Friday, March 5, 2010

Grace: Starting Over

Yesterday was something of a milestone for me. I finished reading the Song of Solomon, which marked my completion of the entire standard works of the LDS Church cover-to-cover since I began reading the scriptures daily again in January 2006. I read the Book of Mormon, then the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, then the New Testament, then the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah through Malachi), then the rest of the Old Testament (Genesis through the Song of Songs). So today I'm starting over.

It's not that I hadn't read the standard works before... By the time I almost quit the Church by way of suicide in 1986 (and then quit it by letter asking to have my name removed from the records), I had read the Old Testament and the Doctrine and Covenants cover-to-cover once, the Pearl of Great price and the New Testament cover-to-cover three times, and the Book of Mormon six times. At BYU I'd done some more in-depth study of the Book of Mormon, Isaiah, and the Pauline Epistles through religion classes. Since leaving the LDS Church, I had done further readings and study of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament. I guess I have been well versed in the scriptures. But I have never read the scriptures with the same sense of urgency (or self-discipline) as I have in the past four years.

This time around, I had a pressing question at the back of my mind: Is there some word of hope in here for me, a gay, Mormon, excommunicated man?

That question was answered, though not in the ways I expected it to be. Certainly, I wrestled with the ways in which the scriptures have tended to be read against gay people. Certainly I gained fresh insights into the contexts of certain anti-gay "proof texts." But far more often than I thought I'd found answers to the pressing questions I brought to my reading of scripture, I found myself humbled and challenged. I found myself having to let go of easy answers, and accept the necessity of faith and faithfulness.

This morning I started again with the first chapter of Matthew, and was struck with the challenge presented to the faith of Joseph, Mary's betrothed. He finds his wife-to-be pregnant, and he knows whose child it isn't. So he is about to end the betrothal in as discreet and non-humiliating a manner as possible, when an angel appears to him in a dream and tells him an impossible thing. And so, in response to a dream, Joseph quietly swallows his pride and proceeds with the marriage, and raises this child as his own. The whole of faith is contained in that simple story: unbearable heartache, vision, repentance, and the fruits of humility: hope and love. That is what my journey with scripture has been like.

So as I start over again today, as I consider the significance of this milestone, I'm also aware that in a real sense, there are no milestones. Every day I start over, and every starting over is, in a way, like beginning at square one. There is no sense in which I progress on my own without the Spirit of God. There's no personal good or righteousness I can amass as a kind of store of goodness. No good that all this scripture reading can do me if I don't start over as I did at the beginning: acknowledging that I need help to continue this journey; acknowledging that without help I have no hope. I'm aware that there's nothing I can do to cajole, coerce or compel God to help me. Nothing I can do but ask and wait and hope.

I still feel grateful, more grateful than I have words to express, and I take that as a good sign.


Anonymous said...

I love the ideas presented here, that one can start over each and every day. Actually, each and every minute or second, if needs be. I have been thinking about this a lot. I realize I make many errors and mistakes for which I am constantly in the need and process of starting over. But, the starting over is always tempered with the graciousness of what I do know: about the Spirit, about Heaven's help, what I learn and gain through my own experiences, etc. We really are so lucky, and blessed, to have these lives of ours, to learn what we do learn.

Thank you for reminding me of these things this morning.

Love and respect, awlays! slp

GeckoMan said...

John, it's been weeks and weeks since I've taken a moment to read blogs, and I always come to yours first for uplift. You again remind me of basic truth, simple and pure. Thanks for sharing your humble perspectives. I love you, brother.

Sean said...

Grace is one of favorite subjects. unfortunately, I find that many LDS people don't understand this great gift.
It is unfortunate that we fail to see that we are truly Perfected in and only through Christ. His Grace and mercy saves us. Why we make it complicated boggles my mind.
The book "Believing Christ" poses an interesting question: At the judgement bar do you want God to be Just in his decision or merciful?
For me I choose Merciful.