Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From the simple to the miraculous

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week we take a break from covering talks of the past so we can discuss the General Conference that just took place, the April 2017 Conference.
After General Conference is over, I usually go through my notes and try to make a list of the most important thoughts that came, and how I can act on them. It ends up in my phone's Notes app where I can (try to) refer to it occasionally, and remind myself of those things I'm trying to work on. But when the next Conference comes around, I always feel a little worried that it's too soon; that I haven't even finished working on the previous Conference's list, and now I'm going to have MORE goals and might not ever finish getting good at the old ones! I always worry that maybe I didn't do enough to change myself during that half-year.

So when President Nelson described how he felt after his in-depth study of Christ's life, I envied his certainty. "I am a different man," he said. Such a simple statement, but so miraculous! President Nelson, that already-good man, that always-inspiring leader—that even he can be transformed for the better! That sums up what I always WISH to feel when each new Conference comes around! I want to be able to say, "I am a different woman. I've taken to heart all the advice from last time, and now I'm stronger. Better. Ready for a new set of challenges to tackle."

Well. I will keep working on that. In the meantime, here are a few of the unsorted, unassimilated thoughts that have been sifting through my head about Conference.

• I mentioned President Nelson. He seems more serious, focused, powerful than ever before. (Not that he ever lacked those qualities. But they seem to have been magnified.) Appropriately, he talked about accessing God's power. I immediately thought, "This must be priesthood power: the same power we are endowed with in the temple." (To paraphrase Elder Oaks, "What other power can it be?" I talked about this more here.) But I think it's intriguing that what we're really "endowed with"—apparently—is not the power itself, but more like the CAPACITY for that power. Or a dormant form of that power, to be activated only when certain conditions are met. And that one of those conditions is a spiritual exertion or stretching upwards, measured (if I'm understanding this right) not by its actual REACH, but by our intensity in making it.

It sounds a lot like this quote from President Kimball:
"Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on a couch…I believe most revelations would come when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems."
And yet how do we achieve this intensity, how do we stand on our "tip toes"? I ran into a couple sources who interpreted President Kimball's quote as a justification of agitating for change within the church. They saw the "tip toes" as doing things that seemed to them dramatic and important: marching, protesting, "speaking out," "making themselves heard." But that's a misreading, I think. According to Elder Nelson, we "stretch upward" in doing some fairly non-impressive-looking things: in studying Christ in the scriptures. In quietly choosing to have faith. In following promptings to do what we might not ordinarily do. But—in doing these things with all our energy, focus "riveted on" the Savior, and "with the same intensity as a drowning man gasping for air." It's such a fascinating paradox: that the simple, basic, ordinary, almost "boring" things—done in that far-from-basic way—can transform us bit by bit and give us access to the most miraculous power imaginable.

• I used to find Elder Hales one of the less-interesting speakers. Now he is one of the ones for which, and from which, I feel the most love.

• I have thought a lot about the phrase from Elder Renlund's talk in April 2015, about the missionary who was impatient with his incompetent companion and then was chastised with the thought of God saying to him, "You know…compared to me, the two of you aren’t all that different." It's a good thing for me to remember, and it has humbled me many times when I've been frustrated with someone. But Elder Eyring said something in Women's Session that was kind of the mirror image to that thought. He quoted Moroni's hope that "when [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure," and then said:
This is the goal that your Father in Heaven has for you, His precious daughters. It may seem to you like a distant goal, but from His perspective, you’re not that far away. So He visits you with His Spirit to comfort you, encourage you, and inspire you to keep going.
I love that. From God's perspective, it's true, none of us even come close to His perfection. But also…because his patience is infinite and his view of time is all-encompassing…we aren't that far away.

• Also in Women's Session: I think Sister Linda K. Burton's interpretation of the phrase "certain women" is the best and most surprising illumination of a previously unremarkable scriptural phrase I've ever heard. (Elder S. Mark Palmer's singling out of "And Jesus, beholding him, loved him" might come in second.)

• It seemed like there were SO many talks about inviting the Holy Ghost and about gaining spiritual power! Much more to ponder here, but I did at least get the very obvious message that those two things are related. Inseparable, even.

• I liked it when Elder Christofferson said something like, "Our own children are our closest neighbors."

• Elder Renlund is so soft-spoken that I underestimated him at first. But all three of these "new" apostles—he, Elder Rasband, and Elder Stevenson—are amazing. I love them more each time they speak.

• I loved (and was a little surprised at the strength and certainty of!) Elder Rasband's counsel to always act on the first prompting from the Holy Ghost. I guess I've heard that before, but never stated so firmly. He didn't appear to have any qualms about just saying to DO it—no qualifiers about "if you're really sure," no softening words like "if possible" or "after you've made certain it's from God." He quoted some other prophet as saying that if you follow that very first prompting, you'll be right "nine times out of ten." Those are good odds. Very comforting, in fact. Especially if you consider that (even in that one time out of ten we may be mistaken) God sees our prompt response as an indication that we VALUE and DESIRE more of His spirit.

This seems to me a pretty definitive piece of counsel, one I would do well to follow more closely.

Elder Renlund reminds me of Elder Christofferson in always having some great literary references. How did I not remember those beautiful passages about "should the shepherd recoil from the scabs of his sheep" from Les Misérables? The idea that mercy and compassion are what draw people toward us; that mercy and compassion are the things that motivate people to change, is one I haven't absorbed deeply enough. I was very struck by it. I sense that there are many applications of this principle to parenting, which I still need to discover.

• So many good talks by men from the Quorums of the Seventy, too. I especially liked it when Elder Mark A. Bragg talked about the heliotropic effect (one of the most fascinating occurrences in nature, I think) and how we can gain light by simply speaking more and thinking more of Christ. He said something like, "Putting on the armor of light [also] means that we will see Christ more in those around us." I immediately thought of the lines by Gerard Manley Hopkins that are my favorite expression of this thought:
…for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 
I often think that if I could only get myself to see like this all the time—to move through life taking literally and at face value the statement "inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me"—I would be immeasurably happier. And Elder Bragg's talk explains why: because not only would I be emulating Christ, seeing others that way, but I would also be sort of making my OWN environment a Christ-filled one, without really changing a thing. I would be, in effect, ensuring that I was surrounded with light regardless of how anyone else acted—because I would both NOTICE what light there was, and ADD to what there wasn't. I don't know if I understand that fully yet. But I think it sounds wonderful.

• I also liked Elder L. Whitney Clayton's fresh look at the story of Jesus turning the water into wine. Why had I never thought of Mary's role in that story? Now that it's been pointed out to me, I love her even more for her quiet certainty that Jesus will always make things right. As Elder Clayton said, she committed herself completely, without having an understanding of why or when or how it would all work out; she accepted and trusted Jesus' actions in advance and without condition. That's amazing to me, and inspiring. I want to approach my areas of uncertainty with that same unconditional trust, so that I too can be transformed.

And as I'm writing this, I'm realizing that maybe that was the underlying theme of the whole conference, for me. "Simple habits of belief lead to miraculous results." A message I truly needed to hear.


Other posts in this series:

3 comments:

  1. I too have felt a deepening in Elder Nelson and have been more drawn to his words. And I was telling the kids that Elder Hales has such a mellow voice that I often feel sleepy during his talks, but when I read them after I love them.

    I don't recall that Elder Renlund quote about us not being so far in God's eyes. That's so encouraging! And it makes sense. It made me think of something I was reading in D&C the other day. Christ kept telling Joseph "not yet" and to wait -- for gifts, for things that needed done, etc. We always feel so anxious that we aren't wherever yet, but He seems perfectly calm about getting there and doesn't feel our "this minute!" anxiety.

    I also loved Elder Bragg's talk! I couldn't listen well enough at the time and want to hear it again!

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  2. I didn't hear much of conference but I have started reading Following Christ by Robinson and the first chapter reviewed his book, Believing Christ, and I felt the same ridiculous Aha! that I had when I read Believing Christ ages ago. It is so easy to forget the things we study and learn!! Argh!!

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    1. Yes! It's depressing to think about what I've forgotten...but, we just keep moving on, I guess! :) I still haven't read either of those Robinson books, though I've heard them quoted a lot. I should.

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