(Note these posts are now being cross-posted at Beginnings New and Feast Upon the Word Blog.)
Though a week later than I’d like, here are a few notes on the first lesson in the manual.
First off, I feel like I need to repeat a concern I’ve expressed before. Why is it that we want to project our experiences/opinions onto the scriptures? In this case, the girls are asked to list qualities of earthly fathers and then to apply that to our Heavenly Father. I suppose one could say that that’s all we have to go on so it’s not a bad place to start. But it’s not all we have to go on. Might we instead look to the scriptures first to see what God is like, and then see if we can’t change our understanding of father and motherhood from that? I bring this up because I imagine there are going to be some young women with negative or strained feelings that could negatively affect the way the envision God. It’s something to be sensitive about, at any rate.
Aside from that, two scriptural passages came to mind that would make good potential resources for this lesson. The first idea is connected with the manual’s lesson outline, and the other is connected to the lesson’s associated Resource Guide suggestions.
ONE. The lesson outline seemed to stay on this side of the veil, as it were. It starts with their earthly, daily experience and uses that to draw implications about what they can’t see. It talks about what it means to have good earthly relationships, about behaving as a good daughter should, about noticing our blessings here, and what all that that implies about our Heavenly Father there.
Looking on this side of the veil, I got to thinking about Emma Smith. She is the only female in the D&C to receive her own section of revelation. It deals with her life on this earth and what God expected of her. (It is also in her section that we get the title for the new RS history Daughters in My Kingdom.) What is it that D&C 25 could teach us about being a good daughter — as God himself presents it?
I actually found it quite remarkable to read this as a father-daughter conversation. An early version of verse 1 simply read, “Emma, my daughter” which is just beautiful to me. Verse 2 sounds like something a father would tenderly say to his child, “I want to help you and keep you safe, but you have to listen to me and trust me.” Heavenly Father explains to her that if she walks in the paths of virtue, her life will be preserved. She will also receive an “inheritance” – something passed down from parents to children. I’m sure she rejoiced in knowing her sins were forgiven (verse 3) and in knowing her Father had chosen her as an “elect lady” with work to do. Verse 4 reminds her to trust her Father, even when she doesn’t yet understand His reasons. I like that verse 5 refers to Joseph Smith as “my servant, Joseph, thy husband” – to me it seems to put Joseph and Emma on the same plane, geometrically speaking. They are both God’s children, and servants, and here He is explaining how He needs them to treat each other. (I’ve had several of those sorts of conversations with my children on how to treat their siblings as well…)
Jumping around a bit now, verse 9 lovingly reassures her that “thou needest not fear.” Verse 10 advices her to “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” – that better place, which is where He is. It’s not only a request, but an invitation to enjoy the kind of life He has with Him.
What is His daughter Emma asked to do? Here’s what I saw: Hearken. Be faithful. Walk in the paths of virtue. Don’t murmur. Fulfill the office of your calling (in Emma’s case, to comfort her husband and be his scribe). Receive whatever you are ordained to do (in Emma’s case, to expound scripture, to exhort the church, to work by the Spirit, tospend her time “writing, and to learning much.”) Lay aside things of this world, seek for things of a better. Take up special assignments that are a delight to God (for Emma, it was making a hymn book). Lift up your head and rejoice! Cleave to your covenants. Be meek. Beware of pride. Let your soul rejoice (in Emma’s case, she could let her soul rejoice in her husband – maybe her fears were keeping her back?). Keep commandments continually.
And as the revelation concludes: “this is my voice unto all.” Perhaps we could all learn from Emma what God would like His daughters to be like. (I know I just did!)
TWO. The Resource Guide suggestions seemed to focus mostly on who God was and how to worship Him, and then secondarily on what it means to be His daughter (certainly a great approach , it seems to me). While browsing these suggestions I remembered the depressed and poor Zoramites telling Alma they couldn’t pray to their God. The poor Zoramites were afraid that there was something impeding their communication with God, and so their path to God seemed an impossible path. Their barrier was that they had been cast out of the synagogue by the oppressive order of the priests, too poor and ill-dressed to be admitted where God would be worshiped. Their barrier was physical, but it may have had spiritual and emotional barriers as well. Perhaps they felt like their poverty was in part their fault, that if they only worked harder and earning money then they would be worthy of worshiping God.
Obviously, they had misunderstood the character of their God and their relationship to Him. Alma and Amulek taught them that they had completely misunderstood the scriptures (or forgot to read them entirely), because they teach clearly that God can hear us anywhere. His example of Zenos not only includes fields and houses, but speficially when he was are “cast out” and “despised.” Alma went on to teach them that God reaches out to them so thoroughly that if they only “desire to believe” or have just enough faith to plant a small seed about Christ, God will bless them with growth and swelling experiences in the Spirit.
We, like the Zoramites, struggle at times to talk to our Father. We aren’t too likely to be barricaded by our priests from entering one of our chapels. But there are plenty of other (perceived) barriers that keep us from worshiping God fully. The poor Zoramites were concerned about their poverty getting in their way of worshipping God. That might actually be a real concern for some young women. Further, many struggle with feeling unworthy even when they have repented. Some women want to be perfect in all those little things we stress about before they approach God. Some worry that if they really began to open up to God, their weak selves would be on display and they don’t want to think about that side of themselves. All these (and many more!) are barriers to real, sincere, joyful communication with God.
And I imagine all of these problems could be overcome in same way Alma and Amulek did it – by looking at the stories in the scriptures that our auidence is already committed to. Alma the Younger prayed, even though he clearly wasn’t worthy (Alma 36). Or was he in that moment? What does it mean to be worthy? That might be an important tangent for a lesson sometime. What about the Lamanite king in Alma 22 who said, ” O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee.” What was it that grabbed his attention away from his sins and to God? Moroni was concerned about his weakness in writing (Ether 12) but God not only worked with him as a weak human being, but He was patient enough to explain to Moroni why it was that Moroni had nothing to be concerned about. Joseph Smith was only a poor farm boy with little education. What do we learn about prayer from him? Many, many scriptural passages are available to help us understand prayer and overcome the barriers we (and our young women) perceive between us and God.
Such are a few thoughts on this lesson. What are yours?