Linda Reeves began her talk with an anecdote of a recently baptized woman who walked through mud for two miles to get to church. In choosing to become a member, this woman gave up her boyfriend, was trying to live the Word of Wisdom, and quit her job which had her working on Sunday. Just as this woman would come to church and wash off all the mud from her clothes, the atonement cleansed her spiritually and physically.
I thought it was nice that Reeves began her talk with a woman’s experience. Since leaders rarely quote women leaders and since most scriptural references allude to men rather than women, it’s a good thing to get women’s experiences and voices into these talks in some fashion. Using anecdotes of women she has met through her positions in the Relief Society is one good strategy.
I also liked that this anecdote (and other remarks she made later) acknowledged the messiness of life. This woman’s life in the above anecdote wasn’t easy or neat. Women whose hearts have been broken because of betrayals and covenant breaking of those around them don’t have easy times, as Reeves acknowledged. I think acknowledging messiness and suffering is a wise move, since talks that focus purely on the joy the gospel or families or what have you strike me as unrealistic.
That said, as my friend pointed out to me afterwards, I do think we have to be careful about suffering rhetoric. Mormons tend to romanticize suffering a bit with the idea that suffering brings us closer to God. Reeves touched a bit on this in her talk. I believe that this is a valid perspective, and I can see how it would be true for many people. But I also think that it might be fruitful to conceptualize suffering in less positive ways, as something that God does not want anyone to have to endure. Such a conception might compel us to work more passionately for a world with less suffering in it.
Her talk, like the others, touched quite a bit on covenant making and keeping. I can see how this topic is overall a good one, since it revolves around women’s personal relationships with God. As someone, however, who personally struggles mightily with the patriarchal nature of one particular covenant in the temple, a covenant that actually puts distance between a woman and God by inserting a middleman, I admit to feeling a bit of distance with some of the glowing covenant rhetoric used in this talk and others. I couldn’t help but wonder if others felt distanced by the focus on covenants as well. Temple covenants were certainly mentioned a number of times. Would that emphasis exclude those Mormons who don’t conceive of themselves as temple Mormons? Does it leave space for them to continue to find a place for themselves in the Church? Fortunately, baptismal covenants were also mentioned several times. Hopefully those members who are distanced from the temple for whatever reason could at least embrace the focus on baptismal covenants.
Towards the end of her talk, Reeves mentioned that women have a tendency to be critical of themselves, and she encouraged women to ask God if that is what God want them to think of themselves. I thought this was an important point. Obviously she was generalizing here a bit about women, but certainly, emphasizing that Jesus wants to build us up, not tear us down, is a nice note to end on.
What did you think of Linda Reeves’ talk?