Over at BCC, Kristine opined last week on the subject of Mormon “intellectuals.” After admitting that knowing stuff can, in fact, be helpful, she concluded the following: “But this is the suspicion that was nagging at me during our conversation, and has not left me: intellectual gifts, like most of what we bring to the altar, are not nearly as valuable as we think they are.”
I think Kristine gets this exactly right. In general, we both overestimate the value of our contributions and misunderstand what about that contribution did actually have value.
Ancient Israelites thought they were going to the temple to offer sacrifices; we think we are going to church to contribute our talents to build Zion. We dress to show our “comely parts” to best advantage. God knows better–he is delighted not by what we bring to the temple, but by our presence. He wants us to come to Him and to each other because, perhaps, having risked a little bit to give the gifts we think He wants, we may let our guard down for a moment and let Him give us what we need. Maybe in the middle of giving the lesson or the talk we used our big brain and our fancy degrees to prepare, we’ll stumble, be surprised by deep emotion or the quickening of the spirit. If we’re lucky, we will lose the train of our busy thoughts, and realize for just a moment what it is we are really doing; we may see in our sisters’ and brothers’ puzzled eyes the tender attention and care–the loving regard for every gift as belonging equally to all of the members of Christ’s body–that is Zion. Intellectual gifts, like all the others, are useful for bringing us to the place where we can offer all that we really have to give–our brokenness, our need, our yearning to know and be known.
In my view, the point Kristine makes here about intellectualism applies accurately and straightforwardly to prayer.
To the extent that we do manage to pray, we tend to (1) greatly overestimate the value of our contribution to the prayer, and (2) misunderstand what about that prayer does actually have value.
Perhaps in the middle of a prayer, if we’re lucky, we will lose the train of our busy thoughts, and realize for just a moment what it is we are really doing. Prayer, like every other spiritual gift, is useful for bringing us to the place where we can offer all that we really have to give – that is, our brokenness, our need, our willingness to listen rather than to speak, our attentive silence.