“And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?… How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? … and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever; And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations; and naught but peace, justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?

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