As a boy, Dad’s mother Dora prayed with him every night, saying, “Bless the cost and worn.” He thought it a good thing to ask God to bless the cost and worn, whoever they were—their situation sounded grim. Sometime later, Dad asked her, “Mother, who are the cost and worn?” She looked quizzical, confessing she did not know. They thought and thought and repeated the phrase together numerous times, eventually realizing they had meant to be asking in prayer for those who had “cause to mourn.” Of course, God knew their hearts, and what they meant to say, and who the cost and worn were—and doubtless He accepted their petition. Again as a little boy, Dad was asked in his church primary class to offer a prayer. He stood dutifully in front of the class and ventured, “Heavenly Father, help us to beat the Japs.” While one would never refer to the noble Japanese people in that fashion today, eighty years ago, in 1942, that very prayer was on the lips and minds of tens of millions of people. Even a seven-year-old boy felt the weight of the great conflict that was World War II, and asked his God to end it. I have heard many testimonials from young children who prayed to find something they had lost, and immediately seeing in their mind, or feeling an impression about, where the lost thing was, and finding it precisely there. I have felt tempted to pooh-pooh this puerile witness of the Divine. But then I remember that God loves little children (and wants us older folks to be like them)—He wants to bless them, and appreciates their simple supplications as much or more than my own more complex concerns. Children love and have faith and hope. And what sweeter exercise of faith could one encounter than a small child turning to God in momentary distress. An excellent pattern we would do well to emulate our whole life long. The next time I lose my car keys, I will pray to God to help me find them. Tonight, I will pray for the cost and worn.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, said Yahweh to Israel. Thousands of years later, paying one-tenth of one’s increase continues to be the standard in my Church, a law both temporal and spiritual. Temporal to help the poor, and to build schools and churches and temples. Spiritual to show faith and obedience, spiritual to turn outward to others, spiritual to be sanctified through sacrifice. Tithing and other offerings are used for Church buildings and programs, for Church institutions of higher education and missionary work, to help the poor, and to provide humanitarian assistance worldwide. Every December, members of our Church are invited to meet with the local church leader, the Bishop, for a Tithing Settlement, where we discuss in private our tithe-paying status. Mom and Dad put their names on the sign-up sheet for after Sunday services. I followed the unconventional step of asking if I could join in their appointment, though we tithe our incomes separately and privately. The Bishop thanked us for our offerings and reiterated Jehovah’s promise that for those who give to the Church, God will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing upon us that we will not have room to receive. Our vessels will be full to overflowing. We consider ourselves greatly blessed. And we are grateful.
(Photo from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
On a Sunday afternoon, I took Mom and Dad to see their church leaders to renew their temple recommends. This document allows them admittance to the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has 265 temples worldwide in operation or at some stage of construction. They are magnificent buildings, and we consider them a House of God on earth. Temples are not for regular weekly worship services, but for ceremonies in which we covenant with God to obey his commandments, to be moral and chaste, to contribute our time and means to the Church, and to love and serve one another. We are instructed on the purpose of existence and the nature of God and his Son. And couples are married and families sealed together not just until death but for eternity. We change into white clothing as an aspirational symbol of purity and cleanliness, and of having left the world outside. Mom and Dad do not visit the temples anymore due to age and infirmity, but visited temples monthly during the previous decades. Even not attending, to them it is important to be worthy to attend. So, they cheerfully waited in the church meetinghouse foyer for their interviews, making pleasant small talk with the other temple-goers. I waited for them as they each had their turn, knowing the questions they would be asked, including: Do you have faith in God the Eternal Father and in his Son Jesus Christ? Do you believe in Jesus and his role as your Savior and Redeemer? Do you strive for moral cleanliness, and are you chaste? Are you a tithe payer? Do you abstain from consuming harmful substances? Do you believe in the truthfulness of the Church, and support its Prophet and Apostles? Are you honest in all that you do? Mom and Dad each emerged from their brief interview with humble smiles, the smiles of peace from living lives of faith and good works.
Pictured above: Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah (where I live), dedicated in 1898.
Some Church temples around the world:
Brazil, Sao Paulo
Dad wants to be buried by his father, Owen. Owen died of heart disease at the age of 59, a sad separation of father and son. Dad harbors a secure faith in the resurrection and afterlife. He is not concerned with the mechanics of how our bodies will be rebuilt and immortalized—God knows how to work all that out. In the next life, each person will receive the divine inheritance they craved and strove for during this mortality. The character we forged here will be our character there. How could it be any different? Did we think we could spend our life injuring others and suddenly, in the next sphere, be transformed into benevolence? No, the universe doesn’t work that way. Dad shared with me that when he awakens in the resurrection, next to his father, who will likewise resurrect, he intends to exclaim, “Father! I am so happy to see you! I love you!” And Owen will rejoin, “Son! I am so pleased to see you! I have missed you! I love you!” Now, that is a hope and faith I can subscribe to.
Sunday church services focus on what we call “the sacrament” in my Church. The sacrament consists of small pieces of bread and small cups of water, one of which we each eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus. After Covid-19 forced churches to close, Church leaders authorized the men of the Church to use their priesthood authority to provide the sacrament at home to their families and others. While the church buildings are again open for in-person attendance, Mom and Dad have been too weak to go. How pleased and privileged I felt to use priesthood authority to prepare the bread and water, to kneel and offer the prescribed prayers, and to distribute the sacramental emblems to Mom and Dad. After we partook, Mom looked up at me from her chair and said sweetly, “Thank you so much. That was very special.” As a threesome, we discussed how the sacrament serves several purposes. We remember Jesus, his infinite loving sacrifice for us, and his ongoing atonement. We covenant anew to obey God’s commandments, and to love and serve our neighbor. We recommit to repent and to strive to be our best selves. And we express our gratitude for our life and blessings. After our intimate church service, we broke our fast and enjoyed leftover creamy vegetable soup and toasted ciabatta.
Prayer Rock by Laura Baker
Prayer has never come easy for me. I avoid it, put it off, wander in my thoughts, cut it short. Yet, I pray every day, because I have been told to, all my life. It’s what I should do, they said. I also pray because I want to believe that someone is listening and caring and responding. But really I pray because I cannot deny a subtle, loving presence that abides and sustains when I am prayerful. Prayerful through formal kneeling prayers as well as daily mindfulness.
For a family activity, we had each child choose a special rock from our faux riverbed, a rock to paint. Laura (now 20) painted this rock when she was a young girl. She gave it to me: a present for dad. I keep it on my nightstand where I see it every morning and every night. I call it my prayer rock. I reminds me to bend my knee and bow my head, in humility, in gratitude, in desperate supplication, in recognition of the divine.
I offer to you two short poems on prayer. Fitful, imperfect, but sincere prayer.
YES, I PRAY
Do you pray morning and night? they asked.
I wondered, Do I?
I pray all the day long.
My life is a prayer.
Living is a prayer–
a sacred expression of dreams, frustrations, loves, and straining efforts;
a reaching out to the One who can reveal the mysteries hidden deep within;
a cry of faith and despair, of struggle and the hope of victory;
an ever truer reconciliation of heaven and earth.
Yes, I pray.
I am here, and
I am listening.