Al Caminar con Dios y La Imaginación Espiritual

José Smith enseñó que en el jardín, “[Adán] recibió instrucciones, y anduvo y conversó con [Dios], como un hombre habla y se comunica con otro…” (1) Esta imagen de andar con Dios es muy poderoso para mi!

Recientemente tuve una experiencia de caminar con Dios. Recientemente tuve la oportunidad celebró La Pascua. Por “Anastasi,” una celebración por la Resurrección de Jesus, hay una llama de Jerusalem que fue traído a Grecia y esa llama se uso para encender a todos las velas en todas las iglesias en Grecia. Recibí esa llama en una vela pasado por la congregación durante “Anastasi.” Después tenia el desafío de caminar a mi hotel con el fuego. El viento no soplaba violentamente, pero si intenté a caminar de prisa, o no cubrí bien la llama con la mano, o mantuve la vela demasiado lejos de mi cuerpo, la llama bailaba e iba a apagarse. Sentí que esta llama fue un símbolo de mi fe en Cristo. Al caminar cuidadosamente, mi atención fijado en la condición de la llama, pensé, “¿cuido yo mi testimonio con la misma nivel de atención que estoy dando a esta llama?” Y esta experiencia caminando con la llama era una oportunidad de caminar con Dios!

Habían otras veces cuando estaba a solas caminando y pensando acerca de la vida, me imaginaba que Dios estaba conmigo caminando. Este pensamiento me daba un montón de paz. Pueden imaginar el gozo que podríamos sentir, si Dios caminaba con nosotros en realidad como lo hizo con Adán y Eva. Infortunadamente, la situación por Adán y Eva cambio después de la caída. Las escrituras nos explica que “Adán y Eva, su esposa, invocaron el nombre del Señor, y oyeron la voz del Señor que les hablaba en dirección del Jardín de Edén, y no lo vieron, porque se encontraban excluidos de su presencia” (Moisés 5:4).

Aunque nosotros todavía viven en un mundo caído, Dios no espera que permanezcamos caídos y excluidos de su presencia. De hecho, después de la caída, había dos personas, Enoc y Noé, de quien las escrituras dicen que caminaron con Dios (2). Es decir, que ellos ya no eran excluidos de su presencia. Quizás ustedes recuerden de la vida del hermano de Jared, quien vio al Señor. Cuando Cristo se le mostró al hermano de Jared, dijo a el, “eres redimido de la caída; por tanto, eres traído de nuevo a mi presencia” (Éter 3:13). Esta es nuestra meta, vencer este mundo caído y regresar a la presencia de Dios.

Por medio de su hijo amado, Dios nos ha dado un método de ser redimido de la caída y regresar a su presencia. Este método simplemente requiere que seamos humildes y tengamos fe en El. Jesus nos invita, “[caminen] en la mansedumbre de mi Espíritu.” Este es un camino que empieza con nuestras debilidades. Escuchen por favor a las siguientes palabras del Salvador:

Y si los hombres vienen a mí, les mostraré su debilidad. Doy a los hombres debilidad para que sean humildes; y basta mi gracia a todos los hombres que se humillan ante mí; porque si se humillan ante mí, y tienen fe en mí, entonces haré que las cosas débiles sean fuertes para ellos (Éter 12:27).

En la ultima Conferencia General Elder Hamilton nos enseñó acerca de esta escritura en Éter: “Observemos más detenidamente lo que el Señor nos enseña. Vemos que primero dice que da a los hombres y a las mujeres debilidad —en singular—, lo cual es parte de nuestra experiencia terrenal como seres caídos o carnales. Nos hemos vuelto hombres y mujeres naturales debido a la caída de Adán, pero mediante la expiación de Jesucristo, podemos vencer nuestra debilidad, o naturaleza caída.

Luego dice que Su gracia es suficiente y que si nos humillamos y tenemos fe en Él, entonces Él ‘har[á] que las cosas débiles [en plural] sean fuertes para [nosotros]’. En otras palabras, a medida que primero cambiemos nuestra naturaleza caída —nuestra debilidad—, entonces podremos cambiar nuestro comportamiento, nuestras debilidades.” (3) Así vemos que nuestra debilidad, al fin, no es una debilidad verdadera, sino más bien es un paso importante para nuestro progreso a regresar a las presencia de Dios. Pablo lo dijo bien, “cuando soy débil, entonces soy fuerte” (2 Corintios 12:10).

Hay otra manera en que una debilidad nos da fuerza. La fe, en un nivel básico es una debilidad porque es limitada. Según su definición de Alma, “La fe no es tener un conocimiento perfecto de las cosas; de modo que si tenéis fe, tenéis esperanza en cosas que no se ven, y que son verdaderas” (Alma 32:21). Aunque la fe es un conocimiento limitado y es ciega, y entonces se parece que es una debilidad, en realidad, es una fuerza. Al “ejercitar [nuestra] fe para arrepentimiento” (Alma 34:17) llegaremos a ser mas fuerte en maneras que el mero conocimiento no puede hacer. De hecho, tenemos que andar en fe, antes de andar con Dios.

Pablo enseñó que “por fe andamos, no por vista” (2 Corintios 5:7) y cuando andamos por fe estamos “and[ando] en el Espíritu” (Galatas 5:16). Tener fe es tener más acceso al Espíritu Santo, quien testifica de Cristo. Es por medio del Espíritu que podemos ver Dios “con el ojo de la fe” (Alma 32:40) —en singular— en preparación por el día en que lo veremos “con [nuestros] propios ojos” (Éter 12:19) —en plural. Es posible que el ojo de la fe es singular, porque el objeto de nuestra fe, Cristo también es singular. Alma enseñó, “hay otro modo o medio por el cual el hombre pueda ser salvo, sino en Cristo y por medio de él” (Alma 38:9). Así fue el progreso del hermano de Jared y muchos otros, según Moroni:

Y hubo muchos cuya fe era tan sumamente fuerte, aun antes de la venida de Cristo, que no se les pudo impedir penetrar el velo, sino que realmente vieron con sus propios ojos las cosas que habían visto con el ojo de la fe; y se regocijaron (Éter 12:19).

Alma considera el ojo de la fe equivalente con nuestras imaginaciones espirituales. Cuando Alma pregunta a su gente, “¿Miráis hacia adelante con el ojo de la fe y veis este cuerpo mortal levantado…para presentaros ante Dios…?” Alma también pregunta “¿Podéis imaginaros oír la voz del Señor…diciéndoos: Venid a mí, benditos?” Y “¿podéis imaginaros llevados ante el tribunal de Dios…? (Alma 5:15-18) ¿han imaginaron ustedes este escenario antes? ¿El día en que nosotros estamos arrodillados ante el Señor? La imaginación espiritual es un instrumento eficaz para el arrepentimiento. Nuestro Profeta, Presidente Nelson, han dicho, “El caminar por la senda de los convenios, en combinación con el arrepentimiento diario, aviva el ímpetu espiritual positivo” (4).

En el tiempo del Nefita Jarom, los profetas, los sacerdotes, y los maestros enseñaron a la gente “persuadiéndolos a mirar adelante hacia el Mesías y a creer en su venida como si ya se hubiese verificado.” (Jarom 1:11). Así que los Nefitas imaginaron que el Mesías ya vino a ellos, y se ajustaron sus comportamientos según esta realidad imaginada. El Espíritu puede guiar nuestras imaginaciones para que nos sentamos la realidad de un encuentro con Dios. ¿Han tenido ustedes algunas oportunidades de sentir la realidad de Dios?

Me recuerdo cuando era un joven, a veces durante las oraciones de my padre, me sentí que Dios realmente estaba en el cuarto con nosotros. En estas ocasiones pensé que si abriera los ojos yo vería a Dios. Así me sentía que Dios estaba tan cerca a nosotros. Y a veces cuando leo las escrituras con el Espíritu, me siento como estoy recibiendo las escrituras por la primera vez, es decir estoy el que recibe la revelación originalmente. Es como si “es [su] voz la que [me] las declara” (DyC 18:35). Y según las palabras de Doctrina y Convenios sección 18, “[puedo testificar] que [he] oído [su] voz y que [conozco sus] palabras” (DyC 18:35).

Testifico como Alma que “hoy es el tiempo y el día de [nuestra] salvación” y “es cuando el hombre debe prepararse para comparecer ante Dios” (Alma 34:31-32). Si andamos por la senda de los convenios, “hasta al fin,” podremos oír la voz del Padre diciéndonos: “Tendréis la vida eterna” (2 Nefi 31:20). Espero que todos nosotros podamos imaginar esta escenario, pero te garantizo que ninguno de nosotros podemos imaginar todo lo que Dios nos dará en esa ocasión. Por que, “Cosas que ojo no vio, ni oído oyó, ni han subido al corazón del hombre, son las que Dios ha preparado para aquellos que le aman” (2 Corintios 2:9).

Esta publicación es parte de un discurso dado en Mayo 2022.

(1) Enseñanzas de los Presidentes de la Iglesia: José Smith, capítulo 2

(2) En el antiguo testamento, Enoc y Noé también fueron traídos de nuevo a la presencia de Dios, pero las escrituras describen esta situación así; “caminó Enoc con Dios” (Génesis 5:22) y “con Dios caminó Noé” (Génesis 6:9).

(3) Kevin S. Hamilton, “Entonces haré que las cosas débiles sean fuertes” April 2022 o https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2022/04/28hamilton?lang=spa

(4) Presidente Nelson, “El Poder de Ímpetu Espiritual,” Abril 2022 o https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ftsoy/2022/05/04-the-power-of-spiritual-momentum-excerpts?lang=spa

The Interpreter Published “Count Your Many Mormons”

The Interpreter published the article, “Count Your Many Mormons: Mormon’s Personalized and Personal Messages in Mosiah 18 and 3 Nephi 5” on November 20th, 2020.

For the full article, please see: https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/count-your-many-mormons-mormons-personalized-and-personal-messages-in-mosiah-18-and-3-nephi-5/.

Abstract: The present work analyzes the narrative art Mormon employs, specifically Mormon’s unique strategies for personalized and personal messaging, which can be seen in how Mormon connects the narration of the baptism at the waters of Mormon in Mosiah chapter 18 with his self- introductory material in 3 Nephi chapter 5. In these narratives, Mormon seems to simultaneously present an overt personalized message about Christ and a covert personal connection to Alma1 through the almost excessive repetition of his own name. Mormon discreetly plants evidence to suggest his intention for the careful re-reader to discover that Mormon was a 12th generation descendant of the first Alma. Mormon’s use of personalizing and personal messages lends emotive power to his narratives and shines a light on Mormon’s love for Christ’s church.

[Author’s note: The title of this article makes a play on the popular hymn, “Count Your Many Blessings,” found at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/music/library/hymns/count-your-blessings. In the spirit of counting blessings, I am grateful to my friend Katherine and my brother David for their efforts in wordsmithing my first drafts and my rewrite. Similarly, thank you to the Interpreters’ peer reviewers for their helpful suggestions that guided this paper to be the best it could be. Additionally, I express a heart-felt thank you to Leslie Reynolds, whose constant encouragement brought this paper to life. And finally, thank you to my friend Spencer, who first introduced me to the academic world of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints two decades ago.]

I was grateful to note that this article with such a focus on giving thanks #givethanks came out the same day as President Nelson’s global prayer of gratitude. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlcILxGmVrI

Finding Christ Together

Sometimes in life, we face things before which we don’t just bend or break, but shatter. And all that we are fractures and falls upon the floor of our own worlds come to naught. Our stories that make up who we are, the contradictory puzzle pieces of our personalities, cease to unify us, but splinter us into bits. We lose the satisfaction of knowing who we really are. Being lost, truly lost, is terrifying. We grasp at our stories that reflect the brighter moments in our lives; they are brilliant, comforting, and full of hope. However, they are connected to those villainous vignettes that mirror the darkness, times when we chose deceit, betrayal, violence, and malice, or someone chose these for us. We don’t want these stories anymore, but they cling to us anyway, even as we fragment because of them. Our very efforts to deny them pull us down into an abyss of sorrows.

We may cry out for help or we may sit in the stillness of our secret sadnesses alone. Either way, we need someone to identify us, to tell us who we are, and to remind us of our value that we have meaning. We don’t just need a savior, we need the Savior; however, despite his promise, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come for you” (John 14:18), he doesn’t seem to come. Instead, we may only receive an encouraging smile from a stranger, an unprecipitated kind word from a co-worker, or the listening ear of a friend or a family member. As appreciated as these gestures are, they are not Christ’s infinite and perfected empathy. So, we are puzzled when, in his place, he sends the broken to the broken to find wholeness again.

And there, scattered and broken, but together in our imperfect attempts to help each other, we find the Savior. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). And there he is moving between the creases of our broken pieces bringing us all together into his wholeness. With Christ, our brokenness allows us to fit together like a puzzle; our broken pieces become the mosaic, the portrait of the Messiah’s infinite love for us. Our many seemingly separate lives become one story of how we each find him together. He came, he was always there, and he will always be there when we are there, with and for each other. Let’s find each other, and we will find him together.

Thanks to my friend Katherine and brother David for their helpful comments in grammar and content!

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When Facing Doom, There is Room for Opportunities

Paul prophesied that “in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Especially in our current pandemic experience, it feels like those perilous times are already here. At times like today, it is important to remember that with every prophecy of doom there is room for opportunity; opportunities to bring salvation to you, me, and others. While “the whole earth shall be in commotion” (D&C 45:26); and “many hearts shall fail” (D&C 45:26), we should “sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [us] a reason of the hope that is in [us] (1 Peter 3:15). Hope is always in short supply, when fear barks out its demands. 

Sustained anxiety and fear have a powerful effect on the human psyche. The continued commotion caused by sensationalized media from news outlets and social media feeds can blind people to the truth. “[T]here are many yet on the earth…who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men…who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12). In this age, we can easily confuse truth with information and be “ever learning,” but “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Being inundated with data is not the same thing as having “[our] whole bodies [being] filled with light” (D&C 88:67). What I am suggesting today is for you and me to find our light. If we have “misplaced” it under a bushel (see Matt.5:15), then let’s get it back, and rush out into the darkness to those who feel alone on an island of isolation surrounded by a sea of fear.

One need only to crack open the scriptures to feel that heavenly light chase away the darkness. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught that “[t]he scriptures hold the keys to spiritual protection…they offer hope.”[1] Sharing this hope through the scriptures can open up the “windows of heaven” (Malachi 3:10) to those “walking in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95:6). The Book of Mormon is particularly relevant to our chaotic circumstances. As pointed out by the church scholar Grant Hardy, Mormon spends most of the Book of Mormon’s space on times of conflict.[2] It is informative to note that it is in those same times of conflict in the Book of Mormon that there are so many narratives about miracles. Mormon and the other narrators in the Book of Mormon knew our day, they knew we needed to know how to find miracles within the most dysfunctional times of our lives. Somehow, the Book of Mormon creatively blends stringent didacticism and literary artistry into a piercing message of hope in the face of the tragedy of its own narrative—the entire destruction of its own people. It is a miracle in its own right that we can read this heart-rending narrative and come away healed, full of hope, and rejoicing because of the Savior. I know the Savior, because of the Book of Mormon. He is real and I love him.  

It was during the years of continuous warfare between the Nephites and Lamanites that the sons of Mosiah convert thousands of their mortal enemies to Christ. This once bloodthirsty people, have such a mighty change in their hearts that they end up burying their weapons of war as well as “the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more” (Alma 23:7). They make an oath never again to take up arms against another soul—an oath they never break. Their conversion was so thorough that despite all the trials that continuously materialized on their covenant path,[3] they “never did fall away” (Alma 23:6). Such is the power of a Christ taken seriously. Christ was not an abstract concept to these converts. He visited them. They were “washed bright through the blood of the Son” (Alma 24:13). They came to know personally that “[God] love[d] [their] souls” (Alma 24:14). I often use the following pleading from their king as a spiritual ruler to measure my own devotion to the Savior:

What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy. (Alma 22:15)

And then this same king prays:

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. (Alma 22:18)

When was the last time I prayed with such fervor? Am I willing to change, to give up the me of today in order to follow God? I love Alma’s question to the people of Zarahemla, “if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love…can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26). If quarantine has caused you to distance yourself not only from others, but from God, “now is the time and the day of your salvation” (Alma 34:31). “Draw near unto [him] and [he] will draw near unto you” (D&C 88: 63). We are at our closest to God when we are on our knees. We don’t even need to don a mask before we “call on his name,” he will “converse with [us]” anyway (Alma 12:30).  

It is in a population of defiant dissidents that Alma and his group of missionaries rescue a group of humble converts for Christ. For these converts, “their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6). Our current quarantine has likewise humbled many and prepared us for the word. The word is Christ. And we have no idea how many people our words about Christ could change. His redemption is “immediate[…]” (Alma 34:31) and life altering. Although the converts from Alma’s party at this time were limited, their effect was lasting. 

In a dark prison 40 years later, a man recites their words to a cowering crowd, who asked “what shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?” He responds:

You must repent, and cry…even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you. (Helaman 5:41) 

As a result of this dialogue and the ensuing miracles that followed, the “more part of the Lamanites were convinced” and “did lay down their weapons of war” (Helaman 5:50-51). On top of this, the Lamanites “did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possessions” (Helaman 5:52). Church scholar Michael Perry points out that this recovery of territory was something that years of war could not bring about (compare with Helaman 4:18-19).[4] This is the power of the word, which “had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (Alma 31:5). Like Alma, we “should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5) in our own lives and share this power with others.  

As it was with them, so it is with us. Under our despairing circumstances, living in a world prophesied to be the end of days with commotion, contention, persecution, disasters, diseases, and the worst of human behavior, we can expect to see most clearly the tender mercies of the Lord. And even more, we can expect to be the instruments of his tender mercies delivered to others! Serving the Lord has never been comfortable, but sometimes God needs to discomfort us so we will bring comfort to the comfortless. We can be emboldened to “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power…with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17). Let’s let the Lord into our lives to lead us to reach out to someone today and every day his voice comes to us. If we listen, he will call us on his errand. I know this. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Endnotes:

[1] Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” October 2013: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2013/10/the-key-to-spiritual-protection?lang=yap

[2] Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 107-108.

[3] “My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ invites us to take the covenant path back home to our Heavenly Parents and be with those we love. He invites us to ‘come, follow me.’” President Nelson described it this way in his talk: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/46nelson?lang=eng

[4] Michael F. Perry, “Supremacy of the Word: Alma’s Mission to the Zoramites and the Conversion of the Lamanites,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, v. 24 (2015), 135-136. 

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The Interpreter Published “Joseph Knew First: Moses, The Egyptian Son”

The Interpreter published my article “Joseph Knew First: Moses, The Egyptian Son” on their website on the 10th of May, 2018 (https://www.mormoninterpreter.com/joseph-knew-first-moses-the-egyptian-son/). Here is the origin story for the article:

Origin

The idea behind this article came from two unique events. First, I took an Egyptian history class from Dr. John Gee, who inspired me to start learning hieroglyphs (unfortunately, I never was motivated enough to get very far). Second, I attended a fireside by Dr. Royal Skousen, who spoke about the Book of Mormon critical text project. The idea that struck a chord with me was Dr. Skousen’s emphasis on a collaborative effort (collaborating with all sorts of people, even students) to identify apparent errors in the text of the current Book of Mormon. I was so jazzed that I went straight home to the Book of Mormon on a mission to look for apparent errors.

That next week as I was reading in 2 Nephi 3:17, I noticed something odd in the phrase “I will raise up a Moses.” The indefinite article “a” before Moses seemed an odd insertion there. I immediately thought that this might be evidence of the original Egyptian language of the Book of Mormon coming through the English translation, a vestige of an original Egyptian pun on the name of Moses and it’s meaning of  thougchild. I thought of this possible error being a remnant of the translation process based on Dr. Gee’s article, “La Trahison des Clercs.”

It was thrilling to contact Dr. Skousen and have a summary of our correspondence published in the addenda material of the Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon Part Six available in https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/atv/p6/. (see page 553 of 627.) I also started a paper discussing this odd phrase, but I got stuck on the approach of trying to prove that parts of 2  Nephi 3 may have originally been in Egyptian. I was, and still am, woefully unqualified to do this type of study, so the paper languished for years (I started it in 2005). Egyptian was only one of a handful of problems with this original approach. Needless to say, I didn’t come up with another approach until 2016, which turned into the current paper published by The Interpreter.

 

The Interpreter to Publish, “Joseph Knew First: Moses, The Egyptian Son”

The Interpreter will publish my article “Joseph Knew First: Moses, The Egyptian Son” soon on their website (https://www.mormoninterpreter.com) and in print. Here is the abstract for the article:

After about 1500 years of slumber, ancient Egyptian was brought
back to life in the early 19th century, when scholars deciphered hieroglyphs.
This revolutionary success opened the door to a  reevaluation of history
from the viewpoint of ancient Egypt. In the wake of this new knowledge,
the first scholar posited the idea in 1849 that the name of Moses stemmed
from the Egyptian word for child. Subsequently, this idea was refined,
and currently the majority of scholars believe Moses’s name comes from
the Egyptian verb “to beget,” which is also the root for the Egyptian word
for child, or in the case of a male child, a “son.” Before this discovery and
certainly before a scholarly consensus formed on the Egyptian etymology
of the name of Moses, Joseph Smith restored a prophecy from the patriarch
Joseph that played upon the name of Moses and its yet to be discovered
Egyptian meaning of “son.” This article explores the implications of this
overt Egyptian pun and its role as a key thematic element in the restored
narratives in the Book of Moses.

Love First, Love Last

As powerful as human love can be, it cannot compare with the unique love Jesus taught and exemplified. In fact, Christ’s love is so specialized the scriptures sometimes employ a different word to distinguish it from the ordinary concept. This word in the English scriptures is Charity. Unlike Charity, “which never faileth”, but “endureth forever” (Moroni 7:45, 47), worldly love is fickle, prone to fall in and out of our hearts depending on circumstances. Like ordinary love, Charity needs to be experienced to be understood. God shares his love with us, and after realizing how deeply he loves us, we might be inspired to reciprocate or even emulate His love. “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  

Charity does not come naturally to the natural man. Instead it is a gift we receive through prayer. Prayer is a form of work, something we must exercise regularly; this is especially true for the reception and retention of Charity. The scriptures urge us to “pray unto the father with all the energy of heart” to be “filled with this love” (Moroni 7:48). The exercise of this type of prayer can have a cardiovascular effect, which increases the capacity of our hearts to love with more breadth and depth for longer. Receiving Charity trains us in the art of loving first. 

Although very common, measuring another’s interest in loving us as a condition to loving them is more shallow than the love we are capable of through Christ. Christ “first loved us” and his love pushes us to do the same (1 John 4:19). So before we have enough information about someone to judge whether they merit our time and effort, we can choose to love them first. We don’t have to wrap our minds around someone else’s world until we find common ground in order to love. We can push past loving people just because we can see in them things we understand and love about ourselves to loving them just because. When we pray for Charity, we can include an object, a specific person, for whom we can learn to love first. Sometimes this object we are praying to love should be ourselves.

Being “filled with Charity” is not an ability limited to loving others despite their weaknesses, but also ourselves. Sometimes we can learn to appreciate the sordid pasts of others and love them today regardless, but find ourselves loathing our own history so much that we become restlessly uncomfortable in our own skin. Christ’s love comes to us as a comfort, precisely because it comes to us through the “Comforter” (Moroni 8:26). The reception of Charity reminds us that we are not only meant to be the messenger of Christ’s love, but also a receptacle; we are meant to believe the message too. When we read that “[Christ has] loved the world, even unto the laying down of [his] life for the world” (Ether 12:33), the world is not some wholly abstract phrase here, we are the world to him. Spiritual syntax demands that his loving us first not only move us to love him in return, but also love ourselves more completely, which multiplies our ability to love, period.

When we believe Christ’s love for us, we naturally want to love like him (see John 13:34). Our role as an appreciative consumer of his love prepares us to become a distributor too as Christ’s Charity drives us to pour out our hearts in love for others; a marvelous work, from which we can grow weary. As we continue our commitment to loving others, we might fear to expend our coveted reservoir of God’s love, a reservoir carved out originally by our fervent prayers and miraculously filled by the Lord. Just like the widow of Zidon, when we faithfully use up our all for others, we will witness how God will not allow our reservoir to fail (see 1 Kings 17:8-16). Prayer, our connection to the power of loving first, will also enable this love to last, because “perfect love…endureth by diligence unto prayer” (Moroni 8:26). 

It can be overwhelming to realize the implications of an infinite love, but this weighty gift of Charity mercifully comes with a manual. The same Comforter that delivers the package of perfect love to us also is the manual for its correct application. Charity is not a mandate to become a perpetual doormat or an unflinching punching bag. The Spirit “will show unto [us] all things what [we] should do” (2 Nephi 32:5), including what we should do with this most precious gift of His love. The Holy Ghost will prompt us not only to turn the other cheek at times (see Luke 6:29), but also to “[reprove] betimes with sharpness” (D&C 121:43). This repeated spiritual process of seeking Christ’s love and wandering through paths unknown to deliver it, will one day walk us back to Him. In this way, “when he shall appear we shall be like him,” because Charity, above all other gifts, sculpts us most closely into Christ’s image (see Moroni 7:48). After all, Christ’s image needs to be seen on more than paintings and sculptures, it needs to be witnessed in our acts and on our faces as we choose to love first and love last. 

Special thanks to the editing wizardry of my friend Katherine.

Still

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A pristine lake in stillness lies,

Bereft of wave and straying ripple,

Stilling the stillness of the skies,

Reflecting every celestial miracle.

A running river distorts every image,

By moving in feverish motion,

Never reflecting upon its visage,

The complete image of true devotion.

The perfection of divine design,

Reflected by man’s will,

Will remain unclear and undefined,

Until that soul is still.

The photo attached is of Papase’ea in Upolu, Western Samoa, taken in 2012.

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The Perils surrounding the Nativity Narrative

 The story of Christ’s birth is always in danger of becoming too pedestrian, so familiar it becomes trite. Sadly, the very commemoration of this story every year can sometimes lead us to bury it further into the dark recesses of our dormant memory instead of making it new again. We know how the narrative ends, so we often overlook the inherent peril in Christ’s coming to the world as a baby. 

 The whole process of bringing a savior to earth was fraught with inconceivable risk. Mortality rates for child birth and the probability of any child making it to adulthood in the ancient world were huge risks for an only begotten son; God only had one chance. In addition to the natural causes of death, Herod awaited the birth of Christ and, according to our Bible story, murdered the male infants of a whole town for the possibility to end the story of Christ prematurely. The world loomed so large and powerful in comparison to the fragility of the situation for the young Mary, Joseph, and child. At any point, the terrors of the world seemed poised to swallow the entire enterprise whole.

 The odds were against Christ then, and they certainly oppose him now. The story of Christ is still in danger. The world is still so large and seems bent on trying to stamp out any belief in the Christ. Many media voices spout out a logic that makes belief seem ridiculous. We cannot escape the megaphone of Christmas commercialism that can keep us so busy we don’t have time to savor the thought of the Savior. A Savior who lived and died to not only help us believe in him, but to enable us to be like him. With all the pressures of the season, we can spend so much time celebrating Christmas that we forget to be Christians.

 Our faith in Christ may begin as a fragile, faint glimmer in the terrifying darkness of the night sky, but as we follow the light of the savior in the service of each other, we can #lighttheworld with hope. 

 Check out this video for inspiration. https://www.mormon.org/christmas/light-the-world?play=hero

Message inspired by the faithful scholarship of Brevard S. Childs, see his The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1974), 24-25.

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