Poetry Sunday: My prayers must meet a brazen Heaven

This poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins beautifully expresses a worry that we all might feel at some point in our lives — that our prayers are ineffective or unable to meet God’s ears, barred by a brazen heaven. In this case brazen = brass, not bold.  The speaker hints at his/her shortcomings: the prayers being inadequate and any attempts to transcend the problem by calling for God’s help will automatically fail because the messages can’t get through to a brass heaven anyway!

Like Enos who “wrestled before God,” the speaker describes prayer as a battle, heaven as brass and him/herself as clay with too much iron to be malleable.  To some, this is uncharted territory. For others, a familiar journey. Let’s be kind to each other, wherever we are.

My Prayers must meet a Brazen Heaven — Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Dear Sister Sassy: Raising a Stripling Warrior


Sister Sassy is the Exponent’s resident Agony Aunt, answering all your pressing questions and dispensing wisdom from her pedestal.  To see other sterling examples of her guidance, see past posts here and here.

Dear Sister Sassy,

I’m expecting a boy, my first, in a few months. What advice do you have for raising a future priesthood holder?

                                                                         Mummy in Muncie

Dear Mummy,

May I be the first to congratulate you on fulfilling the measure of your creation? Finally you’re compensating for all your earthly failures. There are several important steps you can take right from the beginning to prepare your son to preside righteously.

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Re-envisioning my garments


CW: brief mention of a suicide attempt

A few months ago, my garments were causing me all sorts of angst. I hated the way they looked, the way they felt, and I felt like I was constantly tugging at them; I was always pulling here and tucking there. They never seemed to fit right, and they were also causing minor hygiene issues that I won’t go into. In addition to the practical discomforts, they also seemed to symbolize both the gender-imbalanced covenants in the temple, as well as how much the institutional church was involved in every minor detail in my life, both of which were a source of resentment to me. I already had other major sources of stress in my life, and my garments were quickly becoming the push that would send me over the edge. I would go to put them on every day and have a physical reaction: some days, I would get nauseated just thinking about them, and many days, I burst into tears as I got dressed. I hated them so much, and I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my feelings towards my garments with the temple covenant I had made to wear them throughout my life (that I fully intended to keep). How could I make my garments meaningful instead of a source of anxiety?

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Bicycling in the Women’s Exponent

This week, I started reading Our Bodies, Our Bikes and found a quote from 1885 I hadn’t seen before, though it must be somewhat well-known as it’s quoted in the April 1985 Friend magazine in an article on the history of the bicycle.

The mere act of riding a bicycle is not in itself sinful and if it is the only means of reaching the church on a Sunday, it may be excusable.

This made me wonder if the bicycle was a hot topic in Mormonism, so I checked if it was mentioned in the original Women’s Exponent. And it was. Four times.

Chronologically, the first time “bicycle” was mentioned was in the June 15, 1892 issue, in an article written by someone with the initials “AWC.” She had gone on a trip to Heidelberg and wrote an article titled “A Day in Heidelberg” describing her experience. Her bicycle quote:

The city streets are narrow and crooked, the buildings tall and old and dark, and so shading the streets that it is positive relief to enter the principal promenade, the Anlage where the walks and drives are broader, and there among the border shrubs and trees are pretty rustic seats where one can watch the fashionable ladies ,the children with their nurses, the pretty girls with their staid chaperones, and the gaily attired students strolling, riding, bicycle riding.

The next time “bicycle” is mentioned is in the July 15, 1894 issue, in an article titled Saltair: A Famous Pleasure Resort about an “Old Folks Day” event held there. The editor states, “The Bicycle drill was a genuine amusement, and everybody enjoyed it immensely, judging from the vociferous applause.” I’m not sure what a “Bicycle Drill” consisted of. I’m guessing it’s some sort of race, but if anyone knows better, please share!

Also, that year, the “Miscellaneous” section of the September 1 issue, mentioned the bicycle. The “Miscellaneous” articles in each issue shared current news. This time the section included this:

Miss WILLARD and Miss Gordon returned to “The Eagle’s Nest” chalet, in the Catskill Mountains, July 27, where they will have two stenographers, and continue their work for the W. C. T. U. Miss Willard is to complete her “Handbook of History and Methods,” her booklet on “How I Learned the Bicycle, with reflections by the Way,” and, besides preparing her annual address, she will send out leaflets and articles for the press, and will write an editorial each week for the Union Signal, the organ of the White Ribbon movement.

Here, the Miss Willard is Frances Willard, a suffragist who founded the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W. C. T. U., above), which was symbolized by a white ribbon. Her friend, secretary, and biographer, Anna Adams Gordon later became the president of the WCTU.

The final mention of the bicycle in the Women’s Exponent comes from Elsie Ada Faust’s address from the Alumni Banquet at the University of Utah. Her speech was published in the February 15, 1897 issue of the Women’s Exponent and was titled, “The New Woman.” In it, she outlined what “the New Woman” is like and addressing the concerns that women were becoming “too independent” with treasures such as,

Writers and speakers have been so busy separating the sexes and theoretically endowing each with separate elements of character that they have not had time to see (and the misunderstanding of this subject depends largely on the lack of seeing) that there is no difference, for if we look well we will find that all the vanities and faults supposed to be wholly feminine may be found just as often in man as in woman; and all the noble traits and attributes of which men have assumed a monopoly appear just as often in woman.

I really want to share the whole address, but you can find it in the link above. She uses the bicycle as a metaphor in the next section:

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

Woman with bicycle wearing bicycling costume, c1895., Library of Congress

The new woman, or rather woman in her new light, does not look down on her fellow man as is commonly supposed; not at all, for she knows however short he may fall below the ideal, she may not do any better. And you will find, though bicycle mounted, with her voluminous sleeves set to the breezes, she will not take more than her half of the road. All she asks is equal start and privileges down the race of life.

Victorian opinions on bicycles varied greatly, but it seems that Victorian Mormonism looked on bicycling positively. If you are interested in a great book on the intersection of first wave feminism and advent of the bicycle, check out Wheels of Change.


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Beginning Conversations with Children about Pornography

I didn’t think about pornography much as a teenager or young adult. It was difficult to find when I was growing up. Internet browsers weren’t around (really) when I living in my parents’ home, and I liked to keep rules…no way I was going to look at someone’s yucky magazines.

I was well into my 20’s at my first exposure to pornography. The more I talk to others, the more I realize how rare that is. An innocent search of the comic book characters, X-Men, can shock a poor 10-year-old, and the misspelling of “boobs,” may be all that protects a curious 7-year-old. (“We just couldn’t figure out why there were like 10 entries in the search engine for “big bob.” Who is Big Bob?!)

So, I’ve had hard time figuring out where and when I start to teach my children about avoiding pornography and what to do when they see it. But, more importantly, how do I help them not feel shame, thus making it more likely for them to hide it?

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Book Review: First Principles and Ordinances

First Principles

Samuel Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple is not a very big book, but it took me a big time to read, and a bigger time to think about. This is in part, because I could only read in little bursts of time confetti, one page here, three pages there, on walks to the water with my daughter, or at the nearby park. But, there is a another important part: it’s pages contain multitudes. For me, this meant that it benefited from a slow read, and also that every time I turned to its pages, I felt better–not just about Mormonism, which I might have expected, but about marriage, relationships, and community, which I didn’t quite expect.

It helps to know that First Principles and Ordinances is the second book in Neal A. Maxwell Institute’s “Living Faith” series, with Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon being the first, Steven L. Peck’s Evolving Faith, being the third, and Patrick Q. Mason’s, Plantedbeing the fourth. (If you, like I, noticed that there are as of yet no female authors, take heart, and please consider submitting something. It is a matter the Maxwell Institute is very much aware of, and very much would like to change.)

In this series, each author approaches a matter of faith personally and professionally, meaning that they write both from their life of faith and their life of scholarship, making it a clear and worthwhile attempt at Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding.”

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Relief Society Lesson 19: Leadership

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

This Relief Society lesson which can be found here can be an empowering discussion about how to strengthen our leadership abilities as women.  I would start this lesson by asking the sisters to think about times in their lives when they have been leaders and to contemplate what it was that made them a leader.  Was their leadership effective or powerful?  What qualities helped them to be powerful?

You might share a personal experience to help them to begin the process of self-inquiry.  Last spring I had an experience with my son in which I needed to step up as a leader.  My kids and I were visiting my parents at their home while I was doing some training to become a licensed yoga instructor.  One morning my son was playing the wii and accidently threw the remote control into my parent’s big screen tv, shattering the screen.  When I came upstairs I could feel the charged emotions.  My parents were in shock and didn’t know what to do.  My son looked like his heart was shattered along with the tv screen.  My first thought was that I wanted someone else to take charge of this one, but the mantle of leadership fell to me as the parent.  I had spent all weekend in training, learning how to be a powerful leader.  I had learned how to keep my feelings neutral in order to neutralize the charged emotions of others.  I sat down with my son and talked to him about how this was a big deal and it was going to cost a lot of money to fix.  But I told him that I loved him more than I loved the money or the tv.  I told him that mistakes happen, that there is nothing we can do about it now other than to move forward, and make efforts to be sure it doesn’t happen in the future.  I also shared with him some big expensive mistakes I had made in my life too, like breaking grandma’s car.  I could see the relief flood over him.

My ability to be a leader at a moment when I wanted to scream at my son or hide in my room, came from love, as well as spiritual strength that I had built up through twenty-five hours of yoga training over the course of the weekend.  My ability to be a leader at that moment empowered me to change a bad situation into positive one.  I found that I had power to influence everyone involved.  At this point I would write the words “Love,” and “Spiritual Strength” on the board and ask for more suggestions of qualities that make up powerful leadership.  Some qualities suggested by this lesson are: humility, spiritual strength, knowledge, loyalty, unity, love, and delegation.

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