|Artwork by Brian Kershisnik|
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head. —Psalm 133:1-2
Two days ago I boxed up all of my books and a thousand random things that filled the drawers and shelves of the place that had been my second home for the past nine years. I packed them into a truck driven by my unstinting, querulous, remarkably selfless and gentle friend—a friend I met several years ago in the hallways of this place I am leaving—and drove to a new place. Three more of the remarkable brothers I met at that holy place I just left—a place where the bush was constantly burning and yet not consumed if you had eyes to see it, a place where several of my students literally removed their shoes one day and set them smilingly outside the door to my classroom so that when I approached the class I was met by a mass of smelly, worn and pleasant footwear—these three brothers also came and helped me unload my belongings at the new place. And then I went back one last time to the old place to pack my computer gently into my car and to hug and thank my friends and to leave weeping and grateful for nine remarkable years at Pleasant Grove Seminary.
I shared four thousand meals and ten thousand jokes with the men and women who became my brothers and sisters there. We sat around that lunchroom table and spoke of the sacred and of the mundane. Of families and houses and memories and eternities. So much life passed there.
Over three thousand gangly and gifted miracles, all created in the image of God, walked through the door to my classroom over the course of those nine years. Teenagers are remarkable creatures, full of angst and awkwardness and astonishing beauty and grace. One swore at me on the first day of class and later wrote me a letter full of vitriol and wrath. But he was the exception among the luminous young people I taught, and I trust that he, like the rest of us, is fully within the expansive reach of the love and power of God, truly.
I sang more than five thousand hymns there, by my reckoning. Thousands of stories permeate those halls. There are too many to tell. Stories of heartache and courage and hope. Students weeping in my office or laughing at the joy of God’s word.
How many thousands of prayers did I utter there? God, help me love this boy. Or, Please, open her eyes. And also, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I tried to be an instrument in the hands of God. I wanted to be a guitar—something thrilling and thrumming that God could pick up and play with such verve it would make you want to sing and dance and rejoice in the beauty of God’s love and His goodness and His remarkable and infinite mercy. Or I wanted to be a harmonica that the voice of God breathed through joyously and energetically, something to make you tap your feet. There were days, of course, that I felt more like one of those kazoos kids make out of wax paper and a comb. A buzz and an emptiness. But even those days were filled with grace and with wonder, I believe.
I cannot condense or fully convey here what that almost-decade of life meant to me. But it was rich and wonderful and rewarding. In the dedicatory prayer of the Pleasant Grove Seminary, offered by Elder Jack H. Goaslind the Seventy, he prayed, “Father, bless those who teach here that they may do so with humility and courage. Wilt thou give them entrance into the hearts of those who come to be taught, and may they know as they enter those hearts that they stand in holy places.” I want to say here that I did feel that holiness, that I acknowledge the rare and sacred privilege of having my testimony and my words stand in the hearts and minds of my students. Pleasant Grove was for me a sacred grove.
I did not always stand, of course. I often sat on my teaching stand—in part, yes, because I am the father of five wild and holy children and so I am perpetually looking for places to sit down for a while—but also because I love the thought of sitting together, enjoying hopefully some form of true communion. Elder Nelson taught us that one meaning of the word atonement is reconciliation, which literally means “to sit again with.” And so, my friends, I bid farewell to a place where I sat and wept and laughed and loved well for nine years. Until we again sit down to the great final feast in the kingdom of God. May God make your lives pleasant and good.