Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Zion, when we have built it

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Welfare Session from the April 1976 Conference.
Many of us, in this General Conference Odyssey group, have talked about the sort of hybrid quality of Mormonism: the combination of idealism and practicality, spirit and body, that seems to be a hallmark of our religion. (In fact, I keep intending to talk about this more at some point, if I ever get my thoughts together.) The Welfare Sessions of Conference, especially, that I've read so far have these hybrid qualities in spades! The most high-minded doctrines, of premortal councils and agency and consecration, are spoken of practically in the same breath as the advice to "watch advertised specials in the grocery stores and pick up extra supplies of those items that are of exceptional value" while building up food storage. It might seem strange to a professional theologian, but it's utterly familiar to us.

So it was with a sense of familiarity and fondness, though the quote itself was new to me, that I read from President Marion G. Romney's talk these words that were spoken by President Brigham Young:
We will have to go to work and get the gold out of the mountains to lay down, if we ever walk in streets paved with gold. The angels that now walk in their golden streets … had to obtain that gold and put it there. When we have streets paved with gold, we will have placed it there ourselves. When we enjoy a Zion in its beauty and glory [which we’re looking forward to], it will be when we have built it.
Now if that doesn't sound like Brother Brigham talking to the Mormons, I don't know what does! And it reminded me of a principle I've apparently discovered before. Let me…ahem…quote myself (eight years ago!):
…even when we ARE making the right choice, the choice God wants us to make, we're still not "guaranteed" anything unless we work at it "with all our might." That's what makes the possibilities turn into realities. So maybe, if there's some vision we once thought we glimpsed, but it isn't becoming reality like we hoped it would, maybe the vision wasn't wrong or untrue—maybe we just still have more work to do on making it real. 
Which is really not that revolutionary of a concept, I guess. But I can see it at work in my own life. When I was making the decision to marry Sam, for example, I tried hard to follow all the counsel I'd heard in Marriage Prep. classes and so forth: make sure you choose someone that is your best friend, but don't get caught up too much in emotion; follow your heart, but also make sure you follow the spirit; there is no "one and only," but "just anyone" won't do either; don't expect a bolt of lightning, but expect that God will answer because it's so important—etc. It's already hard to recognize true revelation, I think, and in such a decision you feel so much worry about getting it RIGHT—at least this one thing, I must get right!
So, I tried to go about it correctly. I figured out what I wanted to do, and I prayed about it and tried to listen objectively, and I wanted so badly just to KNOW the future. And I didn't get a vision, exactly—but I got something which is hard to describe, but which I'm sure is not an uncommon feeling. Kind of an "envisioning," like I said before. In some ways maybe it was merely a hope or a daydream: "Won't it be such fun—think of how cute our little home together would be—what an adventure, our kids will be so adorable" etc. But then it was more than that: it was kind of a spiritual conviction that these things could be, and a glimpse of how they might be, and an overall feeling of: YES—if you choose this—it could be something wonderful, astonishing, miraculous.
Anyway, that was enough for me at the time, and now, already, those good things I "envisioned" have been realized in many areas. But not the way I might have thought; not in a gentle, passive way like I was a spectator watching a movie of my future gradually unfold and become my reality. More like this: that reality has come as I have wrestled with it, as I have done things I didn't want to do or didn't know how to do, or as I have made mistakes and then tried to repent of them. 
Just like the Lord didn't consecrate that spot of ground for the temple [see Doctrine and Covenants 124:44-45] until the saints had "labored on it with all their mights." And when they'd built up that monument to the Lord, using their hearts and wills and possessions and time, then he was able to show it back to them and say: "See? Just as I promised you—just as you envisioned it—but now, through your labor, even holier."
Later in his talk, President Romney quoted another early prophet, President Joseph F. Smith, who said:
To be Latter-day Saints men and women must be thinkers and workers. They must be men and women who weigh matters in their minds; men and women who consider carefully their course of life and the principles that they have espoused.
I love this summing-up of the "duality" of our religion (which, of course, we don't think is a duality at all, but merely parts that make up a truer whole): we are thinkers, yes. We "consider carefully" the doctrines of God and we stretch to understand more of them. We even humbly consider and re-consider things we already "have espoused" and think we're getting right! But, simultaneously—and it must be simultaneously, because to wait for full understanding would paralyze us for a lifetime—we WORK. We set about building the things we can build, though we do it incompletely and often without a full comprehension of how or why to do it at all. We begin the work of building families far, far before we are very good at building families. We get baptized and join the work of building God's kingdom when we are new, so new, to faith. And this is how God seems to want it. He wants us to think and work and work and think—getting better at both things as we go along—taking time for our Sabbaths, to rest and ponder—but never truly stopping our work, either.

This is consecration, on both ends. All that we have and are; all that we are not yet and do not yet have. Our time and our talents. Our thoughts and our deeds. Our rest and our work. All to one end: a people who build, and are built, like God.


Other posts in this series:

2 comments:

  1. What? I just typed a long comment but I pushed publish and it disappeared. Boo. Now kids are crying. But, among other things, I liked this: "We begin the work of building families far, far before we are very good at building families."

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    1. Gaaa! Comments disappearing are the worst. And I imagine that yours contained the answers to all life's most perplexing questions. Hmmph. Thanks for sticking around anyway.

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