Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Authentic Prayer

I was hiking through the mountains, again. A fresh layer of snow rested on the slopes while small flakes continued to drift down from grey clouds. The sight was nothing short of exquisite. The energy of the mountain seemed to lead me higher, faster, until I couldn’t help but run. The fresh snow created an acoustical stillness that allowed me to appreciate every sound and detail of my body. I could hear the whipping of the wind in my ears, the pounding of my heart in my chest, the compression of the snow beneath my boots, and the breathy heaving of my lungs. It was intoxicating. I kept running.

Continuing up the mountain I could feel the throbbing in my thighs. My breath deepened and the icy air pieced my throat. The cold in my chest quickly turned into a mild burning sensation, but I didn’t mind it. The discomfort was welcomed. The sensation of pain, pleasure, joy, and sorrow reminded me I was alive and wasn’t beyond feeling. I still had my humanity.

I kept running while the falling snow fell onto my hot cheeks. The flakes quickly melted and merged with the tears that escaped my eyes. I hadn’t noticed them until now.

I hadn’t seen another human in quite some time. Exhausted, I stopped to catch my breath. I rested on a rock that was protected by a large coniferous tree that had seen ages of time that dwarfed my existence. I respected the tree. Every breath I drew was provided by its emissions. I took off my glove and rested my bare hand on its raw bark as if to wordlessly thank the tree for sustaining my life.

Being so overwhelmed with gratitude I couldn’t fight the undeniable urge to pray. I’ve never been very good at it, but it has always been a part of my life. Formal words like thee, thou, and amen seemed too disingenuous for the moment. Even so, I indulged my longing to commune. I offered my authentic prayer under the tree in the snow:

God, we’ve been doing this some years now. I don’t know you, but I wanted to thank you. You don't talk to me anymore, but I know of no other way to express my gratitude for my existence than through the religious traditions of my ancestors. This is a beautiful world, and I have a beautiful life. So for whatever its worth, I am truly thankful.

You know, I was reading this week from Dallin H. Oaks and he said we don’t have ‘sufficient spiritual maturity to comprehend God.’ I happen to agree, which is why I maintain a healthy amount of skepticism of those who claim they know you. Too often people conflate good feelings with truth, and epistemology with arrogance. How could any of us possibly comprehend The Word? Not that we shouldn’t try, because trying seems essential.

I love being in the mountains. I feel connected, sane, and whole in the woods. Well, at least more so than I ever have sitting in a church pew or temple. I can’t think of a better place to contemplate your existence. I see you like I see electricity. The power, grandeur, and potential of electricity existed long before humans, long before the formation of this planet, but electricity wasn’t manifested to our limited understanding until we became capable of harnessing its power. Over time our understanding and definitions of electric force have changed along with our abilities and applications, but has electricity itself changed? Is harnessing your power the only way for you to manifest? The conclusion I keep coming back to is in order to know you is to become you. You don’t seem to manifest any other way, at least not to me.

Some say my desire to become you is a superstitious implantation of a religion that would exploit my sincerest desires for their own lustful desires for power. Others condemn me of hubris, and vying for authority that is never meant to be mine. Others criticize my aspirations as nothing more than a fool’s errand, while their counterparts preach a gospel of escapism and apathy. Others have simply given up.

Sometimes religion is helpful, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes technology is helpful, sometimes it isn’t. Technologies have a curious way of emphasizing our inner most desires and intentions. Although I’m convinced until we learn to harness the power of both religion and technology in the spirit of compassion and love we run the serious risk of losing our humanity, which paradoxically I see as one of our most divine attributes. Wouldn’t you agree?

Well, I should probably head back down the mountain now. You know where I am if you ever get the urge to manifest yourself. Don’t be a stranger.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Love is Love. Life is Life.

(Artist: Jez Timms)

In response to the latest LDS policy changes aimed toward the chilren of LGBT parents, a kind and well-meaning friend commented on the outpouring of reactions.

She said, “I can’t help but think this is killing our Prophet.”

Upon reading the words, I softly said to my monitor, “No, aging is killing our Prophet.”

The last couple of days an internal monologue has been pacing through my mind.

Our religious organization has more pressing matters to address than telling loving consenting adults what their sexual relations should or shouldn’t entail. Homosexuals are not the enemy. Death, hate and fear are the enemy, and must be overcome with life and love. Will our species evolve beyond such wasteful discrimination, or is it simply the evolution of those we choose to discriminate against?

Love is love. Life is life. Why do we keep trying to tell it what it is supposed to look like?

Esthetics matter. I get it. I’m an artist and designer, and I’m fully aware of the power of esthetics. In the design field we have a principle: Form follows function. Acute awareness to esthetics can be a substantial enhancement to the human experience, but if the aesthetics are in direct conflict with functionality, practicality supersedes aesthetics. I sometimes question if my church is so focused on the esthetics of the family unit, which are highly subjective, that they have lost sight of the purpose and function.

Transhumanism, to me, is the religion of life that is made meaningful through love. This is a product of my Christianity.

Using every technology at our disposal to preserve and create both love and life is the most purposeful objective I can currently imagine. This is a product of my Mormonism.

How else can we become our Heavenly Parentage if not through the vigorous advancement of life and love? How else will our species evolve into superintelligent posthumanity without embracing both life and love as our primary objectives?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Open Arms

I just finished crying when Preston and William came into my room this morning at 6:07am. Preston asked, “Mom, why are you frowning?”

Our church did something very sad. They are making it very difficult for a certain group of children to get baptized among other things. It's upsetting when the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does things that make it difficult for people to be like Jesus Christ. They shouldn’t make it difficult for children to get baptized.”

William interjected, “Even if they are 8 years old!? Why would they do that?”

I continued, “Remember how we talked about different types of families? Some families have two mommies. Some have two daddies. Some have only one mommy and no daddy. Some have a daddy and no mommy. Some have lots of mommies. There are many different types of families. The children that come from families that don’t look like ours are being treated poorly. They didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just sheer silliness.”

Preston responded, “No, it isn’t silliness. It’s a disaster!”

William hugged me, “Mom, why are you wet? Are those your tears?”

“Yes. It’s a thing mommies do sometimes. We just love our children so much that when other people’s children are hurt, we cry for their children too.”

Preston continued, “Mom, I know we fight sometimes, but I don’t think I could have better parents than you and Dad.”

Our family isn’t perfect, but our family welcomes your family with open arms.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Priesthood is a Spiritual Technology

(Artist: Harry Anderson)

After several conversations concerning the ordination of women within Mormonism, I feel compelled to share an overlooked perspective of the priesthood—the perspective of a Mormon Feminist Transhumanist.

At the risk of being criticized for my minority position and vulnerability, I still believe it is important to offer this underrepresented perspective of the priesthood with complete authenticity and honesty.

The priesthood is defined as the power and authority of God given to man, including the authority to perform ordinances and to act as a leader in the Church. The full capacity to access the priesthood power and authority is reserved for men only. Presently, all women’s callings and auxiliaries are presided over by men.  Due to the conflation of priesthood power and governance authority, several problems exist when women are excluded. Not to mention the many opportunities for spiritual development women are excluded from by not being ordained.

First, I will touch on the harmful effects of the exclusionary practices of the priesthood though a personal narrative, followed by commentary concerning desires, benefits, and risks that would accompany women’s ordination.

A Father’s Blessing

It’s a Mormon tradition for the father of the household to give each child a priesthood blessing before the beginning of each school year. They are often referred to as father’s blessings. It’s a lovely tradition. As a young girl, I remember taking turns with each of my sisters, sitting in a chair, while my father laid his hands on our heads and blessed each of us. They were happy memories.

However, when I was 14 my father was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Easter Sunday. He was cut off from the Mormon community as a form of discipline and was deemed unworthy to exercise the priesthood. My father was the only male in our home. This left my mother, two sisters and me to fend for ourselves in matters of the priesthood.

The following school year I would not have a father’s blessing. Of course, the typical response to this particular predicament is to call the home teachers or bishop to come provide access to a priesthood blessing.

If only it were so simple.

The reality is if I were to ask my home teachers to come to our home to give me a priesthood blessing, my father would have the humiliating experience of sitting by and watch another man preside in his home and bless his daughter, and my mother would have the humiliating experience of watching a another man come into her home and bless her daughter because she was deemed as an unfit candidate for the priesthood due to the fact she was female. As for me, I was a teenage girl going through puberty, starting my period, experiencing other bodily changes and what I really needed was a priesthood blessing from my parent, not from a couple of well-meaning men from my ward whom I had hardly spoken a word to.

No priesthood blessing was worth the humiliation it would cause my family, so I concluded it was better to go without.

I cried in bed the night before school started. I fervently prayed to Heavenly Father with genuine intent asking Him to bless me with His Priesthood. I waited quietly and patiently for a response, but felt nothing. I was alone.

After I finished crying, I fell asleep that night feeling like a silly girl with shattered dreams in a fraudulent illusion. I suppose we all have to grow up someday.

Struggling to Find My Place

A year or so later, some other negative experiences with the priesthood and priesthood holders caused me to question the priesthood more deeply. Where did it come from? Why would God exclude women? Why would God alienate women who weren’t connected to a righteous male priesthood holder? Why did Peter, James, and John confer the priesthood upon Joseph and not Mary, Martha, and Eve confer the priestesshood to Emma? Is the former so much more believable than the later?

I had a seminary teacher, Sister Simpson, who saw me struggling to find my place in my religion. The two male priesthood-holding seminary teachers from prior classes had asked me to leave their lessons on more than one occasion for questions and conduct that were “uninviting of the spirit”. Apparently, it was inappropriate for a 15-year-old girl to question her place in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and religion with the persistence that I did. However, Sister Simpson was different. She never asked me to leave her class. Not once. Instead she offered me an opportunity. She invited me to read the priesthood sessions of conference to get answers to my questions.

I remember feeling confused by her suggestion and responded, “…but I don’t have the priesthood.” She smiled and calmly replied, “Neither do I, but I still read them.”

I made a habit of reading watching, hearing, and studying recordings of Priesthood Sessions of General Conference—meetings women are generally denied access to.

It’s been a bittersweet journey. Some of the most faith affirming concepts and impressions I received were seeded in those meetings. A small, fragile testimony was forming. I longed for the priesthood to bless the lives of those I loved. I didn’t vie for any authority or power to climb the hierarchal ladder. I simply wanted to be self-reliant in the Church, just as my religion counseled me to be. Perhaps that council only applied to men.

However, the beauty of priesthood came with a sting. I was clearly rejected from the group as a 16 year old girl. I was nothing more than an imposter with her nose pressed up against the glass with a clear view of what was being taught to women and what was being taught to men. I desired to be like Jesus Christ, but my desires were met with hostility. Had I not been female, my desires would have been celebrated and congratulated and deemed worthy of praise.

Over time I grew sorrowful and eventually, angry. Is the priesthood even associated with God, or is the priesthood simply one more tool men use to further subjugate women? Why are men given more tools to be self-reliant, while women are excluded? Is God sexist or is it just my religion?


My freshmen year of college, I was engaged with a wonderfully devout Mormon who wore the priesthood so lightly it didn’t even seem to matter that I didn’t have it. It was difficult to reject the priesthood when he used it so honestly, but it did highlight that if I wanted a fuller relationship with the priesthood, he was my conduit. Even with a righteous priesthood holder in my life, I was still not self-reliant.

We were sealed in the Portland temple together where my fragile testimony was crushed by a sexist aesthetic of immortality that clearly undervalued my gender and my sincerest desires to be like Jesus Christ. The experience genuinely broke my heart.

By the time I left the temple I had, what I felt at the time, a very clear image of the priesthood, its origins, its purpose, and my intended trajectory. I concluded that I didn’t need the priesthood in my life. I had no desire for it. Any superstitions associated with the priesthood vanished and I was disillusioned entirely.

A New Perspective

A few years later, I delivered a healthy baby boy. After the birth of our first child, the tradition of a father’s blessing shortly followed. There were many conflicting emotions in my heart that day. Happy memories flooded my mind from my early childhood, followed with the grief of knowing I would be excluded from equitably engaging in priesthood blessings and ordinances with my children.

I watched my husband hold our tiny baby in his strong, but gentle arms. During the blessing he spoke words that deeply resonated with me. I still had no intention of believing that the priesthood was anything more than a bunch of made-up nonsense, and I had no interest in receiving a priesthood blessing for myself, but nonetheless hearing his blessing changed me.

I was grateful to have a husband who held the priesthood, not because I subscribed to any superstitious ridiculousness or valued unilateral male dependency. No, certainly not. I was changed, because I was able to see the priesthood from a new perspective—a completely natural, yet less cynical perspective.

I saw the priesthood as a spiritual conduit for bonding that provoked a collective mood of love and devotion. Had this been the majority of my experiences with the priesthood I could see how some women would be indifferent or resistant to female ordination.

The young teenage girl inside me was still sad to be excluded from the experience of blessing my own baby. I contemplated what it would be like to have my newborn son, whom I created inside my body, be ordained to the priesthood while I would not. What would it be like to have him bless, ordain, and baptize his future siblings, yet I would not be able to do the same for my own children? What would it be like for him to be congratulated and praised for his righteous desires for ordination at age 12, when my teenage desires for ordination were met with hostility and rejection?

I was conflicted, but ultimately grateful for the opportunity for my husband and son. I couldn’t be angry when it brought them so much happiness. I genuinely loved them, so their happiness became my happiness and I pushed my own pain into the corners of my mind.

That day I realized what I missed most about not having the priesthood directly in my life was the opportunities to express and share love through ritualistic blessings, and ordinances.

When my father blessed me before each school year he spoke kind and thoughtful words that he probably would have never said had the opportunity of an annual priesthood blessing not presented itself. We formed positive memories and experiences that further formed our worldview and the influence of those experiences were stunted once the priesthood was removed from my family. I wonder what experiences my mother, sisters, and I could have shared if the priesthood were freely available to us.

When my husband blessed our child there were tangible expressions of love, devotion, and power that changed him as a man and father. How would those experiences shape him as human being? How would those rituals affect our family dynamics? If my husband were removed from the equation, what spiritual technology could I use to recreate those meaningful memories and experiences for my children, if not the priesthood?

A Spiritual Technology

The priesthood is a spiritual technology and holds transformative power that is worth experiencing and exploring. The power lies in opportunities and access, just like any other technology. Priesthood technology has the potential to strengthen interpersonal relationships, forge bonds of spirituality, shape meaningful worldviews, and present opportunities for growth, leadership, and development.

The priesthood power lies not in any supernatural or mystical interpretations. Priesthood power lies in our willingness to let is transform us, without access the power is diminished.

When we limit equal opportunity and deny people access to those positive experiences we are weakening ourselves from within. When we thwart the righteous desires of women who wish to use that technology for good, we diminish the collective influence the priesthood has to offer.

If the priesthood truly is the power and authority of God then we have access to a creative and unique technology with a limitless bandwidth that we have yet to comprehend.

Righteous Desires of Abraham

My suggestion of female ordination in not an unreasonable demand nor a groveling plea.  My suggestion is a mutually respectful and beneficial request that mandates thoughtful consideration. My suggestion is proposed to alleviating unnecessary suffering of others while providing more intimate opportunities for integrated spiritual growth and development. My objective is equal opportunity in our desires to become Christ. My desires are reflected in the Book of Abraham.

In Abraham 1:2 we read, “And there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereinto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed greater knowledge, and righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.”

Summarized, Abraham “desired to be ordained” to “possess greater knowledge and righteousness”. As a “follower of righteousness” he “became a rightful heir, a High Priest”.

Women who seek ordination for further knowledge and righteousness are not so different from Abraham, who was rewarded for his righteous desires and became a High Priest.

Desires of the Minority

I recognize that women who desire ordination are the minority, but being in a minority does not equate with being wrong. People who desired and advocated for racial equality concerning blacks and the priesthood were once the minority until they weren’t. Mormons are a minority among Christian denominations, but does that make Mormonism wrong or unworthy of consideration? Minorities bring valuable insights that are often overlooked.

Some argue that most women “don’t even want the priesthood”. I would generally, agree. However, I would urge women who speak out against ordination to consider, does your lack of desire denote that another’s genuine desire is unholy or unrighteous?  No, seeking ordination is a product of her faithful and righteous desires.

I would ask them to empathize with those who have perhaps had less favorable circumstances, and contemplate how women could benefit from ordination in ways that have not yet been considered.

I would also ask them to consider, not all men desire priesthood ordination either, yet we indoctrinate young males to develop a strong and earnest desire to serve with the priesthood authority. Written in the Aaronic Priesthood Manual 1, Lesson Objective: “Each young man will understand the duties of a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood and will desire to magnify his calling as an Aaronic Priesthood holder.”

I trust that if the opportunity presented itself, faithful young women would be more than capable of developing a similar desire and would embrace the responsibility and duty just as our faithful young men have.

Seeking Ordination, Not Vying for Authority

Some mistakenly believe that “asking for the priesthood” is counterproductive and actually undermines the authority God and women in an attempt to receive authority from men. This is a gross oversimplification. As a reminder, the priesthood is not men’s authority to give. Men are simply the current conduit for the priesthood.

Desires of ordination should not be conflated with vying for or undermining authority.

‘This Society a Kingdom of Priests’

Could the ordination of women be an essential step in the restoration of the Gospel?

There is nowhere written in Mormon doctrine that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that the ordination of women is potentially a part of Restoration.

A unique relationship between women and the priesthood is found during the early formation of the Church. Women were once granted priesthood responsibilities that seem long since lost.

In Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God, written by my fellow MTA (Mormon Transhumanist Association) member Mark Koltko-Rivera, it is suggested that Joseph Smith intended the Relief Society to be ‘A Kingdom of Priests’. On March 31, 1842, Joseph Smith spoke to the sisters of the Relief Society. The minutes read, “…that the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice and virtuous and holy—said he was going to make of this Society a Kingdom of Priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day…” (pg.14)

Also written in Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book (1842-1844), “…that the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect every false—as well as to the Elders. This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God established—thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead—and I now turn the Key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.” (pg. 37-38)

These recordings of the Prophet strongly suggest ordination of the Relief “Society” well as “the Elders”. Was Joseph acting on behalf of God? Could an all-female Relief Society be ordained to be priests? Why would Joseph call them ‘Priests’? Surely he knew they were female and also created in the image of God and fully capable of acting on behalf of that God.

The priesthood is commonly assumed as a male aesthetic, but this is another sore oversimplification. In genesis we read God is both male and female as “both male and female” are created in the “image of God”. Heavenly Mother’s presence in Mormonism also suggests and equitable duality of God’s gender. The priesthood is no more male than female, no more masculine then feminine. The priesthood is expressed in infinite diversity through each individual whom is authorized to exercise it. One can hypothesize the Relief Society’s expression of the priesthood would be different than the Elders, yet both would come from the same source of unified power and authority of Godly Parents.

Sidney Rigdon said, “Emma was the one to whom the first female priesthood was given.” June 1868, communication to Stephen Post, LDS Archives.

On September 17, 1843 Patriarch Hyrum Smith blessed Olive G. Frost, one of Joseph’s plural wives, that “you shall be blessed with the knowledge of the mysteries of God as well as the fullness of the Priesthood.

Equal opportunity does not need to be conflated with congruency. Our genders are different, but the priesthood itself does not have a gender, nor is it limited to a male aesthetic.

New Revelation

If revelation came once could it come again?

The Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book continues, “Prest. S. then offered instruction respecting the propriety of females administering to the sick by the laying on of hands said it was according to revelation.” (pg. 37-38)

As referenced in the ninth article of faith, we believe god will reveal “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

But how would that revelation manifest itself? The symbiotic relationship between God, prophets, and ourselves allows varied opportunities for revelation to manifest, especially when not all revelation is received by a personified vision of God.

Yes, the brethren are in a position to embrace the potential revelation concerning the ordination of women, but it is our responsibility to assist in the presentation and creation of the opportunity according to our faith and desires. God cannot reveal what we would not accept.

In a 1997 ABC Compass interview, President Gordon B Hinckley was asked, “Is it possible that the rule could change in the future as the rules are on Blacks?”

He responded, “He could change them yes. If He were to change them that’s the only way it would happen.”

The interviewer continued, “So you’d have to get a revelation?”

President Hinckley replied, “Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied.”

Perhaps some agitation is required before revelation, and since this prophetic statement was made in 1997 there has certainly been agitation.

Ordination of Black Men

I would consider the revelation of ordaining black men to the priesthood in 1978 as an act of collective revelation—inspired by the people and sanctioned by the prophet and apostles.

Were black men’s desires for ordination any less righteous before their ordination actually occurred? Did manifestation denote righteousness? Or was manifestation a product of those righteous desires? I trust God celebrated the desires and advocacies of these men who desired the priesthood before their actual ordination.

Yes, there were other members during that transition that deemed black’s desires for priesthood ordination as unrighteous or unnecessary, but nonetheless, black men’s desires to serve with the priesthood were eventually embraced. I trust God was pleased with the progress and desires of love, acceptance and inclusion among the saints.

I don’t neglect the risks and logistical issues with the ordination of women, just as there was with the ordination of black men. Of course we should mitigate for risks, but should we wait stagnantly in fear of the unknown? No. We should carefully embrace the possibilities of glorious vistas we have yet to behold. How else would God reveal such a divine image if we would not willingly accept the revelation before actually being revealed?

Those who would accept the revelation of female ordination should not be fearful of expressing encouragement and support of such a revelation, just as Abraham and black men sought, expressed and desired their ordination before it occurred.

The Morality of Female Ordination

It is also worth considering if denying women priesthood ordination is actually immoral. In Parallels and Convergences, written by A. Scott Howe and Richard L. Bushman, we can explore the quantitative nature of morality through a ‘potentiality test’:

“A better way to intuitively explore morality issues is to use the ‘potentiality test’. The potentiality test helps expand the number of choices and opportunities available and eliminates all boundaries. Actions and consequences are placed on a scale by degree rather than being black and white, motivation is built into the test because it attempts to increase the number of choices available in the future. The participant becomes less and less a victim of circumstances and gains more and truer freedom. An outcome that results in a greater number of potentialities has greater value.” (pg.95)

According to the potentiality test, the ordination of women would greatly increase the number of choices in the future, and participants would become “less a victim of circumstance”. Thus, more opportunity for human flourishing is moral and less opportunity is immoral.

This is not to say there should be no order or deliberacy in female ordination, quite the contrary. Order also allows us expanded potential opportunities and the order of the priesthood should be kept to the extent that the exclusion of participants does not become oppressive. Order and inclusion would maximize future potentialities and possibilities for the priesthood’s influence, thus making order, equal opportunity, and inclusion extremely moral actions.

This is My Voice

Every day we wait we lose one more woman, one more woman is marginalized, one more child goes without a priesthood blessing, and one more woman realizes her desires to be like Christ are not supported by religion. One by one their hearts are jaded by the ignorance of those who won’t share her pain. As more women become disenchanted with the priesthood and its potential influences for good, they often leave their religions believing that the priesthood is nothing more than a superstitious manipulative tool to subjugate women in an elitist power and authority structure.

Surely, God is waiting on us to exercise our agency, love and compassion to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort”.

In a time when people are leaving their religions, there are women who are still willing to contribute. Let’s not let another moment go by where a woman goes unsupported in her desires to be Christ. Let’s greet her with enthusiasm and excitement. I trust in a benevolent God that would encourage those righteous desires. Now is a time of celebration!

Imagine the opportunities of love and compassion we could create for families and communities if women were granted equitable authorization to the priesthood technology.

Joseph Smith once said, “Who are better qualified to administer than our faithful and zealous sisters whose hearts are full of faith, tenderness, sympathy and compassion? No one.” Relief Society Minutes, April 28 1842.

More recently the encouraging words of Elder Nelson called to women in October 2015 General Conference, “ We need you to speak out…” he continues, “We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom and your voices […] my dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstance, we need your impression, your insights and your inspiration […] we need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve […] so today I plead with my sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place […] in the kingdom of God.”

I have obliged to the request of Elder Nelson to step forward. This is my courage. This is my strength. This is my conviction. This is my insight. This is my inspiration. This is my vision.

I am one such “zealous sister” and this is my voice.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pragmatic Prayer

(Artist: Mariam Soliman)

While reading some comments on social media concerning prayer, I’ve found that too many of my fellow believers and non-believers have sorely lost sight of the function of prayer.

You don’t have to hear a prayer to become the solution. If you simply lack the inspiration, pray. You may find the answer in becoming the answer. The power of prayer doesn’t lie in mysticism nor should the power of prayer be dismissed with cynicism. The power of prayer lies within our agency when we use and create technologies that empower us to act.

Before discussing prayer, I’d like to address agency. In Mormonism, agency is “
…the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves. Agency is essential in the plan of salvation.”

We are granted agency to act as autonomous individuals. Agency allows us to govern ourselves and allows for optimal growth and development in our endeavors to become compassionate creators. With agency also comes the risk of suffering.

2 Nephi 2:27 reads, “Wherefore, men are free according to their flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”

Along with articulating the risks and rewards of agency, Nephi offers a warning that Satan desires us to be miserable. As the narrative goes, “One primary issue in the conflict between God and Satan is agency. Agency is a precious gift from God; it is essential to His plan for His children. In Satan’s rebellion against God, Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). He said: “I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost,” (Moses 4:1).

Accordingly, God will not intervene on humanity’s agency as it would be in direct conflict with the purpose of our existence. Intervention was Satan’s plan—the plan of misery. If one believes that God is in control then God has relinquished that power in allowing us ultimate governance and stewardship.

As autonomous agents we are at risk for grand consequences—positive and negative consequences that we cannot escape. If we decide to build weapons of mass destruction to annihilate each other, God will not, and has not, intervene on our agency. We will kill each other. We may find ourselves asking, why would any loving God allow so much suffering, pain, and death in this world? Why do children painfully starve to death? Why does cancer have to exist? What about racism, slavery, sexism, heterosexism, violence, war, global warming, or terrorism? Doesn’t God here our prayers?

Suffering is as inescapable a consequence when each of us is endowed with the power of agency.  We can use that power to create or destroy. When we hurt and destroy, when we are idle and useless, when we are apathetic and careless, we will suffer, as will those around us.

In Nephi we read, “there is an opposition in all things”. Can we ever experience joy without sadness? Can we know peace without anger? Can we feel strength without weakness? One without the other becomes meaningless. This life is full of undeniable opposition. However, God doesn’t intervene and stop our suffering anymore that God would intervene and stop our joy. To intervene would be to hinder our evolutionary progress.

What a terrifying, yet beautifully empowering idea to comprehend ourselves as individual agents. We are responsible and accountable not just for ourselves, but for one another through the consequences of agency. We are our brother’s keeper.

But some of you may ask yourselves, what is the point of prayer if God won’t intervene? Is prayer useful even if we omit God from the equation?

Prayer is practical and useful when carried out with real intent. I must admit, I recently commented to one of my atheist friends that even in times when I have been apathetic toward the existence of God, I have continued the ritual of prayer. There are simply far too many benefits, even if I am the only one hearing them. One benefit of prayer is the verbal expression of gratitude. As Paul noted to the Colossians, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” Prayer is a time to reflect on the grand and vast abundance of life in the spirit of appreciation. Even if you are disinclined to acknowledge God, the daily ritual of prayerful gratitude can increase your mental health and well-being.

Prayer is also a ritual of empathy that causes us to reflect on how to better improve humanity by receiving inspiration when pondering the concerns and needs of others. When we pray and meditate, our minds can access inspired opportunities to serve one another.

Moroni 7: 9 states, “And likewise also is it counted evil unto man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.” But what does Moroni mean when he says to pray “with real intent”?

To understand prayer with “real intent”, I am reminded of the words of Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “When our wagon gets stuck in the mud, God is much more likely to assist the man who gets out to push than the man who merely raises his voice in prayer—no matter how eloquent the oration.”  We should not pray and passively wait. We should pray and get to work. When prayers are said with genuine intent, our works will reflect our intentions. Our prayers are far more valuable and effective when coupled with action.

Unfortunately, prayer can be mistakenly used as an idle stool people passively sit upon while waiting for God’s interventions. If you are praying in repetitious vanity for supernatural answers then you are sorely misinterpreting the function of prayer. We cannot insensibly pray and expect God to do the work when we are endowed with the power of agency. I’m inclined to believe that “the power of our prayers depends on us”.

Too many make the mistake of waiting on God to answer our prayers when surely it is God who is waiting on us!

I deeply value the influence of prayer in my life as an expression of gratitude, recognition of empathy, and ritual of inspiration.

My husband and I encountered many difficulties in having our three children. During the pregnancy of our daughter, I was faced with life-threatening risks. A couple of weeks before my scheduled c-section, I prayed with a genuine desire that my daughter and I would survive. I wanted nothing more than to be her mother.

Coupled with my prayer were my efforts. I researched the risks of my pregnancy, equipped myself with the best available physicians, and took advantage of latest medical technologies—which, I’ll admit, were a product of my affluent privilege. But even with my works and privilege I was still unable to safely deliver my baby alone.

The answer to my prayer came in the form of compassionate physicians, technologists, and specialists. They not only saved my daughter, but they saved me. God did not compel these people to be saviors. God did not part the skies and safely rest my daughter in my arms. No, humanity, God’s children, took it upon themselves to use their agency to be the body of Christ. They became the answers to prayers they had never heard.

How many times in your life have you had another person be an answer to a humble prayer or desire in your heart? Perhaps it was a parent or a friend? Perhaps it was a spiritual leader or a teacher? Or maybe even a child? Did you take the time to notice?

Who’s prayers will you answer? Who’s lives will you touch? How will you use your agency? How will you use your privilege? How many missed opportunities have idly gone by while waiting on God to intervene on our agency?

Too often I hear, “Why doesn’t God answer the prayers of the starving children?” When what we should be asking ourselves, “How can we answer the prayers of the starving children?”

They ask, “Why does God not save the dying woman from cancer?” When we should be asking, “How can we save the dying woman from cancer?”

You don’t have to hear a prayer to become the solution. If you simply lack the inspiration, pray. You may find the answer in becoming the answer. The power of prayer doesn’t lie in mysticism nor should the power of prayer be dismissed with cynicism. The power of prayer lies within our agency when we use and create technologies that empower us to act.