Thursday, December 28, 2006

Power, Freedom, and Grace

I picked up the book "Power, Freedom, and Grace" by Deepak Chopra recently to read as part of my spiritual triathlon readings and meditations. It seemed the "right book" to meditate upon when I read these words in the first chapter:

There is a reason why you were drawn to this book. Perhaps your soul is extending an invitation to you--an invitation to get in touch with the deepest part of yourself.

Reading this small volume has indeed been enlightening. There are several sections which have brought back experiences I needed to remember and write down. For example, here is one of the quotes I encountered.

...the real you--that you that we call pure consciousness, the field of intelligence, the inner self, the soul, the spirit, the infinite consciousness, the Being within you...If you get in touch with this presence, if you really become intimate with it because it's your own inner self, then you will know experientially, without anybody telling you, that this presence was there before you were born, and it will be there after you die.

Before I joined the Church I had concluded that there was some part of my essence which had always existed and I couldn't imagine that it would ever cease to exist. That is why the teachings on the premortal existence of spirits resonated so much. Sometimes I wonder if LDS who are taught this from an early age have an advantage or a disadvantage. It could be a disadvantage if it keeps one from gaining the experiential knowledge of one's own soul of which Chopra speaks. On the other hand, the teaching could encourage the search for a more intimate knowledge of the inner self.

Slowly, by spending time in silence, you notice that the scenery comes and goes, but the seer is always there. You realize that you are not the scenery; you are the seer, the witness of the scenery. As you shift your
identity from the scenery to the seer, everything starts to slowly awaken. You glimpse the soul, and you begin to experience more expansive states of consciousness...

I experienced this one time in the temple. I had arrived and finished the session early in the morning. I sat in the celestial room for quite a while, until the next session came through and left. And still I sat as time began to have no meaning. Two more sessions came and went, and I observed, detatched. People seemed to enter the room, move about, and exit hundreds of times. Then there would be a space of rest and contemplation. I seemed to see temple work being done over a period of many years, in many different places around the world. My being seemed to be above it all and disconnected from time and space.

In my conversion, one of the great appeals of Mormonism was the mystical experience of a living prophet, and the promise that each member could receive personal revelation. Years of experience in the Church have taught me that these manifestations must remain personal. Following commandments and the performance of good works are emphasized in talks, lessons and publications. It's not that we don't believe in personal encounters with Deity, rather, they are inappropriate to discuss publicly. Unfortunately, I have allowed the mystical to be relegated to the background of my spiritual life.

I do believe that the praxis of religion is important to the development of the soul, and I don't intend to deemphasize this aspect. But perhaps there is a reason I am being drawn back to the transcendental facet of religion. Perhaps my soul is extending an invitation to get in touch with the deepest part of myself.

The Baptism Blues

My youngest child turned eight this week. I'm not having the Baptism Blues because they grow up so fast, etc, etc. No, my angst stems from the fact that she is the first of my chilies to be baptized in Utah...and have a Stake Baptism! I first attended one of these illustrious events last year when I was asked to direct the music. I really was taken aback by the impersonal nature of the affair. In the mission field, baptisms are very intimate. Family, friends and ward members gather to celebrate this special rite of passage. The day of the baptism can be scheduled on the child's exact birthday, if desired. The eight-year-old often picks the music and the speakers. Mothers make refreshments. Siblings give prayers or lead the music. Talks are given directly to the child. In contrast, the Stake Baptism I attended was huge. The entire chapel was filled to overflowing. Children were called out of the chapel by wards to go into the baptismal font area. It seemed like a cattle call.

I'm really trying to have a good attitude toward this, so my baby girl will have happy memories. But I miss being out in the "mission field," and the precious experiences that all of our baptisms were.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Last Ten Years

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I enjoyed reading about Connor’s last ten Decembers, and thought I’d treat you to the same. I did pretty well at remembering, not because I have kept a journal every year, but there are always the yearly Christmas letters to look back on!

Dec 2005
First Christmas in Vernal. We tried to make it through Dec without turning on the heat. Many families in town were using their wood burning stoves and keeping themselves nice and toasty. After a most cruel and unusual punishment to the family, we turned the heat on 80 degrees and left it there until June 1.

Dec 2004
Houston, Texas. Christmas Eve we went to eat at Wings and More, where our daughter was working, so we could all be together as a family. That evening it actually snowed for about 15 minutes. (Houston had not seen snow for 10 years.) We all went outside and danced in it. Three of my children were wearing flip-flops.

Dec 2003
Houston. Attended the Ward Party and ate a cranberry jello salad prepared by a native Texan which had jalapeno peppers in it. Ouch!

Dec 2002
Houston. Spent the entire vacation recovering from teaching Early-morning Seminary. Sat in front of the computer in PJs and slippers, searching the internet for genealogy finds. (Connor: 20 year anniversary of returning from the mish! I also got back in Dec.)

Dec 2001
Houston. Began serious study of Hebrew, started a study group on Isaiah with 7 other Mormon housewives, started writing a book on Isaiah. (still working on it!)

Dec 2000
First Christmas in Houston. Turned 40 in November. Growing up, I always thought I’d be alive in the year 2000, but that I would be Really, Really Old.

Dec 1999
Calexico, CA. Took Christmas pictures in our backyard. Tried to make the kids wear cute little Christmas sweatshirts. They sweat their brains out, cried, took off all their clothes, did not smile for the picture.

Dec 1998
Calexico, CA. Birth of my eighth child on Dec 22. Came home from the hospital Christmas morning. Seven children were waiting around the tree for us to come home so they could open presents. Opened the door to a great cheer!

Dec 1997
Calexico, CA. Drove 30 miles on Sunday evenings to participate in the Master Chorale. Put on a big Madrigal Feaste production in which myself and my older girls were involved. Had to repent of cursing done while I was sewing 5 elaborate medieval outfits.

Dec 1996
First Christmas in Calexico. Still in recovery from living on a graduate fellowship for 3 years when DH went back to school for his doctorate. Purchased Christmas presents of underwear, socks, jeans, none of which had been replaced for 3 years.

Fighting at School and Abroad

This was originally posted at Exponent 2. Go there to read the comments that were made.

As the Christmas season progresses, some liberals have been asking why Americans tend to get involved in war so easily. Yesterday the answer became very clear to me: we teach our little ones to fight. I was attending a Christmas luncheon with several sweet middle-class ladies from the neighborhood when the subject of fighting in school came up. Nice Mormon lady #1 said, “I teach my kids not to ever provoke a fight, but if someone picks on them, they should beat the heck out of ‘em.” I wasn’t exactly shocked to hear this, because the very same attitude has become all too prevalent in American society. I listened carefully to hear the reactions to her comment. All of the nice Mormon ladies in the room agreed that their child should hit back.

I differ a bit in my approach to a school fighting situation. I tell my children to walk away! Tell the teacher! Come home and report the incident to your parents so they can call and have a civil discussion with the perpetrator’s parents! Wasn’t this what your parents taught you? Wasn’t this what Christ taught?

No wonder Americans feel that if they haven’t started the fight, they are perfectly justified in jumping into the fray. They’ve been taught this by their mommies. Like Helaman’s warriors, mothers’ teachings have a great influence. Americans in general and Mormons in particular are especially driven by an internal mandate to keep the world safe for democracy.

I have a suggestion. Instead of sending soldiers with camouflage uniforms and guns over to other countries to “keep the peace” and help set up governments, let’s send over politicians. With briefcases and palm pilots. They can help keep the peace. They can teach principles of politics and government. Send over as many politicians as we have troops. They can walk the streets of Baghdad teaching little children how to set up email accounts. If there aren’t enough politicians, send the young business students in their three-piece suits over to campaign for capitalism.

This Christmas season, I send out a plea. Teach your children not to play with guns. Don’t give your teenager a hunting rifle for Christmas. Model conflict-resolving skills. Read to them about peace and humanitarianism. Preach Christ’s teachings of turning the other cheek. Yes, we must take action to keep our homes, families, and society safe. But let not these actions involve violence. Teach the children not to hit back.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Good Neighbor Award

It's snowing in Vernal! We just got back from a big swim meet in SLC, the light was fading from the sky, and the driveway was completely covered with the white stuff! I grabbed the kids and a couple of shovels and we started in on it. It's a really long, wide drive, with a circular part, and it can take an hour and a half to finish. We'd barely started, when Brother Wilson came roaring into the drive in his little tractor with a snowplow attached. Like a maniac, he scooted up and down as we grabbed the little one (who was making snow angels in the middle of the driveway) and moved out of his way. Five minutes later, he was on his way to the next driveway, and so on down the street.

Good neighbor award to Brother Wilson today!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Giving in to Peer Pressure

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I post this Christmas meme at the risk of boring myself and everyone who visits here to death. I would much rather be discussing problematic doctrines. But I can't resist doing anything Jana tells me to do!

1. Eggnog or hot chocolate? Eggnog. And Hot Chocolate. And another cup of each. And one more for the road.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just put them under the tree? He wraps them. But first (s)he has to get all eight children to bed. On Christmas Eve. So (s)he is very, very tired when (s)he finally gets them all wrapped, and sometimes might turn into a bit of a Grinch on Christmas morning.

3. Colored lights on the tree, or white? Colored some years. White some years. This year it's white, to go with the 50 angels on the tree.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope. Too many teenaged girls in the house.

5. When do you put your decorations up? On a Monday night, sometime after Thanksgiving.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Ham, homemade rolls, and jello, jello, jello. I love all the different jello dishes at the Ward party. See? there really is a TBM hiding deep down inside.

7. What's a favorite holiday memory from your childhood? Going out for pizza every Christmas Eve and then attending the midnight Christmas candlelight service.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? My parents always told the truth about Santa. He was just a fun part of the celebration. I tell my children the same thing, but they refuse to believe me.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yes. It is always the present from the Swedish side of the family. Family tradition has it that the Swedes open all their gifts Christmas Eve.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? One year I framed all the family picture Christmas cards I had saved over the years and hung them on the tree with big red ribbons. This year I have lots and lots of angels.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? Snow is something you only love up to a certain age. I have now reached that age.

12. Can you ice skate? I went last year with my Cub Scouts. I pulled them around for 3 hours and did not injure myself!

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? When I was 16 and my dad took me and a selected group of friends to see "Jesus Christ Superstar."

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Hearing from everyone I have lost touch with over the years, Christmas caroling and concerts.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Homemade fudge.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Our family Christmas Nativity program on Christmas Eve.

17. What tops your tree? An angel. But when I was growing up we had a light spinner that threw colored light all across the room. I wish I could find one.

18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving? I don't like giving or receiving. I like the "doing" part of Christmas--caroling, going to parties, decorating, etc.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Everything from Handel's Messiah, especially the Hallelujah Chorus and He Shall Feed His Flock. Also like "Emmanuel" by Amy Grant. I listen to Christmas music all season long.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck! Peppermint stick ice cream though, is a different story.

Now tell me the truth. Did any of you actually read this?

The Virgin Birth

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Yesterday the Narrator shared with us a paper for his Mormon Theology class entitled, “What do we Really Really Believe—Facing Harder Issues.” I thought the paper was quite fascinating. I became interested in one of the examples in which Robert Millet teaches a woman what Mormons “really believe” about the Virgin Birth of Christ:

After the meeting an LDS woman came up to me [Robert Millet] and said: “You didn’t tell the truth about what we believe!” Startled, I asked: “What do you mean?” She responded: “You said we believe in the virgin birth of Christ, and you know very well that we don’t believe that.” “Yes we do,” I retorted . . . “I’m aware of [the teaching that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary], but that is not the doctrine of the Church; that is not what we teach in the Church today. Have you ever heard the Brethren teach it in conference? Is it in the standard works, the curricular materials, or the handbooks of the Church? Is it a part of an official declaration or proclamation?”

Millet’s point (at least expounded by the Narrator) is that true Mormon Doctrine has “sticking power,” and if it isn’t taught in the Church today, it isn’t what we “really, really believe.” According to Millet, “True Doctrine. . . is taught and discussed and perpetuated over time.” A belief is ‘unstuck’ as “falsehood and error [are] eventually. . . detected and dismissed” by Church leaders.
This was the first time that I had heard that the Father being the literal parent of Christ was being downplayed in the Church. So I did a little poking around to see just what kind of “sticking power” this teaching had. Here are a few things I found:

The birth of the Savior was as natural as are the births of our children; it was
the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood- was begotten of
his Father, as we are of our fathers. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses,

The fleshly body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of Husband and Wife; hence the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father: we use the term lawful Wife, because it would be blasphemous in the highest degree to say that He overshadowed her or begat the Savior unlawfully... Inasmuch as God was the first husband to her, it may be that He only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in the mortal state, and that He intended after the resurrection to again take her as one of his own wives to raise up immortal spirits in eternity. (Orson Pratt, The Seer, page 158)

They tell us the Book of Mormon states that Jesus was begotten of the Holy Ghost. I challenge that statement. The Book of Mormon teaches No Such Thing! Neither does the Bible...Christ was begotten of God. He was NOT born without the aid of man and that man was God! Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1:18)

I likewise believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ. With all my soul I believe in him, and I put my hope of peace in this life and of exaltation and happiness in the life to come in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe he was a Son of God in the same sense that we were sons and daughters of God in the spirit, and I believe that he was and is the Son of God in the flesh. I do not believe that Joseph was the father of Jesus Christ, although I do believe that he was a good and great man. I believe that Mary was the mother of Jesus as my mother was my mother, and I believe that the father of Jesus Christ in the flesh was Elohim, my Eternal and Heavenly Father.” (Elder Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, April 1948, Second Day Morning Meeting, p.77)

God the Father is a perfected, glorified, holy Man, an immortal Personage. And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the son of God, and that designation means what it says. (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 742)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost" (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pg.7).

Thus, God the Father became the literal father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father. That is why he is called the Only Begotten Son." (Gospel Principles, pg.64).

For Latter-day Saints, the paternity of Jesus is not obscure. He was the literal, biological son of an immortal, tangible Father and Mary, a mortal woman (see Virgin Birth). Jesus is the only person born who deserves the title "the Only Begotten Son of God" (John 3:16; Benson, p. 3; see Jesus Christ: Only Begotten in the Flesh). He was not the son of the Holy Ghost; it was only through the Holy Ghost that the power of the Highest overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35; 1 Ne. 11:19). (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.2, Jesus Christ, Fatherhood And Sonship)

Talk about “sticking power!” God’s literal paternity of Jesus has been taught in the Church for 170 years. I found no evidence that this doctrine is now being dismissed by Church leaders. Has anyone heard anyone besides Robert Millet preach the Virgin Birth (other than our usual apologetic that she was technically a virgin because her relations with the Father were with an immortal being)? Have Mormons become ashamed of this teaching? I’d like to hear if this teaching bothers any of my readers, what in particular they are disturbed by, and whether they believe the Church is trying to effect a change.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

God is Love

I had the most amazing experience as I embarked on my “spiritual triathlon” training. The first day was inaugurated with a 20 minute meditation. I sat down in a sunny spot on my living room floor and crossed my legs. I had determined that I would meditate on the phrase “God is Love.” I resolved to keep it simple, and not to delve into the nature of Deity or my own shortcomings or anything too deep or depressing. So: God is Love, I thought. And immediately I felt a huge powerful sensation overwhelm me. This was no warm feeling in the bosom. I felt like I was having an orgasm inside of my chest. And it wasn’t the only peculiar reaction I was to experience. Since I am a P.E. major and (sometime) athlete, I am pretty familiar with my heart rate—I can tell when my heart is beating at the optimum rate for exercise. Well, the funny thing about me is that when my heart rate is slow I have a difficult time finding a pulse. I can only feel it after I’ve done a bit of exercise and my heart is pumping pretty fast. So in this meditation I start feeling my heart rate. It is thumping in my ears and my head—and it’s Really Slow! Like, abnormally slow. So I just sat and pondered about how God is Love and I’m pretty sure I connected with some type of force outside of myself which caused some strange sensations and physical reactions. And it had the result of making me feel very, very good about myself, in fact: I am loved. And the feelings I’ve encountered in the last few months when I’ve felt that I haven’t been loved are so much the opposite, dark, and heavy.
I found that I could only meditate for about 10 minutes before I lost control of my thoughts. I had to peek at the clock to see how long I’d been meditating. I stuck it out for the remaining 10 minutes and the feeling didn’t go away, but I had to really keep saying to myself, “God is Love,” instead of being immersed in it like I was at first. So I see that I’m “out of shape” spiritually and I’m expecting that it will probably get easier to do. But all day long I could revisit the mantra “God is Love,” and I got that powerful feeling to come back to me. Now I feel like I can relate to people who have had “ecstatic experiences” because ecstatic is really a great word for it. And I wish my writing was a whole lot better than it is because I want to be able to describe this experience sublimely and perfectly.

This writing thing is a lot more difficult than the meditation because I start to try to analyze and wonder if I should trust what happened or if it was just some kind of psycho-physical or depressive-manic thing. Especially putting it out there for people to read. I guess I’m sensitive to what people’s perceptions of me are, and I know I might look like a kook or idiot or people will wonder if it is all for real. But I guess it is part of taking off the mask. I’ve suspected for a long time that that real face of mine is just not going to fit in any which where.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Spiritual Triathlon

I've been thinking about offering a triathlon training class over at the Rec Center, so I was online checking out some of the suggested triathlon training schedules. The schedules for the sprint triathlons look something like this:

First Week:

Mon 40 min Bike
Tue 15 min Swim, 20 min Run
Wed off
Thu 35 min Bike
Fri 20 min Run
Sat 30 min Swim
Sun off

Then they get progressively more difficult for 16 weeks until you are ready for the race.

Suddenly I had a great idea for a personal training program: I would prepare for a Spiritual Triathlon! You know, the kind Enos did when he prayed in the forest all day and all night? The longest I've ever done something like this was when I did a contemplation for about 2 hours at Moon Lake one time. So, since I'm probably a bit out-of-shape, I put together a training program for myself for the next 16 weeks. It's going to start out pretty easy. I will concentrate on three areas.

1. Prayer/Meditation/Contemplation--I want to try several different forms
2. Reading--Scriptures and writings of Spiritual Seekers
3. Journaling--setting down of spiritual ideas into writing

This will be in addition to my(rather pitiful) regular prayer/scripture study time--which I must admit lasts no longer than 10 or 15 minutes before bed.

I'll push myself a little more each week until March 31st when hopefully it will get warm enough for me to go out into the mountains and do my Spiritual Triathlon. Here is my schedule for this week:

First Week:

Mon 20 min Meditate
Tue 30 min Write
Wed Temple
Thu 40 min Read
Fri 3o min Write
Sat 20 min Meditate
Sun Rest

I'm hoping that as I begin to meditate and write my reasons for doing this will become more clear and I will start to move in some kind of direction. Also, I hope to be directed in what I'm going to be doing out on the mountain all day! Anyway, it's my attempt to get myself going in some sort of positive direction. I haven't had much energy to do anything else of value, and this seems to be enticing to my spirit.