Guest Post: The Rituals We (Still) Perform

by Liz Johnson

My grandmother is dying.

Her cancer is incurable, and has spread to the degree that she has been given mere months to live. And so, with her mortal time rapidly closing, family and friends alike have flocked to her side to spend a few precious moments with a truly remarkable woman.

There could be no better tribute to a life well-lived than the outpouring of love that my grandmother has received in these past few weeks. Family members have flown across the country to sit by her side. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing with people calling to check in on her and to express their love. Almost every flat surface in her home has a vase of fresh flowers sitting on it, and her freezer is stocked to the gills with soup and other food brought to her by friends and ward members. Her door is being graced several times daily by friends and neighbors, wishing to express their love to her and to hug her at least one more time.

I realize that it’s not an unusual thing for a person to lose a grandparent – it’s the natural cycle of things. I have lost two before her. But yet the impending loss of this woman has affected me so profoundly.

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Youth Sunday School Lesson: How can I use Church music to learn about the plan of salvation?

I substituted for a youth Sunday School class yesterday and wanted to share my lesson.

First, let’s all read the title of the lesson and wonder, “What a strange obscure topic!” While the YW and YM manuals are focusing on the plan of salvation this month, the Sunday School manual is about learning/teaching the plan of salvation.

After I told the class the topic (even the teens did a “Huh?” with the topic), we started talking about how music can help us learn. I would have listed them on the board if I had chalk, but I didn’t. Some ideas that we came up with were:

  • Educational lyrics (they mentioned Sesame Street)
  • Mnemonic devices
  • Listening to music to help you study or accomplish a goal (like cleaning your room)
  • Using music for meditation
  • To evoke emotion
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Guest Post: Marriage Equality in Utah

Mary Danzig is a fiddler/violinist and mom. She performs with her husband Peter in the folk/newgrass duo Otter Creek.

Photo: Tom Smart, AP

My first memory of a wedding ceremony is sitting spellbound in front of a TV while Princess Diana walked down the aisle in her glorious dress with the mile long train.  In contrast, my three daughters’ first memory will include a young woman in her Chuck-a-Rama work shirt waiting in a long line with her newborn baby and partner to obtain a marriage license.

On Friday afternoon hundreds of people dropped what they were doing and rushed to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office when they learned that Amendment Three (which prohibits same sex marriage) had been overturned.  They wanted to get married.  They didn’t know how long the window of opportunity would be open.  Many had waited years, even decades, to marry.  They weren’t going to waste another moment.

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Ritual Inclusion

My body has born four children. And I have watched as the men I love have taken each of these little bodies in their arms–bodies that I have grown, birthed and bled for–and conferred upon them a name and a blessing. I deeply love this Mormon ritual. I love watching as my husband, fathers and brothers encircle and cradle my babies in their love.

This time, however, I wanted more than to just passively watch from the side. Perhaps because this is my last child, I found myself grieving my exclusion from the ritual where I never had previously. A dear friend in charge of our ward’s music graciously allowed me to choose the hymns and because it was Fast and Testimony meeting I was able to bear my testimony and give my baby a mother’s blessing of sorts.

It was mr. mraynes who came up with the idea of holding the microphone. I was resistant–balking at the symbolism of being the instrument to give voice to my husband while being silenced myself. But I have sisters who have asked for this small thing and been denied. In the end I could not let the opportunity pass. An opportunity I knew I had only because my husband is in a position to ensure I had it.

So yesterday I found myself in a circle of men. A space reserved for masculine authority.

For the first time I was witness to the incredible beauty and power that resides within the blessing circle. As I held the microphone to my husbands lips, I could see the overwhelming emotion and love he has for our son. For the first time I saw my son watch his father intently and smile because of the security and happiness he undoubtedly felt. And I was able to feel the love these men had for each other and this sweet little baby. I could feel their hope in the possibility of his life and their desire to give him every gift they could.

This is a powerful ritual and in arguing that women’s participation is unimportant we sell ourselves short.  Baby blessings are the literal expression of our joy in the creation of life. When we try to make this blessing, and any blessing, less than what they can be we loose half of the creative possibility and power that God intends us to have.

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Dedicatory Prayer

Day 110-Time...Morning prayers never made sense to me. Evening prayers, I get: reflect on your day, be grateful for the goodness it brought, repent for the things you did wrong, and bless the people who crossed your path. But morning prayers? Doesn’t the prayer from the evening carry over? It’s not like your life has changed much between going to bed and waking up. In general, your life is still the same and it’s unlikely you committed grievous sins in your sleep. What is there to pray about in the morning? “Please bless this day,” feels empty and passive.

So I stopped worrying about morning prayers. I did evening prayers, and they’re pretty much the same. “Dear Heavenly Father, Ditto to what I said last night.”

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A True Story

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It was early in the morning on a Saturday.

I sat in the baptistry of the Los Angeles Temple, waiting for sisters from my ward to finish. Four young single adults walked in and sat together in a nearby row: boy, girl, boy, girl. They were also waiting for my group, not to end their time at the temple as was my case, but to begin.

An older gentleman, dressed in white, slowly walked over until he stood in front of them, and asked in a voice loud enough for me to hear, “Which one of you wants to baptize, and which one of you wants to serve as witness?” The young woman furthest away from me was the first to answer. Clearly and confidently, she said, “I want to baptize.” The previously calm temple worker threw up his hands and shook his head emphatically as he cried, “No! No! No! I wasn’t talking to you!”

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