This past Sunday was our Stake Conference. As always, I was grateful to be able to attend; grateful for friends who gave me a ride, and friends who were there to be my surrogate Church family. As is often the case, there was at least some discomfort. Though I guess I've come to see the discomfort as a friend. It is there to help me to avoid slipping into complacency or taking things for granted.
Our temple president spoke about covenants, which he defined (he said, according to the "Greek definition") as a strong commitment through which we come to resemble the one with whom we have made the commitment. I reflected on the attributes of Christ: patience, compassion, sacrifice. I reflected on how I might cultivate those attributes in myself; and on what doing so would reflect about the nature of my relationship with God.
Our mission president spoke, and invited every member of the Stake to "call yourself on a mission." I reflected on my testimony; how it is the greatest gift that I have, and how it is the greatest gift I can share.
Those reflections filled me -- and fill me -- with peace and gratitude.
I found our Stake President's remarks, however, of greatest direct relevance to my own personal situation. He began with an analogy between physical health and spiritual health (he used his efforts to monitor his cholesterol as an example). He then asked us a series of questions, inviting us to ask these questions of ourselves as a way of monitoring our spiritual health. "Do you know God and Christ and do you listen to the Spirit?" was the first question. "Do you sustain the prophets and apostles?" which, he clarified, meant to listen to and apply their teachings in our lives. "Do you keep yourself pure and clean of the world?" "Do you strive to keep the covenants you've made?" He broke it out for us: being open and honest; practicing contrition and repentance; obeying the Word of Wisdom; and so on. This was all basically a reiteration of the temple president's message.
He reminded us that these were all basically temple worthiness questions, and he followed this series of questions with an admonition: Go to the temple frequently, because the temple is a place where you can find healing and revelation.
I determined to go to the temple. I know I can't go inside the temple. As long as I remain committed to my spouse, I won't be able to be baptized or receive a recommend. But I can at least go to the temple. I can pray and seek healing and revelation outside its walls if I can't inside.
He ended his talk with two more questions: "Are you willing to stand as a witness of Christ?" (He quoted Mosiah 18: 8-9.) And, "Are you willing to be an example?" And he followed those two questions by reiterating our mission president's message with the admonition: "Share the Gospel."
The next morning, I knew I wanted to go to the temple that day. I texted a friend of mine, a member of my family home evening group. I told him what I wanted to do, and asked him if he would join me. Synchronicity! S. too had gone to his Stake Conference the previous day -- in the nearby St. Paul Stake. And he had had a similar revelation. Like me, he currently does not have a temple recommend. Unlike me, he is currently a member of the Church, and has been working with his bishop and is confident of his ability to get a recommend soon. But as of yesterday, neither of us could enter the temple. But we both wanted to go to the temple.
So I rented an "hour car" around lunch time, and picked S. up from work. We brought sack lunches with us. When we arrived at the temple, there was no one there. No cars in the parking lot. There was a person outside the temple, cleaning the windows. I parked the car so we could look at the temple while we ate. My eyes were drawn to the gleaming statue of the Angel Moroni on the steeple. We prayed together and we talked. After we had finished eating, we got out of the car and walked around the temple. The air was cool -- the forecast had predicted snow flurries, though we never got them. But it wasn't too cool for us to sit down on a stone bench outside the temple and share our testimonies of Jesus Christ and of his Church with one another.
I have a little pocket charm. Göran bought it for me years ago as a souvenir from a trip he made to northern Minnesota. It's a little clear glass sun symbol that shimmers and reflects rainbow colors in the sunlight. I like to carry it around with me as a reminder of Göran's love for me, but also as a reminder of the Kingdom of glory that is likened to the glory of the sun. Its translucence reminds me of how I want to be a channel of light myself; how I want my soul to be pure and clean so that the light of Christ can shine through it.
The temple is like that to me as well. It is a place where I can go and be reminded of what I yearn for, and what I want to be. It is a kind of touchstone to me. I want to go there often.
It was such a blessing to be able to worship last September inside the Kirtland Temple. I look forward to the time when I can worship inside other temples of the Restoration as well. But for now, I was grateful for the presence of the temple -- a place that has been consecrated by the power of God, and dedicated to the building of God's kingdom -- where I could go to be inspired and be reminded and feel the Spirit and have my testimony strengthened.
Yesterday morning, before deciding I was going to go to the temple, I began reading the Gospel of Matthew. I was fascinated by the genealogy presented in verses 1-17. There are a lot of very interesting things about that genealogy (the fact that it is a catalog of sinners as well as saints, not the least interesting of them). But what interested me most that particular morning was the fact that Matthew presented the genealogy not of Mary but of Joseph. Matthew goes on to emphasize in the ensuing narrative that Joseph is not Jesus' father by blood lineage. But Joseph's genealogy is presented as "the book of the generation of Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham".
In the Annotated Scholar's Version of Matthew, there's a note appended to verse 25, emphasizing that when Joseph gave the name "Jesus" to the child (in accordance with angelic instructions), the "act of naming the child is tantamount to adoption, claiming the child as his own. Thus, Jesus is the legal son of Joseph."
This somehow gave me hope. It reminded me that in the Kingdom of God, blood does not make a family. Faith and action do.
So I prayed for my family at the temple, as I did the first time I visited the temple a few years ago, with Göran and Glen.
My testimony doesn't depend on things in my life being perfect. It
doesn't depend on the world being a perfect place to live. It doesn't
depend on the Church or its members or leaders being perfect. It certainly doesn't depend on me being perfect.
our family home evening group met last month, I think I felt inspired
to say something along the lines of, "The Church can only be as perfect
as its most imperfect member." And my brothers both giggled a bit at
that saying, and J. said, "Well, knowing myself, that's not very
perfect." And S. and I both echoed his sentiment with hearty Amens in
relation to ourselves. If we desire to be forgiven, we must forgive.
Or, in order to receive forgiveness, we must cultivate an awareness of
our need to be forgiven. As soon as we are aware of our own sins, the
need to judge dissipates, and the hunger for communion increases.
My testimony is an invisible touchstone, like my
pocket sun charm, like the temple, pointing me in the right direction.
Pointing me in the direction of faith and repentance, hope and
steadfastness, love and labor.
The temple is at its
best a symbol of the perfection of the Kingdom, in advance of our actual
perfection. Patience and love are the virtues that will enable us to
eventually realize that perfection.