Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Special Appearance

Here’s an interesting notion, but interesting is an understatement of kinds. I’ll call it fantastic. Extra-special. It speaks to the special relationship The Savior had on earth with Mary Magdalene.

Much has been written outside the church regarding the possibilities/probabilities that The Savior married her, and that they had children. The DaVinci Code comes to mind. (I haven’t read the book, nor will I, but I really liked the movie.) This isn’t to what I am alluding. Still, make your own judgments. Considering that we are taking about The Savior, let’s try to follow the spirit in such speculations.

We’re in John 20, on the third day after The Savior’s crucifixion, outside the sepulcher where he was laid:
1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
Luke 24 adds that it was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women… Here, in John 20, the specific focus is on Mary, who arrives in the very early morning after the Jewish Sabbath to…



Monday, January 25, 2010

Humility

One more iconic moment from The Savior's life. The italics are mine, and I won't try to hammer the point too much, but let's give it a read:

John 13:
4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to awash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter...

12 ...So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

There's certainly one cringe-inducing part of the body that no one wants to wipe clean on someone else's body. Nurses certainly do this without much thinking. Just another day on the job, perhaps. Nonetheless, there are several ways of working through the "ick-factor". Love is the most effective. A patient who is invalid cannot take care of themselves for obvious reasons and is utterly dependent on someone to handle those functions. Mothers do it all the time with their babies and they have no qualms about taking care of those...uh...issues. (Getting to love, however, take a challenging path: Humility.)

Since I haven't been talking about feet, let's do so now. Feet are disgusting. We walk on them. Keep them covered in shoes. Fungal infections. Weird looking toenail issues. The smell. And if you have body hair... Yeah, Hobbit feet.

The Savior, though, vividly demonstrated what is easily perceived to be...a lowly act. John the Baptist certainly was boggled by The Savior's insistence that John baptize him, for Jesus had no literal need to wash away any sins. Here, the Savior strips down, lowers himself in a subservient position, and washes the feet of his apostles.

Obviously this left Peter feeling uncomfortable, that their roles should be reversed. Yet, once again, The Savior exemplifies that if the He does it, then all others must do likewise.

We should never feel as though we are above someone because of our social or financial status. But we do. It is the frailty of our existence. To fight this impulse, we must serve ALL, to sit and sup with the publicans and sinners as The Savior did, as much as it might cause us to cringe at the very notion.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Atonement: Part 1 The Garden of Gethsemane

Scale helps us to appreciate the size of objects, whether they be buildings, mountains or oceans. Scale can sometimes help us appreciate the scope of intangible moments that are emotional and can’t readily be measured by tools.

Here is a picture of the Eagle Nebula, courtesy of the Hubble Telescope.



The enormous nebula is located some 6,500 light years away in the Sagittarius arm of the Milkyway galaxy, between our solar system and the galaxy's core.

Here’s a closer look inside of the nebula.



What you see are the famous Pillars of Creation, so named by scientists because each one inside contains stars in the act of formation. Now try this next picture…



Look familiar? This is the single most famous photograph of these pillars, which is actually a composite of many overlaid photographs. Now, let’s peer even closer at one of these pillars…



Look closely at this billowing cap of gas and dust, which is a giant nursery for baby stars. Do you see those small protrusions sticking out, resembling tiny fleshy moles? Each one of these protuberances contains a single star. More remarkable is the size of each of these protuberances. Can you guess? These are roughly the dimensions of our entire solar system, roughly 7 billion miles across. Now let’s see those pillars once again.



The largest pillar on the left is roughly four light-years in length. What’s that mean? This giant column of gas and dust would stretch from our sun to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. At the speed of light, it would take you four years to travel from one end of the pillar to the other. Can you believe something this ginormous actually exists, and that it gives birth to what will become solar systems? Hard to imagine. The scale leaves one gobsmacked. And yet…there it is, in all its glory, the majesty of our Heavenly Father’s workmanship.

(And it makes our giant solar system now appear…oh, so very small.)

It is within the infinite enormity of the universe that we need to embrace what Christianity calls The Atonement. I’m not sure that most of Christendom fully comprehends a particular cluster of scriptures within Luke 22, but it illuminates an event in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the Savior’s arrest and eventual crucifixion.



Read the following:

39 And [Jesus] came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.


I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that most Christians see this moment as simply Christ’s emotional struggle in the face of his own execution. That's certainly how it was explained to me in my childhood associations with several non-denominational churches, long before I joined the LDS church. If we examine traditional Christendom, their Crucifix stands as the representative symbol of the Lord’s sacrifice, his voluntary forfeiture of his life for our sins.

Yet, this is simply an incomplete knowledge, for his death on the cross is a mere glance at the giant picture. What we’re witnessing, in those brief few verses of Luke 22, is an act of love, a sacrifice unparalleled in human history. (Or known biophysics.) The Atonement is the process by which the Savior took the pains, sufferings, and most importantly the evil and misdeeds committed by every son and daughter of Heavenly Father, and endured its pain on our behalf.

To help us understand the issue of justice and mercy, in so far as Heavenly Father is concerned, let’s go to Alma 34:

8 And now, behold, I [Alma] will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice


Why must such a sacrifice be necessary? Let’s look at 1 Nephi 15:

32 …for the day should come that they [we] must be judged of their works, yea, even the works which were done by the temporal body in their days of probation.
33 Wherefore, if they should die in their wickedness they must be cast off also, as to the things which are spiritual, which are pertaining to righteousness; wherefore, they must be brought to stand before God, to be judged of their works; and if their works have been filthiness they must needs be filthy; and if they be filthy it must needs be that they cannot dwell in the kingdom of God; if so, the kingdom of God must be filthy also.
34 But behold, I say unto you, the kingdom of God is not filthy, and there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God


Because sin leaves us out of our Heavenly father’s presence forever, we need someone capable of rendering the demands of justice for us, an unparalleled act of mercy. To further polish this notion of Justice v. Mercy, let’s go back to Alma 34:

14 And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety…


Dying on the cross simply isn't the big picture. The pain and suffering of crucifixion, while immense, was a common method of execution in the Roman Empire for tens of thousands.

However, the word common isn’t an adjective best describing the Atonement. Only the pain and suffering for the billions upon billions of souls who have and will inhabit this planet (who came here of their own volition to take up a physical body, to traverse this life in the hopes of obtaining the right and honor of returning to Heavenly Father, knowing full well they would make mistakes and commit sins of varying degrees that would instantly put them out of Heavenly Father’s reach) could satisfy the demands of justice.

And yet...The Atonement goes beyond those who have or will walk this planet. Remember, only Christ could make this sacrifice, for it has to be an infinite and eternal sacrifice. That’s the key. Infinite and eternal encompasses not only this world, but all of Heavenly Father's worlds.

Moses 1:
33 And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.


Worlds without number? Consider the scope of Heavenly Father's creations. In our galaxy it's estimated to be populated with 200 to 400 billion stars. Our closest galactic neighbor, Andromeda, has one trillion stars. In the known universe there are hundreds upon hundreds of billions of galaxies. Even if you allow for the possibility that only one earth-like planet holds human life in each galaxy, that's hundreds of billions of planets with intelligent life in the detectable universe. (Consider that each of those planets holds a mere billion souls. Now multiply.)

This is what Christ did in the Garden. He took upon himself the vast incomprehensible volume of imperfection that we create (because we're fools, idiots, rash, and often just plain evil) and he suffered it. How great was this agony? Beyond measure. But let's return to Luke 22. Read carefully, and let's hit a few observations:

39 And [Jesus] came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him.
40 And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,
42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.


This isn't you or I asking or begging for an alternative, for a way out. This is Christ. The Great Jehovah. I AM. Alpha and Omega. He knows full well what horrors are about to descend upon himself. However, he defers to the will of Heavenly Father without hesitation.



43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.


So terrible was the burden that Heavenly Father allowed an angel to attend to The Savior and strengthen him as infinite agony enveloped him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.


This isn't a printing error, or a fifteen-hundred year old mistranslation. At that moment the very weight of sin from hundreds of trillions of souls transformed his spiritual agony into a physical torment that boggles the mind. So violent is the volume of his agony, the Savior at that very moment was literally sweating great drops of blood.

D&C 19:
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.


It's a magnanimous gift. And yet, I'm barely scratching the surface on The Savior's role in all our lives. Let this suffice for now.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Avatar and the Telestial Kingdom

Having just seen Avatar, written and directed by James Cameron, in 3-D no less, I'm still pondering this movie. It's not so much the 3-D technology, which is fantastic, but it's the wonderful and moral story, set on a world aptly called Pandora by its human settlers, for whom it takes a five year journey at sublight speed to reach, nestled in the Alpha Centauri system.

In the distant future, with Earth resources and lush green virtually gone, humans have struck out for distant worlds, finding this small moon around a giant gas planet. (This draws faint parallels to the Forest Moon of Endor, from Return of the Jedi, but any such comparison ends there.)

My, my, my. What beauty it holds. Words simply fail me.

But that's not why I write. Today I stumble across a CNN story and how some people are leaving the theaters depressed and moody. Not because Avatar has a such downer of an ending (it doesn't), but that our world sharply contrasts the stark wonderment of Pandora. (The film previews hold much back. You're viewing only a scintilla of what the movie has to show you.)

But I'm not here to praise Cameron's film (yet, I have...). In this recent CNN article, it addresses a viewer comment, confessing a so-called "suicidal" consideration over how drab/dreary our world feels compared to this wondrous but imagined planet. While this viewer should watch some amazing Discovery Channel documentaries on own planet, this notion brings to mind something Joseph Smith is once rumored to have remarked: If a man were to peer into the Telestial kingdom, and witness its wonderment and beauty, such a vision would be so enticing, he would kill himself to gain its access. (Or words to that effect.)

But is this true? Were such sentiments ever uttered by The Prophet, or any other modern General Authority? It would seem...no. (For insight into this I direct you to this following blog post.)

This leaves me to ponder what beauty awaits those souls slated to earn the lowest kingdom allowed by Heavenly Father. We do know that Joseph Smith received vivid visions of all three kingdoms, or degrees of glory. I'm of the opinion that once the wicked are purged of their sins the hard way (the agony that Christ undertook for them, which they rejected), their everlasting reward will be quite welcome. They will be ever so grateful for such a reward. From their point of view, these cleaned souls will gaze upon this Telestial glory as an undeserving crown, considering their grotesque behavior on this planet.

This reward will be ironic. After the wicked have been purged of their grievous sins, they will be rewarded with a world very much like this one, since they could not abide a higher law, neither Celestial or Terrestrial. More or less, these souls will be right back were they started. However, it will be a world purged of death and evil.

Consider the simplest of pleasures we now enjoy: walking through the woods, fishing, basking in the warm sun, playing with our pets, enjoying the company of others, laughing over a joke, walking on the beach, hiking into the mountains, painting a picture, writing a poem. Compared to the majesty of the Celestial Kingdom, the Telestial glory shall be all this, a mere paradise, plain and simple.

As to the fantastical nature of Pandora, compared to this drab and dreary world, I say do a little exploring on your own of this planet. After many years of physical inactivity, I decided to resume exercising by taking long walks down to the nearby shores of the Puget Sound inlet where I once lived. Lo and behold, I encountered geese, and young hatchlings scurrying about. The next day, I witnessed an otter come splashing out onto the shore, and a rather big one at that. It's not every day you witness wildlife firsthand strictly reserved for documentaries. But this planet teems with undiscovered life and mysteries, no matter where you live. Go out and find your own Pandora. Buy a telescope. Celebrate this great star system we inhabit!


Note: Expand your horizons further. Go look up the word "Pandora" for the origins of its name [See "Pandora's Box" amid Greek Mythology]. Likewise, look up the very real star system it inhabits, Alpha Centauri, which sits a mere four light-years away. As a final venture, dig into the Pearl of Great Price, which contains many more revelations on the metaphysics of Heavenly Father's creations. May we all live worthily to enjoy the true nature of the universe.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Here's What I Think About That

Luke 19:
41 And when [Jesus] was come near, he beheld [Jerusalem], and wept over it,
42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,
44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

Have you ever--knowing what you know about the restored gospel, about modern-day temples, about modern-day revelation, about the plain and simple truths concerning the Plan of Salvation--looked out over the rest of the world, trapped in their political/sociological/cultural/religious ignorance (and sometimes arrogance) and screamed out in your head, "Wake up people! Wake up! Don't see you see what's happening?"

As the Savior gazes out over the most famed and infamous city in the history of the world, what sorrow he must feel, for he knows what will befall it, and not just the city, but for so many of us. The city works as a metaphor, if you will, a metaphor that could easily be applied to the suffering that was to befall the Jaredites and Nephites.

Hear the lament of the Savior: If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side...

As members, those who hold the truth and are NOT hid from ignorance, we hold a great treasure and great protection from the maelstrom that is the world, that it will not drag us down--regardless of her weather, her economy, her wars, and the politics of her governments. But if we are like Jerusalem (the metaphor here), we will lose this protection. And unlike the comforting words of the Savior, "Fear not", we will fear, for the world shall lay us even with the ground, and our children within us; and they shall not leave in us one stone upon another; because you knewest not the time of thy visitation. If we allow the gospel, or should I say our testimonies, to evaporate from our lives, we will be unprepared, either for death (which we must all endure), or that great and dreadful day, the Savior's final return to Earth?

I'm left wondering...is the Savior looking out over us right now, weeping, because we've strayed from off the path, away from the iron rod, and we're utterly blind to our own eventual spiritual destruction?

(More on this later...)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Do We Do This?

Luke 18:

9 And [Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Humility. That's the key to our ability to follow the iron rod as seen by Lehi and Nephi. It's also our stumbling block. But it seems to be in our nature to compare ourselves to others, and hold people up on a pedestal, or hold them down in contempt. (Arrogance...the absence of humility.)

What does it take to get us to humble ourselves? Try surfing Alma 32. There's a great discourse here as Alma preaches to a multitude of impoverished people who come begging to be taught the gospel, for they themselves were banished from the synagogues because of their poverty (Alma 32:3). This banishment, and the cruelty of their poverty, made them humble. By being humble, you reach out for help, you acknowledge the need for a greater power than your own, because "you have a lowliness of heart" (Alma 32:12).

But do we want to put ourselves in such a dire situation, allowing the crushing weight of reality, as Alma says, to compel us into a state of humility? The truth is...yes. Sometimes, that's how we get there. Then we're not unlike the publican who smites his breast calling out to God, "I'm a sinner!" But better to be the publican and humble ourselves, than to be the Pharisee who struts about like a peacock, holding his life above the great unwashed.

Try this: Who do you associate with at church, and church activities? Who do you NOT associate with at church and church activities? Why?

(More on this later...)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hmmm....

I figure I'd best get some words laid down. (I'll try to be brief. Time is not on my side.) I'm currently reading The Gospel of Luke, two chapters at a time, each morning, in addition to other scriptural type of studying.

I might preface this by saying I'll try not to use this blog to get crazy-deep into wild ideas of doctrine. My philosophy is to first chase after the plain and simple truths, which we're admonished to go after, then just allow the plan and simple truths point to larger themes, as the Spirit dictates.

Nonetheless...here's something from Luke 16:

19 ¶ There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

We have two things going on here (and maybe more). One, the savior's parable admonishes us to get not get caught up in our wealth as some sort of sign of our supposed virtue. Two, we have a vivid description of the spirit world, or more importantly, the condition of our spirits once we leave this life and arrive in the next state of existence. The rich man cries out that the poor man, Lazarus, would leave his state (the bosom of Abraham) and come give him comfort. But Lazarus cannot. Much like the gulf that existed (and still does) between the rich and poor man, another impassable abyss separates the righteous and the...well, wicked, who abide in the spirit world.

While I won't belabor the point here, at some later juncture I'd like to discuss in greater detail the realities of the spirit world, and what happens to us once we depart this life. While modern day revelation of the spirit world gives us comfort, such information give us incentive to stay-on-our-toes and follow the iron rod.

I'll leave it at that, for now.

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