Through a Glass Darkly

Fluid glass, flowing like molten lava. But the vision inside would grab my attention even more. I wondered today what it would be like if I could peer into each person’s soul during fast and tesimony meeting. For a testimony, like any public expression, is part artifice–though, at least in this case, it is also part conviction. Still, most who speak in our meetings tell some part of what they think we want to hear. There is less of doubt and more of certainty than resides, I think, in their hearts. This is not to say they decieve us intentionally, but only that there is a judicial distance between the thoughts and feelings of my heart and what I will say from the pulpit. Would I have it be otherwise?

Still, what if, for a day, each person were made of glass? What if instead of the unflapable Bishop, I saw a fellow beset–at times–by grief, pain, and doubt? What if, instead of certainty seemingly rote, I saw conviction forged in the fiery furnace of doubt, inquiry, and wrestling with difficult questions? What if the “I know” became “I did not know, I feared it was not true, and I still succumb to questions on other matters, but some part of my soul is now different–this I know to be true?” And what if, instead of “I love my family,” the struggling mother articulated the weight apparent on her shoulders: “my family life has not been so good of late. My husband leaves me for his church calling and that makes me feel unimportant. My children are often thankless and thoughtless and they have their share of fights. My basement is a mess and I’m lucky if I can straighten the living room in time for the home teachers’ arrival. Sometimes I feel things kareening out of control and I wonder if I can even keep them from whirling completely into chaos…” And then, after honesty, the other truth, just as deep, “and yet, I love my family.”

Somewhere along the line, many Mormons mistook the ideal for what actually ought to be right now and concluded the distance that separated themselves from that vision of perfection was a measure not of their mortality but of their failure–as if every moment not worthy of emulation made them outcasts from the Saints. Consequently, we work up a sweat every day, and especially on sundays, trying to convince ourselves and each other that all is well in Zion and that our family is the one that is spared from the rolling that makes the rough stones smooth–as if we, for some reason, were chosen to come to Earth with the buffing already accomplished.

The sad consequence is that on the day when I am most in need of help, when I feel my imperfection most acutely, I may arrive at the chapel, look around, and think, “no one hear knows how I feel, no one here understands this pain, everyone leads such a charmed life–I wish there were some bone deep empathy from which to drink.”

I can only imagine my reaction if I showed up one day and souls clothed in resplendent glass passed in front to share conviction. If I could see into each soul, I imagine shock would assert itself first–“the stake president thinks that? The Elder’s Quorum president stuggles with this? You mean the perfect family has that much contention and strife?” And yet, after the shock faded–and it would not last all that long–I would find myself easing into my seat, breathing more deeply, and my own facade would quickly melt away, my own shield dissolving into glass as I allowed others to peer into me and to see what grief is alive inside. And out of this mutual admission of the sting and bite of reality would be born transcendent love. For the Gospel was never meant as a sermon to the perfect, but as a salve to the wounded and water to the parched. If we all were covered in glass, we would spend time dressing each others’ wounds rather than trying desperately to hide our hurt from each other.

Published in: on June 4, 2007 at 2:17 am  Comments (12)  

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. How funny is it to think that the ideal lies in releasing what we think the ideal to be.

    Thank-you for a profound and inspirational insight.

    If only everyone could see it this way…

  2. I remember taking Speech my Freshman year of College. The professor pointed out how our introductions started to follow the same format. There is a lot to be said for trying to fit the norms and I do think this has an interplay in sharing testimonies at Church. I think there is much heart behind testimonies. I blogged at annegb’s Just Sayin’ few months ago about how I had a thought before going to bed when I was still Catholic of people getting up in front of Church and sharing testimonies.

    I do think that we would have a lot more compassion towards our brothers and sisters if we knew the whole story of what they are experiencing in their lives. I think that there is much refiner’s fire.

    I am grateful for the times when I have experienced rebirth. People who struggle may feel alone, but they are in good company.

  3. If you would want to read my post on testimony at annegb’s site it is in the archives Nov. 14, 2006.

  4. I hope that someone feeling their imperfections most acutely would not make the mistake to feel that they do not belong. My Protestant grandma used to say according to my mom that if a person were perfect that they would be an angel in heaven.

    I heard a most beautiful song by Carrie Underwood about being with someone at their crossroads. I really am so far removed from the pain that I once felt that I do not feel empathy to the degree that I should. And it also has built up a wall to where I shut myself off a little. I used to sob so much. Now I kind of like it when I cry unless I am having a bad ocd relapse. Crying lets me know that I can still feel. I guess I cried so many tears that I dried up. I know I can feel happy though so that is good.

    I do think that there are people to help people on the walk if they have questions. Also, I think we can put too much emphasis on having to know something right now and let it work on us too much.

    I really have been strengthed by many people that I meet in the blogging world and they have at times helped me with concerns that I have.

    Back to Carrie’s song. I think it is so pretty though and if someone is feeling down, it is a great solace. I don’t even know the name of it.

    I do hope that there are some people that are doing good and not being tried in a bad way in any given congregation or network of friends and family. However, trials often differ and a person can receive perspective when they know what another is experiencing that helps them be grateful.

    I know this is very long. I wish I could say just the right thing. I can’t but I’m trying. Because I would like to help anybody who feels as you describe in your post.

  5. added note: I hope that I have not offended in my comments. While I don’t like to be marginalized as a mentally ill person in a way that discredits what is given as heartfelt advice, if it helps you not to be annoyed by my messages, consider the source. Peace, brother!

  6. Beautifully put. We have a “good news moment” in Relief Society every week where people share something good that happened that week in their lives. I sometimes think it would be nice to have a “bad news moment” so we could be more aware of the struggles that others are facing so we could be a greater strength and support to each other.

  7. What was I thinking with all my comments from the other day? I can really get carried away sometimes with unsolicited advice. I am very embarassed. This is worse than having green stuff in my teeth in public. Far worse. I am thinking that I will still comment here in the future. I will try super hard not to be so excessive.

  8. Sally, maybe it could be up to the person sharing whether they share something good that happened or if they share a struggle that they had. That would make more of a balance. I like to hope that there are people having good times and not everyone is tempest tossed. People seem to associate me with burden on my shoulder kind of thing when much of the time I enjoy so much in life. They send me talks about burdens on shoulders and put a note that they thought of me. Or they tell me about a speaker who sensed that people in the audience had burdens on their shoulder and tell me about it. They said there wasn’t a dry eye. That was upsetting to me to think of everybody going through such hard times. I think that I am often happier than most. Unfortunately, I am not much good to other people with my limitations in going places and my other limitations in doing things. But that doesn’t mean I am all miserable all the time.

  9. Barb–

    Thank you for your comments on this post. I am very busy in medical school and hardly have time to respond! It sounds to me like you are quite empathetic and that you look for ways to share that empathy with others–that is a wonderful blessing.

  10. Tyler, good to see that you had a little time to squeeze in a great new post! Thank you for your comments. This is one of my favorite blogs so I will keep checking back to see when you get a chance to write more.

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