Thursday, April 7, 2016

Spiritual Experiences Journal


A few weeks ago we had a stake general priesthood meeting, During the instruction, our stake president recommended that we keep a journal of spiritual experiences throughout our life that we can go back to and reference. He didn't give any indication that it was to benefit our kids or anything really specific. He just kind of made the comment and then moved on to something else, but I started thinking about it and it felt like good counsel so of course I wrote it down in my little note-taking journal and I promptly and very lazily just left it there.

Then we had our semi-annual General Conference last weekend and it was something that came to my mind again during the Sunday sessions of conference, only it occurred to me as Amy and I were watching the hour-long special put together documenting the building of the Provo City Temple and all of the history surrounding the original building, the Provo Tabernacle.

As we were watching the documentary, I remembered the counsel from President Burdett and then realized that not only should I be writing down my own personal spiritual experiences, but that I should also recount things like the announcement of this temple. This was something that deeply affected me when the announcement was made and I think acknowledging these kinds of significant moments in the history of the church and even events in the world and my own perspective on them will be a good thing for my kids to hear about. Although I didn't think about this at the time, as I write now I realize that it's akin to the testimonies that were given during the time following Joseph Smith's martyrdom and the succession crisis that followed. The reason we know about those events are because of the numerous accounts from eye-witness testimonies. Heck, I guess the testimony of the 3 and 8 witnesses to the Book of Mormon are parallels also. We need these witnesses and we need to be able to understand the context of the time in which they occurred.

Obviously, this is not something that is in my own family history, but I think my kids and future would like to know my thoughts on some of these significant church events. But I think there is also a lot of value in just being able to refer back for my own sake to my own past and remember the lessons that I have learned and re-remember experiences that I have had. Isn't that one of the common refrains that we hear in the Book of Mormon? The verses that immediately come to my mind as I think about REMEMBER verses are in Helaman 5 where Helaman is speaking to his two boys, Nephi and Lehi and he's counseling them to "remember, remember" and then you get to verse 12 where he say to remember that it is on the rock of your Redeemer that you should build your spiritual foundation.

As I was thinking about this again recently, I think one of the biggest values that this kind of journal provides is to contextualize faith and a person's testimony. Sometimes it's easy to lose a lot of the meaning behind scripture when you just read a story without thinking about the broader context in which the events are occurring. It's easy to lose sight of the importance of the exodus of the children of Israel when you don't take the time to truly examine everything that is going on and how it's more than just a wild story with a number of unusual miracles that occur. It's easy to read the Liberty Jail sections in the Doctrine & Covenants and just think of them as sad verses for Joseph because he's just having a pretty rough time. There is so much richness there and it's why Nephi tells his brothers that they need to liken the scriptures to themselves.

On a slightly different, but still related note, here's another reason why I think this exercise is important: It's incredibly important to develop a faith that is agile and responsive in a world where values are shifting and disintegrating. In a CS Lewis way of explaining it, being a tree standing up against the wind is an easy thing to do in a forest of trees, but much harder when that tree stands in isolation. I think at some point, everyone is going to have to go through a time in life when a person will have to stand up against the winds of temptation that threaten to flatten the things that the individual holds dear.

Seeing this has been a theme that I feel like I have been witnessing in people that I've known over the course of the last 10 years. People that I knew growing up or as a young adult that I thought were rock solid in the gospel began falling away from the Church because they learn about some of the hard to reconcile aspects of our Church's past. Or the prevailing culture clamors loudly against our ideals when for decades and centuries, the conventional wisdom was closely aligned with our gospel principles. I am only 35 years old as I right this, but in just the last 10-15 years I have witnessed a titanic shift in the value placed on the traditional family as well as the elevation of tolerance as a surrogate for love. What I most want for my kids is to be able to stand for eternal principles and truths, even if that sometimes means enduring not just loneliness, but ridicule.

Bringing this back to the topic at hand, I want my kids to know that I lived through this time in the world with my faith intact. I have been able to keep the lamp of my testimony burning brightly in spite of the onslaughts in the world, and survived because of it as well. I think that's where the real value of this kind of Book of Remembrance will provide to my children and posterity.

Provo City Temple/Tabernacle

If you have spent any significant amount of time in Provo that you have had at least some interaction with the Provo Tabernacle. It's featured prominently in the city right in the main downtown area at University and Center Street. It was actually right near there where I got my first speeding ticket on my very first night moving into Provo prior to moving to Utah to start school at BYU. The building is probably one of the most notable buildings in Provo next to the library just north near campus and the Provo Temple and MTC. 

For my time there, I had some additional experiences with it. It was a place I ran by on many occasions when I lived up on the south side of Provo while attending grad school and later while I was married. I attended at least one Christmas concert there and had attended several stake events there as a single adult living in the nearby area. 

Like many Provo residents it was a very sad event to hear about the fire that consumed the building. I was engaged to Amy at the time and we lived not more than 2 miles away. Then you maybe took some time to drive passed it and see the remains and life goes on.

Then, almost a year later President Monson spoke in the opening session of General Conference and made what's come to be a customary announcement of new temples. At the 2;34 mark the video below you can jump to the part where President Monson begins to make the announcement.

I'll never forget the gasp from both the audience in the Conference Center as well as our own as he declared that they would be renovating it for the site of a second temple in the city of Provo.

The story of the Provo Tabernacle becoming the Provo City Temple provides an incredible metaphor for what God can and will do with our lives if we will partner with Him. Consumed and burnt out and a shell of our former selves, the Atonement can restore and renew a person to not only a previous state, but an exalted one, one suitable for the Lord to call His own. I just love that. I'm so grateful for the emphasis that the Church places on its historical edifices and the interest it has in preserving its history. I'm grateful for temples. And I'm grateful for the Atonement.

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