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:

Sunday, May 29, 2016

London: On my own

Sam's time was, of course, required elsewhere at times while we were in London, and while I would have much preferred to have him with me, I did reactivate my long-dormant ability to enjoy going places and doing things by myself. I may even enjoy it MORE than I did in college, due to its current novelty and the fact that it's not accompanied by dramatic thoughts of "oh, will I NEVER have someone to love me?" :)
Sam was busy meeting people and "networking" and keeping the students at the workshop enthralled. I did get to be with him for some of that, which I always enjoy. But I wasn't going to spend ALL my precious time in London sitting around watching him sign autographs! :)
One thing I loved was when I got to walk through Hyde Park Sunday morning on my way to church. After the earlier days of cold and rain, it seemed like the most beautiful and glorious morning in the history of the world. I'd left early enough that I could spend all the time I wanted dawdling and wandering and daydreaming and taking pictures, and it all felt so strange and wonderful. I kept looking around for children that I'd forgotten, and not finding any.
Bluebells everywhere!
There was hardly anyone else around, and that made everything feel even more like it was there just for me. It was so serene and quiet, with the birds chirping, and faint city and traffic sounds beyond!
When I was here in college, they sent all the BYU students out to help in different wards further afield, so I had only actually been to the Hyde Park Chapel once or twice. I didn't remember much about it except, vaguely, how to get there: across the park, turn at the Royal Albert Hall. It's on Exhibition Row, right across from the Science and Natural History Museums and nearly next to the V&A. Great location.
As I got closer I was treated to the sight of this pink Lamborghini with painted money flying around on it. I was hoping its owner would be at church, but no such luck. :)
Even though I didn't remember everything, I was pretty sure the church looked different than it used to. They remodeled it for the Olympics, I guess, and made it into a small visitor's center as well as a chapel. There's a beautiful Thorvaldson Christus in the front window. It all looks so pretty. I love it! The missionaries inside said they get all kinds of people just wandering by (on their way to the museums, or whatever) and coming in out of curiosity. What a fun mission assignment that would be!
After church, I rode the tube down to Westminster again, and accomplished something I always WANTED to do when I was in London before, but didn't get to, which is going to a church service at Westminster Abbey. I really loved it. I thought there was a lovely spirit and solemnity to it. They had everything (all the calls and responses and so forth) nicely written out on a program so even people like me could participate and follow along. And I even knew some of the hymns! There was a nice familiarity about singing with everyone else. The organ was much grander and more enveloping than anything I've heard (or played) in our chapel before, though! It gave me goosebumps. And the light coming in through the rose windows…utterly transportive. And then at the end of the service the organist launched into something very modern and clamorous by Messiaen, and it took us all quite by surprise. It sounded like an animal had landed on the keys, or perhaps a falling gargoyle. NOT very reverent, although I'm sure the organist had a wonderful time playing it. When I asked if, as a church organist myself (ha ha), I could go up and see the organ, the nice usher politely refused, but did comment, "Did you hear the postlude? Wasn't it terrifying?" Yes…yes it was.
Map room, in the underground Cabinet rooms. You can see the pins and notes and strings, where the troop movements and battle lines were plotted as they occurred.
Another thing I got to do on my own was going to the Churchill Museum and the Cabinet War Rooms from World War II. I don't think I got there on my last visit (and the Churchill Museum section is new) so I was happy to stumble upon them while wandering around the city. I had been reading about World War II in preparation for going to Berlin, and because we'll be studying it next year, so I was really interested to get a feel for what London was like during that time. I haven't yet gone so far as to read the three-volume biography of Churchill that my brother is reading, but it's on my list for this summer! He is a fascinating man (Churchill, not my brother, I mean, though of course Philip is quite fascinating as well).
Near the war rooms is St. James's Park, which was packed with people that day because it was so lovely outside. I took my time looking at all the birds and flowers, and watching people. It's nice to be alone in a crowd sometimes. And it is a pretty great feeling to just follow any whim, and do whatever you feel like doing without consulting a single other person about it! But it would…no doubt…get tedious over time? (I have to tell myself this so I don't get too wistful as I talk about it.) :) I remember how much I loved riding the tube all over the place, trying to find a new garden or a park to study in, last time I was in London. Pretty gardens are my favorite, and I was so happy we had a few nice days/hours while we were here this time so I could get outside and enjoy them! 
I always feel so important when I'm somewhere by myself. I don't know why; you'd think I'd feel much more important when I hold seven infant lives in the balance. But I think when I'm alone, I imagine that other people are looking at me admiringly, saying to themselves "Look at that capable woman, striding along so confidently by herself. She must be going somewhere important, perhaps to a conference or a summit of some kind." Or, "That lone woman there seems to really have this subway system figured out; see how she inserts her card and turns unerringly through the correct doorway without even consulting the map! She must have lived here for ages." Ha! Maybe because I'm imagining stories and lives for everyone else I see, I feel almost a new person myself as well. Not to mention there is lots of time to let your mind go where it will, when you hardly have to say a word outside of your own thoughts all day! I love it. In moderation, anyway.
I loved this jumbled collection of roofs and towers in the distance. So romantic and Londonish!
Closer roofs and towers.
Past St. James's park is Buckingham Palace, which I'd never realized, having mostly gone everywhere underground. I'd been past all the landmarks, but the layout of the city was always essentially a mystery to me, even though I knew the Tube map well. And I never did go before to see the Changing of the Guard, since people had told me it was crowded and hard to see and not really worth the time. So it was fun to walk by Buckingham Palace and stop to peer through the gates with all the other tourists, and see the guards standing faithfully at attention.
I loved the flowerbeds and the ornate wrought-iron fences.
Detailed down to the fancy E, for Elizabeth, I presume.
The trip wouldn't have been truly complete without a visit to my favorite road in all of London. (I felt sure I'd written about it in this post, but I guess not specifically. That's a picture of it, though.) It's near Kensington Palace and houses a bunch of embassies and billionaires. The houses are under a row of arching trees and behind beautiful tall gates, and some of them have little guard houses in front. The street is lit with only gas lamps, and it's closed to through traffic, so you can walk along it in the quiet and hear the gas lamps hissing and feel you've been transported to another time and place. I used to walk down it at night with friends, or even alone, and I always felt safe there (it's probably the most well-protected street in the city, what with all the billionaires and their billions!). I feel like I had so many dreams and thoughts and ponderings there, they must be lingering there still. It is a place outside time for me, and I wanted so much to go there with Sam! We weren't able to get away for the first few nights, and even though I ran there a couple times in the morning, I was worrying that Sam wouldn't get to see it WITH me and that was unacceptable! But it all worked out. We finally got there for a lovely midnight walk and we even got to show some of the other instructors the place too, although I'm sure it wasn't half as magical for them as it was for me!

Friday, May 27, 2016

London: Tourists

My very favorite part of London may be riding the Tube to Westminster Station and then coming out up onto the street to see Big Ben RIGHT THERE looming up at you. I remember feeling like, "NOW I'm really in London!" at that moment last time, and the amazement has not worn off even a little. It's not really called Big Ben, of course, as I've had drummed into me by various sources. Big Ben is just the bell inside, and the tower is actually Elizabeth Clock Tower. But I feel like a pedant whenever I point this out to anyone, so let's stick with "Big Ben" like the rest of the world. :) Although my niece Katy calls it "Big Elizabeth" which is quite catchy.
Speaking of cute, we had this Tiny Big Ben at home and Daisy begged me to bring it to London with me so I could hold it next to "its Mommy," Big Big Ben. I actually remembered to put the tiny one in my suitcase, and then in my pocket, and then take a picture of it! What an impressive feat of memory. (And I even brought it home, too.) Aren't they cute, together at last? 
It was so cold! But so great to be walking around in the city among all the hordes of people. I don't know why I like that so much. But I do.
At any rate, Big Ben is spectacular, and if it's "BONG"-ing at you as you come upon it, as it was at us, there is nothing quite as lovely. I had written to my brother Kenneth asking him: if I could only do one thing in London, what should it be? (he and my other brothers studied there too, a couple years before I did), and he said that walking out of the tube to see Parliament and the clock tower was his favorite, too. "Or, if you really want to keep it to just one thing," he added, "exit at that same tube stop (closing your eyes so you don’t see Big Elizabeth) and then walk over to Westminster Abbey."
I love Westminster Abbey, too. We didn't go in on this day, but I did later. Love those Gothic arches!
A few other places: here is Sam at the British Library. Oh, it isn't all in a box like this. This is a special collection—King George's collection or some such thing. You can look at these books but a librarian has to go get them for you. MY favorite part of the library is its collection of "treasures": old and rare manuscripts; things like music by Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Beethoven; Letters from Anne Bolyn to Henry VIII, documents signed by Queen Elizabeth I; her fancy "E" with loops and swirls all over. Da Vinci drawings and diagrams; the Magna Carta; Jane Austen's writing desk. And of course stunningly illuminated Bibles. I remember being so overwhelmed by it all when I came here years ago, and it was all just as amazing this time. There is something about knowing this very paper was handled by J.S. Bach, or seeing the unique blots and wobbles in someone's handwriting…it makes the past feel so close. I love it.
St. Martin-in-the-fields. When we went inside, there were several (homeless?) people in the back pews, hunched over sleeping in various positions, and snoring. It was oddly soothing. Lovely simplicity in the chapel, too, quite different from Westminster Abbey. I used to go to lunchtime concerts here, and once I went to an evening concert where they played Mozart by candlelight. So lovely.
Sam loved all the interesting buildings. And these weather vanes.
This tram across the Thames is something new (to me). It's up the river near Greenwich. We mostly rode it because Sebastian really wanted us to (we had learned about it in school some time ago), but we were glad we did. Beautiful views from a different perspective. And a cool little airplane museum (the tram is sponsored by Emirates Air) as well.
This tree-table was in one of the restaurants we ate at and I liked it so much!
We spent some time just riding around on the tube and letting Sam draw people. He loves doing that and I love watching him. He tried to be discreet about it, but he sometimes ended up with a bit of an audience anyway. I was taking pictures with the utmost stealth, through my fingers. I felt like a spy.
Sam drew buildings and things too. Amazing what one can accomplish while standing in line or sitting  down to rest at a museum, when not holding/catching a bunch of small children! Such fun to watch. Of course, he isn't the only one that can draw buildings!
As you can see from this page from my scrapbook, I engaged in similar pastimes myself, when I was in London years ago. (Hey! There's that candlelight concert program I was talking about.) I, too, would have been an excellent artist, if I'd ever learnt. Ha! Actually I had to take notes on the architecture of James Gibbs for a class. Ah, those were the days. :) Did we get an A on our paper, Beth? I seem to recall feeling we got less than we deserved.
Another unexpectedly fun place? The London Eye. I'm sorry to say I've been kind of resentful of the London Eye to this point. It wasn't there when I lived in London, and I looked on it as kind of an upstart, like the Rothschilds looking down on the Nouveau Riche or something. It seemed to sit by the Thames smugly, as if it had every right to be there, and I must admit it irked me.

Still, I found myself wanting to go try it out, if only to sniff at how it wasn't worth the money. (Though spending foreign money, as everyone knows, is so disorienting that one might as well not be spending any money at all. What's another 20 quid, old chap?) And I knew the kids would want to know about it. But once we got aboard I found myself quite liking it! I was enthralled with the views and I loved seeing Parliament and Westminster Abbey from above. It rotates slowly enough that you really feel you get a good long look in all directions, and each individual pod (module? bubble?) is big and full of windows. It's fun to feel suspended in the air that way.
St. Paul's
This building is nicknamed "The Shard"—it's another newcomer (London had a big construction boom before the Olympics, apparently) and we'd learned about it a couple years ago, so it was cool to see it in person. 
This building is also cool (30 St. Mary Axe, or the pickle building as my kids call it). The architect was Norman Foster, who I feel I know personally because we watched a documentary on him. :) He did the update of the Reichstag building in Berlin, too.
It was sunny up in the Eye, but when we got back down, some clouds rolled in and it got SO cold again. But I really wanted to go on a boat up the river. That's another thing I didn't do when I was here last time, and I've always regretted it. (One of my brothers said it was his favorite thing in London!) Luckily the boat was heated on the lower deck, so it was comfortable even down on the water. We rode all the way up to Greenwich, past the Tower of London and Traitor's Gate, and under Tower Bridge.
It was cool to see the layout of the city doing the London Eye and then the river cruise. I felt like I never really got a handle on where everything was when I was here before, because I rode the Tube everywhere. You just emerge from underground and there you are, with no idea what part of the city you are in. So being aboveground was nice.
I had dreamed of eating at Wagamama again for lo these many years, and finally we got to do it. I didn't even remember what was so good about it, just that it was a place we liked to go when I was here before. And it was still great. Yum!
Nelson's Column
Our hosts had organized a visit to the National Gallery, which was great as always. SO many cool paintings to see, SO many rooms, and SUCH tired feet, as I remember well from the old days. The museums can be so overwhelming, and the best way to see them is really to live there and take them in bite-sized pieces. But, when short on time, one does what one must. 
You can take photos in there now, which surprised me, but I suppose maybe it was useless trying to prevent it. Sam told me lots of things about various paintings I didn't know well, and I appreciated them, but I just can't help having a preference for intimate landscapes like the one above, where I feel like I want to just jump into the picture and immerse myself in that world.
And Turner. I've always loved Turner.
And the Impressionists! I don't mean to love the same thing everyone else loves, but I just do. This one by Monet, of the Houses of Parliament along the foggy Thames, makes me shiver with happiness. I love the feelings it brings back when I see it.