01 November 2008
absent longing returns
when will, revealed
and covered by
opened the path
toward the reentry
tangy and sweet,
lingers on lip
as longing eyes
eye of faith encompasses
yet fading forms
sustain new stature
a new creature emerges and
21 September 2008
08 August 2008
29 July 2008
24 July 2008
[Parts 2 and 3 will address the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (2) and the Keys of the Priesthood as compared with Power in the Priesthood (3)]
Should we regard this division of priesthood as indicative of inherent and eternal differences or divisions? Or do the modifiers (Melchizedek, Aaronic and Levitical--and Patriarchal) serve some purpose other than that of classifying or subdividing priesthood?
Why does the Lord describe "two" priesthoods when using three descriptive modifiers?
How is a Latter-day Saint to understand this priesthood framework in light of the rituals of the ancient and modern temples? How did the Lord intend for Joseph and the Elders to receive it in the nineteenth century? How does that voice to nineteenth century members resonate today?
Given the introductory language of the heading to the Section, when was this early portion of the Section received?
Is the Lord saying that the Levitical priesthood is included in the Aaronic? Or in the combination of Aaronic and Melchizedek? Does the temple answer this question fully?
Is addition to providing Latter-day Saints seeking for cursory answers with an explanation, is the Lord attempting to incorporate by reference the typology of Melchizedek's ministry? Not to mention the "King of Righteousness" element...
"Holy" raises many implications and potential avenues for intertwining the Priesthood with the temple, the law of sacrifice, and the atonement, to name a few...
What "Order" is being referenced? (Patriarchal? United? ...)
Which name was being respected or reverenced? Calling it the Melchizedek Priesthood omits the phrase "after the Order of the Son of God." Was the concern for "Son?" Or "God?" Both of which are frequently used by Latter-day Saints...
How does referring to the Priesthood as "Melchizedek" respect the Supreme Being's name? How does it reverence the name? How does it avoid too frequent repetition (given the other contexts in which both "Son" and "God" are used)?
What other authorities exist in the church? Aaronic priesthood? Other priesthoods? Other authority? What other offices?
What is an appendage to the priesthood? What has been identified as such? How do they append the Priesthood? Is the Lord seeking to turn our minds to Paul's teachings on members individually and collectively?
To what does the Lord refer in calling the divisions "grand heads?" What sort of imagery is being used?
The Lord apparently equates the Aaronic and Levitical Priesthoods. Yet why use different names? Is/should one be preferred over another as Melchizedek is preferred to its prior name referenced in verse 2? Do the modifiers "Aaronic" and "Levitical" describe the same authority, but refer to the differing ways of receiving that authority?
What about priesthood lends itself to this division among a "greater" and "lesser/prepatory"?
What do we learn from priesthood lineage? Is it just about tracing our authority to God? Or does knowing one's priesthood "genealogy" create a new identity to reorient us toward an eternal (kingdom of priests)?
What does the right or privilege of ordination to the priesthood reveal to us about the way that the Lord administers his kingdom?
Textually, the introductory "But" seems to suggest that this passage is meant to appear contradictory to the prior verses, suggesting a line of understanding that initial passage toward reading verses one through five as suggesting a unity of priesthood, whereas verse six acknowledges that despite the unity, subdivisions may also exist.
Continuing the theme of subdivisions, the Lord indicates that the office that had initially been the highest office in the Church (with Joseph and Oliver acting as First and Second Elders, respectively), pertains to the subdivision of the Melchizedek priesthood.
Why would the Lord use the word "office" to describe the priesthood? Is the word intended to evoke secular themes of political offices? Can that trajectory direct a careful student toward oaths of office in understanding the "Oath and Covenant" of the priesthood?
Why phrase it "the office of an elder" rather than merely "the office of elder?" Should the phrasing change our understanding or preconceived notions of what an office means?
This verse, in its entirety, seems to underpin the teaching (in D&C 84:29) that elders are an appendage to the Melchizedek priesthood.
What context informs our understanding of what "the right of presidency" means?
Again, an understanding of the temple seems essential for an informed discussion of "officiating in all the offices." Likewise, the phrase "Presidency of the High Priesthood" raises questions such as "what makes the 'High Priesthood' unique?" "How does it differ from the Aaronic and Melchizedek?"
The history of "high priests" seems to parallel the history of this section, with some parts revealed earlier than others and a fragmentary understanding informing prior iterations. How does the office of high priest differ from other offices? (Consider quorum size restrictions, presiding authority, etc., and compare the context of the early church with more contemporary times.)
The list of "elder, priest . . . teacher, deacon, and member seems intended to incorporate by reference Section 20. How do the two sections intersect?
By specifying "priest (of the Levitical order)" does the Lord intend to draw a distinction between Levitical priests and Aaronic priests? Or is the phrase from verse 6 equating the two intended to blur that distinction? Given the theme of a unified priesthood with subdivisions, this parenthetical reference may prove instructive in providing insight to the Lord's teachings on priesthood...
Why would the Lord introduce the concepts of "legal rights" to Priesthood offices and of literal descendants having such rights in the context of the bishopric instead of connecting them to the Patriarchal Priesthood?
Does verse 17 suggest that the First Presidency (the Presidency of the Melchizedek Priesthood) has the responsibility to call and set apart and ordain all bishops? Or just the Presiding Bishop?
What principled distinctions can be drawn from the keys held by the two (greater and lesser) priesthoods? Does the "temporal versus spiritual" distinction break down when actually examining the keys held? If so, is one difference that of temporality: pre- versus post-salvation?
Reading the revelation in this way perhaps diffuses an overly taxonomic reading: rather than being obsessed with hierarchical divisions of the church's labor, the revelation might be read as concerning itself primarily with sorting out the meaning of the ancient priesthood and the way this ancient meaning is to be translated into the modern situation (especially in terms of the Kirtland House of the Lord). The theme of the ancient priesthood runs right through the whole revelation: not only is there an explanation, from the very first verses, about the provenance of the name of the high priesthood, but the revelation comes to its climax in an exploration of the ancient Adam-ondi-Ahman experience and how it bears on the meaning and place of the priesthood. It is apparently in light of these details that this revelation is best interpreted.
Given that overall heading ("ON PRIESTHOOD") the Lord deliberately instructs on the nature of Priesthood power by juxtaposing an assertion of "two priesthoods" with three names "Melchizedek," "Aaronic," and "Levitical" in verse one. This introductory remark to versus 1-58 suggests a desire to transgress the boundaries that a more superficial, hierarchical approach to priesthood might impose on a reader, while recognizing the instructive power of a range of descriptive modifiers for priesthood power. Significantly, the Patriarchal priesthood is not specifically mentioned in this verse, although it may arguably appear obliquely in verse three where the "Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God" adds to the three names of verse one. In approaching this revelation from such a backdrop, the ensuing discussion of "grand heads," "offices," "power and authority," "keys" and "offices" seems to manifest a voice of instruction focusing not on an organizational flow chart, but rather on priesthood genealogy and the relational significance attached to the "priesthoods."
The setting is significant. 1835 marks the establishment of church government--an incredibly controversial moment in LDS history now and then ("apostasy" from the Church's organization--as opposed to apostasy from the Church's moral standards or from the contents of a particular revelation--might well be said to center on this very moment of institutionalization, both in Joseph's day and even now). The same year also marks the supersession of the "Book of Commandments" by the "Doctrine and Covenants," the latter text radically altering the former--most obviously in focus and function, but also in actual wording. More still, 1835 is also marked by the acceleration of the work on the Kirtland House of the Lord, with its accompanying emphasis on priesthood. Though this revelation comes early in the year, all of these events form a sort of aura around it.
Perhaps still more significant is the immediate textual setting: what follows not only marks a sort of "departure" from previous revelations on the priesthood, it makes a "departure"--as it were--from the characterization of the priesthood offered in the previous twenty verses! But this very fact ensures that what follows is not, strictly speaking, a departure. Rather, something is being added--by the Lord, it must be remembered--to the priesthood ("added" might be the best word to be used here: the governmental structure of the priesthood does not appear to be "eternal"; cf. D&C 84:29-30, D&C 107:5). Government for the Church, in other words, is a duty the Lord decided to assign to the priesthood (which, in and of itself, was not of governmental function). All these details, it should be hoped, establish the absolute importance of what begins with verse 21.
This verse marks the first instance of the word "quorum" in scripture. Besides its numerous appearances in the following verses, it only shows up elsewhere in D&C 124:62 and 117ff. The institutional importance of a word so seldomly used in scripture suggests that these two revelations are vital for understanding the role and development of the structure of the priesthood in terms of government. (If a broad characterization of section 107 as over and against section 124 is justified: section 107 deals with the introduction and grounding of quorums, while section 124 basically only mentions quorums because the revelation provides names for some specific positions in those quorums. In other words, section 107 is "theoretical," whereas section 124 is "practical." However, it should not be missed how much the "practicality" of section 124 establishes the vitality of more "theoretical" section 107: the institutional importance of the quorums of the priesthood is not a late phenomenon, but something that developed rather quickly--within the lifetime of the prophet Joseph.
It is vital to note that in this passage (as it extends through to verse 37), however, the quorums that are discussed are only the quorums that govern the Church in the broadest sense. The word "quorum," then, appears to have been understood in its more "official" sense. In fact, by 1835, the less official senses of the word were mostly obselete (see the OED entry on "quorum"), and the 1828 Webster's dictionary lists only meanings that bear on official practices (all implying, interestingly, a situation of judgment or justice). The establishment at work in these verses is not, it must be understood, the establishment of the hierarchical quorums of the priesthood. Rather, it is the establishment of a governing system of quorums/councils who have the authority to conduct the business of the entire Church. Verse 32 is perhaps the clearest confirmation of this point: these several quorums (apparently meaning only the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Quorum of the Seventy) "constitute the spiritual authorities of the church." In short, this first instance of "quorums" in scripture is an establishment, not of the quorums of the priesthood, but of the quorums of general authorities in the several and balancing levels of authority. Hence when, later in the revelation, the Lord discusses the "quorums" of the priests, teachers, and deacons, He never uses the term "quorum" at all (see verses 85-90, a series of verses quoted there from an otherwise unpublished revelation of November 1831). (It might be noted further that even in D&C 124, there is never mention of a quorum in the Aaronic Priesthood. Though there is some discussion there of the quorum of the elders, the wording is complex, and this might be only a reference to the quorum of the seventy. The implication seems to be that, at least at first, quorums were only a question of the High Priesthood.)
However, that the lengthy explanation turns almost immediately to Adam, in whom "this order was instituted" (verse 41), is quite suggestive: the New Testament flavor of "evangelical ministers" might just imply that in the Second Adam, the order has been made new, has been taken up into the logic of charity, has been opened up so that all might become "literal descendants of the chosen seed" through adoptions as sons (in the Son). In other words, the difference between the office named in verse 39 and the office described at length in verses 40-57 should be felt. The priesthood after the order of the father (the "patriarchal" order), once so perfectly exclusive, has been made "available" through the equally "available" priesthood after the order of the Son (from son to father) that Jesus Christ liberated through atonement. The purpose, then, of the lengthy description of the "original" patriarchal order might be at least twofold: on the one hand, the passage establishes the erstwhile exclusivity of a priesthood order now opened up through the available effects of the atonement; on the other hand, the passage deals at length with the meaning and possibilities of the office that remain, even though the possibility of receiving the order has changed.
The subsequent history of the office of Patriarch may validate this understanding as the lineal descendants of a single family (Joseph Smith, Sr.) served as Presiding Patriarch to the Church until Eldred G. Smith was given emeritus status in 1979. The recent teachings of President Boyd K. Packer indicate that a patriarch acts in a prophetic role (Oct. 2002 General Conference). Although not sustained as such (perhaps non-sustained callings provides food for thought in another vein altogether), stake patriarchs act in a prophetic capacity for their stake,just as the Presiding Patriarch was explicitly sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator. The trend toward making the prophetic role available to each stake suggests that the role may extend to the more fundamental units of the church until each household ideally has a patriarch acting in the role of prophet for the family unit. Although speculative, this trajectory validates the textual description of the patriarchal order and the Second Adam opening history back toward the original patriarchal order, thus dividing and uniting history simultaneously.
06 July 2008
The circle surrounding each newborn echoes circles that will encompass them throughout their life. Circles including confirmation to the Church, priesthood ordinations, blessings of comfort, setting apart blessings, circles formed around altars of the temple, circles of family study and prayer, and ultimately a circle carrying them to their resting place at the close of mortality. Such circles turn the mind to lingering traces of the arms of redeeming love that encircled us prior to birth and that may again encircle us.
Similar circles may accompany occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, and other events and commemorations that turn the mind forward and backward. Such times cause reflection and contemplation. One is reminded of the pattern and way of life.
During times of pondering and meditation, a biography of sorts shows itself. This biography may include learning about family, both immediate and extended. Knowing the members of the circles of our lives enriches our understanding of our roots and deepens our appreciation for what we now have. Likewise, we may come to know our family of faith, learning of pioneers, patriarchs, and ultimately of Father and Son. All of these form a part of our own biographies. We are shaped and informed in large measure by these familial biographies.
Another biographical sketch that we may benefit from annotating and keeping current is a biography of our testimony. Certain events of life mark us indelibly and teach us of ourselves in inimitable ways. When we experience such phenomena, we live the writing of the biography of our testimony. Whether recorded or not, this biography of testimony becomes a foundation to an integrated life. As spiritual truths are integrated, welded together, and allowed to yield more truth, we participate in the authorship of this biography: a book of life.
In reflecting this evening on the baby blessing this morning, I am reminded of the many circles of which I have been a part, as well as others formed to surround me. My biography, both of family and of testimony, has been shaped and marked by members of these circles. I anticipate forming additional circles, and ultimately being marked by the marks as the Savior encircles me in the arms of His love.
I hope to allow the in-progress book of (my) life to fully imprint upon me the image and countenance of the Lord, such that I may experience the eternal round that will return me to the loving embrace echoed in the circles I envision for my children, and that I hope will form around me upon my departure from this mortal sphere.
25 June 2008
15 June 2008
06 June 2008
Many interpretations of this experience are possible, yet Joseph's earliest account of it reveals his thoughts on its significance. He framed his narrative beginning at age twelve, when his "mind became seriously imprest with regard to all the importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul" (sic). Given this context, the tone of his account reveals a great sensitivity to his sins and his desire to overcome them. As recorded by Frederick G. Williams in that account of 1832, Joseph retold his experience as follows:
For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.
I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.
During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.
My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.
04 June 2008
Given the above material on transcending experiences, it appears that much of the meaning central to Judeo-Christianity derives itself from some form of transcending event. The events all seem to deal with separation—either establishing it or overcoming it. Other events could certainly qualify as transcendent; however, for our purposes here, we can now reflect on transcendent events and their significance.
Creation, fall, atonement, and conversion all involve an experience and the object of that experience. We usually speak not merely of creation, but of the creation of the world. Similarly the fall refers specifically to the fall of Adam and Eve. The atonement is the atonement of Jesus Christ and conversion is the conversion of [for example] Abraham. Because each of these transcending events involves the event and its object, they teach about experience with the sacred. The events could not happen without an object; however, an individual cannot create the event. The event marks the crossing (or transcending) of the individual with the sacred, overcoming the separation alluded to in our section on the creation. Thus transcending events illustrate how such experience with sacred things reveals itself. Because of this self-revelatory nature, the nihilistic outlook on the sacred dissolves into a transcending testimony in each individual of the meaningful moments that connect the individual experience with the transcendent.
The relationship between subject and object in transcendent events was mentioned in connection with conversion. This relational approach to events seems to defy other attempts to describe them. An event might be characterized as happening to a subject. Under this view, the subject remains seemingly stationary whereas the objects around it move about, causing changes to result. This seems inadequate to describing the transcending events described above. Likewise, attempts to characterize such events as involving the subject undergoing all of the changes (through some modifications in the subject’s manner of perception) fail. Such an attempt would ignore the influence of every subject on the objects with which it comes in contact. Both theories fall short of lived experience because of the interconnectedness between subject and object. As an illustration, the relationship indicated above between a faithful reader and a scriptural text seems illuminating. When the reader explores the various facets of the text, the reader’s subjective experiences may seem to change the experience of reading, despite the object’s seemingly stationary position. On the other hand, the scriptural text works changes in the reader such that an attentive reader is altered by each reading. Thus, when a reader truly engages in an active reading of the text, the text changes the reader. But the reader also does incorporate his or her individual experiences separate from the text with the reading. So the reader changes the text.
This examination, then, allows individuals to identify events in their own lives that transcend themselves and in so doing to find meaning beyond the individualistic and (hence) selfish nature of modern living. Examining ourselves within the context of the world as it presents itself to us allow us to partake of viewpoints that might otherwise be overlooked. By incorporating all such points of view, we find that the meaning that many feel they have lost was really hiding within the relationship that the individual has with the world around him. When a transcending event changes that relationship (by adding to or taking away from some degree of separation), the individual changes as does his understanding of the world around him.
It seems, too, that transcending events can happen without our realizing that they have. One could undergo the change without recognizing that anything is different. Thus, as responsible and striving individuals, if we want to find the transcendent meaning in life, it becomes our task to study the history of the world and its religious, literary, philosophical, and other realms in order to identify what is transcendent in us. When this has been accomplished to even a small degree, through self-reflection, we find that our efforts in recognizing transcendence have paid large dividends and that our lives have been enriched thereby. Such continued self-reflection and outward reaching as seem warranted in our future endeavors as a result of this introductory evaluation of the significance of and meaning inherent in transcendent experiences can expand our understanding until we have satisfied our longing for meaning and true living.