March 2015 General Women’s Session: Cheryl A. Esplin
The theme of this session is “The Family.”
Linda Burton, the General Relief Society President is conducting the session. The first speech was by Cheryl A. Esplin, 2nd counsellor in the General Primary Presidency. President Burton began the session by introducing members of the First Presidency and other (male) Priesthood leaders by name, then included an en masse introduction of all female General auxiliaries and the Relief Society General Board. She noted that this is the 100th anniversary of Family Home Evening, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Family Proclamation.
One of my very favourite hymns, How Firm a Foundation, set the tone for the session. But for me, the beauty of the words of How Firm a Foundation was undermined by the video presentation of the Childrens’ Hymn: The Family is of God. It was delightful to see real families singing the song, many appeared to be of mixed nationality and varied ethnicity. But problematic for me was the absence of families without children at home, the homes of single people, and childless couples. I understand that the song is child-centred, but I noticed that the overwhelming visual definition of a family was limited very much to traditional families with many children.
I delighted in Counselor Esplin’s introduction where she used a parable of two soft drink cans. In this, she taught that an empty can is easily crushed, whereas a filled can withstands outside pressure to a greater degree, i.e. it is stronger. She taught that we are like the cans, and that “when filled with the spirit and gospel truth, we have the power to withstand the outside forces.” Counselor Esplin the stated that “spirit-filled homes don’t just happen” and thankfully, she recognized that “every home is different.“ I loved her words as she highlighted the fact that “even when one individual seeks for truth” there can be an increase of the spirit within a home. I loved this part because it reminds me that when we live alone, are married to a less-active or non-member, have roommates, or otherwise, we are still eligible for the influence and company of the spirit.
The “even one” reminder triggered a memory for me of the speech, Pure Religion, that Don R. Clark gave at a BYU devotional in January of this year wherein he taught of an orphan who was the missionary companion of a young man from a traditional family. The family of the companion metaphysically adopted this orphan. They continued to write to him through his mission and beyond– retaining a relationship with him well into his adulthood and as he raised his own family. In other words, they made him a part of their family. It was disappointing that Counselor Esplin’s words were not better reflective of this kind of family— a family based on love rather than biology, but with some thought and application, the lesson here can be applicable to less than traditional families. Though counselor Esplin used quotes from President Uchtdorf to reinforce her thoughts, the quotes were less valuable to me than my own juxtaposition of Clark’s Pure Religion.
The real gem in Counsellor Esplin’s speech was the telling of a story of one of her ancestors, Elizabeth Staley Walker. According to Counselor Esplin, Elizabeth was from Switzerland, but migrated to the US and ended up working in an station that was close to the Nevada border. In this work, she was roused at all hours to cook and clean for passing travellers who often debated and debunked the mythology of Joseph Smith. With so much work, and so little personal time, she felt “isolated and alone.” She felt like she was not intellectual or strong enough to defend her belief in the Book of Mormon, but prayed as she worked, having no real space for personal prayer. Her family eventually moved, and with this improved opportunity, found that she had time for personal prayer. One night, she dreamed a vision. This vision was further solidified when she attended the dedication of the Salt Lake temple in the spring of 1893 and witnessed an image—probably of stained glass—that was just as she had seen in her vision. She said, “I feel satisfied that I had seen in a dream the Angel Moroni giving the plates to Joseph Smith.” It is beautiful that a Mormon woman has quoted another Mormon women’s dream. This adds credibility to the oft taught, but rarely quoted doctrinal belief that women have the privilege of being given visions and dreams that are inspired by the spirit, and are intended to lead and instruct us and those around us. Counselor Esplin then reminded us to “Hold on to whatever light and truth we have, especially in difficult circumstances.” This was in reference to the difficult circumstance of her ancestor, but also to her foresight to not “bury her testimony,” possibly meaning that this ancestor chose to record her vision to the benefit of her family—and us.
The problems in Counselor Esplin’s talk for me were all limited to the very traditional telling of what a family “should” be; but in applying some creative thinking, her words can be applied to many families—even those of us who are alone (family of one), pre or post-children, infertile, or orphaned. In understanding and applying her teaching that women receive spiritual visions, I desperately hope that she has opened the door for more women to feel comfortable to share revelation as it comes to us. In ending, she invited us to “Fill our hearts and home with the Saviour’s light and truth, we will have strength with withstand in every circumstance.” I think this was an empowering way to end her speech, and felt like even for those who feel as though they do not have a traditional Mormon home, we can still fill our hearts with light and truth– and more importantly, feel better welcome to share in the light, truth and possible visions we might have that testify of Christ.
What did you think of Counselor Esplin’s talk and the into video?