Sunday, April 27, 2014

On Thomas

A few weeks ago, I wrote about revelation, likening it to the appearance of dew on the grass. Dew appears gradually, almost imperceptibly. During the past few painful weeks, I have continued to receive revelation in various forms and from various sources, feeling the dew of revelation slowly form on my soul. I have felt spiritually wounded for various reasons; I followed several promptings from our Heavenly Parents that led me to what I thought would be good decisions. These decisions, however, did not work out the way that I had anticipated. My expectations did not meet the reality of the situation. Even though I have felt incredibly hurt and confused, I have tried to press forward with faith in our Heavenly Parents and Their plan. 

As I have felt so spiritually wounded, I have sought comfort in the typical manner. I have read the scriptures, attended Church services, prayed, read literature, and turned to a myriad of other sources. In my attempts to find comfort during these difficult moments, I have tried to examine my spiritual relationships. After attending my LDS services on Easter Sunday, I went to a small Episcopalian church, St. Mary's. As I sat in the services, I felt incredibly spiritually uplifted. It reminded me of my spiritual awakening that I experienced while I was in Europe that caused me to reevaluate my spirituality and my relationship with our Heavenly Parents.

I started to feel better this past week, but I still felt some spiritual wounds in my soul.  After moving back to Salt Lake this week, I decided that I would attend another Episcopal service at St. Paul's. St. Paul's was crowded; today a young man was baptized. During the sermon, I was reminded me of the healing that our Heavenly Parents can offer. 

The sermon discussed the story of Thomas. Thomas has fascinated me for quite some time. As I was trying to decide on a title for my blog many years ago, I thought of my own faith journey. As I have traversed the landscape of Mormonism, I have discovered that my faith is complex. I went from a doubter, a "doubting Thomas" as some would say, to someone who underwent a series of profound spiritual experiences and became converted to the gospel. I have now found myself at a crossroads. 

The man who gave the sermon discussed how we see Thomas. Thomas was a doubter. Thomas was the one who was too skeptical, too prone to intellectualizing the situation at hand. It is ironic, however, that the title "Doubting Thomas" is never used in the scriptures. In fact, the only title for Thomas that is used is Didymus (the twin). During the sermon, the man drew the connection between all of us and Thomas. We are Thomas's twins. We all experience human failings: doubts, fears, concerns, heartaches, and confusion. We are flawed, imperfect, but also beloved children of our Heavenly Parents. 

He also mentioned how Thomas needed to find a way to encounter the risen Christ. Thomas's desire to see Christ was a desire to encounter Christ personally. We all desire to find ways to encounter the risen Christ for us personally. We are called to bring our doubts and uncertainty. Christ and our Heavenly Parents will take us as we are. They do not expect us to abandon our humanity because our humanity is what makes us beautiful and it is our humanity that makes us divine. The flaws and the doubts that we all have prepare us to be sanctified and to triumph over all the difficulties of this world. It is in our flawed state that our Heavenly Parents call us to encounter the risen Christ and to come to know Them. One person's answer to meet the risen Christ is not the answer for all, however. We cannot discount the answers of others because these answers do not resonate with us. We must learn to discover our own way to the Divine. We all need the reassurance that Thomas desired, the assurance that we can come to know the risen Christ. 

In my own religious community, we tend to look down on the doubts that others experience. But aren't we all a bit like Thomas? Don't we all experience doubt and heartache? Confusion and sorrow? Disbelief and faith? I believe that as I have accepted myself as a Thomas, I have come to see how my Heavenly Parents see me. They know that I am flawed and that I experience doubt, heartache, confusion, sorrow, disbelief, and faith. But in the end, I cannot abandon my identity as a twin of Thomas. I am a Thomas. And my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother love me for me, a Thomas. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What is love?

Today was the last day of my world religion class with Dr. Alonzo Gaskill. He has some quirks that have bugged me occasionally, but I have mostly enjoyed his class. His class has been focused on cultivating religious understanding and helping us to appreciate the diversity in the world of the belief. As he concluded the semester with a summary of his own belief, he read us a scriptural passage, 1st John 4:20, that I am sure I have read before. 

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"

As Dr. Gaskill read these words, I pondered on how we react to those who are different. How do we treat the Other? How would I want to be treated as the Other? 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of sorts for me. I finished my thesis, I became involved in I'm A Mormon Feminist, I changed several habits in the my life, I introduced new habits, and I met up with my friend from freshman year to take her to the OW action. Even though this semester has been incredibly stressful and emotionally draining, it has given me time to reflect on the path that my life has taken. Through my involvement in Mormon feminism and LGBT advocacy, I have come to see how God wants us to treat the Other. 

This realization, however, is not my first moment of understanding. When I was in my hardest area on my mission, ธนบุรี (Thonburi), I remember feeling emotionally exhausted. My time in the area had been difficult. To add to the difficulties that I was already experiencing, we never had any serious investigators.  Without any serious investigators, I felt confused: Why had I been sent to this area? Why was I being entrusted with a young missionary to train? 

Near the beginning of that move (transfer), we bought a map of Bangkok from a local bookstore. It showed the major road, จรัญสนิทวงศ์, that cut through the ธนบุรี side of the river. It showed the countless side streets (ซอย), the major Buddhist temples, and other historic landmarks. When I came to ธนบุรี, I was told that it was a struggling ward that had never recovered since a series of unfortunate boundary changes. My mission president sent us to boost the number of Elders to four in the ward. I was told that God had inspired this call and that I should work hard to do the best that I could. When I looked at this map, initially, I saw potential. I saw the opportunity to find new people to teach. 

As the move progressed, however, I became frustrated. The people there were uninterested in our message. No matter how hard I tried, people would not investigate the Church. They would compliment me on my Thai, saying how clearly I spoke, but they would always give the traditional response of "Every religion teaches us to be good." My spirit languished. Why was God not blessing us with success? Why was I not finding people to teach about my cherished faith? One day, when we were planning for the next week, I looked at the map in a new light. I remember looking at the map and seeing what our Heavenly Parents saw. Not just street numbers or names of temples and landmarks. The map showed  the homes of my siblings. Siblings born halfway across the world. Siblings who knew nothing about Them, but could still be happy. Some of them denied Them or felt angry at Them. Others embraced Them and cultivated relationships with the Divine. I thought, however, of the heartache that They feel when their children reject them. Perhaps my rejection by these wonderful people, who didn't see the need for Deity, was a portion of how our Heavenly Parents felt when They experienced rejection.

I don't believe that we all need to be Mormon to experience happiness. That was not the point of the story above. The point is, however, that I have come to realize what rejection is. There are parts of me that I fear will be rejected by others if they knew the "real" me. I fear that people's love is conditional or that their love will be taken away if I should do something that does not please them. 

And now we return to the scripture mentioned above. If people does not love their siblings, they cannot say that they love God. I struggle to love perfectly. I find myself becoming frustrated with people and with their shortcomings, but I always try to return to that foundation of love. That foundation of love teaches me that the people around me are my siblings. Children of our Heavenly Parents. I do not want others to experience the pain that comes from rejection or isolation. When we truly love God, we will love our siblings. And that is love. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Revelation and Dew

A few semesters ago, I took a class from Dr. Rachel Cope in the religion department. Professor Cope encourages her students to think about the gospel in new ways.One of these new ways was her constant  focus on the theme of "sanctification" as the goal of the entire gospel. But what is sanctification? Sanctification is the process of becoming more holy.  Holiness is a matter that is frequently discussed in hymns, scriptures, literary texts, and a multitude of other sources, but Professor Cope's particular approach to it deeply impressed me.

One day in American Christianity we were discussing revelation as described my contemporaries of Joseph Smith. These contemporaries often described revelation as knowledge that they received as the "dews from heaven." In the past few weeks, as I have been pondering the nature of revelation and the revelatory experiences in my life, I would similarly describe it as "dew from heaven." A few days ago I was discussing my spiritual journey with a friend, and I mentioned how God seems to give me spiritual impressions. As I was describing my spiritual impressions, I surprised myself by the number of revelatory experiences that I had experienced in the past (almost) seven years. It seems like yesterday I was in high school debating the weighty truth claims that Mormonism claims to be the gospel truth. I went to BYU, received my endowment, and served an honorable mission in Thailand. Now I find myself trying to navigate the waters of Mormonism. I am not a traditional Mormon and, to some, I may not be the best Mormon. But I have realized one important lesson throughout my years of experience: God sends revelation for me like the dew from heaven.

When we find dew on the grass in the morning, we rarely think about how it appeared. It has simply appeared overnight, making the grass and flowers slightly damp. Likewise, revelation has appeared to me in the most obscure ways. I have felt that God is guiding my path to make difficult decisions. I do believe that God does communicate with me, but God's methods, however, remain somewhat of a mystery to me. I have never heard a voice, but I have had strong feelings and impressions that have guided my decision process. Sometimes these promptings are hard to follow, but as I have followed what I believe to be right, I have seen how God has helped me to be successful and happy.

Recently, I had a prompting that I needed to follow, but I was not happy about it. After almost eight months of questioning and wondering, I felt that I should do something that I had feared. It was extremely painful for me to see how God was asking me to do something that I did not understand. I still feel some pain from this decision, but I know that I made the right decision for this point in my life. It is only by making the hard decisions that I can learn how to see the right decisions. Also, time is a great teacher. Again, this revelatory experience was not a single event, but rather was a process. Like the dew mentioned earlier, my thoughts and impressions gathered to this point. I must not regret my decision to follow the impressions that came upon me. I believe that God has led me to a new place where I can learn and grow in new ways.

To new beginnings!