Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Falling Upward

A few weeks ago I stood on the brink of a thousand-foot cliff as it snowed gently and silently all around me. Big plumate flakes drifted easily downward past jagged outcroppings of rock. It was still and reverent and beautiful. Then a friend pointed my attention to a section of snow that was falling upward. An updraft from the canyon floor must have lifted them, and they floated steadily toward the sky. I watched for several minutes. It took my breath away. It was a wonderful thing to witness. I thought of the miracle of fallen and falling things rising again. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Isn’t that the meaning of the word resurrection—to rise again? The resurrection is a daily occurrence, then. Not in the permanent sense that it will be during the Millennium, perhaps, but fallen things rise every day. Surely this is the miracle of Easter.

What was it Harold B. Lee said about that final, enduring arising? “Resurrection will one day be as common as birth.  The only reason we don’t have the same assurance about the resurrection as we have about birth is because we are not seeing that happen daily before our eyes as we see birth.  Nobody questions the reality of birth, which is just as much a mystery to our understanding as the resurrection of a body that is dead; but if we live in the morning of the resurrection, when the graves shall again be opened and when resurrection shall be almost a daily occurrence, those whose time it is to come forth will walk unto the city of their friends and will be seen of them.  We will speculate then, just as we do now about the coming of a baby when there is evidence that a new one is in prospect, and we will confidently look forward to continued resurrection of friends and loved ones.” What a delightful thought, waiting with gifts for the rebirth of loved ones. Laughing together and embracing. Bringing the foods they loved in life. Exuberant dance. I don’t know if my imagination of it fits the reality, but it’s pleasing enough.

Lilies are perennial flowers. They come to life in spring, thrive through summer, and begin to wilt and wane during autumn before their winter death. But then they return to life perennially. They are a symbol of life and hope and innocence and resurrection. According to an old story, probably not nearly so ancient as the Old Story, the first lilies arose from the dirt of the newly fallen earth after being watered by Eve’s tears. The first mother’s sorrow in the face of encroaching death and despair brought forth beauty and hope. Fallen things to rise. The lily has her three petals, easily associated with the Godhead, the source of all arisings.

In 1911, the Utah State Legislature chose the sego lily as the state flower. Fitting that a state founded on the backs of haggard, struggling pilgrims to the everlasting hills of holiness should choose this desert miracle—this ancient sacred symbol—as its official blossom. But there is more to the story. In the years 1848 to 1850 these hearty, hale Mormon pioneers, who possessed a rugged hope and fierce faith I sometimes envy and unabashedly admire, lived in a hungry world. The sego lily is a bulbous flower, and the pioneers would dig up the flower and consume the bulb which ranged from the size of a marble to the size of a walnut. They would boil them and eat them before they turned hard and ropey. This state flower manifests then both hope and hunger. It is beauty and practicality intertwined.

It perhaps reflects, too, the this-worldliness of Latter-day Saint theology. David O. McKay, that charismatic prophet whose wife said he “was dashing and charming when he danced and when he quoted poetry,” said that the principal reason that God drenched the world in the juice of gospel truth is “to make life sweet today, to give contentment to the heart today, to bring salvation today. . . . Some of us look forward to a time in the future—salvation and exaltation in the world to come—but today is part of eternity.” Well, he was one who loved life, this life, not holding his breath waiting for some future world when today he could inhale deeply the updrafts of this world so full of wonder and richness. He effused with extravagance of capitalization, “To all who believe in a living, personal God and His divine Truth, life can be so delightful and beautiful. As a matter of fact, it’s glorious just to be alive. Joy, even ecstasy, can be experienced in the consciousness of existence. There is supreme satisfaction in sensing one’s individual entity, and in realizing that that entity is part of God’s creative plan.” Oh, we know that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth who see the promises afar off and declare plainly that we seek a country. We are persuaded by and embrace the assurances of a “better country, that is, an heavenly.” But the tokens of that country abound and surround us. It takes nothing away from the loveliness of that hope to embrace with affection this present world. There is this iridescent thought from the Doctrine and Covenants: “But learn that he who doeth the worlds of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.”

Here’s to the peace of now and to the life of eternity, then. To the daily risings and to the ultimate one. Easter means that through Jesus, nothing bad is permanent. The darkness melts away and leaves only a rising, shining light. Hallelujah.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


"Gardening in the Rain" by Brian Kershisnik

I like the idea of lares, these small gods of hearth and home—open and ancient acknowledgments of the myriad shards of holiness which shoot through the most seemingly mundane aspects of existence. Isn’t this what all poetry celebrates—the holiness of the everyday?

I remember one cold Saturday giving the kids a bath. In winter they will often curl up under their hooded towels and sit hunched on the bathroom floor. It’s a visual image I love. Well, this day they were crouching on the bathmat when Lydie saw a bug. She exclaimed, and I went to witness. Lydie and Em had their hoods on and sat crouched and bent over the small bug, their heads inclined as if in reverent acknowledgment of the holiness of very small things. They looked like a couple of colorful monks, Lydia in bright pink and Emerson in orange surrounded by our bright blue bathroom. Blue shag-carpet grass. It made me smile.

Tuesday night at our house was a celebration of the human capacity for expulsion. My children spent much of the night vomiting and retching and moaning. At one point, I think it was about four a.m., after Julie and I had spent an hour cleaning vomit out of the carpet and had changed and rinsed four sets of sheets and four sets of pajamas, I was giving my lissome ballerina daughter a bath, spraying the half-digested food out of her hair. I had tried to hold it back in a pony tail while she puked, but her hair is unruly and indomitable and wanted to fall in her face. She was shivering, fragile and lovely as a butterfly as the water fell over her. I was tired, but the thought came to me that of all the humans who live or will live on this planet, I am one of only a very small handful who will ever have the honor of rinsing vomit out of the hair of this holy child. Suddenly the air was music and the light was gently bright. Exhaustion melted away, replaced by gratitude and mysterious tears. How many such ablutions have I performed without perceiving the beauty of washing another, washing for another? “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” “Unto him that loved us, and washed us . . . be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

Julie spent the next two days washing clothing and sheets. When I was a small boy, I remember my mom saying once, “I have figured out what the Neverending Story is. The real Neverending Story is laundry.” I want my mother and my wife to know that the ground on which they stand is holy. “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? . . . These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.” A friend once told me the story of a woman who had lost her memory completely. She did not recognize her family or friends. They took her to the home where she had lived for many years, and none of the rooms brought reminiscences. And then they took her outside to the backyard where she had hung her family’s laundry. Her face was transfigured and shone with recognition and she began to speak with feeling of hanging her children’s clothing. The small wet pants and shirts—evidences of a life of performing sacred ablutions. These things remained with her even when nothing else had. These daily acts of holiness.

Night after night, I stand at the sink and rinse the dishes that carry the food which feeds my children. Warm rivers run through my house, cover my hands, bless our living. Surely, this too is a sacred act. Ablutions.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Because of the angels

Just this note to the late apostle Paul: Thank you for writing this verse to your old friends in Corinth, “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” It has made me smile for two days.

Turns out the old scholastic theologians, Aquinas and his cronies, should have been asking about the dancefloors sitting atop the shoulders and necks of their wives and daughters. Forget about the pinheads. Angels and angels sitting, pirouetting, leaping, reading, sipping, sighing, smiling on the tops of girl’s heads.

My favorite commentary on this verse is from Albert Barnes’ comprehensive notes on the Bible: “There is scarcely any passage in the Scriptures which has more exercised the ingenuity of commentators than this verse. . . . After all the explanations which have been given of it, I confess, I do not understand it.” Or maybe this briefer one from the 1557 Geneva Bible (Will Shakespeare’s Bible, you know?), annotations by Laurence Tomson, who was himself compiling generations of commentary: “What this means, I do not yet understand.”

Well, I understand it well enough. I sent my wife and daughter on a plane to Arizona today, and well, I miss them, angels, power, and all.