Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Contrast of Faith and Power

Jehovah and Lucifer

A Study in Faith

Christ shows perfect faith from the beginning. By submitting to His father’s will and giving Him the glory, Christ gained infinitely more than He would have otherwise; in fact, He gained all things, infinity in eternity. By letting go and detaching Himself from the process, He was able to bring about the state He promises us in these latter days: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly: then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (Doctrine & Covenants 121:45-46, emphasis added).

Lucifer shows no faith whatsoever. Instead of patiently, detachedly allowing it to come to him, he attempted to force the issue and compel people to do what he wants them to do. There is nothing everlasting in a dominion based on fear, but given that Satan has no faith, and given that fear is the opposite of faith, his entire kingdom is transitory and ephemeral. In an absolute absence of charity and with no virtue in his thinking, Satan has no confidence whatsoever in the presence of God and no understanding at all of the doctrines. With no claim on the Holy Ghost and the infinite intelligence the Spirit makes available to us, Lucifer must by definition live in fear, darkness and with no real, lasting power. By attempting to grasp power by force, he denies himself the possibility of infinite power, the power enjoyed by the great Jehovah, Jesus Christ, and all those who become joint heirs with Him in His Father’s kingdom.

Thus Lucifer traps himself in a device of his own making. Were he, even now, to submit to the Father, he could find power and faith far beyond what he can only intellectualize, but he cannot, because of his need and desire to compel, and because of his utter lack of faith and love.

As we open ourselves to charity, the pure love of Christ, and to virtue, or excellence and righteousness, we choose a life that brings us greater power without compulsion, and everlasting growth and increase. As we follow in the footsteps of our Savior and Lord, and submit our will to His, we become like Him. At that time, with Him, as promised, we can possess everlasting joy and dominion.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Power of Thankfulness

Gratitude is Love and Faith

Misery is lonely; gratitude is shared. In my life I have known both. At times, misery has nearly overwhelmed me and overcome me. Gratitude feels better.

Gratitude focuses outward away from the self, from the ego. Misery focuses inwardly. Where we place our focus absorbs the nourishing nutrition of our concentrated attention. Misery begets misery gratitude begets more gratitude. Our focus can make either thrive and flourish.

As we give thanks to our Father and to our fellow human beings, our gratitude in all things increases. A dearth of things to be thankful for does not negate the importance of gratitude. In fact, since gratitude creates greater gratitude, when we feel little gratitude that is precisely the time we should seek reasons to be thankful. By looking around and giving thanks for little things, we increase our gratitude naturally.

Gratitude is, in reality, an act of faith. Standing at the entrance of the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, our Lord Jesus Christ “…lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me…And when he thus had spoken he cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:41, 43). Christ, the greatest of all, felt moved to give thanks to His Father for the power to bring His friend back to life. Clearly Lazarus came back to life in an act of faith; the gratitude of our Lord in advance of the miracle was likewise an act of faith.

Thus we see that gratitude is both a manifestation of faith and a strengthener of faith. Thus we also see that faith and love, being nearly one in substance, require a focus away from ourselves toward others. As we focus away from ourselves, we no longer perceive our misery, much less suffer from it.

As we focus away from ourselves, away from our pain, we find joy in the gratitude we now feel. Upon this earth and within the cosmos that a loving God created as a means of sharing with His beloved children a fullness of joy, there is much to be grateful for. The very act of focus away from the self toward God and His service to His children is a leap of faith. A fullness of faith brings a fullness of joy in perfect love.

Our Lord explained the process very well. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose hi life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:24; cf. also Mark 8:35, Matthew 10:39, JSTT Mathew 10:34).

(Although Modern English barely distinguishes a difference between “will” and “shall,” it is no accident that the King James translators alternate the two verbs. “Will” indicates intent or purpose – we still see that in other forms of this root: “I am willing to go…,” “it is my will…” “Shall” indicates action. In this verse, the implication is that the person that wants (take action) to save his life is going to lose it. The person that is willing to lose hi life for Christ and His gospel is going to save it.)

A leap of faith presupposes a certain level of faith already existent. A person who might feel frustrated by a sense of inadequacy due to a weakness of faith should remember and implement two fundamental actions:

  1. Pray for love and faith as Mormon advised: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ…” (Moroni 7:48). As we grow in love, we grow in faith.
  2. Take seriously the Lord’s injunction to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17, I Timothy 2:8), vocally as well as in your heart (Doctrine & Covenants 136:28). Our expression of gratitude in prayer creates spiritual awareness in which we observe and witness the power and the goodness of God. That alone increases our faith.

The result of gratitude is joy. Because of the faith and love that, by nature, accompany gratitude, and because of the recognition of the love and the goodness of God that gratitude gives us, the very act of giving thanks to God or to any of His creations becomes a planting of a seed that will take root and produce a fruit that is “most precious, which is sweet about all that is sweet, and white above all that is white…and pure above all that is pure” (Alma 32:42).

Our thinking about the goodness we enjoy as children of a loving Heavenly Father increases faith and in increases joy. After all, the verbs “think” and “thank” come ultimately from the same historic root. A simple task, giving continual thanks, being thoughtful about what is good, will nearly imperceptibly bring us closer to God and His spirit, as well as provide us strength in faith unto salvation and eternal life.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Three Poems Composed at a Funeral

A dear friend, Connie Christensen, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly about a year ago. She was definitely a beloved woman., a wonderful mother of four children ranging from 8 years to 18 years of age, and a talented singer. Her death came as a shock, of course, but knowing the pain she had endured for a number of years stemming from a serious automobile accident, it came as somewhat of a relief, as well.

While contemplating this at a beautiful funeral service - and as a Mormon service, it was filled with an element of joy - I jotted down these three poems, which with only minor modification I want to share with you now:

Joy Forever

This veil of tears – so aptly named –

It serves to give experience

That we might learn to walk in faith

And love, the counterpart of faith.

The grace of our wise, loving Lord,

The faith and love we hold within,

A broken heart and contrite spir’t,

Enable us to well endure

The pain and sorrow that this time,

This brief time in mortality

Serves up, so irrespectively

To each of us, beloved child.

And thus we know that those of us

Who take upon ourselves His yoke,

The which is easy, lightening

Our burden as we overcome

The trials and the hurts of life,

That we might find a fleeting joy –

But better yet, with love and faith,

And our Lord’s grace, when we

At last shuffl’ off this mortal coil,

We know there waits a joyful time

Of meeting with our Father, God,

Our source of love and faith and grace

And joy forever without end.



Connie

A choice and love-filled daughter,

Radiant, one bright-shining star

That dominates, illuminates

The otherwise obscure and dusky world:

One feels perhaps, that some foul adversary,

Some dark angel,

Deemed that she, so pure, so filled with light,

Should not receive the proper measure

Of the joy that any heart thus filled

Should have as due;

The stumbling blocks, the pains, the trials

All served to foil the wicked plot against her,

As she grew from saint to angel,

She, a radiant being of light and life to those around her.

Angels find their place in more celestial worlds

Than here among mere mortals.

Those of us who wish to go where she has gone,

A place of love and light,

Can, seeing her example,

Look to the brightness of the Son,

There find that same pure joy and light

That yet define this beautiful and

Christ-like daughter of the Father,

Now and yet forever.



Death and Life

By man came death into a fallen world:

The world reels to and fro as one drunken,

Staggering in self-absorbed obscurity

And self-destructive darkness;

Ignorant of its purpose, its state or future,

The world arrogantly sees its opulence and glory,

Smug in self-aggrandized wisdom

And importance, and does not see

Its own disease, a sickness unto death.

A world much too sophisticated

Cannot think to look to heaven,

To know of Him, one chosen since before

The earth was made to house the world,

To come and heal the world,

To lift the stains, remove the pain,

And offer life, eternal life.

The world will die, but those who will

Accept this gift will live forever

In His light and joy.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Teach Me How to Be

Lord, willt thou teach me how to think, how to speak, and how to act? I am but a child: I know not how to go out or come in (I Kings 3:7). I am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech (Moses 6:31). I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge railed me; no man cared for my soul.

Thou, my Father, art my only refuge, my sole reliable support. On thee alone can I depend. Thy love will sustain me, for God is love (I John 4:8), and thou art my Father, my Lord and my God.

As God, thou hast all power, all knowledge and all intelligence. There is nothing in all creation that can overcome my God. In him I rest secure. A Lord provides for those who follow him; my Lord provides my needs bountifully and willingly. A father loves his son as my Heavenly Father loves me. If a son asks bread, a Father gives him not a stone, or if the son asks a fish, the Father gives him not a serpent: a wise loving and gracious Father gives according to my genuine needs.

Why then should I desire to rely on the arm of flesh, which by its very nature shall become corrupted, then wane and waste away? I desire, rather, the stability and endurance of the arm of God. For does he not reassure us that though heaven and earth shall pass away, His word will not pass away?

In the beginning, then, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1: 1). The same was in the beginning, and shall abide forever, worlds without end.

Mortal people will come and go, some hostile, some hateful, some uncaring, uninvolved, or so absorbed in themselves that they become unable to see outward toward their own brothers and sisters, their fellow children of the same Heavenly Father. Others – many others – mean well, but as yet lack strength and endurance enough to sustain anybody but themselves. Thou, my Father, my Lord and my God, with strength and power and love, have always been there for me and will be forever.

Again, my Father, I beseech thee, teach me how to think, teach me how to speak, teach me how to act, teach me how to be. My great desire is to be thy son, serving thee and emulating thee, inseparable from thee forever and ever. I ask Thee humbly to accept me unto thyself and make me thine.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Epiphanies of a Personal Sort

Despite the religious overtones of the word, dealing with the Magi and divine manifestation, we can all have epiphanies for ourselves, depending upon what our own reality is. This thought came to me during and following my semi-annual visit to the dentist this morning. I am an evening person; the need to rush my morning routine in order to be set in a chair designed to not be set comfortably in, then to have it tipped back to give me the feeling I am sliding off onto my head or into some nameless, trackless void, so that a hygienist half my age can abuse my oral cavity with picks and foul-tasting polishing paste, does not often make me any more sociable. Sitting there, unable to read my newspaper because I was hanging upside down in this chair, I focused on things in my environment that might not otherwise have occurred to me. The music was one.

Of course, what is a dentist office without dentist-office music, and this was no exception. Dr. C. and I had co-stared together in a production of Brigadoon some years back, he as the romantic guy, me as the funny guy, he getting the girl, I getting the laughs, he getting to sing, I getting to..., well, I did get to sing two lines, but it was for comic effect, and not because of the beauty of my performance. Dr. C., on the other hand, has a beautiful, clear, tenor voice. Like many tenors, he was a bit stiff on stage..., but I digress. In the years I had visited his office every six month, I had always heard Brigadoon-like music, easy-listening favorites, as it were. It bespoke his personality and nature, and, like it or not, that kind of music does have a soothing effect so handy in a dentist
=s office.

The repertoire today, however, was definitely not easy listening; emerging from the ceiling speakers were the unmistakable twangs of Country Music. The surprise at this very uncharacteristic phenomenon, (and the fact that the new hygienist was blonde, very cute, and vivacious), served to stir me from my morning torpor. When she mentioned that on a gorgeous, warm, autumn morning like today she would rather be out riding one of her two horses, I knew the source of the radio station selection. She reported that at first the Doctor had always switched it back to his station whenever she had changed it while working alone, but lately he had just let it be. When I asked him about it, he blamed his teenage son, who had been conscientiously introducing Country to him at home. I suggested he rent a video of the first making of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but my point was lost, and, as we all know, explaining a joke takes all the joy out of it.

This exchange came at the end of my session. It was while I was driving away that I encountered my own epiphanal experience. It was Beim Schlafengehen from Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs, playing from my car radio, and specifically that transcendently beautiful moment when the soprano, in the last lines of Hesse's lyric, describes the soul, soaring free in the magic circle of the night, echoing the exquisitely sublime solo violin melody that separated the second from the third verse. Was it the strident contrast between this ethereal beauty and what I had been listening to before? I am not sure, but it struck my forcefully. I actually felt incipient tears welling up.


The dictionary tells us that an epiphany, of whatever nature, involves a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something. My realization was that at rare and, for the most part, unpredictable times, the human organism finds a way to break free from its normal, routine, humdrum existing to make contact with some ethereal higher state of being or consciousness to create something that stands as a Colossus to bestride the narrow world of petty inventions. What is the process here? If I knew I would avail myself to it and rise to greatness. There are, in each generation, some few who tap into this creative power, that seems to hover and brood over the world as a sort of cosmic Zeitgeist. The rest of us catch occasional glimpses, but more often than not are not prepared to act on them, only to enjoy.


Mozart possessed the gift of an open hot-line to this infinite intelligence, and it flowed through him like waters of life. Beethoven had to work for his, but with an awe-inspiring will power, a magnificent will to create, he forcibly wrested creative power out of the infinite and opened his minds to vistas most people cannot even dream of. The results are similar. Mozart gives us the achingly beautiful adagio to his Clarinet Concerto, seemingly effortlessly as it wafted into his creative subconscious. Beethoven offers the otherworldly rapture of his "Heiliger Dankgesang:" we know right away who was the one recovering and offering thanks to Divinity. However much we feel it upon listening, Beethoven felt it more deeply.


There are other epiphanies in music (and so many more in creative arts outside music): In twenty years of listening, I still cannot listen to the final chorus, the last few bars of Mahler's "Resurrection Symphony" without feeling chills as the hairs on the back of my neck rise in exultation. I experience much the same whenever I hear the chorale of the shepherds choir bringing peace after the tumult of rejoicing in Respighi's "Laud to the Nativity."

Therein lies a lesson: the profound and the beautiful need not be obscure. One might say, sadly, it usually is.I choose to omit the sadly, because it is ever so. Thoreau wrote, pessimistically, The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. If this is true, it is because most men and women rarely look outside themselves. Many people become so focused on the self through conditioning and their manner of reacting to what life dishes out, that they see only unclearly what is beyond them. Those prophets, the creative artists, are exactly that, because they have mastered the technique of looking and feeling, and grafting themselves onto the Universal Infinite Intelligence that gives a so much more great and noble view of life and the world. Those who follow them toward the light, find that the light is good, and as they receive it, their capacity to receive increases continually; their ability to find insights and find the most profound joy grows.

This quest for creative insight is, of course, not the sum of our purpose. An obsession here could cause a person to become an artistic hermit, out of balance with the total self. Again, we can take a lesson from the great artists. Their life was spent in our service. They created for us.


Whatever else happens in our life, we are in this all together, and are one, like it or not. A Schubert, like Mozart pulling magnificent ideas out of the ether, or a Mahler, struggling Beethoven-like to comprehend all things before putting it into music, enlighten and elevate us all. If we follow, our own power to elevate may increase. At the least, we will ourselves be drawn upward toward higher planes of existence.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Things That Are Truly Important

The Lord knows me. He knows my name. He knows my strengths and my weaknesses. He knows what I go through on a daily basis. He stands ready to support me and help me in all I do – in my trials and in my labors. He loves me as His child with perfect love, for God is love and the Lord is God. His capacity for love is such that He loves me more than I can love myself.

Therefore, I know I can trust Him and rely on Him with assurance. As I turn to Him, the power of His Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, will permeate my being, bringing light and truth. As I accept Him in my life, He will heal my wounds. As I forsake my sins, He will lift the stains of my soul. As I give myself to Him, He will take me into His kingdom to dwell amid His love and glory, in great and eternal joy, forever more.

Any desire I have that is counter to my Lord’s will presents a danger to my well-being. Any action I take not in congruence with my Lord’s will jeopardizes my long-term happiness. Only when my actions fully harmonize with the will of God can I attain true and lasting – indeed, eternal – joy.

In His perfection and wisdom, God remains aware of long-term effects. In our imperfection and mortality our view is greatly limited. This can lead to grave mistakes. Failure comes when we give up what we want most of all just so we can get something we want right now. A two-year-old child, when offered a choice between a piece of candy or a hundred dollar bill will always take the candy, despite the fact that the money could keep it in candy for years. Likewise, it displays a childish lack of wisdom and a great deal of ignorance when we grasp at worldly pleasures and reject what our Father has ready to give us, which is all He has – the entire universe, which is all things.

It takes faith to continue to care for the goose that lays golden eggs, rather than succumb to the enticements of the world and kill the goose in a vain attempt to get all the eggs now. It takes faith to trust in an all-powerful and all-loving Father to give us fulfillment of our righteous desires. It takes faith to resist grabbing what we want right now, although we intellectually recognize that it might not be what God would give us.

Whenever we take from the world rather than from God, we accept a counterfeit. A counterfeit brings some immediate pleasure, but no lasting joy.

In the Pulitzer Price winning play (later an Academy Award winning motion picture), “A Man For All Seasons,” the protagonist, Sir Thomas More, his fate now sealed due to false witness given by one Richard Rich with the purpose of political gain, tells young Rich, “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?” Richard Rich had lied in court so that the political powers could justify More’s head on the chopping block, but Sir Thomas went in full confidence that he had maintained his integrity and had thereby procured a lasting and eternal reward, whereas all Rich received was a governorship of Wales.

On a more immediate level, whenever we act counter to the will of God, go against what our Father would have us do, we are accepting something less than the whole world – something much less valuable, something that will not last. To an Englishman in the 16th Century, Wales was a backwater, a place of no great consequence. To Richard Rich, the ambitious young power seeker, it meant prestige and advancement. As Sir Thomas pointed out, the price of this political power, gained through deceit, was his soul.

May we always be cognoscent of the value of our soul.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nourishment in Focus

Gratitude


I got the following news item from a Web site that reports bizarre news stories. Obviously, the circumstances are bizarre: how often does a man spend 19 years in a coma and then come back to take his normal place in the world? But it emphasizes another point that fits in nicely with this forum – that most people would rather complain about circumstances than take steps to improve them.


This is not an observation that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. I am certain that if we could travel to any era of human history, it was the same. The people that Noah was preaching to in warning probably complained about society, the price of gopher wood, or the noisy neighbors among themselves, to say nothing of this strange man who was calling them to repentance.

Here is the item as I received it:

WARSAW, Poland - A Polish man who spent 19 years in a coma awoke to a whole new world, but he said people still find things to complain about. "When I went into a coma, there was only tea and vinegar in the shops," Jan Grzebski, 65, told a Polish news channel. "Meat was rationed and there were huge petrol queues everywhere." "Now I see people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin," he Grzebski said.

"What amazes me is all these people who walk around with their mobile phones and yet they never stop moaning."

Grzebski, a railway worker, went into a coma after he was hit by a train in 1988. Doctors predicted he would live for two or three years. His wife moved him every hour for 19 years so he wouldn't get bedsores, The Independent reported.

This man’s observation underscores a more serious issue – a phenomenon that would explain a great deal of the turmoil and pain found in this or any society’s human condition. The deeper matter here centers on a lack of gratitude.

The thing that bothered our railway worker friend was not the surprise upgrade in societal prosperity, but the fact that despite how much better things were in their lives 19 years later, people still continued to complain about conditions. They no longer had to endure meat rationing and waiting in line to buy gasoline, but they still felt the need to complain.

We have to assume that people would generally find it difficult to be grateful while in the midst of a rant or a lamentation. Somehow our focus on the negative diverts our attention away from the uplifting and edifying.

And there is a powerful endorsement of gratitude. Gratitude, of course, does much more than accentuate the upbeat and pleasant. It is much more than just a feel-good method of maintaining a positive mental attitude. We will address this in greater depth in a future article. For now, however, let’s focus on this: there is much more to be grateful for than to complain about, if that is the direction our attentions take us. If we focus on the good, we have a hard time focusing on the bad.

Our focus is like powerful nourishment to the object of our focus. What we focus on grows and thrives. Isn’t that the nature of focus? – we see the object of our focus more closely and with greater clarity than other objects.

Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are those frightful things we see when we take our eyes off our goal.” If the focus of our thoughts and actions is the ennobling and joyful things that God has provided for us, the obstacles to our happiness gets pushed off to the side and remains in our peripheral vision: if we hardly notice the obstacles, they just don’t get in our way.

This is not an invitation to be Pollyanna. Life does require some pain and suffering. They don’t call it the veil of tears for nothing. On the other hand, why let the challenges, trials and pains of life control us or dictate to us how we should feel? Indeed, they will not if we always remember to be grateful for the good that is there for us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Welcome to My World

Not long ago I ran across an item on You Tube that conveys an overtly negative message about my church in general and my prophet in particular. The nature of the video – a segment from a General Conference Session with sub-titles – although the stimulus of my thoughts here and the seeds of inception of this blog, is, in reality, irrelevant.

What really caught my attention, however, was the volume of venom and vitriol spewed into the discussion group that was attached to the video. A great deal of antipathy and ill-will came out on both sides of the argument – the Mormon apologists contributing to the discussion were in many cases equally as negative and divisive as those who were having a field day attacking the money-grubbing church and doddering old men who so self-servingly lead it – this particular 94-year-old spiritual leader in particular.

I couldn’t help but remember the words of a loving Father: “…if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27). Running through my mind as I read so much discord in the name of religion was the thought of the many times that God has told us through His servants to avoid contention and strife.

Somehow out of this cacophony of the mean-spirited disputations came the idea of creating this Web forum. I have long enjoyed writing down my thoughts and feelings, but have always found the distribution of my writing to be a problem. Digital technology makes that easy now.

Your thoughts and opinions are welcome: if you disagree with my views, that does not make your thoughts and views wrong. I have even been known to change my mind on occasion. Although all of us seek truth – or should do – but I have not yet been granted a corner on that market. I only do the best I can.

However, a civilized exchange of ideas and discussion of differing viewpoints need not devolve into ad hominem attacks and ridicule of the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of others. I hope you will respect that as you respect my feelings while you are in my digital home.

Thank you.