Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Voices and Friends "IRL"

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. Today covers the Priesthood Session from Oct 1972 Conference.
I thought to myself as I read Harold B. Lee's talk, one of his first as President of the Church, "If only I knew what he sounded like!" I felt strangely handicapped by not knowing his voice. When I'm reading a talk by one of the apostles I've known in my lifetime, I usually "hear" the voice of the apostle giving the talk as I read, and it seems to make everything scan better. For example, Elder Packer's talks don't even sound stern to me anymore when I hear them in his familiar, dry, gravelly voice. When I was younger, I used to find him a bit scary/forbidding, but somehow over the years I began to love him, and now I can hear a little hint of love and humor behind his voice even when he's being…forthright. I can hear the hope behind the warnings. I hear Elder Packer's voice ringing in my ears every time I read Alma 42 ("but there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given") and now, it makes me smile fondly as I think of him.

Anyway, with Harold B. Lee and many of these others, I don't know their voices and it makes me unsure how to take them. Some parts seem vaguely humorous, but I don't know if they're supposed to be. Other parts come off confusing to my ears, like when President Lee said, about assuming who will be the next president of the church: "The Lord only knows, and for us to speculate or to presume is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord." ?? It seems too harsh of a statement for the offense. I thought the whole reason for the orderliness of the line of authority was so we COULD presume? So we wouldn't have to be unsure what comes next, but we can just know it will always be the President of the Quorum of the Twelve? Anyway, it's a small matter, but when several of these, "wait, what?" moments occur as I read a session, it makes me wish I knew all these men (more) personally. I'm actually hoping that reading more of their words during this General Conference Odyssey will help me with that. It's not that misunderstandings never happen when you hear one of the living apostles, of course, but I just feel more confident in getting their true meaning when I know their voices!

And that brings me to Vaughn J. Featherstone's talk. He talks about how the way to get to know the Savior is to get to know the scriptures, and the people in them, so well that we feel like WE WERE THERE. The advice rang so true to me. We really can grow to know and love people just by reading their writing and knowing about their lives—I know because it's happened to me. I've made great friends that way! Sometimes I even forget whether or not we've actually met "in real life," because I'm so familiar with them. It's like when you've heard a family story a million times and you feel certain you can even remember the smells, the sounds of the place—and then someone reminds you that you weren't actually born yet. :) There are certain people in the scriptures that feel like that to me. Alma the Younger is one. I've thought so much about him, imagined and pondered so many of his experiences, that I feel almost a claim to him, like he's MY personal friend. I know his voice so well that I think I could recognize something else non-scriptural that he'd written, if there were such a thing. I think I understand what he was feeling, sometimes. And I love him. I've sometimes felt a bit sheepish about it when I reflect on the fact that when I really meet him, HE won't know ME from Adam (ha ha)! 

So occasionally I do wonder if I am being too presumptuous, deluding myself into claiming an intimacy with, or an understanding of, these people that I don't actually have. But Elder Featherstone doesn't think so:
I want you to know that when I read those sacred words [about Enoch's heart swelling 'as wide as eternity'], I felt and had the feelings, I believe, that Enoch might have had in some small degree. And each of you can have those same feelings.
Elder Featherstone goes on to share a tender experience he had while reading about the Savior in 3rd Nephi 17, where he felt that he truly entered the Savior's presence vicariously through reading the story:
…I want you to know I was there. I wouldn’t know any more surely if I had been there than I would know having read this book. And I promise you that vicariously every single [person] in the Church can read the scriptures and have that same experience with all of the prophets.
I, like Elder Featherstone, feel a particular kinship with these passages. I have felt in some sense that I was there with the Nephites, worshipping and marveling. When Alma asks if we "have experienced a change of heart, and if [we] have felt to sing the song of redeeming love," I want to shout, "I have!" And when John pleads at the end of Revelation, "Even so, COME, Lord Jesus!", I almost break down crying because I, too, want that so much. But at the same time I've felt an urge to downplay this kinship, knowing I wasn't REALLY there, and not wanting to seem too self-important. I'm not ACTUALLY friends in real life with John the Revelator, after all.

But as I've been pondering it, it's occurring to me that "real life" could have many definitions, and "vicarious" is a many-sided concept. We do vicarious work for the dead. We believe these saving ordinances have "real-life" consequences, both for us and for our ancestors, who must surely still feel that whatever they are living is "real life" (if not mortal life). Why couldn't that be reciprocal, and we gain just as "real-life" of a knowledge of them and care for them by learning their stories, as they do of us by observing us from the spirit world? 

Along the same lines, we believe, of course, that Christ's vicarious sacrifice for us is as "real-life" as it gets. We believe that the ancient prophets "truly saw our day," and addressed their words to us. So why not believe that we, too, looking back, can gain a real-life relationship with Christ, and with His servants, by learning of them from their words and from the scriptures? I do believe that, and I guess I have always believed it, but I never thought of it as quite this kind of a two-way-street before.

"[The shepherd] calleth his own sheep by name," the Savior said, "and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice." 

I want to know Jesus Christ's voice! I want to know His servants' voices! I want to know them so well that I can hear their love and discern their true meaning across miles, across centuries, across worldviews, across cultures. I want to grow to love them too, to the point that I start to feel like we're friends "in real life." And then, maybe at some point, I hope—we will be!

Other posts in this series:

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