Friday, May 31, 2013

Let's talk about Prayer.

Please note: I write here from my own experience, and my own understanding.  I do not hold myself up as an official voice for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nor do I make so bold as to speak for any other members of that church than myself--or any other person, anywhere.  These are my experiences and thoughts, as I try to learn and work through gospel topics and scriptures, and draw closer to my God.  This blog is written from my perspective as a lifelong member of the LDS church, and written largely to an LDS audience.  Of course anyone is welcome to read along . . . but knowing the voice and audience should make things a bit clearer.  Thank you; you may now return to your regularly-scheduled perusal of my ramblings. :o) 


Pretty basic, right?  Christ showed us how to pray; He prayed for us.  Prayer is nearly as old as mankind itself, and is practiced throughout the world by untold numbers of people, in (and out of) untold numbers of churches/religions.  Prayer happens when we choose, or it's torn, unbidden, from our hearts, or explodes outward with all-consuming emotion.  It pours out when we're filled with love and gratitude and joy, and is a speed-of-thought direct line to our God.

Basic? Yes.  Heady? Absolutely.

This summer I went on a reading kick.  For a while I read sweet, Christian romances . . . (stick with me--this really IS related) . . . and my responses to the faith-related portions of the story surprised me.  Some of them literally redirected my thoughts, and the course of my day . . . one of them, the course of my life.  Not drastically . . . but subtly, like the necessary hundreds of corrections during a jet flight to keep it on course, and save larger, more difficult corrections later.  But, one of the most amazing things to me, was reading the prayers that took part in the story, often offered by loving pastors or friends for the protagonist.  But you need some history on me for this to make any sense.

I'm a pretty sheltered Mormon girl.  I was born into this church, and have only attended other churches's meetings twice in my life (both of which were very conservative).  I've had friends from all kinds of religions, but I've never worshipped with them . . . faith and spirituality has never been a part of my friendships, until recently.  I've made some friends locally, and have hung out with them and their church friends a couple of times.  My friend and I have shared spiritual experiences and prayers and dreams, and it has been wonderful.  I've learned more about how her church functions (it's part of the Church of God movement), and I know people in her congregation who have had miracles and healings in their lives.  For someone who was taught as a young child the myth that those kinds of things just didn't happen outside of the LDS church, this has been simply awesome. (I know, that sounds both ridiculous and horrifying.  Even admitting I was taught that by well-meaning children's Sunday School teachers is horrifying to me.  Myths tend to stick, especially in such an insular and defensive community as the LDS church. There's still plenty of misunderstanding out there about Mormons . . . and there's also plenty of misunderstanding about other faiths in the minds of many members of the LDS church.)

Anyway, I've been shown many different ways to pray lately . . . and have seen the power of unrestrained, sincere prayer.  I feel like, throughout my whole life, I've mostly followed the rigid example of my church meetings: prayers to open and close.  So, I've said my morning and evening prayers.  I always give thanks over food, and will often pray when something comes up . . . but prayer is so much more than that.  It can be so freeing, so empowering.  A prayer that's nothing but praise and thanksgiving brings a rush of the Spirit like you wouldn't believe.  (Unless you've experienced it yourself, of course. ;o)

So, go give it a try.  You won't regret it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A First Time

You know the saying: "There's a first time for everything."

But we all have caveats in our minds; things we just know we won't ever do.  It's unsettling, to say the least, when that list of caveats loses a bullet point.

This month, for the first time in my life, I did not accept a calling.  (I know--those of you who know me well are as shocked by that as I am. This is not something I take lightly.)

The rest of the story:

I was extended a new calling three Sundays ago; the first Sunday we were back from vacation. It came as a complete surprise. Shockingly so. I usually have advance warning from the Spirit when I'm nearly done with a calling, and a release has never come as such a shock before. Usually I know my time in that calling is complete, or very close to it. While I have been the Primary pianist for a couple of years now, no spiritual inkling of a change had come. The whole interview still hangs in my mind surrounded by a fog of confusion and awkward surprise. When confronted with the new call, I did what I have made it my practice to do and accepted the new calling. Despite the feeling of bewilderment. The Holy Spirit comforted me during the prayer we closed the interview with, so I thought I had done the right thing.

Later that day, though, whenever I thought about the new calling, nausea curled in my gut. I've only ever felt that ill about a decision once before, back in college, and when I finally listened to the prompting, faced the situation, and corrected it, I found my initial (innocent, well-intentioned) decision had serious, serious consequences in someone else's life. I'm not about to flirt with ignoring that kind of communication from the Holy Ghost ever again.

After hours of rather nauseated deliberation, I called the counselor in the bishopric who extended the call, and let him know I needed to retract my acceptance while I pondered and prayed over it. After that point the nausea didn't return.  And for another full day, I pondered and prayed and counseled with Vern. I didn't want to refuse . . . that's not the way I roll. I contribute to the church.  I love to serve.  Anyone who knows me in any depth knows that well. And I doubly love to use any talents or abilities the Lord has given me in that capacity.  But the answer still came I was not to accept that calling. Which, while clear, truly surprised me.

Once I accepted the prompting and made the decision, blessed peace came. The peace that only comes when I've chosen to live in harmony with the Lord's will.  And that same peace always returns to ratify my decision each and every time my thoughts have dwelt on it since.

On Monday evening, I made the phone call.  After quite a round of phone tag, I was able to let the counselor know the answer I had been given. (I didn't feel this was the kind of thing to leave in a voicemail.) I was pretty sure they had already called my replacement during our weeks-long absence visiting family, so I knew refusing the calling didn't mean I would stay Primary pianist. But I couldn't accept the new calling. It simply wasn't the right thing to do.

As for why I wasn't to accept . . . a reason of that sort wasn't part of my answer.  But honestly, I trust my God. I know who He is, and His love never fails. I'm waiting to see what happens next. And I'm praying fervently that the next calling extended to me is one God wants me to accept.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Of Pants and Peacemaking

First off, one of these days, I'll write about why I choose to wear slacks to church.  I feel like my story needs to be set out clearly . . . somewhere. In the meantime, here I am, with the man who loves me and cheers me on as I try to come to a true, doctrinal, understanding of what it means to be a Daughter of God.  Yep--that's me.  A rather run-of-the-mill-looking Mormon mom of six.

Today, I read "Mormon Feminists Plan Demonstration in Sunday Worship Services", by Kathryn Skaggs, of A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman.

It's a well-written post, but I have a serious concern about the two quotes shared by Kathryn from women she knows.

From the first:
"More than anything, I feel sadness for the sisters that feel hurt and confused enough to feel they need to participate in this, because it means that they . . . " 
And from quote two:
"I read their reasons and I just don't understand where they are coming from. To me, their reasons are . . ."
My concern is this: both of these sisters assume true knowledge of motivation.  None of us . . . and I mean NONE of us . . . hold that knowledge without speaking personally (and often privately) with the person whose behavior we can't comfortably accept.  And even then, odds are we still don't know enough to draw conclusions.  There is but One who holds that moral authority.  And I cringe to see others stepping into His place in judgement (i.e. drawing conclusions about motivations--judging hearts, instead of actions).

The most concerning thing quoted was what followed the above quote of the second woman:
"To me, their reasons are that they don't understand the basics of the gospel. They don't understand the priesthood and womanhood. And that this is the Lord's church. They don't understand the symbolism of the temple."
Can you say "in-fla-ma-tor-y"?  Wow. The only thing saving me from outrage, hurt, and deep offense by that statement is the fact that I don't know that sister.  I don't know her heart.  I don't know her motivations, her paradigms, her experience.  I don't understand why she didn't grasp the material she read, stating the reasons some women wore pants to church. (As she said in the earlier part of her comment.)

I can, however, see her action.  Instead of accepting the publicly-stated reasons of All Enlisted, she inserted her own, assuming that those sisters don't understand the gospel, priesthood, womanhood, or the temple. (As she said herself.)  But I don't ascribe to her any level of malicious intent.  I choose to believe, in absence of proof otherwise, that odds are she didn't stop to think what her words might do to the heart of one who has studied long & hard to understand those very things, (none of which condone sexism or subjugation of women, in any setting), and who has come to the conclusion that these issues need to be opened for more public discussion--not left for behind the closed doors of an interview.

If anyone doesn't understand, the only remedy is to actually (gasp!) approach a sister wearing slacks to church, and humbly ask her why.  To open their hearts and accept the invitation that group extends to grow together in understanding.  If the sister approached stands with All Enlisted, in whole or in part, she has the opportunity to explain.  If she doesn't, then a lot of heartache can be avoided.  I've learned, through friends in my ward who have heard the gossip, that because I have chosen to wear slacks more than skirts lately, my testimony has been questioned ("Is Annalea losing her testimony?"), motives ascribed to me that are wholly false ("You know, Annalea supports women holding the priesthood, because she wears pants to church, and so does her husband, because he has worn a purple tie!"), and who knows what else.  Not one person (besides the bishop himself) who hasn't already understood me has approached me to come to greater understanding.  Not one.  I've talked it over with a couple of friends, but they approached me from a position of knowing who I am, and knowing that my choice of apparel is no. big. deal.  That it was not a protest.

Which brings me to another point in Kathryn's post.  That Sacrament Meeting isn't the place for demonstrations.  I respectfully disagree.  Sacrament Meeting isn't the place for protests--for disruption of worship and praise. But peaceful, quiet choices, selecting behavior that the church itself says is appropriate, seem completely fine.

If there is understanding, there is no demonstration.


1. The act of showing or making evident.
2. Conclusive evidence; proof.
3. An illustration or explanation, as of a theory or product, by exemplification or practical application.
4. A manifestation, as of one's feelings.
5. A public display of group opinion, as by a rally or march: peace demonstrations.

"Demonstrations" are often to express support--not opposition   That's the overwhelming impression I got, from reading on the pro side of the pants argument.  Just the same as some of the young men in my ward shaving their heads when a member of their quorum began chemotherapy. We don't assume they are desecrating sacred space, protesting the existence of cancer, or trying to draw attention to their friend's condition.  They're showing that they love their friend, and that they are willing to go through the awkwardness of a bald head to share in what he has to go through.  THAT was the spirit of "Wear Pants to Church Day".  (PLEASE NOTE: I did not say that was why I wore pants to church. But I DO assert that there is absolutely nothing wrong with claiming that motivation.)  To acknowledge that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a haven for the perfect.  It is a hospital for the sick.  (For they that are whole need no physician, anyone?) It is a gym for spiritual couch potatoes, therapy for spiritual train wreck victims, and more.  When we assume that all is perfect in Zion, that everything that happens is the mind, will, and commandment of the Lord, we get in trouble. Really big.  There are women who struggle with the havoc wreaked by the adversary of all righteousness--Satan himself--in their lives through men, overwhelmingly well-intentioned), who have treated them otherwise than they should have.  And understanding that it happens is vital and valuable to every member of our church, both as validation for those who suffer, and as a cautionary tale to those who don't.

The self-stated purpose of wearing slacks to church in December was to show support to those who have gotten the short end of the gender-inequality stick within the organization of the church.  Due to the fact that our church is run by mortals, whether men or women, that unfortunate and wholly inappropriate kind of thing has, in fact, happened.  To someone who has never felt the pernicious and soul-deep worthlessness that kind of treatment engenders, it's hard to imagine or understand.  But its real.  And turning those who are reaching out into a bunch of negative discontents seems a rather unconsidered disservice to me.