10 May 2009

Mother's Day

On this day, many wonder how to honor motherhood and mothers without adding to the burden of those whose mortal trials include an absence of the pitter-patter of little feet on the floor of their home. As I've had many occasions to reflect on Mother's Day, from many angles and perspectives., I thought today would probably be the most appropriate time of any to think some on this topic.

As a child, growing up, it was exclusively a chance to remember and make more vivid the memory and appreciation for all that my mother has done (and continues to do) for me. This obvious tone to the day continued uninterrupted until I married and found myself commemmorating my own mother, as well as honoring the woman I chose to be the mother of my children. When difficulties conceiving and bearing children broke that natural sequence, I was forced to reconsider the meaning of Mother's Day.

During the years when our yearning went unfulfilled, I found meaning in the many ways that women can fulfill many roles of mothers, regardless of their parental or marital status. Nevertheless, I also recognized that none of this filled the void in the hearts of those whose opportunity it might never be to carry a child whom they would then raise as a mother. This became personal, and the weight considerable.

Now, as I straddle the ever-shortening distance between that anxious and burdensome time, and another (just a few weeks until I'll have a double dose of daddy duty) which promises to be at least as anxious and burdensome, I found myself contemplative during the Mother's Day service this morning and throughout the day. The talks took me down a line of thinking that I hadn't discovered until today. Our Heavenly Father chooses the title Father. We call Him that, not because of any posterity He may (or may not) have had when He sojourned as a mortal man; rather, we call Him that because it is His divinely appointed and chosen title. By inference, Mother in Heaven holds a similar position of honor based on Her godhood, and holds that title for eternity, regardless of the presence/absence of mortal posterity preceding Her exaltation. We honor and reverence and worship our Heavenly Parents.

This realization led me to think of those divine titles of Father and Mother as being less bounded by mortality. Instead, they are titles to which each of us aspires, regardless of the randomness that sometimes can accompany the giving of mortal life and which is associated with a mortal sphere, accompanied by mortal use of agency.

No one on earth is truly a Father or Mother yet, but each of us aspires to achieve Fatherhood or Motherhood. So when we honor motherhood and mothers each second Sunday in May, we do so as a type or shadow of true Motherhood. And we honor the mothers in our lives as they strive to become Mothers. We recognize and appreciate the traces of divinity shown in mortal motherhood. And we recommit ourselves, regardless of whether we are children seeing only our mother, or unmarried adults yearning for love and family, or childless couples feeling bereft of opportunity and progress, or divorced parents striving to juggle both fatherhood and motherhood, or widowed or orphaned individuals who feel the longing for loved ones lost, or empty-nesters feeling like parenting somehow passed them by and reflecting on opportunities not created or not taken, or anywhere in between or further down the road. This sense of rededication, of making holy once again our sense of purpose in pursuing parenthood in its eternal sense, can serve as an inspiration every Mother's Day as we take in whatever messages have been prepared by well-meaning saints seeking to serve.

We honor our mothers and our Mother, and hope that the mothers in our lives receive as divinely as they have given (and continue to give). And we aspire to the godly nature of their examples as they reflect and aspire to the parental concern and love of a Heavenly Father and Mother, who embody true Fatherhood and Motherhood.

25 January 2009

What's the Difference Between Faith/Belief and Hope?

When considering the scriptural trivecta of faith, hope, and charity, I often stop to pause more and consider what I mean by faith and charity more than I reflect on hope. Clearly, with the three appearing together repeatedly in scripture, there is more than a coincidental connection between them. Even so, however, the differences between the three may prove instructive in augmenting our implementation of each. I focus here primarily on the distinction between faith and hope, with the anticipation that such a line of thought will assist us in applying both (not to the exclusion of charity, also).   

Our everyday usage of "hope" includes a blend of temporal and spiritual. Some may say that they hope it snows tomorrow (or that it doesn't snow). Others might say that they hope to come into a large sum of money. In some situations, we might allege to hope that someone falls and breaks their neck. At other times, we hope that something we said did not hurt or offend another. All of these usages of "hope" can help us to find meaning in the way that the word hope appears in scripture.

From these everyday usages, we can find hope in things both future and past. Hope can apply to things that are morally good or bad. In addition, hope might lie in something with a remote possibility or in something with a significant likelyhood of obtaining. As we analyze this, we may conclude that hope does not necessarily lend itself well to a categorizational approach of definition. Although many times hope involves confidence in an outcome, it does not always involve such confidence (i.e., the hope to come into a large sum of money). Nevertheless, it seems that one could not truly hope for the impossible (i.e., saying "I hope that the lawn mows itself tomorrow" seems to mean more that "it would be cool if..." than a true hope that I'll arise in the morning to find the grass has mowed itself). 

In this context, a necessary component of hope is belief that the outcome desired or hoped for is within the realm of possibility. From the example of hoping that something already said and heard did not offend another, we can see that hope does not have to be always forward-looking. Some hopes look forward, others look backward. We can truly hope that an accident victim who passed away did not suffer too much before passing. Similarly, we can hope that we will avoid a similar fate in the future.

As such, hope suggests an openness to possibilities, or to a desired possibility, that is probable to some degree or another. Under such an approach, Elder Maxwell's distinction between proximate hope and eternal hope can guide the connection between our understanding of hope and faith. Proximate hope centers on things connected to our current, mortal, horizon. We hope for safety for our family or for professional success. Eternal hope seems to add to the general understanding of hope the component of faith. When Paul refers to a "lively hope" it seems he may be alluding to the same idea. Hope takes on added life when coupled with a choice to accept or believe as true a worldview that assists us to orient ourselves toward God and others and that allows us to organize our lives accordingly. 

Thus, faith seems to occupy the position of a belief-choice regarding a worldview. Faith does not imply knowledge (indeed, the two notions are considered distinct in the canon of scripture), but does imply a course of life predicated upon the choice to believe. At its root, any living in the world requires that we make certain belief-choices. We choose to believe in the connection between certain choices and consequences and reorder our lives based on this belief-choice. Similarly, we choose to accept a worldview including (or excluding) God's existence and reorient ourselves to our world, to ourselves, and to others as  a result.

In this manner, faith becomes a stabilizing force in our lives, supplying us with assurance and evidence for the life we have built upon it. Hope occupies the role of an openness (tied to optimism) to the possibilities in our lives and worldviews. In this way, faith and hope intertwine, with belief-choices contributing to our worldviews and the limits of our possibilities and hope reinforcing our faith, motivating us to take the needed steps to reorient ourselves to the new world (kingdom) created through our belief choice. (And, interestingly, this reorientation, when premised upon the doctrines of Jesus Christ, of necessity involves a charitable reorientation to the world.) In sum, faith and hope do not express the same thing, but mutually reinforce one another (again, not excluding charity, also), in a manner that makes hope enlivening.

The perfect brightness of hope spoken of in holy writ comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah and Redeemer. This principle opens up eternal possibilities and creates for us a new identity and thrusts us into a new creation. To instill faith and hope, however, requires that our initial interest or desire be met with the Lord's Spirit to infuse that interest or desire with the requisite change in worldview and orientation to possibility that the result is that we become new creatures in Christ--new, faithful and hopeful persons. Thus, again, the beginning and end of our study turns and returns us to seeking and obtaining the Spirit of the Lord, which will fill us with faith, hope and charity.

window to the soul

"window to the soul"

oceans of clear blue water,
opening up wide realms,
comfort, peace, desire,

blinking mirrors,
reflecting and refracting,
opening visions,
searching and revealing

without and within
encircled in sapphire
while encompassing

01 November 2008

The (False?) Faith/Doubt Divide

Are faith and doubt truly and fundamentally incompatible? Because the concept of faith forms so fundamental a part our belief system, its contours merit careful attention. Likewise, the negative space surrounding it merits attention, which is the purpose of this post. 

Faith sometimes carries an ephemeral sense about it, leading to the often assumed conclusion that faith may only exist intangibly. Despite many efforts to redefine faith as involving more than mere belief, such efforts rarely annhilate barriers that many have constructed from an upbringing focusing on faith as belief or as assent to certain ideas or concepts. A few of the more effective attempts of this manner to which I have been exposed redefine faith as belief + action or as "faithfulness." 

Thinking upon these redefinitions has led me to evaluate what effect they might have on the "negative space" surrounding the idea of faith/faithfulness. I have heard many times that faith and doubt are polar opposites, which concept (at least on its face) received support in the Lectures on Faith (6:12). Notwithstanding the advantages of such a belief, its tendency to stigmatize any harboring of doubts as a betrayal of one's faith can itself create a crippling, chilling effect on both faith and doubt. For individuals whose inquisitive minds instinctively question and examine, even when maintaining faithful observance of covenants, the thought that questioning or reevaluating their beliefs might actually constitute a rejection of those beliefs can lead down a dark path paved by the great deceiver.

Rather than reinforce this false divide, making use of the concept of faith as faithfulness seems to restructure the "negative space" of doubt. Instead of seeing doubt or questioning as something to either avoid or embrace wholesale, the faith as faithfulness idea seems to suggest that in the gospel and in scripture, doubt should be understood as "doubtfulness" or acting on doubt--similarly to faith being understood as "faithfulness" or acting on faith. In this light, doubt loses its independent positive or negative connotation and may return to its rightful place alongside belief as means to an end (whether the end is good or bad depends on the direction that the belief and doubt lead us). Questions and inquiry and examination can allow a righteous individual to pursue righteousness and faithfulness as did Joseph Smith, without worrying whether his questioning of the various tenets of faith which surrounded him would eternally condemn him as a "doubter" or infidel. 

Although faith as faithfulness and doubt as doubtfulness may not provide every answer or resolve all lines of inquiry, leaving these interpretations open can allow the believer to hold fast to their belief while evading the forces that would require an unquestioning belief in the face of doubt. Doubt can then act to strengthen belief in truth by allowing for questions and inquiry to uncover reinforcing truth, enabling intelligent belief and a spiritual way of learning truth by study and also by faith. Similarly, doubt and questioning and inquiry can provide means for discrediting the untrue by providing believers the freedom to hold fast only to true beliefs and not feel obligated to embrace every whim that might entice them down roads of human musings and sophistries.

The true believer may then proceed to "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:2). Faithfulness can include faithful doubting and questioning and inquiry so long as such faithfulness directs itself at bringing the faithful individual closer to God and to truth. In this manner, the possibility that faith and doubt may coexist in the same individual simulataneously without either threatening the security of the other seems real, provided that the individual retains the motivation to follow truth. Such a motivation seems to be the root of faithfulness. What doubt may remain can serve as a catalyst to further learning--an enabling power to the seeker for truth. 

Only when doubt gives rise to doubtfulness--to unfaithfulness--should it be absolutely shunned. Otherwise, the beginning and ending point of faith is a perfect knowledge. As recounted in Ether, the brother of Jared "knew, nothing doubting." (Ether 3:19). Such a description should not be the touchstone of faith, but rather of knowledge. None of us should expect to begin our journey at the culminating point.

Faith strengthens into knowledge through experiences of faith--which by definition require belief in things as yet unknown, or in things where some question may remain. Thus, the absence of certainty becomes a hallmark of faith, allowing for faithful doubt, questioning and inquiry. These gifts--the gifts of faithful doubt, faithful questions, and faithful inquiry--may form the stumbling block of this age. To reject them is to reject the progress that they offer--even if that rejection is pronounced in the name of seeking certainty or knowledge. Thus, seeking to know, "nothing doubting" mistakes an end for the means to achieve it. To attempt to reach knowledge without first passing through faith--and tests of faith--only serves to limit our agency and our ability to progress, a form of self-damnation.

Knowledge and certainty do not come from discarding faithful questions, but rather from embracing them and the learning that they open unto us. We cannot be acted upon and not act, cannot shelve faithful inquiries instead of pursuing them, and expect to receive the blessings of the faithful--even the growth from faith to knowledge. Instead, the Gospel requires that we remain faithful despite the (initial, and possibly long-lasting) absence of knowledge. It requires that our faith persist in the face of doubt. Only then are we truly exercising faith and relying on it as our "evidence of things not seen" or known (Hebrews 11:1).

As faithful adherents to the Gospel, we must maintain our faith in the face of doubt. We must, as Paul described it, "against hope, believe[] in hope" (Romans 4:18). And through such faithful experiences--when faced with true tests of faith, requiring careful thought and questioning and study, even as we pass through the valley of the shadow of doubt--we grow in faith unto the perfect day when our faithfulness allows for the Spirit of God to answer all faithful doubt, questions, and inquiries. 


cloak removed,

covering hidden,

absent longing returns


justification fled

when will, revealed

and covered by


opened the path

leading away

toward the reentry


fruit half-eaten

tangy and sweet,

the bloodstain 

lingers on lip

as longing eyes



ungraven image

eye of faith encompasses

yet fading forms



rippled reflections 

reveal failings,

sustain new stature


a new creature emerges and