Author: Sarah Familia

Literary Worship – Sacred Stones

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As our one really unique Mormon holiday, Pioneer Day gives us a chance to look back and reflect on our ancestors and others who went before and made our way easier through their good lives and sacrifices. I think of it as a sort of celebration of our collective quest to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers. And because I love traveling and getting to know new places, thinking about my ancestors always involves a lot of thought about where they originally came from, and if I’m lucky, not just thought, but plane tickets and itineraries. Almost four years ago, I was living with my family in Italy. We’d gone there chasing a sort of genealogical dream, and now we were sitting in a chapel in Turin, Italy, watching live coverage of the Prophet speaking from Rome. President Monson was in Italy breaking ground for the long-awaited and prayed-for Rome Temple. With him were Church leaders from all over…

Literary Worship – Miracle

Miracle

I find the story of the woman with the issue of blood, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, both odd and beautiful. Like most of the recipients of Christ’s miracles, she excites sympathy within me. Twelve years is a long time to be sick, especially with an illness that renders you and anyone who touches you perpetually unclean. She must have been lonely. It makes me wonder how many times she did get touched during those years–how many people braved the social and religious taboo to offer her a bit of human care or comfort. Did she have a family? Was she abandoned because of her affliction? Did her ritual uncleanness make her feel personally and spiritually unworthy? The Scriptures tell us that she had spent “all her living” on whatever passed for medical treatment in her day. Not only did the treatment fail to heal her, but she actually grew worse. The resultant poverty must have added to her…

Literary Worship: Eve

Fruit of the tree

Two of the most inspiring parts of life to me are seeing new places and learning new things. So it’s no surprise that I’ve long been fascinated with the story of Eve, the woman who lived in Paradise and gave it up to see and experience things she could never have imagined, and learn things that would change her forever. The traditional religious line has been to condemn Eve for her fateful choice and blame her for the evils of our fallen world. But as Mormons, we think differently. As Orson F. Whitney described it, the Fall was a fall forward as well as a fall downward. It was a difficult choice, but a good one, and to Eve we owe the gift of our own ability to discern and choose between good and evil. Imagine her in Paradise, surrounded by every beautiful and needful thing, happy and contented in her perfect life. And yet wanting more. I think I’ve…

Literary Worship: The Lost Sheep

shepherd

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East, where in many places shepherds still live with their sheep, sleeping with them at night and following them around all day to keep them out of trouble. It’s a common enough sight to see a weather-beaten man walking among a dozen or more sheep and goats as they range through wadis and small valleys, nibbling at the sparse vegetation and scampering from hilltop to hilltop. The whole scenario always strikes me as timeless and exotic; it’s something I never imagined in my American world of fences and orderly pastures. Often, the sheep block the road completely as they cross it, and one learns to simply wait until they are finished crossing, participating for a moment in the eternal patience of the shepherd. It is hard for me to picture what it would be like to spend all day every day following sheep around. Exhausting, I think. And mind-numbing. How…

Literary Worship: Living Waters

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A few weeks ago I shared with you the first of my Sacrament poems, Bread of Life. For some reason, just the act of sharing it made me feel closer to my faith than I’ve felt in a long time. So I’ll take the liberty of sharing a second poem, in the hope that it might help both me and perhaps someone else. I’ve always loved the symbolism of the Sacrament. The idea of Christ literally feeding us is so evocative of the deep necessity we all share for his love and Atonement. I can appreciate that from an aesthetic standpoint, wine is an appropriate stand-in for blood. But I kind of like the fact that we use water for the Sacrament instead of wine. Water is such an elemental thing. What substance is more necessary and fundamental to our body’s function (and the very ecology of our planet) than water?  Rain is life, falling from heaven. The Scriptures are replete…

Why I Watch Game of Thrones

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Since Nathaniel mentioned Game of Thrones and why he doesn’t watch it in his wonderful post earlier this week, I thought I’d give you a few lines on why I do watch the series. Much ink has been spilled over the gratuitous sex and violence in Game of Thrones. I’ll admit that I roll my eyes over the fact that every conversation that can possibly take place whilst the person speaking (or at least someone else in the room) is having sex, does. Still, I think what tends to bother people even more is the sense that there are no boundaries to the terrible things that can happen in Game of Thrones. There is indeed a nightmarish quality to the experience of watching the series. The arbitrariness, the dawning realization that something awful will happen to your favorite character, if not in this episode, then in the next, is uncomfortable and unnerving. Who wants to allow this perverse story world of rape and senseless violence…

Literary Worship: Sacrament Prayers

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Sometimes I have a hard time concentrating during the Sacrament. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be difficult. My squirmy, distracting babies and toddlers have grown up; in fact, I play the organ, so my husband sits with the children on Sundays. I sit on the stand by myself, and try to keep my thoughts where they belong–focused on the sacred ordinance in which I am participating. Sometimes it’s difficult. Especially lately. I’ve been going though something of a spiritual desert. The feeling of comfort and safety and familiarity that I’ve long associated with church has been partially converted into doubts and questions and discomfort. I keep coming, because the Church is my spiritual home, and I still believe, and I have hope that somewhere in the desert there is an elusive oasis of peace. But the static of problematic gender roles, historical discrepancies, and damaging cultural practices sometimes hums so loudly in my ears that I have to strain to hear the…

Guest Post: The Heavenly Mother Poems of Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards

Guest poster Martin Pulido is a businessman by day, LDS scholar by night, who has extensively researched Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother. He co-authored the BYU Studies article, “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” with David Paulsen, and has organized the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest with Caroline Kline. The “A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest” is currently looking for 2-dimensional visual arts pieces and poems that portray Heavenly Mother. The contest will accept entries up until March 4, 2014, and over $2200 in prizes will be awarded when the best entries are announced on May 11, 2014. For more details, visit www.amotherhere.com. The contest is being sponsored by Exponent II, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, Peculiar Pages, LDS WAVE, and Segullah. As part of the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest, we have been examining the literary and artistic works referring to Heavenly Mother created by latter-day saints…

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree

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One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the…

Confessions of a Former Stay-at-Home Mom

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After nine years as a stay-at-home mom, I recently got a full-time job. I’ve been working for a month now, which seems long enough to state some preliminary observations about how things are going. The short answer is, I am happier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults than I did when I was at home with them all day. My emotional resources are magically magnified by being away from home during the work-day doing something interesting and creative, and I am much better able to deal with the inevitable complications and setbacks of life. And it is so nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Worrying about money all the time and freaking out when we had an unexpected car problem or other non-budgeted expense was not an easy way to live. Life is a little more hectic,…

A Mother Here – New Art and Poetry Contest

A Mother Here

There have been LDS art contests in the past, either sponsored by LDS church institutions or by private organizations, but none have yet focused on Heavenly Mother as their theme. That changed this month with the newly announced A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest. Aiming to stimulate the visual and poetic expression of Heavenly Mother, as well as highlight the nascent divinity that resides in women as well as men, monetary prizes in excess of $2200 will be awarded to the best entries. The contest accepts two-dimensional art submissions to be considered in its visual arts awards, and all forms of poetry for the poetry awards. The contest will accept submissions until March 4, 2014, after which award-winning entries will be chosen by prestigious judges Susan Elizabeth Howe (esteemed poet, playwright, and professor) and Herman Du Toit (former head of the Durban Art School and former head of museum research at BYU’s Museum of Art). Winning entries will be announced…

Finding My Heavenly Mother, Part 4 (Literary Edition)

Also see part 1, part 2 and part 3. In a 1944 essay (“Is Theology Poetry?”), C.S. Lewis remarked, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” As one who embraced Christianity later in life, Lewis had a keen appreciation of how a new discovery of belief can throw a bright reflected glory on the world and everything in it. The mind, which craves new connections of any kind, takes a special delight in those intellectual connections that carry an associated weight of affection. Who has not noted with pleasure the increased sweetness imparted to a beautiful place by the remembrance of a few precious moments shared there with one’s beloved? How much more, then, might we linger over a place, a picture, a happy turn of phrase that brought to mind some past or promised communion with the divine, assaulting our senses…

Wearing Pants

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Everybody’s talking about pants. And having already recently conducted my own private (and unrelated) “wear pants to church” event, I thought it would be an opportune time to share my thoughts here. I had been contemplating wearing pants to church for awhile and had several reasons for doing it, although when it actually came down to it, the choice to wear pants on that particular Sunday had mostly to do with the fact that I was exhausted from taking care of sick family members and my dress pants were clean and pressed, while my skirt was not. Turns out, though, I liked wearing pants. They worked a lot better for playing the organ than my knee-length skirts (which tend to ride up as I move my feet around on the pedals) or my long skirts (which I never wear on Sundays when it’s my turn to play because they trip me up on the pedals). I was comfortably warm in…

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Two years ago, we spent one of my favorite Christmases ever in Italy. We were living in a little town nestled against a mountainside between the Ligurian and Maritime Alps. Every Sunday we drove a half hour through the Piedmont countryside to meet with our little LDS branch. I loved our branch to death, but it was in that awkward in-between stage where there are enough members to necessitate a full complement of auxiliaries, but not nearly enough to comfortably staff said auxiliaries. We generally kept things more-or-less together, but we didn’t have a lot of extra time or resources after barely managing to accomplish the essentials. Since I was the branch music chairperson, I had realized a few months before that I should probably plan a special musical number or two for the Sacrament meeting the week before Christmas. My husband was in the branch presidency, so I asked him what Presidente had in mind. He laughed and responded…

Finding My Heavenly Mother, Part 3 (Eternal Polygamy Edition)

Caryatids Acropolis

Since polygamy will keep rearing its ugly head every time we try to talk about Heavenly Mother, I’ve given it its very own post, as promised. Polygamy occupies an uneasy place in the psyche of many Mormons today. Although the practice was abandoned by the church in the early 20th century, it is exotic and taboo enough that it continues to be one of the public’s primary associations with Mormons. However, even within the church, the idea of polygamy (and specifically, polygyny) continues to complicate theology and life. Today I’d like to take a deeply personal look at some of the fruits of our lingering, troubled relationship with polygamy, and the effect it has on how we conceptualize and talk about (or don’t talk about) Heavenly Mother. If you’re feeling the need for conversational antecedents, please see Finding My Heavenly Mother, part 1 and part 2; also part 4. In public and to their non-member friends, Mormons typically try to distance themselves…

A Mormon Holiday

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Sometimes I am a little envious of my friends whose religions involve a year full of meaningful religious holidays that strengthen and define them both culturally and spiritually. Ramadan, for instance, is a sort of month-long holiday for Muslims, complete with special foods and lots of family time. When we lived in Tunisia, I was amazed at the community cohesiveness produced by a holiday that disrupted people’s lives so much for so long. Not much work of any kind was accomplished during the month of Ramadan, but family ties were strengthened, religious convictions deepened, and there was a palpable feeling that everyone was in this whole fasting thing together, and would help each other make it through. When I was growing up, our next door neighbors were Jewish, and sometimes invited us over to share their holidays with them. One of the most fun times I remember was eating potato pancakes for Purim, and then listening to the story of Esther, and…

Finding My Heavenly Mother, Part 2

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 The same drive which called art into being as a completion and consummation of existence, and as a guarantee of further existence, gave rise also to that Olympian realm which acted as a transfiguring mirror to the Hellenic “will.” The gods justified human life by living it themselves—the only satisfactory theodicy ever invented.    – Friedrich Nietzsche   During part 1 I described for you my personal awakening to the existence of Heavenly Mother. In this post, I’ll explore some of the implications that discovery had for the way I view God, religion, and myself. (Also see parts 3 and 4) It’s funny, it wasn’t until I became experientially aware of the reality of Heavenly Mother that I realized there is a gigantic hole in the way I had been imagining God. All of a sudden, in the midst of a deluge of male pronouns in scripture and hymn and church discourse, all I could hear was a deafening silence about…

A Perfect Exhibit for the BYU Museum of Art

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A beautiful young woman sleeps, dreaming of her true love. When his lips meet hers, her eyelids flutter open. Their eyes meet, and they fall instantly in love. She’s already conveniently attired in a wedding dress, so they get married immediately and live happily ever after. The fairytale comes to life in an exhibit at the National Art Museum in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukrainian-Canadian artist Taras Polataiko recruited five women whom he described as “gorgeous, smart, and looking for love.” They took turns sleeping in the gallery, waiting to be kissed by onlookers. Both the “princesses” and any visitors venturing a kiss were required to sign a sort of prenuptial agreement stipulating that if the woman “woke up” upon being kissed, the two would wed. The exhibit, which ended yesterday, didn’t end up resulting in any marriages, although one unsuccessful “prince charming” left his wished-for bride an ipad, his email address, and $400 to visit him at his home in Amsterdam. Who’s…

Finding My Heavenly Mother – Part 1

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The Mormon conception of God encompasses both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. However, we almost never talk about our Heavenly Mother. In this series, I’ll give you a peek into my own personal journey toward learning to know my Heavenly Mother. Like many Mormons, I grew up always knowing about Heavenly Mother, but never really talking about Her. And honestly, the relative absence of my Heavenly Mother didn’t ever bother me much. In fact, when I thought of Her at all, I thought of Her as a sort of special, beautiful secret, or an esoteric doctrine I found aesthetically pleasing. To me, She was more of an idea than a real person; certainly She didn’t seem as “real” as God the Father or Jesus Christ, whom I heard about every week at church, and with whom I was encouraged to develop a personal relationship. Fast forward to approximately a year ago. We’d had a serious marital shakeup, then…

The Way We Teach Our Children Modesty

At the age of two, my daughter Axa could point out an immodest outfit in a shop window. At five, she added sleeves to the dress on the princess picture her babysitter had drawn for her. Although I don’t recall making any special effort to teach her about modesty, I was surprised and gratified that she understood the concept at such a young age. However, lately I’ve been having disquieted feelings when she brings up modesty, as I realize that something in the nuance of what I’ve taught has gone awry. And then just a few weeks ago, something happened that disturbed me. Axa (who’s now seven) was reading the Book of Mormon out loud to me. She hadn’t interjected a word until we came to this passage (from the Testimony of Joseph Smith, describing the appearance of the angel Moroni): He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had…

Globetrotting, Mormon-Style

In front of the Manila Temple

One of the things almost sure to be heard in testimony meeting after someone has traveled (whether it’s across the ocean or just to the next town over) is an expression of gratitude that “the Church is the same no matter where you go.” To a certain extent, it’s true. We all sing the same hymns, although every ward congregation seems to have its particular favorites. We all read the same scriptures. Sunday meetings follow the same general format, even if the meetings are in a different order. Thanks to Correlation, Sunday School and other lesson manuals are standardized and translated into over a hundred languages, and on any given Sunday the whole worldwide Church is studying the same lesson (give or take a week or two depending on how organized the local Sunday School teacher happens to be). We’ve traveled and moved around the world quite a bit, and I’ll admit that I do appreciate the general “sameness” of…

Single Moms and Adoption — Another Perspective

I have been fascinated by the idea of adoption for a long time. Growing up, I knew a few people who were adopted, and the idea of bringing home your baby from Korea or the Ukraine always seemed exotic to me. But my obsession really took off when I got my Patriarchal Blessing. After gushing about the children that would be born to me, a totally out-of-the-blue paragraph began with the words, “I bless the love of your family to extend to other children . . . ” Suddenly, adoption was part of my envisioned Mormon “happily-ever-after,” and I embraced the idea delightedly. When my husband and I were newly married and trying for a baby, I recall telling him that if we didn’t have a baby before we went on our field study to the Philippines the next year, we were adopting one there. Two biological children later, my compulsion to adopt has only increased, and we’re finally preparing…

Mahana, You Ugly!

Let me tell you a little story. Not long ago, we moved to a new ward. After a few weeks, my husband and I were invited to come early to church to meet with a member of the bishopric. We figured, of course, that he wanted to extend a calling to one or both of us. When we arrived, he asked my husband to come in and speak with him first. So I assumed that my husband was getting the calling. To my surprise, after I was ushered into the room, the bishop’s counselor extended a calling to me. He explained that it was church policy to obtain the husband’s permission before his wife even found out about the calling. When my husband remarked dubiously that this is the first time he’d ever encountered such a policy, the counselor said (somewhat defensively) that they had been instructed to do it that way by the stake president. According to him, it’s…

Mormons and Muslims

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I had a university professor who lived in Iran and ran a television program dedicated to classical Persian music prior to the Islamic revolution. He spent a lot of time during the seventies crossing sketchy borders into various ‘Stans. One of his tools for successful border crossing (not to mention survival) was a pamphlet he wrote himself, highlighting similarities between Mormons and Muslims; things like a founding prophet, directly revealed scripture, fasting, and polygamy. I was intrigued by his comparisons, and this class was one of the many things that prompted me to study Arabic and learn more about Islam.  It’s sad to me that so many Mormons (like Americans in general) have negative and badly stereotyped views of Muslims. As adherents ourselves to a religion that often seems to get more than its share of unfair and unfounded criticism, we can afford a deeper look. During the time I’ve spent in Muslim countries (and with Muslims in this country), I have…

Homeschooling Then and Now

As was mentioned in my introduction a week or so ago, my parents homeschooled us “back in the good old days when homeschooling was weird and subversive, not hip and progressive.” I’m now homeschooling my own children, and it’s interesting to note how the movement has evolved during the past 25 years. My adjectives describing the change don’t fit perfectly, of course, but they are representative of general trends, at least in how the perception of homeschooling has changed. When my mother decided she’d like to keep me home from kindergarten in 1985, it was a bizarre and scary thing to do. She’d learned about homeschooling while taking a class from Reed Benson at BYU. He lent her a copy of his doctoral dissertation on homeschooling, and told her about his nine homeschooled children. So she hunted down some of the books he recommended by John Holt, the father of the modern American homeschooling movement, and decided to try out…

Sister Beck and Daughters in My Kingdom

Mary and Martha

Having spent the past eight months in Tunisia, where our tiny L.D.S. group had very little formal structure, I had almost forgotten what it was like to go to a Church meeting without husband and children in tow. Attending the General Relief Society Meeting with a few friends was like a welcome home. I had found the new Daughters in My Kingdom book at my parents’ house when I arrived a few days before the General Relief Society Meeting, and somehow gotten the idea that it had come out months ago and was more or less required reading before the Meeting. Consequently, the three Relief Society Presidency’s talks, which all quoted extensively from the book, sounded awfully familiar from all my cramming. I found the book interesting, though, and didn’t mind hearing it rehashed. While I know that Relief Society is “the largest women’s organization in the world,” I’ve certainly been guilty of completely forgetting my membership in it during…