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.
In Primary, I learned the story of the Whitmer’s fields being plowed mysteriously by strangers.
“When he went out to start plowing the soil in the morning, David discovered that someone had plowed part of the fields already….The next day David went to the place he had left the plaster, near his sister’s house, but the plaster was gone. His sister told him that the day before, she and her children had seen three strangers spreading the plaster with great speed and skill. She had assumed they were men David had hired, but David knew they were helpers provided by the Lord.” Primary 5, Lesson 9 “Witness to See the Gold Plates”
This story captured my imagination. Who were these helpers? Angels? The Three Nephites? It was a great miracle and it followed me for years.
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.”
During Sunday School this weekend I sort of zoned out. The teacher was talking about worship and what it meant to worship and I was expecting any minute for someone to say, “The Bible dictionary defines worship as blah blah blah.” I lifted the little bag of Lindt chocolate to decide which flavor I’d eat next (my reward for being a woman!), but before I could disengage further, my friend Colleen raised her hand and said a bunch of awesome stuff. Her main point was that there are many “languages of worship,” just as there are “love languages,” like preferring service, gifts, touch, etc. as a means of expressing our affection, of course there must be various means of expressing worship. Here are some she mentioned along with a couple of my additions:
Music: For many churchgoers, music is the language of the spirit. In the preface of our hymnbook it states: “Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.” Lots of us feel closer to God when singing than when doing anything else. I am always touched at the Exponent Retreat when many women are move beyond words as we unite in voice. I am not one of these people. However, when I hear Pandora Brewer sing “Hie to Kolob,” I am converted. At least temporarily.
Intellectual: These souls are fed through lively intellectual discourse. These are the saints who sit on the edge of the pew when there’s a powerhouse speaker who knows their doctrine cold and uses their field of expertize to illuminate and expand our understanding. These folks love the gospel doctrine class that digs deep and isn’t afraid to leave the manual behind. The Spirit of God is intelligence.
Symbol/ritual: Mormons love to poo poo other faiths’ reliance on ritual. But symbol plays a large role in our church as well, and there are many saints who crave it. The sacrament is the pinnacle and purpose of our weekly worship service and people will go to great lengths to partake of it each week. Additionally the temple is obviously rich in symbol. I remember thinking when I first took out my endowment, “So HERE is where all the ritual has been hiding…” Many of my friends’ parents are motivated socially by ritual as well and only visit grandkids when there’s a blessing, baptism, or priesthood advancement occurring. Substitute ordinance for ritual, and this is the thing that holds it all together for some folks.
Emotion/Empathy: For other saints certain emotions facilitate the spirit. When talks and testimonies contain personal, moving stories, these guys FEEL the connection. Sometimes we tease these folks for being quick to tears, but that is their way of manifesting they feel the Spirit, so cut them some slack. These passionate saints worship with all their heart, love hearing and telling tender stories, and have empathy to spare. This style makes me think of the prophet, Thomas Monson.
Service- Some saints are doers. They are forever in motion and need to be actively serving to feel they are worshiping. These are the folks who magnify the callings that have them helping/teaching/working with others. I have one such friend who doesn’t show up on Sunday if she doesn’t have a purpose. These are the gems who show up with meals and help you pack. Not that other people won’t, but the servers among us do it not out of obligation, but because it brings them closer to the Lord. “Unto the least of these…”
Meditation: I debated whether I should label this as prayer, but meditation seemed to be a bigger umbrella for the ways in which many of us worship through quiet, mindful, often solitary practices. My father loved to sit for hours in his study and read the scriptures. He would never have used the word “meditate” but he’d emerge as peaceful and centered as a yogi. During the sacrament this week I glanced at the brother behind me and was struck by his posture. Back erect, eyes closed, hands resting palm up on his knees. His kids were bustling and for a second I thought he was asleep–but he was just so peaceful. As I was trying to focus on renewing my own covenants it dawned on me that he was meditating, something that I do during the week when I want to connect with the divine. But it never occurred to me that I could bring that practice with me into my meetings. Call it pondering things in your heart, communing with God, these guys are masters at internal reverence.
Obviously there are many other ways of worshipping, and most of us rely on more than one method to seek the divine. What was instructive to me about my friend’s comment was how different we all are in our spiritual quests and how important it is to allow for as many “worship languages” as possible during our services. I know I need to work on valuing the languages that are not my native tongue.
What language works best for you? What languages do you think are undervalued/underrepresented in LDS services? Which languages are privileged? How can we encourage languages that feel foreign?
Today is Palm Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem – one week before Easter. On this day, Jesus rode through the city gates on a donkey and has hailed by the Jews as their King. Only four days later, after the Last Super with his apostles, Jesus was betrayed and taken away from the Garden of Gethsemane by soldiers. And five days after His triumphant entry, He was tried and crucified.
It didn’t take long for the Hailed King to move into a downwardly spiral of events – just a few days. While Christ anticipated these events and knew they were part of the plan, I’m sure they were not pleasant. We too know how fast things can fall apart in this earth life.
On the morning of Friday the 13th of July 2012, I sat alone in my small Honda Civic slowly absorbing the words I had just heard from my doctor and trying not to cry. I had a 25 cm cyst in my abdomen that needed to be surgically removed immediately before damage was done to my internal organs. I had no health insurance, no job, and nowhere to live to recover from such a surgery. My heart was very heavy.
The phone rang. It was the HR Department from my previous employer telling me that my Cobra Health Insurance had been reinstated. Then I did start to cry. I wept tears of gratitude and knew that I had been a part of a miracle. It was the first of many miracles – and I had unknowingly taken just one step into a journey that would last many months.
That morning in the dark mood of that small car, my path was illuminated by that miracle and God would continue to guide me throughout this journey. “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angles round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84:88)
Four days later I was in Alexandria Hospital hooked to an IV and waiting for an ambulance that would take me to Fairfax where a surgeon was waiting to operate. A friend waited with me, insisting that I have a blessing before I left for surgery. After several calls – and to my surprise – Elder Wilson of the Seventy was on his way to anoint me. The moment he put his hands on my head, my whole body filled with power. It was an overwhelming feeling. I knew then that this man had lived a life dedicated to righteousness and that he had become a powerful tool in the hands of God – and I also knew that God wanted to show me, His daughter, how powerful He was – and assure me that He was in charge and would strengthen me. Another miracle. ”I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand. Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” (How Firm a Foundation – #85)
And so it went, from the ambulance to the hospital, and into the hands of a very particular surgeon. One miracle after another. I was guided and strengthened and kept safe down a narrow illumined path as my life exploded around me. My friends worked in shifts to be with me until my family could arrive. My sister, Heather, was with me one week later when bad combination of stress and pain killers caused my intestines constrict and cramp – leaving me with the worse abdominal pain of my life. I was curled up in a ball on the Stinson’s couch – crying and desperate. Heather called the doctor and listed the pros/cons of an emergency room visit. She asked if I wanted her to call for a blessing – and that didn’t feel right, so I asked for a prayer of faith. With me on the couch, my sister knelt and offered a prayer on my behalf.
It was then that I felt the great comfort of the Lord. Like a warm blanket, I felt the arms of love encircle me and a soft voice in my mind telling me to relax. I knew if I could just let my body relax that the pain would start to work itself out. And it did. I have felt this same comfort many times since in moments of distress. “His presence shall my wants supply, And guard me with a watchful eye. / To fertile vales, and dewy meads. My weary, wandering steps he leads. / My noon-day walks he shall attend, And all my midnight hours defend.” (The Lord My Pasture will Prepare – #109)
And, through these experiences, I came again to know – even more deeply – what I’d know before: that the Risen Lord Lives! He knows me! He lives to guide me and strengthen me and comfort me. I know more intensely now that He is my Savior.
On this Palm Sunday, we, with all Christendom, hail Him as our King and look with eager eyes to Easter Sunday when HOPE is made fresh again in the world. ”He is Risen! Tell it out with joyful voice. / He has burst the three days’ prison; let the whole wide word rejoice. /Death is conquered. We are free. Christ has won – the victory.” (He is Risen – #199)
I will spend my Palm Sunday worshiping at two different churches. During this Holy Week, I will attend a session at the LDS Temple and a mass at the Basilica of Catholic University. I hope to spend Easter Morning on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial with my scriptures, watching the sun come up above the Cherry Blossoms.
When I was 14 and went to Youth Conference for the first time, our stake held a campout. It was right near the border of Illinois and Wisconsin, with lots of trees and greenery. We walked to our tents in the dark and woke up to a breakfast of an orange and nothing else, not unlike the trek experiences I’ve read about. That first afternoon, after “fasting” all day, we were told to take our scriptures and find a place to sit and read them and journal for an hour. And as orchestrated as the experience was, I remember writing in my journal that I did very much feel the Spirit that day.