Thursday, January 19, 2006

Words of the Heart

My favorite part of the Joseph Smith story has always been this passage:

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act, I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know…(JS-H 1:11–12).

I love this passage because it describes an experience I have had over and over with the scriptures, and also because I hope and yearn for the generous and comprehensive God James promises, a God who gives to all, who desires us to seek Him, who does not rebuke me for my ignorance. When I take the time to approach the scriptures with an open heart, sometimes a passage I’ve heard or read many times in boredom or distraction pierces me to the very core of my being, speaking to me at a level of understanding that involves and yet exceeds both the intellectual and the emotional. I could not explain what it is about such scriptures that alters me, suddenly deepening my understanding of their words in a way that is beyond words and unmistakably summoning me to a better life.

The experience Joseph describes of being so profoundly spoken to by a scripture that he returns to it again and again, of being called to a deep and self-implicative reflection that radiates from the words into his life and calls him into a deeper communion with God is at the very heart of my experience of the gospel. I think of really reading the New Testament for the first time as a college freshman, of being newly stunned by the ethical power and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and knowing, knowing on that level beneath the mind and even the emotions, that they were divine, of knowing This is how I must live my life. I think of Abinadi rebuking the priests of King Noah because he perceives that the commandments of God “are not written in [their] hearts” (Moisah 13:11). And of the Old Testament, speaking of the law: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart” (Deuteronomy 6:9). And of Isaiah, where God addresses the people “in whose heart is my law” (Isaiah 51:7). And of Jeremiah’s experience of the word of God as an irresistible fire: “his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jeremiah 20:9). And of the promise in Ezekiel: “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19–20). And of the description in Hebrews: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God discerns me, searches me and tries me, as the Psalmist says (Psalm 139:23), and teaches me to confess and forsake my sins (Doctrine and Covenants 58:43): “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).

In the gospel of John, the chief priests and Pharisees ask the officers why they haven’t brought Jesus, and they answer, “Never man spake like this man.” (John 7:45). With them I say that although there are many writers I adore, never has anyone spoken to me as God has. Nothing calls to the very depths of my soul like the scriptures. Nothing.

Perhaps one way to view the labor of this life is, through the grace of God, to bring my body and soul to conform to His words as Christ, the perfect example and Savior, was the word made flesh (John 1:14), to write and write my stony heart into a heart of flesh that loves the ordinances of God—or, more accurately, to open my heart to God, that in His grace and generosity He may write and write upon it, that with Enos I might “declare...the truth which is in Christ all my days, and…rejoice…in it above that of the world” (Enos 1:26).

What scriptures speak most deeply to you?


Blogger annegb said...

I love your blog.

There are many scriptures that speak to me, but I had an experience with one. I think it's in Proverbs.

We fought for years about scripture study and prayer and family home evening. I have a resentment to this day of my husband for not supporting me. He was worse than the kids, although supposedly an active Mormon.

Then one day, I read this (not exact): Better a dry morsel and peace therein than a household of sacrifice with strife.

That hit me like a ton of bricks and I gave it up and gave it to God. We didn't get more spiritual, but there was more peace in our home.

Another scripture I love is, "if ye then being evil know how to give good gifts to your children..." You know the one. Then I think what I would do in a situation, and I tell myself, "God is nicer than me, He will do nice stuff."

1/19/2006 06:55:00 AM  
Blogger Seraphine said...

One of my favorite scriptures along the lines of the ones you listed: "And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart" (Jeremiah 24:7). I love Jeremiah.

Thanks for this beautiful post. I have had similar moments with the scriptures, though they are fewer than I would like (mostly due to the rareness with which I engage them with an open and engaged heart). You've given me an increased desire to change this. :)

1/19/2006 07:49:00 AM  
Blogger Lynnette said...

As you know, scripture study is something with which I've often struggled, so I appreciated your sharing your experience of how powerful it can be. Your post reminded of the description in Amos 8:11 of a famine not "of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." That language very much resonates with me. I remember one experience in particular of feeling depressed and somehow desperate for something which I couldn't quite name, wandering the aisles of a bookstore and searching and searching in hopes of somehow stumbling upon something to assuage that hunger. It really drove home for me just what it might mean to be starving for the word.

1/19/2006 10:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark IV said...

Wonderful, and well done. Thank you.

1/20/2006 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

Thanks, annegb. I hope you continue to drop by. I've long enjoyed reading your unique and immediately identifiable voice on the Bloggernacle. And I like the experiences you share. The scripture about God's goodness you mention is a powerful one for me as well. It reminds me that God, as you say, is nicer than I am.

S and Lynnette, I don't read the scriptures as much or with as engaged a heart as I would like to, either. I think it's always a temptation for my scripture reading to slide toward going through the motions. I like Jeremiah too (I love the melancholy figures of the OT in general) and the scripture Lynnette mentions in Amos about thirst for the word of God.

Thanks, Mark IV, for commenting. Good to see you here!

1/20/2006 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Ziff said...


I really like your description of being struck in a new way by a scripture you've read may times before.

Two such experiences come to mind, both involving my mission. When I was preparing to leave on my mission, I was terrified. I had never so much as lived away from home. I was reading Mormon's letter to Moroni in Moroni 8 one day and the latter half of verse 16 struck me: "I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear." Mormon's comment, which is really offhand in the context of his condemnation of infant baptism, was a great comfort to me. It offered a way of escaping fear. Certainly I never learned perfect love while serving my mission, but I thought of that passage often when I felt the terror of being in a strange place with people I didn't know would overwhelm me.

When my mission was nearing an end, I was struck by a scripture in the very next chapter, Moroni 9. I recall that I was feeling particularly discouraged that my companion and I were not finding anyone with even a glimmer of interest in hearing our teaching when I came across verse 6: "And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God." I think I found most comforting the framing of preaching the gospel as discharging a duty, whether anyone listened or not. Mormon and Moroni were clearly not among the most successful evangelists in history, but Mormon still encouraged his son to preach. His words were helpful in encouraging me to preach too, in spite of people's disinterest.

1/21/2006 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I have a difficult time with the scriptures. The pervasive "man" and male pronoun make me feel alienated. Also, the fact that every single scripture is filtered through a male voice and male experience is a real problem for me.

That said, there are a few parts of the New Testament that I really like. Anything that speaks to inclusivity and God's love and respect for all children resonates. My favorite: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."(Gal:3:28)

1/22/2006 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

Thanks for your missionary experiences, Ziff. For similar reasons I thought a lot about Abinadi on my mission. It seems quite possible he died without knowing if anyone took what he had to say seriously.

You raise an imporant issue I've long struggled with as well, Caroline, although I find myself reacting much more viscerally to specific scriptures (1 Corinthians 11:7-9, Ephesians 5:22-23, pretty much all of D&C 132) than to male bias more generally. I've come to prefer casual and unthinking exclusion to outright and unambiguous subordination. I have a parallel dynamic with general conference; I actually prefer that women not be brought up at all to the patronizing saccharine that too often surrounds any discussion of or address to women. When I think about it, I guess my view is that exclusion can relatively easily be remedied by supplement, so to speak. I've long imagined and hoped for a day when we receive other scriptures (the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, dare I hope?) that include much more about women's lives and spiritual experiences. The scripture you bring up from Galatians suggests the radical vision of a gospel taken to everyone, and I can hope for the day when that becomes more and more completely realized, when the gospel in its entirety really is for me. But I find women's theological and ritual subordination a lot harder to work around. I can only hope that someday, it will be repudiated.

1/23/2006 08:09:00 AM  

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