Dad has read all the various books his various children have given him in the last year, and he wished for more books to read. I scoured my shelves and brought him an eclectic stack: political leadership; environmental activism; third-world memoir; history; biography. I was not sure he would be interested in the selection, but he exclaimed, “I’m going to read them all!” as he started in on the first. Reading: that is what he can do, and he does it well. His enthusiasm faded as he labored in quaking pain to rise from his chair and stagger to the restroom, unable to straighten, hunched dangerously over his walker. Mom and I helped him redress that day, for ne needed all his arm and leg strength merely not to collapse. “Today was a hard day,” Dad lamented. Mom looked uncharacteristically drawn and worried, and she suggested I call Brad and ask him to come help me with a religious enactment we call a Priesthood Blessing. But I did not want to call Brad: the time was after 9:00; and, I did not want to have to summon the emotional energy to approach the Almighty God to seek a blessing from Him; and, I lacked confidence in my worthiness and strength to draw upon Divine power. But after breathing deep for a few minutes, I called Brad, and he said “Yes!” and walked over. Brad and I did as the Apostle James instructed two thousand years ago in answer to his own question, “Is any sick among you?” then “let him call for the elders of the church” to “pray over him,” “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” And it was our privilege, Brad and I, ordained Elders in our Church, to anoint Dad’s head with a drop of consecrated olive oil, to place our hands lightly on his head, to invoke the name and priesthood authority of Jesus, and to prayer over this father and neighbor of ours. Brad proclaimed the infinite love the Father and the Son each have for Dad, that they know him and are mindful of him and his sufferings. Brad reminded Dad of the love and admiration all his family have for him, and praised his goodness and sacrifice. Brad pronounced a blessing upon him, both of deep peace and of a body sufficiently strong to control and perform its functions. And we all said “Amen.” I marveled at how in my Church we presume to access the priesthood power of God to pronounce blessings of healing, or comfort, or counsel, or release, how we often feel God’s unfathomable love for the afflicted person, and how these blessing experiences bring comfort and peace, hope and love, to all involved. Lying in bed, I yielded to the ritual of checking my social media accounts for updates, and realized I was not seeking information but rather affirmation. Upon waking every morning, I check Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, Marco Polo, Gmail, and texts, hoping for a shot of external affirmation, and again at bedside at night, and again several times during the day, and I never find it, or I find some but want more, always more. Lying in bed, I resolved to set aside the compulsion, knowing suddenly the truth that the only real affirmation comes from within oneself. Lying in bed, resolving to be better and stronger, I thanked God for once in a while allowing me to be the weakest of His servants in blessing the lives of others, the lives of His children, in blessing Mom and Dad. And I slipped into sleep.
Tag Archives: Religion
Courage at Twilight: To the Brim
Two hours before the CNA came, Mom met me at the top of the staircase and motioned for me with her finger. She whispered that the urinal was full to the brim, and she worried that if Dad woke and needed the toilet before the CNA came, the bottle might spill. She asked me to empty it. “I was going to do it myself, but then I saw you and thought, ‘He’s the perfect victim—I’ll ask him to do it.’” Her request touched off an internal mental struggle. One voice chided, If she was going to do it, that means she was capable of doing it, and she should do for herself what she can do, and ask me to do what she cannot do. An opposing voice stepped in with, Wait a minute! I am here to help my father and my mother, to ease the burdens of both. I pushed the selfish voice away and answered, “Sure, I’ll take care of that. I’d be happy to.” And in ten seconds I had emptied and rinsed the urinal and flushed the toilet, all while Dad slumbered. The day was Saturday, and on Saturdays the CNA comes at 9, not the weekday 9:30, always surprising Mom by being “early.” I opened the front door when the doorbell rang, and let the CNA in. “Hi, I’m Jared,” he announced cheerfully. I had never seen Jared before. Mom rode down slowly in the stair lift chair, glaring unhappily at the new face that came at 8:50, ten minutes earlier than “early.” But Jared won her over within those ten minutes, and Mom loved the short obese scraggly-bearded tattooed middle-aged man like a long-lost friend, asking him where he was from, if he had a family, where he went to school, how long he’s been a caregiver. Jared cheerfully answered all her questions, then turned his attention to Dad. Jared being new, Mom and Dad had to explain yet again all the little particularities of how things are best done, with using the walker, showering, dressing, transferring between various sitting surfaces, riding the stair lift (Mom insisted he ride it up the stairs to reach Dad, instead of walking up the stairs and bringing up the chair with the remote), eating his breakfast, taking his pills, and doing his upper-body rubber-band Pilates. While Jared was learning the ropes, I was delving into my transient past, moving out of their hastily stacked places my beds, boxes, artwork, decorations, tools, and books, rearranging them more carefully, efficiently, and accessibly, reminding myself of what I own that I have not seen for 20 months, still finding it strange to have much of my life packed up in boxes. In a shoebox I found old family photos Mom saved and gave to me, including one of me ready to baptize Hyrum, age eight, both of us happy and dressed in white. I scanned and emailed the photograph to Hyrum, now 21, a missionary for his Church in Brazil, teaching the Good News of Christ, inviting others to enter the baptismal font, dressed in white, to be baptized, immersed, symbolically cleansed, to make a covenant with God to keep his commandments, to care for the poor, to mourn with those that mourn—the best kind of promises.
(Pictured above: Yours truly and my son Hyrum, age eight, on his baptism day.)
Hyrum today, a two-year volunteer missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Brazil.
Courage at Twilight: Mission Land
As a young man of 20, I spent two years living in Portugal, as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a white shirt and tie and pocket name plaque, teaching the Gospel to whoever would listen, and buttressing the new members of our young congregations. I became fluent in the beautiful Portuguese language, and I delighted in the clang of trolly cars and in the countryside of olive groves and vineyards, windmills and farms, cork trees and salt air blown in off the sea. I returned to the United States a changed man, having strengthened my convictions, and having sacrificed and labored on behalf of these people who I had come to love. Now 58, I was contemplating how I could strengthen my connection with my 16-year-old daughter, who is moving so quickly toward womanhood, who all to soon will fling herself into adulthood, and I thought, maybe a trip somewhere. I wanted meaning, meaning and beauty, and a bond we would share our whole lives. With those parameters, the solution soon became apparent—Portugal. Between them, my sisters Jeanette and Sarah spent every night I was gone caring for Mom and Dad, making the trip possible for everyone. After months of planning, our threesome launched, and trapsing one week in bustling chaotic Lisbon and one week on the idyllic island of Madeira, both my former fields of missionary labor. (Hannah invited her older brother to tag along, and he added so much to the adventure.) We saw, of course, Lisbon’s compulsory tourist sights. We sought out the traditional pastries (pasteis de nata were our favorite) and historic neighborhoods (like the narrow winding cobbled streets of Alfama on the capitol city hillside) and authentic working-class restaurants (where we ate sauteed cuttlefish our first night). Madeira’s scenery is achingly beautiful, and we explored the whole mountainous island, its coasts and peaks, is black-rock beaches and high scenic overlooks, its fruit markets and terraced vineyards. Most precious of all, I reunited with the first member of my Church on Madeira—Amélia, now 87 years old: cheerful, feisty, and lonely—at whose house the first Church meetings were held, and the small oval inlaid wood table where the first sacramental emblems were blessed and distributed to the just-as-small congregation. We visited her three times, telling the old stories, laughing at old blunders, baking banana bread, preparing a Sunday meal for her and her family, taking pictures, hugging, weeping at parting. Visiting Amélia meant infinitely more than visiting the gorgeous cathedrals and ancient castles, though we saw plenty of those, too. And on the long flight home, I contemplated how this had been a monumental trip for Hyrum and Hannah (and for me). It changed their lives, their perspectives of the world and their place in it, their perspectives of their parents and family and how they fit in, their perspectives of their Church and of missionary work and of the power of forging relationships of faith in the mission field through genuine loving labor, and the deep and eternal nature of those bonds. My children may not fully comprehend the power of their adventure, the transformational power, for a long time, perhaps not until they take their own children to their fields of mission labor a generation after. That is how it is with the generations, each learning what it can from the one before, and then teaching what it can to the next: “I lived right over there. I walked this street every day. This is what I often ate: half of a grilled chicken brushed with hot pepper oil; stewed squid; pasteis de bacalhau, pasteis de nata, papo seco bread with creamy cheese and quince marmelada. Look at the cobblestone streets and mosaic stone sidewalks, and up there the Castelo de São Jorge, and over there Cristo Rei….” And then to hear Hyrum bubble over, “I am so excited!” for his own imminent missionary service in Brazil. And then to hear Hannah effuse, “Dad, thank you so much!”
(Pictured above: the north shore of the island of Madeira.)
Lisbon and us from St. George Castle.
Visiting our Church’s Lisbon Temple (dedicated 2018).
A restored and working Portuguese wind mill, circa 1810.
Courage at Twilight: Maracangalha
They came from Texas to Utah, and wanted to stop by the rehab center and see Dad. They had met each other in 1972 in São Paulo, Brazil, and had met Dad then, too, when they were 21 and he was 36, the President of the Brazil South Central Mission, their President. They were serving as volunteer youth missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (misnomered “Mormons”), preaching the Gospel of Jesus and of faith and repentance and baptism and of Christ’s Church restored in 1820 through the prophet Joseph Smith. They met me, too, in 1972, but I was only eight. I had met Steve and Dorothy and the others many times at mission reunions in Mom’s and Dad’s basement great room, with their name tags and paunches and gray hair (or no hair), with a taste for mousse de maracujá (passion fruit mousse) and guaraná (Brazilian soft drink) and feijoada (Brazil’s black-bean stew), and with love in their hearts for Mom and Dad and for the people of Brazil, and with still-vivid memories of their formative experiences with a benevolent personal living God. Dad served a mission to Brazil in the 1950s. I accepted a mission call to Portugal in 1983. And my children were sent to Oklahoma and Florida and South Korea and Mozambique and Brazil. Missionary service is not compulsory in my Church, but every young man and woman is invited to serve. We dedicated two years of our time, energies, and resources to share our convictions about God’s plan for the eternal happiness of humanity. Covid-19 ended Mom’s and Dad’s annual reunions, and we felt a new emptiness, one of numerous new voids compelled by the pandemic. But Larry emailed the group, and a Zoom mission reunion was conceived. Mom and Dad sat at their kitchen table, looking at my laptop screen, as dozens of thumbnails popped up, of their beloved former missionaries, with whom they had labored, with whom they had been reviled, with whom they had formed strong bonds of caring, who now listened as Dad declared his convictions, evoked their common tender memories, and expressed to them his love (as did Mom). And at the click of an icon they were gone, and we sat on the sofas, Mom and Dad and me, and reminisced about Brazil, and about how at mission reunions I had led them all in the old Caymmi songs: Maracangalha (1957): a young man so excited to attend a party in the next town; Coqueiro de Itapoã (1959): a youth missing the sand and the waves and the coconut palms and the beautiful morenas of Itapoã.
Courage at Twilight: Between Two Temples
Taylorsville Utah Temple
Church President Russell Nelson announced the construction of 17 new temples, from Montana to Texas, the Congo to Spain, New Zealand to Peru, bringing the total number of temples to 282 worldwide. I drive past two temples under construction every morning and afternoon, one near my home—the Taylorsville Temple—and one near my work an hour away—the Deseret Peak Temple. While I could drive an alternate way, I feel drawn to the temple route, where twice a day I get to see the construction progress. Through the winter, the crews completed the steel framing of the Taylorsville temple, and dressed the ribbed walls with foam-panel insulation. Behind scaffolding, marble and granite slabs began to clad the ground floor, and just today enormous cranes lowered the steel-gray steeple. In Tooele, the Deseret Peak temple shows only the steel-beam super-structure forming the ground floor, mid-section, and tower, the walls yet to be built. These temples are sacred edifices to the Latter-day Saints, Houses of God. There Church members learn about the purpose of life on earth and the possibility of eternal life with an omni-beneficent Father. There we make covenants to be determined disciples of Jesus: chaste, sacrificing, kind, generous, and honest disciples. And there we are “sealed” or joined to our families in eternal unbreakable familial links and bonds. I look forward to seeing what the crews accomplish each day, and I rejoice in the progress toward the ultimate stunning exalting beauty of the final buildings. I wondered aloud to my siblings about this fascination of mine, and realized that the slow incremental transition from the foundation cornerstone to the steeple capstone gives me hope, hope in the life process of slow and careful creation toward a perfect end. Like the temples, I hope my character is being similarly dressed and shaped and polished. I know this: as I age, every act of meanness and gossip and pride and stinginess brings me pain, and every instance of kindness and compassion and generosity and forgiveness brings me pleasure. So it is that I joy in driving by these two temples, twice a day, knowing they will be finished and perfect, in time, and hoping the same for me.
Deseret Peak Temple in Tooele, Utah
(Photos from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Used under the Fair Use Doctrine.)
Courage at Twilight: “I Hate the Church”
For over a century, my Church has preached a ministering program called “home teaching,” where Church members, two by two, visit with assigned families to make sure their temporal and spiritual needs were being addressed. At the awkward age of 14, I was Dad’s home teaching companion, and he was the “bishop” or unpaid lay minister of our large congregation—he knew all the Church members and their many problems and hardships. He saw on the records the name of a young woman he did not know, Continue reading
Courage at Twilight: The Good Sermon
Dad always has words of wisdom for me and for all his family: lots of words, and lots of wisdom. When he says, “You know, Rog…” I know a sermon is coming, and I flinch and tighten and brace. We are eternal beings of tremendous power. We are not weak beings sent to earth to become powerful. We are powerful beings sent to earth to learn humility and love. Love is the greatest power in the universe. By refusing earthly power and choosing kindness and humility and love, we demonstrate to God that we are worthy of the greater power he wants to give us in the eternities. I have asked myself many times why I have this ungrateful selfish resistant reaction, when his words are so gentle and so profound and so true. Yet, every time, I cringe. God has given us the secret for knowing how to live in this mortality. He has told us that we can put our trust in whatever leads us to do good, to be fair, to walk humbly. Pursuing the spirit of goodness, we will find that God will share himself with us, will enlighten our minds, with strengthen our spirits, will fill us with hope and joy. We can always trust impulses to do good. I have been listening to Dad’s impromptu sermons for decades, and have been recoiling for just as long. After a particularly good sermon to which I was particularly stiff, I doubled down to answer my own question. And the answer came. Putting my emotional walls up is a self-protection mechanism. I do not need protection from the message or its delivery, for the messages are redeeming. But I have discerned my problem: hearing Dad’s expositions hour upon hour, day after week, month after year, I often feel both tired and trapped. Jesus said, “He that sent me is true. I do nothing but what the Father has taught me. I do always those things that please him.” We can trust God the Father, for he is true. We can trust Jesus the Beloved Son, for he does and says only what the Father instructs him to do. I love the Father and the Son for being true and trustworthy and loving and good. I love a good chocolate chip cookie, homemade, with butter, brown sugar, pecans, and Ghirardelli dark. I can easily eat three or four or five, with ice cold milk, in one sitting. In fact, just dispense with dinner and go right to the delectable dessert. Dad’s teachings are similar to my cookies: rich, sweet, and satisfying. But I am immersed in them constantly, whenever Dad and I are together. Were I to forego dinner every evening, and be required to eat only the most delicious cookies instead, unable to seek other food, soon I would grow weary, reluctant, resisting, resentful, and even ill. The analogy is imperfect, but simply put, I may have too much of a good thing. Jesus knows us intimately and infinitely. He ascended above all things. He descended below all things. He is in all things, and through all things, and round about all things. This describes his atoning sacrifice, because of which he comprehends all things. He knows us. He is there for us, working within us, at every moment of our existence, wanting to bring us to him. One day, Dad will be gone, his voice silenced but in my journals, where I have recorded his sermons and stories. And my world will seem achingly empty and bereft. I will miss his teaching above all things. I think I’ll have another cookie.
Courage at Twilight: Prayers of the Innocent
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.
(Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay)
Courage at Twilight: Tithes and Offerings
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.)
Courage at Twilight: Recommended to the Temple
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
Courage at Twilight: In the Resurrection
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.
Courage at Twilight: Sacramental Emblems
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.