Wednesday, October 21, 2009

All Saints’ Day and an LDS Context

On November 1, some Christian faiths celebrate All Saints’ Day. Although we don’t officially recognize this holiday in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are some traditions of this day that we have inherited and can have meaning for us.

All Saints’ Day is also called “All Hallows” or “Hallowmas.” Thus, Halloween, or “All Hallows Eve,” is the day before All Saints’ Day, or October 31. According to tradition, November 1st is the time to celebrate the lives of the martyrs. Traditionally, this holiday is directly followed by “All Souls’ Day” on November 2, also called “The Day of the Deceased” or “The Day of the Dead,” although some cultures have blended All Saints’ and All Souls into one day. The context of these dates gives Halloween traditions a little more relevance. For example, Halloween obsessions with death make more sense when the next two days are supposed to be holidays about the dead.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don’t have canonized Saints, but we do believe that we are all saints in the kingdom of God. This is why the tradition All Saints’ Day festival hymn, “For All the Saints,” is also included in our LDS hymnbook.

“For All the Saints” was written by Anglican Bishop William Walsham How and published in 1864. When we sing this hymn in our congregations, we think of “All Souls” as “All Saints”; we think of the “saints” in this hymn as the many beloved people we have known and loved who have departed from this life and are now at rest.

Below are the lyrics of “For All the Saints,” as included in our hymnbook:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

Oh, may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the Saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

Thou art our rock, our fortress, and our might;
Thou, Lord, our captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, our one true light.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

This wonderful hymn expresses faith in Jesus Christ as “our rock, our fortress, and our might” and as our captain. As November begins, as the holiday season approaches, the words of this All Saints’ Day hymn can lend us strength, faith, and courage, even though during the next few months may be when we miss deceased loved ones most.

Among several other additional verses, Bishop How originally had these two beautiful additional verses appear between the two final verses in our hymn:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

In this season, we can remember all the saints, all our loved ones who have passed from this life. As Bishop How’s hymn says, “Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed. . . . But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day.” On this All Saints’ Day, we can remember the hope of that glorious day and the faith we can have in Jesus Christ which comforts all our pain and enlivens all our hope.

Monday, March 23, 2009

On the Marked Trail

Twenty-five miles east of the city of Seattle, Washington cascades 270-foot high Snoqualmie Falls. The force of the water crashing onto the rock gorge and river below the falls sends up a fine mist of water that, when caught on a soft breeze, lingers over three hundred feet above the river.

Several years ago my husband and I took a day trip to the falls. Driving up and down the rolling hills of Snoqualmie city, flanked to the right by mountains of rich evergreen forest, I remembered why people decide to settle in Washington. Views like that make all the rain worth all the green.

When we reached the Snoqualmie Falls Park, it was a fickle jacket sort of day—sometimes you wanted your jacket and sometimes you didn’t. The signs from the parking lot pointed us to the observation deck, what we later learned was the upper observation deck. We were amazed at the spray that drifted so far up and at the height of the falls. Far below, we could see people tramping among the rocks next to the river below. We knew there must be some way to get down and see the fall from the bottom instead of the top. We followed several pathways and signs and found ourselves on a trail that promised to lead us to the lower observation deck in half a mile.

Just a few steps onto the trail brought us deep into a gorgeous forest. Everything was dense with green on many levels—from tall, majestic trees to bushy clumps of fern and stray, simple wildflowers on the edge of the trail. It was Saturday, and the park was slightly crowded. We saw so many families of all ages—couples with infants strapped to their fronts, young children holding a parent’s hand, several teenagers slouching after their over-enthusiastic parents, and grandparents slowly making the climb up and down at their own pace.

In addition to the beauty of nature and the interesting people we passed on the way, the signs and signals of the trail also riveted my attention during our hike. The trail that took us down to the river was steep and winding. In quite a few places, usually at a bend in the path, the park officials had bolted a large log in the way of a misleading clearing. The logs blocked the path of shortcuts that cut too close to dangerous cliffs and hillsides. The most dangerous off-shoots of the path were marked with fences and signs, but the milder ones were only blocked by logs that suggested the true trail. Compared to the number of people we saw on the trail, few took the discouraged routes, but I was surprised that not everyone chose to stay on the designated path.

At the bottom of the trail we found the river. To get to the lower observation deck, however, we had to follow a chicken-wire tunneled boardwalk that led us around the backside of the lower power plant. This way was narrow but relatively straight. After we passed the power plant, the wire tunnel ended. On the next part of the path, a large sign had been duplicated and reposted every dozen feet or so. The sign warned us not to leave the fenced boardwalk path because the hazardous river could rise suddenly at any time.

Two or three minutes further down the path brought us to the lower observation deck, but the observation deck itself was a disappointment. We were still much farther away from the waterfall than all the people we had seen rambling among the river rocks, and the observation deck was much too small to accommodate all the people that were there at the same time that we were. As we squished and jostled on the deck just to strain a view of the waterfall at all, I realized why the signs had been so adamant. There were swarms of people that had forgotten its warning; they meandered all along the river and much closer to the falls than the observation deck’s confines allowed. There was even a man fishing in the middle of the river, quite close to the falls. Part of me wanted to join in, to hop the carefully placed wooden fences and freely roam the river’s edge as close to the waterfall as I dared. But, instead, my husband and I grimaced at each other and squeezed ourselves back onto the boardwalk trail to return to upper level of the park.

On the way back, the tedious signs weren’t facing us anymore, and for many people that were coming towards us the signs were as good as backwards for what little they would heed them. I knew that it was very unlikely that the river on that certain Saturday would catastrophically rise and wash all the daring people that had broken the rules away, but the “what if” kept me from joining them.

The trail back to the upper part of the park felt steeper on the way up. I couldn’t believe one dad who was pushing a stroller, with a child inside nonetheless, up the steep grade. I shouldn’t have been surprised when even more people veered onto shortcut trails on the way back up than had on the way down. I figured that for many of them they had already broken rules once by playing along the river, so why not do it again? But I couldn’t. Again, what if there was a rock slide, or I got lost, or I destroyed an important natural habitat?

Maybe our day trip would have been more exciting if we had taken a short cut. Maybe we would have felt the rush of danger, the excitement of breaking the roles, but somehow, even though the story of the day doesn’t seem that exciting, I don’t regret staying on the marked path.

All my life I’ve stayed to the marked path. Sure, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but nothing very daring. Sometimes I wonder if my life’s been boring because I’ve kept to well laid trails. Wouldn’t it have been more thrilling to take a short cut? But then I remember the trails at Snoqualmie Falls: Sure, by taking a short cut we might have had a thrilling, dangerous experience, but most likely we would have just gotten muddier. I’d rather save my nerve for the often rugged steepness of the safe road than squander my daring on the unneeded frivolous danger of a roguish thrill.

When I think back on the shortcuts at Snoqualmie Falls, I remember that I didn’t need the excitement of danger to improve the experience. The fantastic views of the falls from a safe location were enough for me. Unmarked trails aren’t don’t have a monopoly on significant memories and unforgettable journeys. Although it was the what-ifs that always seem to hold me back from unmarked trails, following the marked trail eliminates the haunting what-ifs, which also means no regrets.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Service in the Snow

It was snowing heavily, and I was very late. I hurried from the stake center foyer out into the flurry, turned on my car, and shivered as I brushed the snow off the windshield only a little more quickly than the snow piled back on. After clearing off my car as much as I could, I jumped back in and turned up the heater. As I reached out my hand to shift into drive, I felt an impression to go back outside and brush the snow off the car next to me.

I hesitated. The Saturday enrichment activity had started late because of the snow, so I was nearly an hour behind the time I said I would be home. My family had other plans for that day, and I was already really late. But, the Spirit said to my heart, cleaning the snow off the car next to me would only take five minutes, which wouldn’t make that much of a difference to my plans. I yielded.

I didn’t know whose car it was or who I was helping as I brushed the snow off the car next to me. I comforted myself with the fact that the inside of my care would be all the warmer when I finished and went back inside my own vehicle. As I scraped away the snow from the other car, I mused about how great the service I was giving could be. Maybe if I scraped one sister’s car, she would clear the snow from the car next to her, and soon there’s be this great, big, wonderful chain of service in our ward Relief Society that morning, all started by me.

When I finished clearing the snow I probably had more snow stuck to my coat than there was snow left on the other car, but my car had heated up nicely on the inside. I pulled out of my parking spot cheering by my visionary service domino effect. But just as I was leaving the parking lot, I saw a sister with a stroller hurry out of the building and unlock the car that had been next to me.

Suddenly I was so grateful, and very humbled, that I had followed the prompting to clear the snow off of this sister’s car. I didn’t know her very well, but I knew she was a new mother and hadn’t seemed as cheerful as usual that day. With an infant to care for, I knew that traveling in the snow, and just getting in and out of the car in any weather, was much more difficult for this sister than it was for me.

I’m sure the young mother didn’t scrape the car next to her, so the wonderful snow service chain I had envisioned, with me as the secret star, didn’t come about at all, but I didn’t care. Instead of gratifying my pride, doing service that snowy morning taught me a new lesson about the worth of souls. Heavenly Father didn’t need a service chain started in our Relief Society; he needed me to show love to one sister who needed some extra help. He knew this sister’s concerns, just as he answers my prayers in so many ways. I drove home, not thinking about my tardy to-do list, but of the multitude of His tender mercies all around me.