Power of Prayer

My uncle wrote a great post on his blog a few weeks ago describing a time when his terminally ill father was visited by President Monson. In speaking to this man, President Monson explained that he had just been at a meeting with the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12, and that, “as we prayed your name was read aloud and we united our faith in your behalf.”

At first I thought how awe-inspiring and comforting it would be to know that prophets and apostles were praying for you by name. But then I realized that I can’t imagine drawing any greater degree of comfort from prayers on my behalf than I have previously felt knowing that important people in my life have been praying for me.

A few years ago my aunt let me know that my cousin (her daughter, who must have been less than 6 at the time) had mentioned me in their family prayers that night. I didn’t write this down at the time so I’m not sure where I was or what I was doing exactly, but I do know that I was miserable and I probably wasn’t doing much praying. I also know that neither my aunt nor this little cousin had any idea of how I was feeling or what was going on. So I was absolutely amazed that someone was praying for me, without my asking them, without my praying for myself, and even more so that this prayer was said by a child I rarely saw and didn’t know all that well.

The prayer didn’t solve my problems or cheer me right up or even instigate a powerful spiritual experience. But it was a reminder that I was known and remembered, and it was an experience I kept going back to over the years. It was one of the milestones along my circuitous path back to faith that was solid and undeniable, and in that sense mattered a great deal.

I’ve had some great experiences wherein I’ve felt really blessed by the prayers of others recently, both after asking for prayers and maybe even more meaningfully, finding out that prayers were already being said for me without my even needing to ask.

Whether it’s a prophet or small child, I believe prayers said on my behalf mean something and matter if for no other reason than that I feel supported, comforted, and remembered knowing those prayers are happening as I’m working through hard stuff.

Poetry and Piety

The closest I get to being a true appreciator of poetry is when I read, or more often, listen to the words of hymns. So, when I came across this sentence the other day (part of an essay called A Defence of Poetry, by Percy Shelley), I immediately thought of how it applies to hymns:

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. 

When Shelley mentions the veil, he is probably not referring to the veil between this life and the next, but for me it’s an apt description of the way hymns help me to connect with the spirit, something I think of as being somewhat other-worldly. Lifting the veil isn’t just about seeing the world with new eyes, but it’s about opening or widening the connection I feel between me and the Lord.

At first the phrase “makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” seemed wrong. I thought of poetry (hymns) as helps in connecting with ideas or feelings on a deeper level, increasing familiarity. But I think familiar here refers to regular, everyday, background “objects” which have lost any real sense of meaning because they seem so commonplace. The principles I have internalized and the beliefs I have come to as a result of singing/listening to hymns were not new to me, but they were made unfamiliar, extraordinary, and meaningful.

I love what John Wesley (founder of Methodism) said in the preface to a hymnal he and his brother Charles (a prolific hymn writer) put together:

I’ve taken Wesley’s advice in returning to the hymns over and over again as a source of spiritual strength. Through years of spiritual torpor and ambivalence I never stopped loving this music and I’m grateful for the role hymns play in my life as poetic vehicles delivering the spirit, confirming faith and increasing my love for God and man.

Feelin’ the Love

Lately as I have been driving to work in the morning I’ve have had unexpected and lovely surges of positivity, and these surges will recur throughout the day. I have come to describe these surges as “feelin’ the love”. Sometimes it almost seems like a drug-induced trance, “Sure, cut me off on the freeway little blond girl, I’m feelin’ the love.” Or “Hey creepy Tinder guy, you’re inherently valuable as a human being, and it won’t be me, but you’ll find someone.” But mostly I feel incredibly loved myself, I feel incredibly grateful for everything that I have, and for all the people I know – friends, family and others, I realize how much I love those people, and I want to share that love in some fashion.

In my mind I relate these “feelin’ the love” moments to charity, traditionally defined as the pure love of Christ, though the use of the word “of” leaves that definition open to three possible interpretations:

1) The pure love of Christ for us, as demonstrated throughout His life and ultimately through the Atonement. Greater love hath no man than this...

2) Our pure love of Christ. We are told that developing this love is the first great commandment, and that we should always have this love in our hearts. This love dispels contention, causes us to hate evil, motivates us to keep the commandments and walk in his ways. Untold blessings are promised to them that love Him.

3) The pure love of Christ for others, extended through and emulated by us. We are essentially delivery mechanisms for this love as we try to instil our own approximation of that pure love for those around us. We are asked to follow Christ’s example, to walk the path that He has shown and go about doing good: to love our neighbors and our enemiesto be patient and kind to visit the afflicted and succor those in need

I am grateful that I am feeling the soul-warming love of Christ (in each of its forms) all around me with more and more frequency.

A Quiet Hour

After being out of town for a few nights, having minimal sleep, and slogging back home at 1:30am, I slept in and missed my 9am Ward. (I haven’t ever actually made it to my 9am Ward, but at least this week I had planned to make it.) The aforementioned factors, as well as some others had me feeling a little irritable and frustrated going into the 1pm Ward I attended, but I wanted to be there anyway because I was hoping for three things: to stop feeling tense and frustrated, to take the sacrament and erase the past week from my mind and heart, and to sing the patriotic hymns with a group of people rather than alone in my car.

Previously what I call the “formulaic approach” to all things gospel-related had not been one that worked for me, so I’m not sure that I really expected the tenor of my day to change dramatically as a result of going to church. And it didn’t. The things that were bothering me have continued to bother me throughout the day, I am still tired, and there was only one patriotic song on the program of the Ward I attended. (Seriously, on July 5th what Ward sings Choose the Right as the closing hymn?!)

But what I did feel was an hour-long break from the things that had been bothering me. I felt the spirit overtake other feelings as I took the sacrament. I recognized sentiments and similar experiences shared by others in their testimonies. And while it’s no Star-Spangled Banner, I did feel a sense of unity with the congregation while singing Choose the Right.

To me, the church’s current push around making the sabbath and the sacrament more meaningful seemed like an odd thing to focus on, but that’s probably because I hadn’t gleaned much meaning from either myself. Today I felt a little bit of the sweetness of the sacred day of rest in having an hour where no mortal care seized my breast. Going into the coming week I do feel like I’ve hit ‘refresh’ and had a renewal of my love and faith. I am grateful that I have a day, or at least an hour each week which is made for me to have these experiences.

For the Least and the Greatest

I’ve been listening to A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief and appreciating how it is packed with great principles centered around the Savior – healing of wounds, selfless sacrifice, the Atonement, bread of life/living waters, a life of service, etc. But today I specifically read the scriptures referenced at the bottom of the hymn – Mosiah 2:17 and Matthew 25:31-40. I’m sure you can recite the verse in Mosiah, but maybe (like me) you aren’t as familiar with Matthew 25.

This specific section of verses is where the Savior gives the parable of the sheep and the goats. The message is much the same as in Mosiah, but as I was reading it today I had a light bulb moment. When I’d thought of serving man as the same as serving God, I think I thought of it mostly in terms of equality and value in all people. Or maybe as instruction that we get just as much credit for helping those around us as we’d get if the Savior stood in front of us needing our help. And that’s a great principle. We should be willing and quick to help anyone, and not be respecters of persons.

But today I read it in a different way. The Savior tells the sheep that they are blessed because they visited, fed, clothed, and took Him in – they are confused and He responds that when they did any of that for anyone, they did it to/for Him. Today the thought came to me that Christ literally meant they provided that comfort and aid for Him when they were serving others. We read that the Savior has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows so, when we help alleviate the suffering of others, we literally alleviate or prevent some of those griefs and sorrows. His load is the sum of all the loads felt by all the people who ever lived on earth, and we can reduce that load through our love and service. I love the directness of this! I’ve always believed in the value of service, and somewhat connected it to serving God in that any good we do pleases God. But I love the idea that we can literally lift some small, small part of Christ’s burden, literally serve Him and serve God by helping our fellow men.

As a side note, something I’m less excited about but which still struck me today was the end of Matthew 25. The Savior turns to address the goats and condemns them, but not for the sins you typically see associated with condemnation in the scriptures. They are condemned for not visiting the sick, not feeding the hungry, etc. And then he says, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” I think it’s interesting that we don’t hear this verse much in comparison to the one given to the sheep. Possibly because this one sets a much higher standard. Sins of omission are so much subtler and harder to catch than those of commission. We always have excuses for sins of omission – I don’t have time to visit that person, or that person doesn’t really need or want my help.

And as evidenced by the goats in the parables, not helping others is sinful and it’s almost doubly bad because not only do we not alleviate some of Christ’s burden, we add our own need for forgiveness and increase the volume of pain Christ experienced through the Atonement.

Anyway, that might be kind of a downer way to end. I’m focusing on the sheep – I believe in the power of service!

Deep Waters

Continuing my hymn-oriented gospel studying….I was reading through How Firm a Foundation yesterday and about some of the history behind it. The song is structured so that the first verse sets up the foundation on which we should build (God’s word) and then the subsequent verses all come from various promises in the bible (third verse – Isaiah 41:10, seventh verse – Hebrews 13:5, etc.). But the one that I spent the most time on was verse four*:

Opposition in all things, the value of trials being greater than that of goldthe refiners fire, glorying in tribulation…I’ve heard all of these phrases over and over of course, but I’m not terribly good at remembering that all these things will give me experience and be for my good in the middle of “these things”. Most people aren’t of course.

The perspective I am gaining on the past, however, is allowing me to appreciate the value of problems that have passed. I was talking with my aunt a few days ago and we both mentioned some of the darkest periods of our lives and how, despite the utter misery we felt, neither of us would go back and change what happened. It is a little bit crazy not to want to avoid life-derailing despair, but for my part I can’t seem to be okay with losing everything I felt and learned.

It’s pretty easy to feel that way when the good experiences seem to be in the present and future and the worst experiences in the past, but I believe that  “to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth.

I wouldn’t consider my experience with Depression sacred or spiritual in any sense as my attempts to find a religious lifeline resulted in anger, frustration, and a feelings of being forgotten or unworthy or even valueless. I can’t really identify what pieces of the experience allowed me to arrive where I am now, but because of it I believe the promise of the fourth verse. I’m grateful for the sanctification I’ve received from my deepest distress.

*Verse four is added as one of those supplemental verses at the bottom of hymns that we never actually sing, despite the fact that most hymns include four verses as the “regulars”, and it’s a shame. This is one of the many changes I would like to propose for the next edition of the hymn book. 

Receiving

As I was doing confirmations at the temple today, for some reason I latched onto the words ‘Receive the Holy Ghost’. On the one hand we talk about receiving the gift of the holy ghost, so the words here are mostly seen as bestowing that gift. But there is a less passive side to receiving and that involves acceptance and utilization of the gift.

Today, because I had been given the gift years ago at my own confirmation, I thought more about my approach to receiving it. In other words, my need to pay attention to, be open to, and listen for the influence of the spirit. For any of that to be possible, dedicating time for listening and contemplating (the process of receiving) is necessary.

The human brain may be able to multi-task and receive lots of information at once, but while multi-tasking I’m not sure the brain can pay as much attention as is required to feel the spirit. However I am convinced that the heart cannot multi-task. It can feel one thing, it is focused on one thing.

Whether it means going to the temple or just putting my phone in airplane mode for ten minutes every day… Oh, may I always listen to receive him hour by hour.

Your heart shall live that seek God (Ps. 69:32)

Seven years ago, after dealing with various degrees of Depression for about a year, I was laying on my bed unable to move and completely overwhelmed with hopelessness. I was experiencing the awful truth of the adage ‘Hope deferred maketh the heart sick‘ and wrote the following:

 I feel hollow. All I can feel is my heart beating and I just want it to stop.

Today, despite dreading the wetness and jumpsuits and the wetness of the jumpsuits, I went to the temple for the first time in eight years. My endowed friend graciously agreed to join me at 6:30am on a Tuesday, which was important as I am not at my best in the morning and I don’t love the fact that I am twice as old as many of the others who have limited-use recommends (also known as the 12 year-old recommend). My best intentions would not have been enough to get me there without knowing a friend was making that effort for me. The baptistery was almost empty, but full of temple workers, so we moved through the baptisms and confirmations quickly without much time to sit and think. Thankfully, after we were done we were able to sit in the chapel for a few minutes where I experienced a familiar sensation.

All I could feel was my heart beating. But in this case it wasn’t a hollow feeling, and I wasn’t wishing for relief. My heart felt full, a cliche but the only accurate description I can come up with. 

Today I called to remembrance my song in the night of Depression, and was amazed at the difference I felt in communing with mine own heart.

Come

Continuing my reading/studying of hymns….I discovered that more hymns start with the word ‘Come’ than any other word. There are 23 hymns which begin with ‘Come’, and hymns starting with the word ‘God’ are next at 15. I don’t necessarily believe there’s a lot of significance to the first word of a hymn, the people on the church music committee who made the hymn selections had lots of factors they were considering, and I’m sure there were more important spiritual influences at work, or maybe all these ‘Come’ hymns just sounded nice. Who knows. But I do think it’s interesting

The second verse of Come, Follow Me specifically talks about the word ‘Come’ – Come follow me, a simple phrase, yet truth’s sublime, effulgent rays, are in these simple words combined. To urge inspire the human mind.

First of all you’ve got to love any hymn that uses the word ‘effulgent’. Second, to think that sublime rays of truth are contained in a phrase that we hear all the time is interesting. But that’s really what it’s all about. We are constantly coming to Christ, there is never an arrival point, we can’t come far enough…more coming is always required.

References to knocking at doors are used in the scriptures, wherein Christ is the knocker, I stand and knock, and He is seemingly coming to us, as well as references where we are the knockers, knock and it shall be opened unto you. But in either case, a degree of coming to Christ is required of us, whether it’s knocking or coming to open the door.

For my own part, I think I’ve been willing to follow and come to a point, but there are lines I hadn’t crossed. If there’s anything I’ve come to believe over the last few months it is that faith isn’t faith if it’s easy, and if it doesn’t include a little bit of stretching. Continuing to come, despite not knowing or feeling or wholly believing, is what faith looks like for me, and it’s been unbelievably rewarding.

“Wrong Things”

I read a great letter from a friend in the MTC today, who said:

I was pretty worried about my future companion/trainer earlier this week and was praying that everything would work out. And my prayer was answered. I just had an overwhelming peaceful feeling and thought, “Of course everything will work out. Don’t you remember that Heavenly Father has his hand in everything. He knows you and will not just forget about you.” Whoever my trainer is, I am exciting to see what the Lord has in store for me. Isn’t that a beautiful blessing of this gospel! As long as we are obedient and doing our best, we don’t need to worry that “the wrong thing” will happen. I’m so grateful! 

I love this because I don’t generally feel very guided in my decision making, but I do have faith that if I’m doing my best and on the path things will work out. Becca phrases it much better, saying “the wrong thing” won’t happen. Important and insightful that she didn’t say “hard things” or “bad things” wouldn’t happen, because they inevitably do of course. I think “wrong” as she’s using it refers to happenings that cause unnecessary suffering, and in that sense I have experienced many “wrong things” as a result of my own poor choices. But, I’m grateful that even if “wrong things” happen, it’s never too late to change course, and I believe things do work out in the end.