Answers and Mysteries

young-woman-praying-318901-gallery

Answers and Mysteries

When we do not understand or we chafe at something, the answer is not to abandon our faith and set ourselves adrift on the stormy seas of eternal doubt, finding counterfeit comfort in the idea that there is no way ever to know anything for sure.

I am grateful for the answers we have in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spent my childhood in other Christian traditions, and there’s a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and contradiction out there. My experiences with other faiths and my questions about doctrine led me to a three-year search and eventual discovery of the Church when I was a teenager. Some Latter-day Saints might be surprised to discover that many answers they have been taught are, in other faiths, the basis of some difficult questions.

For example, if Christ requires all to be baptized in order to enter heaven (see John 3:3–5, “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he shall not enter the kingdom of God”), then what about all the people who have ever lived who have never had the opportunity to be baptized? Could God really be so unfair? You can’t say that Jesus didn’t mean what He said, can you? Because if you say that about one of His teachings, can you choose other teachings you think He didn’t mean and ignore them? (Those were among the questions I asked during my search. No one except the Latter-day Saints could give a satisfactory answer to that set of questions. To learn more, go to comeuntochrist.org.)

Because we in the Church have so many answers that are not known to Christianity in general, Latter-day Saints may neglect the mysterious and unknowable, and in that state of neglect can lack reverence and awe for the things of eternity. More specifically, we may be so comfortable with the idea that God is our Father and Jesus Christ is our Brother and Friend that perhaps we do not give Them enough glory, or sufficiently credit Their intelligence and plans.

This possible lack of recognition of and respect for the unknowable—of that which is glorious beyond our mortal capacity to understand—may lead us to gloss over the ambiguous or the complex. We may be impatient with symbols and unwilling to appreciate imagery in the scriptures and in the restored gospel. Some people say that the symbolic aspect of temple ceremonies came as a shock to their spiritual systems after years of logical and understandable church teachings. Similarly, people may be uncomfortable with and unwilling to study the imagery, layers of meaning, and other poetic and symbolic depths in the scriptures, as in the books of Isaiah and Revelation.  We may demand unambiguous answers at what we feel is the appropriate time (preferably right now, or last week).

Perhaps discomfort with ambiguity and complexity contributes to people’s frustration with the human ambiguities of past and present Church leaders, with complexities in Church history, or with doctrines and practices that have not yet been fully explained. There are some questions to which the answer is, “We don’t know (yet).” The lack of immediate answers can be the source of spiritual pain—but we can turn to God with that, as well.

How ironic, though, that people sometimes choose to abandon the Church because of their doubts and unanswered questions—and thereby set themselves adrift in a world where there are many more doubts and fewer answers than we have as members of the Church. In other faiths, in other  philosophies, and in the absence of faith there is so much less hope about how and when the answers to our questions can be revealed.

Our thoughts and ways are not yet eternal, as compared to God’s thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8–9). God is beyond us in progress; He is in a state of glory and being that our minds cannot fully understand. It doesn’t work both ways—He understands us; He wants to draw near us; as a mother cannot forget her child, He cannot and will not forget each of us (see Isaiah 49:15). We are His hope, His work and glory (Moses 1:39). Jesus Christ has engraved each of us on the palms of His hands (see Isaiah 49:16).

We need not stop trying to understand the mysteries or find answers to our questions. We can have faith that, although the process may take time (or eternity), when the answers become clear, they will be more comforting and satisfying than anything we can imagine now (1 Corinthians 2:9). When we do not understand or we chafe at something, the answer is not to abandon our faith and set ourselves adrift on the stormy seas of eternal doubt, finding counterfeit comfort in the idea that there is no way ever to know anything for sure. Instead, we can cast our minds back to those moments and matters where the Lord spoke peace to us (see Doctrine & Covenants 6:22–23) and keep firm hold on our places in the Good Ship Zion, even when we can’t see the heights and depths that compose or surround it—we can trust the Captain.[1]  We must indeed doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith,[2] and preserve a sense of wonder and respect for that which is glorious and unknowable among the plain truths and abundant answers of the revealed gospel.

After all, it wasn’t the content of my questions about Christian doctrine that was the most important aspect of my search for answers. That I had questions and was willing to look for the answers led to the most important revelation: that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s true Church, and I had found the church where I could be baptized (and much more than I could have anticipated on the summer day when I knelt to ask God if I had made the right decision and He answered, “YES!”). Faith is the first principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and sometimes faith means trusting in what we cannot know, placing our hope in a Savior who also hopes in us, and trusting the whispered spiritual evidence for what we do not see (see Hebrews 11:1). The answers in the Church are much more logical, and the mysteries more bearable, than the inscrutable vagueness of the questions flying through the winds that roar outside.

[1] See M. Russell Ballard, “God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, November 2015, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2015/10/god-is-at-the-helm?lang=eng

[2] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng

Eleven More Books About Poverty and Race in America—-A Privileged White Woman Continues to Try to Learn More

family-sitting-on-steps-306771-gallery

In August 2018, I posted reviews of ten books about poverty and race in the United States. Since then, I have read more books in this area, because, as I said then, “I am a privileged white girl who spent her childhood in segregated neighborhoods in Texas and California and has never had the opportunity to get to know many people of color, or to appreciate their history as part of our shared American story—beyond what I learned in school, which wasn’t much. These books have really opened my eyes (and made me so angry) about the struggles of the poor and of African Americans in the United States, especially since the end of the Civil War, when things were supposed to get better with the abolition of the evil institution of slavery, but did not.” I continue to feel sorrow, anger, and an ever-growing need and hope that somehow, someday, the horrible wounds of racism and injustice can be healed as we seek to build Zion. As the prophet Nephi taught in 2 Nephi 26:33:

[T]he Lord . . . doeth that which is good among the children of men; and . . . he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

Here is the latest reading list with my reviews as posted on goodreads.com

Real A Few Thousand Dollars

Robert E. Friedman, A Few Thousand Dollars: Sparking Prosperity for Everyone, 2018

This book makes the case for diminishing income inequality and giving everyone a chance to seek education, home ownership, and create a business. This would be funded through “Prosperity Accounts,” which every American would have the opportunity to create; their savings would be matched by the government in differing ratios depending on where they fall in the current range of asset holding (from a 3:1 match for those in the lowest quintile of assets to a 0:1 match for those with the abundant assets). We already construct our economy to favor some groups over others; we could restructure it to give more people an equal chance to survive and to build wealth. Previous such programs that effectively helped people create wealth, like the Homestead Act and the G.I. Bill, excluded people of color and women (in practice if not by law), and the differing ranges of matching funds would make up for some of that past discrimination, which has led to gross income inequality. We could pay for it by taxing capital gains as income, increasing the inheritance tax, changing the way we treat capital gains at death, and other measures that the author outlines in detail. These types of economic policies have greatly benefited the top 1% of Americans in terms of wealth and have left many of the rest struggling or hopeless. Pilot programs have already established that poor people will save and thrive when they have a meaningful chance to invest in themselves and their families. All it takes is a chance; a few thousand dollars.

Real real there are no children here

Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, 1991

This book tells the story of Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, two boys growing up in the “projects” of South Chicago. The author practically lived with the family for a couple of years, as well as doing interviews and research to fill in the blanks, and they let him into their lives to an amazing degree. The value of this book, as compared to books that report on broader aspects of the situations faced by the poor and African American people of the inner city, is that the reader becomes familiar with two boys in one family, their neighbors, and the particular circumstances of their lives, to an almost painful degree. The book was published in 1991, and things have not gotten any better, to my knowledge–the conditions in the high-rise public housing where the boys live with their mother, LaJoe, their triplet sisters, and an ever-changing cast of other relatives are horrific, all crammed into a three-bedroom apartment where very little works as it should. The drug trafficking and shootings nearby are so frequent that you forget that they are not the background noise of everyone’s life. The people in the book become individuals and not “those people”–although they are treated as one homogenous group of stereotypes by the city, the housing authority, the social service workers, the police, the juvenile justice authorities, and some schoolteachers and school personnel. The constant struggles not to lose the little they have, to maintain their capacity to feel love and nurture relationships in the family, and to keep some hope for the future are exhausting to them and depressing to the reader. Every bad thing that you can imagine and some you cannot seems to happen to these boys or someone they know, and the hopelessness of their circumstances is overwhelming, to the point where the point that brings the reader (although not the boys) to remember that there is loveliness in the world is the time, in their early teens, when they see for the first time–a rainbow.

Real can american capitalism survive

Steven Pearlstein, Can American Capitalism Survive? Why Greed Is Not Good, Opportunity is Not Equal, and Fairness Won’t Make Us Poor, 2018.

This excellent book not only outlines the problems with our economic system, but suggests how we can fix things. The title is a bit of a teaser. One of the author’s main points is the idea that corporations are to be managed with the goal of maximizing profits for shareholders and no other purpose has lead to or contributed to a lot of problems in the American economy and in society. That orientation is not legally required, and it exacerbates inequality and means that other stakeholders–the employees, the communities where the corporation is located, and so on–are not considered in business decisions, which has bad results. This philosophy and others are matters of societal choice and could be changed to lead to a better and higher standard for public policy in the United States.

Reall It's Not Like I'm Poor

Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Kathryn Edin, Laura Tach, & Jennifer Sykes, It’s Not Like I’m Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World, 2015

Another excellent book about how Americans are poor or barely getting by, researched and written by Kathryn Edin and her colleagues. All but the most difficult-to-obtain and uncommonly sought (even by the most desperate) cash welfare ended in 1996, despite the continuing and false stereotypes of lazy people taking advantage of the taxpayers. Now people are trying to get by on low-wage jobs and the cobbled-together possibility of other government benefits, none of which ever add up to nearly enough to live on. This book is persuasive about the importance of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and the policy suggestions that the authors make at the end of the book are worth exploring and implementing. A great example of how to do research in the social sciences, as well as allowing the reader to share the experiences of the subjects, who are treated with respect and compassion.

Real $2.00 a Day

Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaffer, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, 2015.

This wrenching book details the effects of the 1996 welfare reform on families who now have no access to cash assistance and so are forced to go hungry, live in squalid conditions, and other circumstances that should never be the case. The story is told through the lives of families the authors interviewed in depth as well as social science research. People who want to work and are doing everything they can to feed, clothe, and house their families are unable to do so in a welfare scheme that is based on employment when jobs are unavailable or do not pay a living wage. Children are going hungry and suffering in many other ways. To alleviate these terrible situations, we should (1) raise the minimum wage, (2) require employers to post employee schedules at least three weeks in advance, (3) require employers to guarantee a number of hours for their full- and part-time workers, (5) increase housing security and find ways to discourage predatory practices on the part of landlords (see the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond for more about these), and (6) advertise the availability of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and reverse state practices of low funding and discouraging application practices for this emergency cash fund. An increase in and broadening of the availability of the Earned Income Tax Credit would also be very helpful. Many people are struggling in the current situation; this should not be happening.

Real White Rage

Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, 2016

This book summarizes the undermining of attempts at racial equality in America, by white politicians, judges, citizens, and others who just haven’t been able to get through their heads and hearts that African Americans are people, just as they are. Beginning with Reconstruction and Jim Crow (with the practices and laws that terrorized black Americans in the South, led to the Great Migration, and segregated those who escaped the South into poor neighborhoods with increasing hopelessness and lack of opportunity throughout the country), going on to the civil rights movements and laws, the attempted desegregation of schools, the so-called war on drugs and resulting mass incarceration, and the actions of presidents, lawmakers, and judges through the presidential administrations of Eisenhower through Trump, the author details and footnotes the systemic undermining of attempts to create equality in the United States. Although there were some successes in the 1970s, they have been almost completely dismantled by voter suppression, racially motivated gerrymandering, and continued support for white racism that has characterized so many official actions since before the Civil War. And those white officials seem always to try–and often succeed–in turning any attempt to help those in need of full citizenship and plain help into discrimination against white people, which is ridiculous. The author touches on current attempts to undermine and keep subordinate Latino people, as well. Each of the subjects portrayed in the book has been dealt with in more depth by other scholars, but this book is a good summary of what has happened and what might be done now, if we could only summon the charity and the political will to undo some of the damage. The author is a professor of African-American Studies at Emory University.

Real What the Eyes Don't See

Mona Hanna Attisha, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, 2018

This is book was written by a pediatrician who was a leader in exposing the lead contamination of the water in Flint, Michigan. The story of how that happened is combined with the author’s description of her family of origin and their immigration from Iraq to the United States, as well as her husband and daughters and their family, in a pleasing and satisfying way. The resistance of the people in charge to the attempts to expose the disaster of the lead in the water–no level is safe, there is no treatment, and it does terrible neurological damage, especially to unborn children, babies, and little children–is an outrage, and the criminal charges against some of them are well-deserved. People need to stop trying to cover up their mistakes, especially when every day that they resist accepting responsibility and trying to fix things means more damage to the vulnerable. Of course it was all about money and limiting government, as so many of these types of tragedies are. Even though the author and others were able to get funding for bottled water and future care for some of those affected, so much damage was done and the extent of the damage will never really be known. Her arguments that this constitutes environmental racism are true–if this had been happening in Ann Arbor or Gross Pointe, there would have been quicker action, or the problem might not have occurred at all. One minor complaint–the author should have stated much earlier in the book that she and her family were not living in a place that got its water from the Flint system. I kept waiting for her to take action to get bottled water and filters and so on for her family.

Real Winners Take All

Anand Giridharadas, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, 2018

The author takes a close look at private foundations and other organizations that are based on successes of those who have gathered many assets and then seek to do good in the world–which they do. But the author and reader wonder if they have looked at how they earned the money they are now so generous with–do they pay and treat their workers well? Do they exercise proper stewardship over the planet and its resources in the process of making money? Do they examine the inequality that led to their wealth? Also, the author questions the pro-business orientation of so many of these philanthropic endeavors, to the point that they think market forces can solve all the problems of the world and that the best thing would be to minimize government almost to the point of non-existence and let capitalism fix everything. The problem becomes that democracy no longer has a place in determining priorities, and a few wealthy people are deciding what is the best way to alleviate many social problems, when they are willing to look at approaches to problems only when those approaches don’t threaten the system that brought them so much money in the first place. A thought-provoking book that should sound the alarm about the obsession with making money that motivates so many corporate and government leaders today. The idea that a corporation must be run for the primary benefit of its shareholders, without reference to the needs of the community of which is a part and the employees who work for it, is relatively recent and leads to dangerous distortions in the way society works–or doesn’t, for so many people.

Real One Person, No Vote

Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy, 2018

This book should make us angry and determined to fight the voter suppression tactics that have been increasing since the Voting Rights Act was undermined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. And things were bad enough already. Every eligible American citizen has the right to vote, and yet legislation and practices concerning voter I.D. laws, racial and partisan gerrymandering, reductions in early voting and polling places, voter registration, and the like have undermined the voices of thousands of black, Latino, and Asian citizens–not only in the Southern states (although some of the worst examples are there), but also in other states across the country. The myth of voter fraud (which is exceptionally rare) has been used to implement these laws and practices and frighten the public, when white racism is the truly frightening foundation of these tactics. Thanks to the author for exposing and documenting this travesty.

Real Maid

Stephanie Land, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, 2019

This memoir checked every box on the list of how hard it is to get by with government assistance, a minimum wage job, and a child to support. Land left her abusive husband, who fought her for custody of their young daughter (even though he’d encouraged her to have an abortion and had what might generously be called an anger management problem). She had no family that she could depend on for help or encouragement. So many people treated her with unkind judgments–as though she were too lazy to work (although she was working hard, cleaning houses under terrible conditions), as though she were invisible and worthless, as though their status as taxpayers gave them the right to look down on her because she was getting what passes for government help in this country (huffing and whispering about her in the checkout lane and then shouting “you’re welcome” after she paid with food stamps). The difficulty of finding cash for things that government help doesn’t cover (clothes, car repairs, etc.); the pain of dropping her daughter off at daycare so she could work as a maid for people who had and didn’t appreciate so much more; criticism that her daughter was in daycare and she was working too much (or not enough); the lack of a safety net of any kind, where a $50 unexpected charge means some other bill must go unpaid, or a sick child has to go to daycare because there is no other care available; earning an extra $50 one month and losing hundreds of dollars in government benefits as a result–it is all there, and more. The United States could do so much more to help people in need; individuals and institutions could do so much better at not assuming things about or judging others–just having more kindness. The author found a way to hope; I worry about the people who have no hope, especially in this era where cuts to social services and similar programs seem to be the norm.

Real Charged

Emily Bazelon, Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration, 2019

This is a fine book, and would be even better if it didn’t interrupt the narratives of the two true cases presented with long digressions and explanations of the context. Context is necessary, but the way it is presented interrupts the flow of the stories and makes it hard to pick up again where they left off. The book details how prosecutors have too much power in criminal cases; many are interested in putting people in jail and being “tough on crime” so they can keep their jobs, when they are destroying people’s lives and allowing no consideration of circumstances or mercy. The prevalence of unconscious or conscious racial bias adds up to a poisonous brew of people unable to post bail, getting long sentences for minor offenses, and unfair plea bargains intended to discourage even innocent people from going to trial. Current practices are creating more and worse criminals, not protecting the public or allowing for rehabilitation or proportional responses to crime. The appendix suggesting how things should be different should be required reading for law students and prosecutors.

The solution to the problems outlined in these books was given to us by Jesus Christ, who asked us to treat others as we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12) and to love our neighbors (and every person is our neighbor) as we do ourselves and those we already love (Luke 10:25-37). We can and should do this through our political and social choices as well as our actions toward individuals.

Notre Dame de Paris–Poem: La Rosace

Notre Dame

This photo from AFP/Getty Images shows that the organ and at least one of the rose windows survived the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on May 15, 2019.

It’s been almost a month since a devastating fire destroyed the roof, the spire, and some of the interior of the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I love the French Gothic cathedrals and especially the beautiful stained glass rose windows that ornament them. I will be forever grateful that I was able to visit Notre Dame some years ago, and that with my daughter’s encouragement, I climbed up the many stairs (worn over hundreds of years by the feet of reverent monks) to the roof and looked out over the city of Paris from that lofty and lovely aspect.

As part of an art history paper on rose windows (les rosaces, singular la rosace), I wrote this poem.

La Rosace

I catch my breath at sight of holy rose—
Glass softened into petals into men.
A garden of blue flowers (what flowers are those?)
with crimson marking all that God has been,
like drops of blood that mark the sacred way
from birth to ministry to Cross to mourn,
to morning’s glory marks the Lord’s new day.
Let our path follow, born and then reborn.
Behold the work of art, the art of God—
the radiant point, the center of the Earth.
The Earth on which we sigh and toil and plod
until as pilgrims we seek holy mirth—
A mystery, the Son’s light as a gift
of rest as eyes, souls, pilgrim praise we lift.

Poem: Once By the Atlantic (D-Day, June 6, 1944)

D-Day (Photo--US Army)
(Photo–US Army)

In five years when the world leaders gather to commemorate the invasion again, there will likely be no survivors of the battle to salute at Omaha Beach. But we will remember.

Once by the Atlantic (D-Day, June 6, 1944)

The season. The tides. The weather.
A continent crying for help.
The stealth (they hoped), till the shining armada
stretched from the Isles
in the rain and then
moonlight on the waves.

Almost as predictable: the courage,
the losses, the foul-ups, the death.
Something men had never
done to land before.

Sights set on victory, they saw predicted,
unlucky cliffs of cannon.
Ready to roll to Paris and then Berlin,
they saw hedgerows. And fought on—
not home for Christmas;
the year stretched to spring.

Now calm and peaceful,
the sand smooth, the fog a comforter,
the mud and blood covered by grass and gratitude:
Names, names, names—
a marble armada of names,
and so many known but to God.
Yet He knows all their loss and all they gained;
they helped Him turn the light back on.
So many, so many, young, afraid, determined,
and at rest. The waves still crash
a symphony of peace for them, of warning for us.

—Lisa Bolin Hawkins

The Channel stopped you phot STF AFP-Getty Images
The message to the Nazis, chalked on the plane, says, “The Channel stopped you but not us.” (Photo: STF; AFP/Getty Images)

Apologies to Robert Frost and his poem, “Once By the Pacific.”

For more about the D-Day memorial in 2019, see Rachel Donadio’s excellent June 6, 2019, article in The Atlantic, “Nothing Prepares You for Visiting Omaha Beach,” https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/06/visiting-omaha-beach-d-day-75-anniversary/590788/

Poem: Her Grandmother’s Wedding Dress

Christ in His Red Robe actual

Years ago, I stood in the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University while Dr. Marian Wardle, then Curator of American Art, told of her grandmother Minerva Teichert’s unexpected and beautiful wedding dress. Teichert was both a great American artist and a great Latter-day Saint artist. After hearing Marian’s story, I wrote this poem.

Her Grandmother’s Wedding Dress
for Minerva Teichert and Marian Wardle

She could have worn pure white, or proper black,
Kept her eyes fastened to the near distance
On his eyes gazing back. Their vows would lead
To burdens trivial and burdens deep.
She’d not forgotten that; she’d seen her days
As they stepped out in front of her.

But she raised her eyes to the far distance,
A vision of unexpected loveliness.
And so they all remembered, as he fit the gold band
On her finger, fit her hand to his,
That she, unexpected, married in a sky-blue dress
With red birds wheeling, promising surprises.

Her granddaughter begged her to tell the promises.
She honored them with careful blue skies
And benevolent clouds like hovering doves,
Surprises of red among the muted tones,
And, having raised her eyes to eternity,
A vision of Christ, triumphant, in red robes.

Lisa Bolin Hawkins

If you would like to know more about Minerva Teichert, consider reading Jan Underwood Pinborough’s article, “Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert: With a Bold Brush,” Ensign, April 1989, https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1989/04/minerva-kohlhepp-teichert-with-a-bold-brush?lang=eng

Leaving Easter; Approaching Mother’s Day

Wanda Hail Bolin

As we leave Easter behind and approach Mother’s Day, I have been thinking about and missing my mother. She died when I was 30 and she was 53, of lupus. This has been a difficult 2019 in many ways, and I have thought of her often and wished I could talk to her. Being a mother seems more of a privilege and also more difficult than it usually does, because my adult daughter was injured and has needed my help and care; in addition, a friend has needed my service and attention. I know that if my mother were here, she would help me take care of my daughter, or be my cheerleader in doing all that needs to be done, as she always was. I also know that she is aware of me as she makes progress beyond the veil of death, but I would give much to be able to talk to her on the phone for a couple of hours, as we used to do, back in the days when you had to wait for the long-distance rates to go down before calling. I am thankful to our Savior Jesus Christ that we never leave Easter behind, because the resurrection and the promises of redemption are always with us. I wrote the following poem some time after I spent a month in the hospital with my mother as she died, in 1985. She was a wonderful mother; I will always miss her until I can be with her again in the next life.

Mother, Dying

I have not lost you; I know where you are.
Gowned in silk and steel gray,
patchworks of grass and flowers,
frost and mud. I can visit you.

Every three hours for 15 minutes,
I can visit you. Monitor green lines and tubes.
Behind your mask, the gasping, gracious hostess,
you welcome all who come to smile to you and cry to me.
You cry to me, squeeze my hand,
Hello, Don’t leave, Keep singing.
I exhaust my repertoire: I can’t stand here anymore tonight.
You wait for morning.

I wait for mourning; it won’t be long now;
Your only consciousness is breathing,
only breathing, only trying to breathe.
Numbers fall; green lines slowly tumble flat:
flat as nothing, flat as gone.
And all the crying before was only practice.

Still, I have not lost you; I know where you are.
After you drowned in yourself, you woke,
took one deep, sweet, easy breath
and looked upward.

Lisa Bolin Hawkins, BYU Studies 32(3):45 (1993).

Another Remembrance at Easter

mary-resurrected-christ
Today is Easter Sunday, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and remember His Atonement, carried out in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. But there is another important event that took place on that Easter weekend in the meridian of time.

When the resurrected Savior met Mary Magdalene in the garden near His empty tomb, He told her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go unto the brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20:17). Why had He not yet ascended to the Father? Why did He wait until Sunday morning to claim His resurrection? Where had He been while His body lay in the tomb?

According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, after Jesus proclaimed His work finished and voluntarily died on the cross, “He was as other men in that his spirit went to live in a spirit world to await the day of his resurrection … . When Jesus died—that very moment—his mortal ministry ended and his ministry among the spirits in prison began” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, Book 4, Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1981, 240–41).

As part of His mission here on earth, our Redeemer experienced all the things that human beings experience. In this way, He is able to comfort us and understand all our experiences (see Hebrews 4:14–16). Perhaps as part of understanding human experience, Jesus experienced death as we do, going from mortality to the world of spirits (1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6; Alma 40:12). This visit had been prophesied by Isaiah (see Isaiah 24:22; 42:7; 61:1).

There in the spirit world were the spirits of all the people who had lived up to that point, except those who had been translated without tasting death, such as Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5; Doctrine & Covenants 107:48–49); Enoch’s City of Zion (Moses 7:21, 31, 69; Doctrine & Covenants 38:4); and the prophets Moses (Deuteronomy 5:24; Alma 45:19); and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11; see 3 Nephi 28:38).

As the prophet Joseph F. Smith recorded in his “Vision of the Redemption of the Dead” (Doctrine & Covenants 138), the righteous among the “hosts of the dead” were eagerly awaiting this event, when the Lord would come to them and His anticipated resurrection would free them to take up their own glorified bodies, the separation from which they considered to be “bondage” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:50; see 138:11–16). The great moment came, and Jesus Christ came to the righteous spirits and “preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:19). Then He organized missionary work in the world of spirits, so the righteous could take to their brothers and sisters who were in darkness the gospel of Jesus Christ,

31 … to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.

32 Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.

33 These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,

34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

35 And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.

After this intense time of teaching by the Savior in the spirit world, Christ spoke as a spirit to the Nephites in the Americas (3 Nephi 9:1–22; 10:1–8; McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 245–48).

At last the hour was come, and Jesus took up His perfected, glorified body on that Sunday morning at dawn:

Beginning in the spiritual anguish of the Garden of Gethsemane, moving to the Crucifixion on a cross at Calvary, and concluding on a beautiful Sunday morning inside a donated tomb, a sinless, pure, and holy man, the very Son of God Himself, did what no other deceased person had ever done nor ever could do. Under His own power, He rose from death, never to have His body separated from His spirit again. Of His own volition, He shed the burial linen with which He had been bound, carefully putting the burial napkin that had been placed over His face “in a place by itself,” the scripture says.

That first Easter sequence of Atonement and Resurrection constitutes the most consequential moment, the most generous gift, the most excruciating pain, and the most majestic manifestation of pure love ever to be demonstrated in the history of this world. Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, suffered, died, and rose from death in order that He could … grasp us as we fall, hold us with His might, and through our obedience to His commandments, lift us to eternal life.

This Easter I thank Him and the Father, who gave Him to us, that Jesus still stands triumphant over death, although He stands on wounded feet. This Easter I thank Him and the Father, who gave Him to us, that He still extends unending grace, although He extends it with pierced palms and scarred wrists. This Easter I thank Him and the Father, who gave Him to us, that we can sing before a sweat-stained garden, a nail-driven cross, and a gloriously empty tomb:

How great, how glorious, how complete
Redemption’s grand design,
Where justice, love, and mercy meet
In harmony divine!

jesus-christ-empty-tomb-goshen-utah-1574218-gallery

Jeffrey R. Holland, “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Ensign, May 2015. After Christ’s resurrection, the spirits of others who had died (and had been present during His visit to the spirit world) “rose and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27:52–53; 3 Nephi 23:8-13). The stone of death had been rolled away, and the work of the Lord entered into a new light from that time forward. Only then, when all the elements of His mortal ministry were complete, did Jesus take up his perfected and glorified body, appear to Mary Magdalene, and then ascend to His Father for the reunion that They both, undoubtedly, had anticipated and longed to experience. Even after that, Jesus did not remain in glory with the Father, but returned to his disciples in Palestine to teach and bless them (Matthew 28:9–10; Mark 16:12–14; Luke 24:13–49; John 20:19–29; 21:1–25; Acts 1:2–9). And then He went to His “other sheep” in the Americas and elsewhere (3 Nephi 11–26).

jesus-apostles-new-testament-stories-125445-gallery

As we remember the heartbreaking, yet necessary, events of Gethsemane and Calvary, and rejoice in the glory of resurrection morning, we also can remember the merciful and generous visit of the Lord Jesus Christ to the spirits of those who had lived and died on the earth until that time. He declared their redemption from the bonds of death, along with redemption for all who would live and die in time to come, and the opportunity for all who had or would ever live to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. This can be another remembrance that inspires our gratitude toward and love for the Savior at Easter.