Monday, February 7, 2011

Missionary Lesson 2 yields personal upheaval

Day 3, Lesson 2
    My husband and I are still talking non-stop between ourselves about what this change will mean in our lives.  What I haven't mentioned is that simultaneously what is going on in the background is what seems to be some healing activity with one of his brothers, an activity that began months earlier.  I'm not sure I want to write a great deal about the circumstances that led to the alienation, as much as I hope to focus on the feeling of being guided towards a healing reconciliation for husband and brother, and an opportunity for embracing of me, in my role as his wife, which felt like acceptance where it has not felt so prior.

    By this time, I have shared with my adult children my intended actions, to inquire of their reactions and give them time to accept the new direction I am laying out.  They accept my decision as mine to make and that it gives them no sense of discomfort.  Perhaps I will circle back to writing more about my sense of their calm reaction and why I wanted them to have an opportunity to weigh in with their reactions.  There can be much derisiveness about the LDS practices among the general public.  It is my intent to give my children a bit of opportunity to be prepared to hear some perhaps unloving statements, although I don't think in their daily lives and activities, there would be much reason, occasion for them to mention or discuss their mother's faith choices or decisions.

    By this time, I have also shared with my mother my intended actions, to which she gives me the reaction I fully expect her to give me.  One of apprehension, despite the fact that by now she knows and respects my husband on the merits of his character as a man, and not on the merits of his choice in faith beliefs.  She knows him as a person first, a spiritual man second, and as a former practicing Mormon last.  Nonetheless, she subtly intonates her fears that this may not be a well thought out decision on my part.  I know her well enough to know what is not being said is as much a message as what is being said between us.  In my amateurish efforts to try to frame a language around my decision, I try to make the distinction between some of the typical public perceptions that prevail about the LDS and Mormon belief set and my hope to learn what they themselves mean weighing that information side by side.  I make the unfortunate mistake of choosing the word outsider, she repeats the word slowly and with emphasis, and I know she has begun down that road of thinking I have stepped inside a cultish community distinguishing insiders from outsiders.  I do not know how to adjust my words yet to distinguish newcomer into LDS from those who have chosen the belief set and are made up of people who were raised in the culture, in the church, those who converted, those who left, but essentially all have had some exposure to the enculturation from inside the church and not as myself, an observer outside the church.

 Lesson;  what is called The Plan of Salvation.  My description would be that this was a lesson in which the LDS belief set of the life after life was explained.  My intention is to follow along the narrative to better understand their belief set, and be able to explain that belief set as another of the many belief sets that exist in explaining the spiritual mysteries, ie, Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myths.   As I follow along, waiting for that big hit that failure to do these things leads to some kind of hellish torment, the young missionary drawing the diagram never gets to a place of hell.  Rather he shows various holding places, reviews the Atonement, gets to the place of a Second Coming, the raising of the dead, and then veers off into the various places they will be judged to go, and none of those places are a place of hell.  There is the outer darkness place, but even that is not a place of demons, and eternal torment, as much as a place of isolated, separated from participating in the other spheres of the after life.

   For me, this is a Very Big Deal.  As most of the Christian denominations to which I have been exposed have some element of hell as a not great place to wind up, and has elements of penance, pain, and eternal types of suffering, it is something I have had to reject as not of God, not Godly, not of a God loving of mankind.  Therefore, it has also served as an impediment to embracing the God as described in the Old Testament as the same loving God of which his son, Jesus Christ pointed to and enjoined us to wish to enter into communion with.   Appreciating that this is my personal construct of the information as it was presented to me over my growing up years and into adulthood, it is a mixed bag of messages and my resulting perceptions as to what constitutes hell, therefore what constitutes a loving God.

    In the sudden onset of awareness as to what the young missionary was diagramming, the theorem of what an afterlife might look like, I was struck by how little I have of a sense of afterlife (heaven) as laid out by some of the Christian denominations to which I have had affiliation.  I was also thunderstruck that this was the first time I was hearing of the LDS version despite the many years I have been married to my husband, and despite his side of the family's LDS connections.  Anger filled me, a sense of having been betrayed by having this depiction withheld from me when he and so many others in his family branch knew the information as it had been presented to them.   How could this have happened, how could I have not known this over the many years he and I have shared spiritual matters, spiritual belief sets together?!

  Addressing this with him with a hurting heart, he understood immediately the pain I was feeling, the absence of having shared the concept in our many shared conversations together related to the matter of spirituality.  Even as I was feeling my own emotions, I was feeling how awkward this had become for him.  Wishing to comfort myself and ease the awkwardness for him was an emotional storm for both of us, generating between us a level of understanding that while we seemed to think we were on the same page in many of our spiritual conversations, we were chasms apart in this particular arena.   We worked through it, we talked it through, we reaffirmed the closeness we shared in our marriage that would permit us to have this conversation.  He didn't try to explain it, rather he said something that resonated with me in a new light of understanding.  He said he has never been afraid of hell, has had no reason to be afraid of hell, and that being raised with no other concept of hell, he took for granted that others saw hell in a similar, non-fearful manner.  In speaking with another of his family members about the unfolding events, and my recognition of lesson 2 as highly significant to me personally, she indicated same thought my husband had stated; raised in the church, not afraid of a cruel hell place, took for granted others saw it in similar vein.

    Extracting the concept of a tormenting hell as an impediment to embracing a loving God gave me an opportunity to place the loved ones in our family who have passed into a new mental construct where I can view them busily engaged, preparing a place for me for a time when I enter that place where they are, and they welcome me with loving arms.  I had never placed them in a place of torment, or hell, or absence, rather had vague notion of a heaven, an afterlife, something no one could really know and was a personal matter of whatever construct each of us has created of the afterlife.  The concept as was presented to me by the young missionary yields a degree of comfort for me about the loved ones in my life who have passed.  And it somehow also opened the doors for me that I might finally be able to begin to embrace an imaging of a loving God, and perhaps a way to incorporate a more gentle image of God, or Giver of Life, or Creator or the names attached to The One as not of that described in the Old Testament.    We'll see.  I remain skeptical, but do embrace the opportunity as an opportunity.

   Continuing conversations with my husband, and registering my feeling level that I don't wish for my mother to be left with the impression she created in her mind, I phone her the next day and attempt to explain my intent and inadequacies in knowing what words to use.  We have a conciliatory moment with the acknowledgement she felt my use of the word outsider meant I saw her in that light and that she was going to lose her daughter.  I assured her that the word was not one I was given but one I had used in trying to make a distinction, and that it in no way meant I had made a demarcation line of insiders/outsiders.  That our relationship would continue as is, nothing much was likely to change.  Having in recent years encouraged my mother to attend the Episcopal church in her neighborhood, and knowing we have been confirmed and active in our Episcopal church, it would be a bit of a surprise for her to understand my decision.  I don't expect her to understand, exactly, even as she says she does understand the connection to my husband's heritage as a compelling reason for my interest.   The rest of the conversation we share our mutual appreciations for the many aspects of the Episcopal structure we both enjoy, and I do share with her the concept that was given to me in lesson 2 the previous evening.  With application to the passing of her husband, we share some discussion around what we think of as where he is, what an afterlife might be.  Our conversation ends on a positive note.

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