There is something wonderful about being in a room with women of all ages and backgrounds who share a common desire to honor each other, wherever we are on our journey of faith, and share our stories that could make a difference in that journey.
I got to do that in two places last weekend.
Last weekend I was able to go to the Rocky Mountain Retreat with other Mormon women. We were able to share writings, ideas, experiences, music, and, most of all, faith.
Faith in our gifts, our heritage, our strength, our knowledge, our loved ones, our connection, our church, our God.
Then I got to have a similar experience in Relief Society at church on Sunday.
Yes, I know. That does not happen for everyone, every Sunday.
I mentioned in my last blog that LDS wards are determined by geographical boundaries. You might be in a ward with others who are similar to you, or very different.
Some people like being around others who are different. They enjoy hearing various ideas, and learn from other points of view. Others prefer to be with those they agree with, and might feel nervous or even a bit afraid around those they perceive as different.
I think the Gospel of Christ asks us to see how we are all connected, coming from loving Heavenly Parents, and will find our greatest joy embracing each other with all our differences and sameness.
But that is not always easy. So we are all on a journey together. Sometimes we are helping each other, sharing the burden. Sometimes we listen to our fears, and throw up obstacles to those we think we need to fear.
It would be wonderful if every moment spent in church is one where all feel honored, acknowledged, loved, strengthened, fed, their burdens lightened.
But church isn’t for those who have already completed the journey back to God.
It is a place we can go to renew our promise to turn to God, to study together and find out that we each have our own way of interpreting scripture, to repent and forgive each other even when we don’t feel like it, to serve people we would usually not choose to be around, to struggle together, to learn to love each other in the face of our failure, and to do this while respecting the organization and structure created so this can happen worldwide.
It is human nature to connect religion to politics, to cultural and ethnic traditions, and to justify divisiveness, even war, by claiming to know who is loved and not loved by God. It is human nature to even connect religion to taste in art, books, hairstyle, clothes and choice of movies and television.
All this can make for an unpredictable experience at Sunday meetings.
But in the lifetime of my church attendance, I have learned that I usually find what I look for at church. I find harsh judgement and intolerance when I look for it, I find acceptance, compassion and love when I look for it, and sometimes that shows up in the midst of the intolerance.
Again, it is all part of the journey.
We all want to be honored and heard and included. While it frequently does, that might not always happen at church. It doesn’t mean we don’t belong there. Each of us can learn to honor others there.
And we can express what is not expressed at church in other places. I have book groups, discussion groups, political meetings, forums, conferences, classes, blogs, facebook….each gives opportunity for discussion and conversation. I find myself drawn to all ways that strengthen how I can live the Gospel in every aspect of my life.
The Rocky Mountain Retreat did that for me. Friday evening I got to hear readings from Joanna Brooks, Phyllis Barber, Dani Dubrasky, and was honored to be asked to read from my essay “A Pope Story”. On Saturday there were wonderful presentations from Joanna Brooks and Sheila Taylor (thank you thank you thank you to them), a long walk with my daughter Charlotte where we talked about the Relief Society lesson I would be teaching, and she helped me find a good direction for it, then a fascinating question and answer/discussion session in the evening with Joanna and Sheila leading. Such generous sharing of so many different faith experiences. In between the presentations, the fabulous food, the small group discussions, we made music. There is no way to describe the experience of singing hymns after learning to make a drum circle, so I will just let you see it for yourself. That's my Charlotte at the keyboard.
Every gathering needs music and food.
Then on Sunday morning in my ward I taught the Relief Society lesson, and was overwhelmed again with the generous way sisters there shared their experiences of faith and love for each other.
One of the discussions at the retreat was about what we saw as the greatest concern for Mormon women worldwide. I think it is learning to see that we are all connected, no matter where or when we live, what our culture, religion, gender or country, we are all a part of each other through a God who knows and loves all, that we are loved and accepted more than we can comprehend. It would be a good foundation for making a difference in the world.
Thank you, dear sisters, for making a difference this weekend.
We are given and give much, our foundation is firm, and the gifts of grace are amazing.