Sacred Music: Simple Song

I had the opportunity to sing in the chorus for a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS when I was a senior in high school. As a young person I had no idea what a big deal this was–Bernstein’s MASS is hugely controversial and rarely performed because of its enormity. And while this was all lost on me, I found that the music spoke to a part of me that I could not articulate. This piece of music and theater is joyful in its celebration of life and God. But MASS does not shy away from the cognitive dissonance of an ostensibly loving God and the reality human anguish. Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of MASS is its unapologetic confrontation of God.

As a good Mormon girl, both the music and text were mind blowing to me, I had no idea that you could approach God with such dissonance. But MASS also spoke truth to my soul. Somehow I knew that any god worth worshipping was also vital enough to withstand my questions and sometimes anger.

The piece which I have highlighted here, Simple Song, is at the very beginning of the MASS. It is sung by the celebrant who begins the piece with a simple and pure faith but struggles to maintain his faith as he becomes more aware of the suffering, corruption and evil around him. I feel like my own testimony has taken a similar journey. When I performed the MASS as a young woman my faith was also simple but since that time I have gone through a long dark night of the soul. It has been difficult to reconcile my early faith and spiritual experiences with the perceived absence of God from my life. I have spent years being angry that despite my efforts, God was silent.

I have found recently, however, that my simple faith is returning. I am not blind to the hardships of mortality but I also feel as though my decade long  struggle with God has softened, not scarred, my heart. In that place of rawness a feeling of gratitude has sprouted. I may never have the powerful faith that we as Mormons are expected to have but I am finding joy in lifting up my eyes to the God.

For the Lord is my shade.

All of my days.

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An (Out)Burst

Three Sundays ago in Relief Society we had lesson 1 in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. It was the lesson on Heavenly Father. I had  ended up on the front row with my knitting and my baby. The first discussion in the class included listing the traits of God on the board. I sat there wondering if I had something to add while everyone else put up all the phrases  I was already thinking about: all the omni-stuff, loving, merciful, etc. And then,

“Male.”

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Relief Society Lesson 1: Our Father in Heaven

Relief Society Lesson 1: Our Father in Heaven
credit: NASA/JPL

credit: NASA/JPL

In the Book of Mormon, Alma debated Korihor about the existence of God:

Alma 30:43-44

43 And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me aasign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.

44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of aall these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the bearth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its dmotion, yea, and also all theeplanets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.

What strengthens your testimony of God?

From the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith

While Alma’s knowledge of science added to his testimony of God, Joseph Fielding Smith observed that the increased scientific knowledge we enjoy today does not always have the same effect:

Great progress has been made in mechanics, chemistry, physics, surgery, and other things. Men have built great telescopes that have brought the hidden galaxies to view. They have, by the aid of the microscope, discovered vast worlds of microorganisms. … They have discovered means to control disease. … They have invented machines more sensitive than the human touch, more far-seeing than the human eye. They have controlled elements and made machinery that can move mountains, and many other things have they done too numerous to mention… All of these discoveries and inventions have not drawn men nearer to God! 1

Joseph Fielding Smith taught that science is inadequate to learn about God:

We know that God is known only by revelation, that he stands revealed or remains forever unknown. We must go to the scriptures—not to the scientists or philosophers—if we are to learn the truth about Deity.

For some, believing in God comes naturally.  For others, it is a struggle.  As we discuss faith in God, it is important not to let the discussion turn to vilifying atheists and agnostics.  The scriptures teach that a testimony is a spiritual gift and not all people receive the same spiritual gifts.

D&C 46:11-14

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man [and woman] is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

13 To some it is given by the aHoly Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to abelieve on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

While we may not all be blessed with the spiritual gift of a testimony of God, this revelation encourages us to “seek ye earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46: 8).

Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., Joseph Fielding Smith’s grandson, reported that Smith’s “…prayers were always very personal—as if talking to a friend.”2

What do you think leads a person to be able to pray to God “as if talking to a friend”? How might we “seek earnestly” to strengthen our relationships with God?

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Young Women Lesson: How Can I Find Solutions to My Challenges and Problems?

You Are Enough, Vicki JohnsonThe overall theme in November is “self reliance.” Spunky did an excellent introduction last week here, and you can look up the Aaronic priesthood lessons here; they have additional ideas that I thought were helpful for the Young Women.

When I was in high school, I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Self Reliance.” That essay gave me confidence and made me feel like I was capable of handling anything that came my way. I was determined to be self-reliant. So, I would start with my favorite part of the essay:

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great women and men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now women and men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

I would begin by asking the class,
What does this quote mean to you?

Self-reliance is difficult to obtain, especially in the face of trials and the unknown, but as individuals who believe in the importance of free agency, it is vital that we study and gain the faith we need to be able to make big decisions as we face challenges in our lives.

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Young Women Lesson: How Can I Develop Christlike Love?

As I was reading through October’s lessons, I was very excited about the focus on Christ and love. The lessons on the Come Follow Me website are very good. In this lesson, I tried to get away from the cerebral aspects of “we need to love everyone” and go into the “how” to love everyone.

Washing of Feet

Lesson Prep/Intro

The week before the lesson, I think it would be good to ask the students to spend time thinking of their favorite story of Jesus. You could ask some of the older girls who studied New Testament last year in seminary to share a story they learned about that was important to them to share with the younger girls, or you could ask everyone to spend some time reading in the Gospels this week in their personal study. Then when you start class, you could ask each to share the story they picked and write it on the board in a list.

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