Meet Me at the Tree
I pressed forward in line heading for the sacred grounds of the temple while angry anti-Mormon protesters shouted hateful words, and church members fresh out of the Saturday afternoon session of conference honked and shouted hateful things. It was like something out of a dream. In fact, it felt much like a dream I had spent my whole youth learning about, never fully understanding.
I used to understand Lehi’s dream of the tree of life to be about the church vs. the world. We as members of the church hold onto the word of God and press forward toward the tree of life and its delicious fruit, the love of God, while people outside the church mock us from the great and spacious building. Never did I think that as I pressed forward, holding onto what I feel very strongly is the word of God, that I would be mocked by members of my own church. Like Lehi, I have tasted a fruit “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.” It is a fruit that represents our Heavenly Parent’s love for all their children, and their desire for us to truly be equal. But when I turned back to tell others about this fruit, they did not want to join me in partaking of it. Some, instead of coming to the tree with me have mocked and ridiculed me for doing so. This pointing fingers and derisive mocking has become intolerable over the last few months.
As a member of Ordain Women I can’t say that I have always remained at the tree of life either during this journey. I came to Ordain Women because of some powerful spiritual experiences that left me with a greater capacity to love and to understand God’s love. But, just like the people in Lehi’s dream, I have had moments when I cast my eyes about and wandered away from that love to a great and spacious building where I didn’t intend to understand the person I was contending with. We are all prone to have moments when we are partaking of the love of God and other moments when we are the ones in the great and spacious building, mocking others who are partaking of the love of God in their way. It’s not black and white. It’s not church members vs. the world. As a church, we do not hold a monopoly on the tree of life and we are not immune from the great and spacious building.
The thing I find most tragic is those who wander the pathways lost and alone, all because the mocking of others caused them to doubt that the fruit they were tasting was really good. Instead of judging others and causing them to second-guess and lose their way, I think we need to carefully consider at all times, where we are on the spectrum of Lehi’s dream. Are we partaking of the love of God, or are we being critical of someone we disagree with because we can’t see things from her perspective? As a member of Ordain Women, I have experienced a lot of loss and pain from those who chose to remain above me and criticize, mock, shun, call me to repentance and judge me from a place where they couldn’t see or understand my heart. But I have also been blessed with friends and family who have met me at the tree of life and said, I don’t fully understand, but I love you and I am trying to understand. It is the love and support from these friends that keeps me rooted at the tree of life instead of falling away into dark paths or joining the critics in the great and spacious building with negativity and angry words.
The reason the great and spacious building is up in the air, far from the tree of life, is that misunderstanding is easier to achieve from a distance. It is easy to criticize and point fingers when we can’t even see the fruit that someone is tasting. That’s when it is time to come down and share in God’s love with those we don’t understand. Nephi was told by the angel that the tree of life represented the condescension of God. Christ came down among us. He descended below everything and experienced everything so that he could understand us perfectly and love us perfectly. He had to come to where we are at and experience what we experience before he could gain that perfect love. That is the condescension of God and that is the love represented by the tree of life. If we follow his example, then we must also come down from our floating buildings that make us think we are above others. We have to come down to a level where we can fully understand others, just as Christ did. I don’t think this means that we all have to agree on everything. But we do have to do our best to fully understand each other without judgment. We have to let go of our need to be right or to be better, in order to love.
So to my fellow Mormon feminists who have tasted of the same precious fruit I have, I know that the last few months have been rough. I don’t know about you, but it has been hard for me to remain at the tree. I have found myself wandering up to the great and spacious building or becoming lost in the dark paths. Let’s meet back at the tree and partake of that great love that once consumed us. And to my fellow Mormon sisters and brothers, please meet us there. Even if we disagree, it’s better to do so together at the tree of life. I still have a great desire to share with other members of the church, the precious fruit of divine love that I have found in the concept of female ordination and in agitating for it through Ordain Women. At the very least, I hope we can stand together at the tree of life and share in the fruits of love, instead of pointing fingers from a place where understanding isn’t possible. In choosing to meet at the tree of life, we are choosing to love, even if we disagree.