Thursday, August 9, 2012

On the matter of Baptism for the Dead - Harrowing of Hell

Up till yesterday, I haven't been able to see the value in the LDS practice of Baptism for the Dead, and in trying to learn how it figures so largely in the temple work, up to this point I have seen the one reference in the New Testament whereby Paul speaking to the Corinthians calls into comparison the practice of baptism for the dead, making the fact that such a ritual was a norm in that time and place apparent.   I thought it peculiar that an entire practice in these modern times could be based on a ritual of antiquity based on a quick reference verse in NT bible.  In my mind there was not strong enough reason for me to wish to involve myself in the practice, while respecting that the rite meant a great deal to the members who did observe it.

Another non-compelling reason for me to wish to include the 'temple experiences' as part of my own experience in Mormon faith practices.  Already on my list of not sure I even want to experience the temple is the compelling reason that the Church requires one to go through a temple recommend interview with the Bishop of the Ward.  Condition of being eligible to go into the temple is what is called being worthy.  Seriously objecting to that word and what it conveys, I was already greatly put off inasmuch as if a member is not considered 'worthy' then that may well mean the member is 'unworthy'.  I don't like the psychological messages that puts into people's minds.  As humans, it seems to me, we already have enough of a struggle in finding our worth without another condition being set upon us as in temple worthy or temple unworthy. I don't like how it feels to me.  An extension of the worthy concept as defined by the LDS Church includes a requirement to pay tithing.  That is another thought for another time, and to wrap it up, I don't like the idea of an enforced tithing as the means of contribution to the needs of the Church.

Enter Hugh W. Nibley with his thoughts on the matter, published in a transcript (online here) 'Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times' at Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (a BYU component) with an in depth look at the practice.  I'm so ready to resist and as I continue to read encounter concepts familiar to me that I am hooked into reading the rest of the article, getting only about half way through it and I stop to tell my husband of my find, asking him if he knows much about Hugh Nibley, and suggesting to him that if he hasn't read this particular article, he might be interested in reading it given some of the concepts we have explored together in other venues.

What would that be?

-- mention of a Coptic papyrus found in 1895, purported to be account of teaching of Christ to his apostles after the resurrection in salvation for the dead.

-- mention of names familiar to me as early Christian scholars; Justin (a Christian convert), Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, St Augustine; Origen, Plato

-- involving people of the bible; Peter (of the Disciples); Matthew, Luke, Mark (of the NT); James; John; Moses; Elias; Abraham, Issac, Jacob, John the Baptist;

-- mention of concepts familiar to me; Gates of Hell; Satan; Devil; Prince of this world; medieval Easter Drama with Satan and Death; underworld; God as a Cloud; Nicaea; Nicene Creed;  Hades; Dante's Inferno (depiction of his concept of Hell); ransom; Jesus destroying death (or Death); apocryphal books (Apocrypha); gnosis; apostolic times; Apostles Creed

There is no need to reinterpret what Nibley has already put to word and reader can read the article (already linked above).   What this new way of looking at that which I disavowed has alerted me to a deeper exploration.  I am mindful of the young missionary who pointed out verses in New Testament of the renting of the veil upon death of Jesus on the cross and His descending into hell before ascending (harrowing of hell).

Today then upon further examination, I encountered NT verses actually using the term 'spirit prison' - a term used in LDS teachings that I have not heard in any of my other spiritual affiliations.  See NT- 1 Peter 3:19-20 and then see 1 Peter 4:6 and Ephesians 4: 8-10 and OT - Isaiah 24:21-22. 

Given that there is a fullness of body of beliefs predating the formation of the religion of Joseph Smith, it is not a belief that I would wish to discard without giving attention to it's formation and application.  And in that regard as I take off my holding shelf a look at the concept of baptism for the dead, I come to appreciate why it might be revered as biblical, as a practice that did occur and as something I deem worthy of further exploration on my part.

In appreciated respect for the artists of the antiquities portrayals of the Harrowing of Hell, iconography of the same, and how art influences my mind, it seems there is a chunk of early Christian history absent of my understanding.  Ahhh, the humility of it all.  And perhaps that is the holiness that comes down to incarnate in humankind in bringing each of us a deeply needed sense of humility at what we do not know, cannot know, and yet know we do not know.

link - slideshow with many images of Harrowing of Hell

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bearing testimony and bearing my testimony

Black BirdIt's been a year and a half since I was baptized into this Church.  It's been an internally tumultuous journey for me to come into this church so late in my life with a lifetime of experiences, spiritual connections.  I think I've examined so much literature dealing with the historicity of the Church, examined the online material of so many of those who are or have become disaffected with their membership in the Church upon learning of historical events, shared with them in their grieving for their loss, and I became convinced it was unlikely I could fully become a part of this Church.  I was content to carve out a space for myself in empathy, support for the many that also must carve out a non-traditional space for themselves in the context of the Church.

Until this past Sunday, when I for the first time conveyed my 'testimony' because I could in great part because of this Sunstone article written and/or contributed by David Knowlton in April 1991.  As I've heard repeatedly throughout the past two decades this business of a testimony is a huge element of the LDS Church faith.  And as I've heard the acts of giving testimony primarily in the Ward where currently attend, it goes something like this:

'I'd like to bear my testimony that I know this Church is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that this is the restored church on the earth -- and sometimes there will be an add on variance that might include atonement (ending with In the name of Jesus Christ)"

These are not words that I can say easily as they are not my core beliefs.  Therefore I have acknowledged aloud repeatedly that I have a non-traditional 'testimony', and so the members know that I am working on gaining a testimony.  I think I already have one, it just won't sound like the words the members at my Ward are used to hearing.  It's one of those elements that I recognize is important to the membership, and yet I do not appreciate in fullness what is meant by having a testimony from their perspectives.  For me what I have to say as my testimony works, and yet I somehow understand that it doesn't work for the membership, who simply politely let me struggle with the concept.

A year and a half later, upon reading the David Knowlton article; 'Belief, Metaphor, and Rhetoric: The Mormon Practice of Bearing Testimony Bearing' it brought light for me in the matter of how Mormons have and share their personal testimony.  I came to understand that the act of it is so much more significant to the person bearing testimony and those hearing it than the words can begin to convey.  My take away was a nodding of my head saying to myself - I understand - and thank you David Knowlton for taking the time to think this through and write the article.

What I understand is that while indeed this is a ritualistic practice which I recognized and wondered how it came to be that the Church teaches they do not practice ritual as a kind of a protest against the other churches that do practice rituals when in fact they do practice a form of ritual - just different than other churches.   In the absence of rituals as for example in the Liturgy of the Episcopal and Catholic Church, or the coming forth to be saved in some of the Protestant churches, the bearing of the testimony is in effect that salvific moment of feeling the Spirit, the presence of God in self, the emotional connection.  That I can and do understand, respect, value, appreciate.  And with that I could finally release myself from being hung up on the words and relate instead to the ritualistic feeling level of how Mormons bear testimony.

Wanting to hold to my own integrity as to my actual beliefs, I have struggled with the words typically used by people in sharing their testimony.   No I do not believe with heart and soul that this is the one true church.  I believe it is a true church inasmuch as many paths up the mountain is a truism and other churches/religions see themselves as just such a path - a path to Divine, to Creator, to God, to Great Spirit, to Heavenly Father.   And for me to the Beloved....that being my word of choice for the deep connection I feel to Jesus born of adversity in my young child years when no one or no religion was there to define for me what my feeling of Jesus was or is now.

I do know that Joseph Smith founded this church, that he was viewed as a prophet in his time, that he viewed himself in that light, that members viewed him in that light then as do many now.  I have read of his history via the non-accepted and accepted literature.  I needed to know who this man was, what was compelling about him, about the church he founded to get a better understanding of why this church prevailed when other churches of the time dissolved.  I can say that I do believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, relative to his era and time period of the 19th century Reformation period of religion.  I can say I value his reasons for coming to the beliefs he had and shared.  I can say I value his personal history growing up and in his early marriage, the losses of death he experienced with his brother, with his children.  I can say that he remains an enigma to me in that no matter who is doing the describing of who he was, what his actions were, he was all of those things and more, making him not a saint or sainted in his contributions or as much a saint as saints were made.

I do not know that Jesus died and was resurrected and gave us atonement or entry to cleanse ourselves of a supposed sin of the falling of Adam and Eve.  I do not know even that Jesus as described in the New Testament gospel lived and walked among mankind.  I do however, know of Jesus, as Jesus came to me in my young years and have spent a lifetime looking at religion to try to fill in the definitions of what it means for Jesus to be Jesus.  Sometimes it was satisfying, sometimes I harnessed those definitions as my own, sometimes I was heartbroken to learn that perhaps none of it was true and was part of a mythology (the overarching story of a culture's attempt to explain to itself).   I will never know in a true sense of the word know, and I'm content with not knowing as much as I yearn for the beauty in my internal imaging of Jesus to be a truism.  And if not, it is an internal imaging of beauty for me, by which I can hang my star, guide my ship, walk my walk.

I do not know that there needs to be a true church as much as in the 19th century period, many Protestant religions formed in opposition to the Catholic Church of that period, desiring that they were the true church, had a truth no other churches had, uncovered truths not yet known or exposed, walked the path of early Christianity, the primitive church, had personal access directly and without intercessory intervention.   Had my young child self required intercessory intervention to know Jesus, I would not have had the friend I so needed and had to have in Jesus to withstand the adversity in which I found myself within my earthly family.

In deep respect then for what a testimony means to Mormons, and the heartfelt emotion they feel in bearing testimony, I can say in truthfulness and honesty that I have a testimony of this church.  And I can do that in great thanks to the elucidation that David Knowlton provided for me in wrapping up a lot of my own thoughts into a reflective format that says what I lacked the words to say yet felt at my intuitive level to be truths.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

It is real enough...

What has transpired with us since last I made a blog entry?  Catching it up with brief  outline.  A visit to the Friends (Quakers) services in nearby community.  It is as is described, sitting quietly with others for 45 minutes, contemplating and no sound.  Brief sharing at end of service.  We tried, we really did, and the service just didn't resonate strongly with us.  I feel like we have done a fairness in completing our explorations of other churches, church services, church communities.

 January was our wedding anniversary month. The first part of the month, I came down sick with flu or winter cold or some kind of bug that was going around the county where we live.  I was down pretty much from Christmas day through the first two weeks of January.  Arthur went to Ward services Christmas weekend, and when members asked where I was, he explained I was home sick, not eager to share the germs with the members.

We had invitation to attend Christmas dinner with one of the member families and when she learned I was home ill, she said they would bring Christmas dinner to us.  Oh, not, please, that is just too much kindness on Christmas day.  The family has children, live about 1/2 hour away and I felt that would just not be the way for them to spend Christmas Day. I phoned her to dissuade her from coming out and I was anxious not to share the germs with her family.   Her husband answered and was okay with the change in plans but not before offering to drive out with a meal for us, staying in the car and having Arthur come out to pick it up.  Of course I said No, this was just too much, more so given that it was Christmas Day.   Nonetheless, their act of willing kindness has left a very strong, indelible imprint on me.  I'm just not used to this brand of sharing willingness.

I teach the lesson in Relief Society on third Sunday and it had snowed in the county that particular Sunday.  Church services cancelled.  We don't get snow here very often, and if we do, it's for about a week at the most.  Yes, I know we are indeed wimps here in Western Washington when it comes to snow. I didn't have to give the lesson that Sunday and wasn't sure how it works for the following Sunday -- carried over or a pass.  It was a pass.    

January - our wedding anniversary month.  My husband and I shared and enjoyed couple time together most of the month, and could not have planned anything better than this intimate time together, just the two of us in our beach house in a winter month.

We are well into February now and my collection of Mormon related library books have been stacked on the coffee table while I read through parts of them.  Terryl Givens 'People of Paradox, A History of Mormon Culture' (I like it), Grant Hardy 'Understanding the Book of Mormon; A Reader's Guide'  (reading the Book of Mormon as literature), Fawn Brodie 'No Man Knows My History' (don't know what that big controversy was about .. for me it was an informative and helpful biographical of Joseph Smith), and a start on Richard Bushman 'Rough Stone Rolling' (didn't get far into it - enough reading on Joseph Smith, letting some of it digest).    By far the book having the most impact for me was reading Samuel Morris Brown 'In Heaven As It Is on Earth; Joseph Smith and The Early Mormon Conquest of Death'.

As it turns out, this Sunday it was my assignment and I gave the 3rd Sunday lesson,  from the George Albert Smith manual; topic - 'The Prophet Joseph Smith, God's Instrument in Restoring The Truth'.   It feels to me like all that reading will pay off in helping me to give the lesson in a manner conducive to my own interpretation via the lens of George Albert Smith talk on the matter.  

We had invite to dinner at the Bishop's house with his wife and another couple from the Ward last Sunday.  We spent the entire afternoon and well into the evening with them.  This Sunday we had invite from another family at the Ward, spent the afternoon with them, dinner, movie, and participated in their Family Home Evening with their children.

The Ward had a talent show on Saturday, and we spent enjoyable evening with member families.  Arthur provided a piano medley, which was well appreciated.  I showed three of my paintings, which were also well appreciated.  The greater fun was watching the youngsters share their talents, and we were particularly looking forward to a solo performance by one of the boys we knew had been working on his musical contribution.  We had driven out to his home the night before to do a run through with Arthur to accompany the boy in his solo hymn 'Nearer My God To Thee'.  They did their practice which brought another invite from the parents that we stay for dinner.  This is the same family who had offered to drive all the way out to our home bring Christmas dinner to us.   One more time we had to turn them down and couldn't stay for dinner; we were expected at the Ward for clean-up duty as we were on the clean-up crew that week.

Also this week I had Visiting Teaching spent time visiting some of the Sisters.  Arthur had Home Teaching last week.   Having now captured the events, in no way does the writing capture the flavor of what is happening to me inside.  And frankly speaking, it feels too personal to write about.  For the record, though, it is the people of this Ward with their continued kindness, outreach, genuine enjoyment of us, sharing so much of themselves with us and their willingness to embrace us into their church and personal families that has me in studied wonderment.   While I feel like I have seated the logical elements, ie, church historicity, doctrines, beliefs and practices, well enough in my head (innoculated), the contradiction is in finding so much genuine kindness among the people.

For me this walk into this Church has taken a serious turn and I'm afraid of it.  I am finding that I am wanting more of this, yearning to keep moving forward into the life, and less about leaving substantial room to back out in case it erupts in my face.  If it does, well it does, and somehow I don't think it will.  If it does, what has been and is real enough is that these are authentic relationships at this point.  And they know I am not one of them, they know I am not even a 'convert' in the traditional sense of the word.  They know me for who I am, what my beliefs are, and should there be some kind of eruptive disruption in the future, what is happening now is real enough.

The online  Facebook discussion communities of members who are in various stages on the continuum in their faith walks are of great help to me in seating my own walk.  For me it is fluid, it is moving, it has not remained static.  I'm rather pleased that I began this blog as something I can look back on in retrospect to see what my perspective was, is, and will become.  As of this writing, as of today, as of now, it is real enough.  It is more than a religion, more than a belief set, and I don't yet have the words to write or describe it as it fits for me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bring them in from the plains ....

Stating what is obvious, it has been quite some time since I last posted to this blog.  I   want this post to stand on it's own merit.  There is not much I want to add except that I was reduced to tears in watching this video .  I would hope it would touch others in that place in the heart that transcends words, although the words used 'bring them in from the plains' delivers a strong message that I think will resonate strongly among those who appreciate the history behind those words, and would like to bring the words forward into the present in our approach to fellow human beings.

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