Guest Post: Talismans


By Bird

In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at the MPCE (Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation), we worked in a high white room reached by narrow marble stairs at the top of the building. We drank coffee served in silver, with raw sugar in pale gold grains like the sand on beaches.

It was late afternoon. The sun leached in still, palpable, white-hot like the walls. And as I stirred in the sugar, as I clicked my silver spoon around my porcelain cup, I felt a strange and sudden sensation wash over me.

It felt like waking up.

I googled ‘semiotics graduate degree’ (I had always liked semiotics the best from undergrad) and the first one that came up was Cognitive Semiotics, in Aarhus, Denmark—a place I had never heard of in a country I had never seen.

And I took a breath.

I did not think; no, I knew, that this was my path. Some months later I was on the plane to Denmark.

I would not think about this experience too hard until some years later.

***

I like things I can hold on to; things I can see and touch and feel and trust. I like talismans: my rose-gold rose thorn necklace, my moonstone wedding ring (moonstone, for intuition and healing and mystery). I have a hard time getting rid of old gifts because of this—to me, they are talismans of love and affection.

The English word ‘talisman’ takes a long route to us here now, etymologically, like most old and culturally universal words do. But a good guess is that once it travels back through words meaning ‘ceremony’ or ‘consecration’, it’s related to ‘telos’, or ‘end/culmination’. Telos, in its turn, is from an older word meaning ‘revolve, move round, sojourn, dwell’.

A talisman: what you could carry with you of what is holy, when you were on your own and had nothing else you could see.

***

I always considered my emotions to be overwhelming and unreliable. I preferred to analyse a situation and proceed from there. You could rely on what you could puzzle out; you could walk through logic paths like high white halls to the same location every time. There is a security in this.

As I grew up (LDS, going to seminary and then BYU), I kept coming to the worrying conclusion that the only path laid out for me as a woman was one of silence and subordination to men. The way I saw it: if I was lucky enough, a priesthood holder would choose me, and preside over me. In the next life I feared I would be one of any number of ‘wives’, unable to speak, unable to do anything but be a submissive vessel, dependent on the kindness of men.

(And like many women, from what I had experienced, I did not have faith in the kindness of men.)

That was if I was lucky, of course. My destiny seemed not to rely on if I could be smart or kind or strong (the traits I valued in myself), but rather only if I would be pretty enough to be wanted (and I was not a pretty girl).

Why would God listen to me, when he didn’t seem to know me? If that’s the best he had in store for me? And, given what I knew of the temple, that He didn’t even care to talk to me Himself?

No, I decided, based on the available data set, God didn’t care about me at all, much less enough to talk to me.

I was on my own.

***

I never thought I’d meet a man as kind and wise as my husband, nor that I would meet him in Denmark.

One late night, like we often did, we discussed how we saw the world. It was winter now, and it had already been dark for longer than the sun had been up all day, and we sat on top of our white bedspread printed with lacing grey flowers.

(We had this exact conversation a few times, before I could accept that he might be right.)

“I think God has been listening and speaking to you all this time,” my husband said, when I told him about my relationship with God. “You maybe just didn’t recognise it, because you considered it impossible.”

“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe.”

“How,” he said, “did you know to come to a small town in Denmark, a country you had never even been to before? How did you know to leave a stable job in your favourite city in the world?”

“I just felt it,” I said, and shrugged. “I just knew. Sometimes I just know things.”

“I think He found ways of speaking to you that you were open to hearing,” he told me. “Your gut feelings, as you call them.”

And he brought up other times: Demanding an interview, though I had been rejected, and then being one of two hired for a job by that company that semester. Finding my first best friend. Going back to BYU. Coming to Denmark.

“What about finding you?” I asked.

“Tell me how we met,” he said, and I did—the whole impossible unlikely story.

“I believe God sent me to you,” he said when I finished, “as much as I believe He sent you to me. Because He loves us both, and what we needed was each other.”

This, I could begin to believe. This, I could be reminded of whenever I saw or felt my ring—not only my husband’s love, maybe, but God’s as well.

The other parts I was still doubtful about. But I could promise my husband one thing—that when I prayed now, I would pray assuming I was heard, and I would try to listen in return.

Something I had never really tried before—after all, I was just a girl. And who cared about them at all? Who cared about me, but myself, and now, my husband?

***

When I did listen, I began to hear God in my heart, and how He loved me.

***

This is a new path for me, not relying on only what I can see and feel. I am taking my first tentative steps, sometimes stumbling, as I walk on what feels like blindly.

I had never considered that I could be wrong about God not caring about me, because based on the information I had and could see, it made logical sense.

I had never considered, though, that I might not be using the full data set. That the world could be so much larger and kinder and more miraculous than anything I could hold in my hand, anything I could see or point to or consult.

That I could carry my own answers inside me, and not only look to what I could see and hear and parse.

When I pray now I believe I will be heard, and that I can receive an answer. I keep a journal now of such answers, that I carry with me—my own talisman, for when memory and confidence fails, as it often does.

I am still finding my way forward in the dark. I still do not know very much.

But I do know, in my deepest heart, that we are all heard and valued, equally, by God.

Bird is a compulsive traveler and writer, wending her way back to her original home.

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13 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    This is a lovely post about your faith journey. (Love this line: “When I did listen, I began to hear God in my heart, and how He loved me.”) I think it’s terrific that you can now sense God in a way you couldn’t before.

    And it’s also a lovely glimpse into your love story. Thank you for sharing.

    • Bird says:

      Thank you so very much–it has been amazing, personally, to kind of experience what was out there if I only reached out for it. I feel a little ‘late to the party’ so to speak, but in case there are others out there like me I wanted to share!

  2. Dog Spirit says:

    I, too, have an affinity for talismans. But even more, I relate to what you’ve said here about having to change your perceptions about God. I’m still working through my own particular mess, there. After years and years of feeling that God had never spoken with me, I got pretty used to not asking for or expecting anything from God. I always suspected God did not think I was very important, or that there was some deficiency in me that prevented God from reaching me. And then I encountered the temple liturgy and polygamy doctrines and the silence between us took on a whole new flavor: fear. I’m still trying to figure that out, but it comforts me to know that other people have moved forward after being in a similar situation.

    • Bird says:

      I felt (and still feel, every so often, because belief can be cyclical that way I think) the same way. With fear, and also resentment, to be honest–why pretend everyone mattered the same amount, when all this evidence seems to point the other way? I guess what worked/is working for me is to just sweep all the things that is causing all those feelings off the table, and to only trust what I could know was true. And the knowledge that all humans are limited, and ‘all humans’ includes both me and anyone who says stuff that diminishes others.

      This is just me of course. I wish you luck and happiness on your own path. Keep going, even when it seems hopeless.

  3. Kris says:

    I am grateful for the tender mercies and serendipities God sends me. I pray for more.

  4. Lily says:

    This hit close to home: I have never been accepted or “chosen” by a man and I don’t believe God loves or notices me. Your article is beautiful, but at the end of the day “chosen by a man” = “God loves me”.

    • Bird says:

      I was really worried about this possible conclusion when I wrote this. It is not the one I intended or believe in, but due to editing for space and the narrative fact that my husband happened to be the first person to really take me seriously / I confided in a lot, he ended up being more prominent in the piece than was wise for the message. All resulting in that your reading is an accidentally very valid one, and in hindsight it is the conclusion I would have drawn from it as well.

      What I edited out of this piece but I think is relevant here—due to some unpleasant experiences in my youth I pretty much ran on anger and anxiety for the last decade or so of my life. This was justified, and probably necessary at the time, but the biggest thing I think from precluding me from feeling any divine presence or love was my own preclusion of the possibility of it. My husband, kind and empathetic as he is, helped me see this, but was not the reason for or proof of this presence/love—which, in retrospect, had still been with me all my life, even if I couldn’t see or feel it. I have had many other experiences throughout my life which I had vainly chalked up to an almost super-hero-grade intuition and luck; they just didn’t make it in here because (I thought at the time) it just would have been in the form of a kind of a solipsistic and irrelevant list.

      I don’t feel I know many things for sure but I know emphatically that the existence or non-existence of a man in one’s life has zero to do with whether God loves and guides and speaks to you and you alone—not through the conduit of anyone else. He does. If I could impart anything to you that I truly believe, it would be this.

      I’m sorry this reply is SO LONG. I just personally hate when it’s taught to women, accidentally or not, that a husband is some kind of reward or proof of whatever, or any other of that grimy stupid stuff, like that men are more important to and closer to God than women. I know I’ve encountered that rhetoric myself and have just loathed it, so I am really scolding myself here for accidentally being part of that narrative. I actively reject it, and I’m so sorry for making you even consider it.

      • Lily says:

        Thank you for your kind response. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad, I just know that is exactly what I feel like. I’d love to believe that the Lord loves us all and that our marital or motherhood status doesn’t matter to him. But the Church just doesn’t teach that. There are a million lessons and stories, some subtle, some not so subtle, that we have no value without a man. I’ve internalized it – I buy it. I like to hear about other women that DON’T believe that so you comment was very helpful. Just wish I could get there myself.

  5. Chiaroscuro says:

    This was lovely, thank you for sharing. For a long time I felt like the only way I could be sure it was God that was talking to me instead of my own desire, would be if he was saying something against my own desires, but that necessarily made God someone who did not hope for me what I want. It made me feel really unhappy and unloved. Now my ideas about God and his voice are changing.

  6. Bird says:

    Oh thank you so much–it totally wasn’t you, though, just my usual downfall in not waiting a few days before I edit, so I only see in a post what I’m wanting to see.

    I agree with you–those were exactly the same conclusions from the lessons and stories I drew myself, and I don’t think they were wrong or even irrational ones. They drove me crazy, and when they didn’t make me angry they just made me sad and despairing. I remember talking to other women who had moved past it, and when I asked them about it I remember feeling like they were trying to express to me how they jumped to the moon, for all I was able to apply it to myself.

    And it’s hard to express, to be honest, because logic can only take you so far (which is a sentence I’d never thought I’d write, my goodness).

    If this helps, I came to realise that the whole motherhood / wife aspect was fine and great, and it’s certainly an important and defining part of a lot of women’s lives, but that aspect seems to me to be only one (that we are just weirdly and tremendously zoomed in on) of an overwhelming whole–and for whatever reason, a lot of people are afraid to step back and broaden the picture. But the rest of the picture exists.

    I still hate the pain that certain existing rhetorics have caused people like you, and me, and so many others. I hope others will begin listening to us more. (It is for this reason I’ve decided to start ‘talking’.)

    In the meantime though, I wish you the smoothest and happiest journey possible on your path of reversing that internalisation. <3

  7. Viegie D Day says:

    To my granddaughter, I have loved you fully and, on some level, I have known your spirit being, I have treasured your intellect, your heart and all that encompass and belongs to your unique mind and soul. Now, I am wondering if I wrote my dissertation for you, as an introduction to semiotics, cognition in meaning making, and other postmodern theory as applied to understanding art, etc.. When you came across a Master’s program in Cognition and Semiotics, I was amazed and thought the program was created just for you. An then the true miracle happened when you met and fell in love with a brilliant handsome man, How wonderful to learn of God’s love by being loved by your beautiful husband. I love you my dear girl.

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