Poetry Sundays: Who The Meek Are Not



Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome

Who The Meek Are Not

By Mary Karr

          Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
          in the rice-paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
          make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
          nun says we misread 
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them. 
          To understand the meek 
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
          in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
          but instant halt. 
So with the strain of holding that great power
          in check, the muscles 
along the arched neck keep eddying,
          and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order. 



Among my favorite religious poems, Who the Meek Are Not, has stayed with me since I first read it. It is one a few jewels I pull from a treasure box of inspirational writing when I become confused or wonder if my particular variety of discipleship is worthy of God’s grace.

I understand this version of meekness, the ears pricked forward, the sudden awareness of a call, the subsequent redirection of energy. Meekness can be a quiet yet powerful force running through our veins. Mary Karr and her Franciscan nun gave me permission to be a strong, courageous, vocal woman who is a humble servant of Christ. My agency–the power to choose, and to have an effect on the world–is only as useful as my willingness to surrender that power to God, to seek his will. I pray for strength and meekness every day.

How do you feel about meekness? What does this poem say to you? 

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Book Review: Letters to a Young Mormon


I read Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon a bit ago, to the youngest Mormon I know well. (I think that she was six months, then.) I have been meaning to write a review since that time, but it is difficult to write well (or really, at all) about something so small that means something so big.

Because it is a personal book, perhaps I can begin personally: my Mormon heart has felt broken lately–by PR letter after PR letter, and the poor welcoming of women and men who should not have to fight to belong to the body of Christ. Miller’s words are some of the first to help unbreak it, because they are a reminder of everything good and beautiful in Mormonism. I am sincerely glad that my daughter has heard them, as I sincerely hope that she will hear them again, when she is young and old enough to take them in.

As the title suggests, the book is at least loosely inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It is made up of twelve letters: Agency, Work, Sin, Faith, Scripture, Prayer, History, Science, Hunger, Sex, Temples, and Eternal Life. Each one begins, “Dear S.,” and ends, “Love, A.” Each is written to his daughter.

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June Young Women Lesson: How do I receive the power and blessings of the priesthood in my life?

The title of this lesson is taken from Carole M. Stephens’ talk, Do We Know What We Have?

Daughters of God, do we know who we are? Do we know what we have? Are we worthy to receive the power and blessings of the priesthood? Do we receive the gifts given to us with gratitude, grace, and dignity? 

I think you could take this lesson into 2 different directions: How do I receive the power of the priesthood in my life? and How do I receive the blessings of the priesthood in my life? I’m going to give some ideas for both.

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May Young Women Lesson Plan: How can I make my prayers more meaningful?

Increasing the Power of Personal Prayer

Guest Post by Jessica Finnigan

Jessica Finnigan is currently an Advanced Diploma student in the study of religion at the University of Cambridge.  Her research centers on the intersection of technology and religion.  She graduated from BYU in 2003 with a BS in Marriage, Family, and Human Development.  She and her husband Tom have four daughters ages 6-11 years old.  

How can I make my prayers more meaningful? (The lds.org outline is here.)

prayerOne of the most important aspects of my life has been the ability engage in prayer.  I feel that it is my window into Heaven.  Prayer has always come quite easy for me, even as a child I loved saying my prayers. I have had the privilege of having countless spiritual experiences while engaging in prayer. Moments of sacred connection where I knew God loved me and had a plan for my life. There are times when truth and answers have come to my mind and released me from my turmoil.  But as I have aged and served in various callings, parented, and talked with countless friends, I have come to see that God speaks to all of us in various and individual ways.  I have seen individuals feel guilty for not finding God in the traditional way we teach prayer.  I have seen them loose access to needed revelations and feelings of peace.

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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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The spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind

I recently read this article in Wired about eradicating polio.  It says last year there were only 223 cases of polio in the world, which seems pretty close to eradication of the virus.  But it turns out eliminating those last cases is really, really hard.  The reason being that the places where polio is still found are, almost by definition, very hard to reach. They include Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Nigeria.  A worldwide campaign to eradicate polio began in 1988, and its success is measured by the fact that there were 350,000 cases that year.  There is reason to think the campaign will eventually succeed, but it isn’t and won’t be easy.

This made me think of other kinds of problems and human needs.  I think a lesson from the polio eradication effort is that people who greatly need help are often, almost by definition, very hard to reach.  This thought has been with me for a few weeks since I read the Wired article, and it makes my heart very heavy.  Human suffering seems infinite, and efforts to stay it feel puny.  But I’m also thinking of Paul’s words in 2nd Timothy chapter 1: “For God hath not given you a spirit of fear [or of despair]; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”   I also have a little mantra for myself that I repeat when I need hope, which is it’s that I’ll try to 1) do no harm, 2) help who I can help, and 3) create beauty.  A friend just reminded me that we can only help who we can help.  I recognize that this is true.  But I also want to see people who are hard to see and not close my eyes to their problems.  And so I pray to see more so that I can do more.

Can you tell me a story of when you’ve been able to help someone?  Or when someone has helped you?  I need to hear some stories about goodness.

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