From a More Exalted Sphere

Dear Will:

I think I may have mentioned that I spend a pretty good chunk of my time hanging out with a two-year-old (that would be Seth, our youngest).  Every day, it seems, he finds a new way to charm and delight us.  Partly that’s due to the fact that we are his unabashedly subjective parents.  Partly that’s due to the age, that brief period of life in which a everything a child does seems to sparkle.  But much of what delights us about him is innate—divine, even—the sort of thing we would love to take credit for but cannot possibly.

Each of us has within us a spark of divinity, and that spark seems to burn brightest when we are still but a short time removed from “that God which is our home.”  Wordsworth’s familiar verse comes immediately to mind:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
That soul that rises with us, our life’s Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting:
And cometh from afar
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

(From: “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”)

That well-loved poem speaks of “Intimations of Immortality,” those ineffable, deep-down hints of our divine heritage.  Although Heaven may indeed lie “all about us in our infancy,” I believe that even as we age we retain within us clues of whence we came.  Another poet put it this way:

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet oft-times a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

(From: “O My Father,” by Eliza R. Snow)

All of which brings to mind the words of my own mother, who never failed to send us out to play with a mandate that echoes in my mind to this day: “Remember who you are.”  Which I offer now as my simple message to you.


That They Shall Not Have Died in Vain

Dear Will:

It’s Memorial Day weekend, but it hasn’t felt much like a holiday around here.  We recently installed some cabinets in our garage, which meant that first I had to spend several evenings culling through our “stuff” and piling everything that was worth keeping into a heap in the middle of the garage.  It then took me two full days to assign the various heap units to their new homes.  The garage looks great (it won’t last, I know; but for a few days we’re indulging the fantasy).  Still, I can’t wait to get back to the office so that I can relax.

As I pulled out my flag to commemorate the holiday, I found myself thinking about patriots.  The great patriots of the world have demonstrated a clear sense that the collective is more important than the individual.  They understood that in the fight to establish or preserve freedom for a nation, the focus cannot be on “me” or “mine,” but rather has to be on “us” and “ours.” Consider the words of Moroni, the great Book of Mormon patriot, which he hastily scrawled but carefully chose as he placed them on the Title of Liberty.  “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children,” it read (Alma 46:12).  That banner became a rallying point for a nation, its message a rallying cry for a people.  It reminded the Nephites that they had something worth fighting for.

Moroni’s selfless leadership also reflected an understanding that in order to achieve great things it would be necessary to give up, or at least place at risk, some good things.  That’s why often, when we speak of glorious patriots, we also speak of tragic death.  Because, as Emerson said, they “[dared] to die, and leave their children free.” A couple of years ago, my wife Dana and I enjoyed one of the most moving Sabbaths of our lives.  After attending church in downtown Washington D.C., we set out for an afternoon of quiet reflection at the various memorials in and around the capital, each one paying homage to patriots, both famous and obscure.  We watched visitors take rubbings from that great wall of the Vietnam Memorial.  We were moved by the drama of the Korean War Memorial.  But nothing was so moving as our trek through Arlington National Cemetery, with its rows upon rows of nondescript gravestones, each paying tribute to a life given up for country.  We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched reverently as the honor guard marched 21 steps up, 21 steps back, 21 steps up, 21 steps back—each step honoring the many unnamed men and women who have died defending our country.

Patriots such as these have knowingly faced the ironic truth that in order to preserve our lives and families, we may have to temporarily or permanently forsake them.  It’s a truth that Jesus himself taught.  “For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it,” He said, “and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it”  (Matthew 16:25).  Jesus also said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  It’s what Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”  It is the ultimate sacrifice, an act of selflessness that cannot be matched: sacrifice made often in the face of staggering odds; selflessness that defies reason.

What of us then?  Perhaps as we reflect on the great lives and deaths of patriots, we can once again find inspiration in the words of Lincoln, pronounced just months after the bloody battle at Gettysburg: “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say. . . , but it can never forget what they did. . . .  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated . . . to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we . . . highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain. . . .”


Have Mercy on Me Too

Dear Will:

Today I turned on the air conditioner for the first time this year.  I admit that I felt a bit of trepidation as I reached for the switch, in part because a technician informed us last summer that the thing could die on us any minute, and in part because it reminded me of power shortages and rising rates.  My guess is it’s going to be a long sweaty summer.  So I don’t know about you, but I’m eager for the clouds to roll in and stay awhile.  I know: wishful thinking.

I’ve been looking forward to writing to you so that I could share with you something that moved me profoundly.  On Easter Sunday, my wife Dana had the daunting challenge of delivering the main message at our ward’s Easter service.  In spite of my obvious bias, I think I can state with some objectivity that hers was a truly extraordinary discourse, delivered with great insight and spiritual force.  So many people commented on it afterwards that I thought I would share some of it with you.

Here’s one short passage that is a sermon all by itself:

The day must have begun much like any other for blind Bartimaeus.  He probably arrived early at the main gate of Jericho, tapping his way along the familiar turns to get to the highway before the merchants, the donkeys, camels, women carrying pitchers of water on their heads.  There he would spend the day begging for bread, relying on the mercy of strangers to survive.  But on that day Bartimaeus heard the hubbub of a great multitude approaching, and he heard the news being passed along—“Jesus of Nazareth is coming.  The Messiah is here among us.” Bartimaeus, blind from birth, afraid of being trampled by the crowd, had only his ears and voice to find his Lord.  “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Repeatedly the people told him to be quiet.  But he only cried louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Bartimaeus was profoundly aware of the perpetual darkness in which he lived.  Unlike many who are lost in spiritual darkness, he knew the Savior was his only hope, and so he cried out again and again, until Jesus, hearing his cry, called Bartimaeus to come to him.

In 1981, the Los Angeles Times reported on a woman named Anna Mae Pennica, 62 years old, blind from birth.  A doctor from the Jules Stein Institute in Los Angeles performed surgery on Mrs. Pennica and removed the rare congenital cataracts from the lens of her left eye — and she saw for the first time ever.

The newspaper account tells us that since that day, Mrs. Pennica can hardly wait to get up every morning, put on her glasses, and enjoy the changing morning light.  Think how wonderful it must have been for Anna Mae Pennica when she looked for the first time at faces she had only felt, or when she saw the colors of the Pacific sunset, or a tree waving its branches, or a bird in flight.  The miracle of seeing for the first time after a lifetime of darkness can hardly be described. . . .

The first sight that Bartimaeus’s eyes fell upon was the face of Jesus—His eyes, His compassionate all-seeing eyes.  Can you imagine that? What would you do for that sight?  There is not one of us who does not need to cry out to the Savior, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Do you sometimes find it hard to see in the dark?  Do you feel the need to have your sight restored from time to time?  Do you, like Bartimaeus, cry out for the Lord’s mercy?  Is there a miracle of the heart for you in this story?

I hope there’s something in that simple tale for you as there was for me.