Wednesday, June 30, 2010 6 comments

25 things I’ve learned about playing the organ

Margot at Mormon Mommy Blogs had a great post titled “Confessions of a Ward Organist,” which I totally loved, since that is also one of my callings. So, I’ve decided to expand on her post with my own list.

25 things I’ve learned about playing the organ in church

1. I’ve learned that when sitting at the organ, I have to be careful how I unfold my arms after the prayers.

2. I can only handle so many sudden fly-away pages or minute adjustments to paperweighting hymnals. A personal hymnbook with a spiral binding is the only way to go.

3. Setting the volume pedal takes practice to get it right, so my embarrassment quotient has decreased for hearing “Onward Christian Soldiers” tiptoe like a ballerina and then stomp through the floor with a devastating blitzkrieg before I can arrive at a suitable volume level.

4. Marking the introduction brackets in my hymnbook with highlighter prevents frantic searches for the intro's second half. Most of the time. It also prevents awkward pauses when jumping between introduction sections. Mmmmmost of the time.

5. Introductions can be the roughest part of the hymn with the most missed notes. The last verse is the most smooth. (Yes, I DO practice. Before church.)

6. It’s wise to keep “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “Oh Savior Thou Who Wearest a Crown” in perpetual practice because one week’s practice is usually not enough for such active pedal parts.

7. I’ve learned that congregations love hymns to be played fast, particularly when it is all seven verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man” or all four verses (which really are the equivalent of eight verses) of “I Believe in Christ.” It’s helpful to learn to play all hymns at least 25% faster than they are rated in the hymnbook.

8. I’ve learned I’d better start “A Poor Wayfaring Man” and “I Believe in Christ” at a pretty good clip because inevitably… it slows down during the last few verses.

9. “The Time is Far Spent” played 200% faster would make a great song for a cartoon.

10. Having a knob that automatically transposes everything up a half-step is TOTALLY AWESOME. Its location on the extreme outside edge of the organ console beyond convenient reach is TOTALLY OBNOXIOUS. Epic design fail, if you ask me.

11. Choir hymn arrangements provide some of the best ideas for neat alternate chord progressions.

12. I’ve learned I can write alternate chord progressions right into my hymnbook, and then when I use them, everyone thinks I’m improvising beautifully. (Shhhh! Don’t tell my ward members about this!)

But..

13. The stake music chairman is not in favor of (and does not sustain) my use of alternate chord progressions during congregational singing, even if I am playing “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

14. I’ve learned that I don’t read ward chorister’s lips very well when they are trying to communicate what verses they’ve decided to stop at.

15. Similarly, I don’t read the bishop’s lips very well when he is trying to communicate spontaneous hymn changes in the program. (Thankfully, in my current ward, the organ is positioned right behind the bishopric.)

16. I’ve learned that I love 32 foot bass stops.

17. I’ve discovered that some old people will complain to the bishop about the bass levels if their internal organs vibrate too much from the 32 foot bass stop. (“I caused someone heart palpitations?! Get OUT!!”)

18. I’ve learned that my husband and I really love the bell stop, which sounds like the chapel has suddenly experienced a divine visitation by a massive angelic bell tower.

19. I’ve also learned that the bishop only thinks the bell stop is appropriate for “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “Ring Out, Wild Bells.”

20. When I’m trying to learn something new about playing the organ, such as setting the stops manually instead of with pre-sets, the skills I consider already cemented tend to fly out the window in unexpected ways.

21. I’ve also learned that if I make a terrible mistake in setting stops manually, if I then take my hands from the keyboard in dramatically visible shock and then press an appropriate pre-set button, the congregation thinks the mistake was the organ’s fault instead of mine. (Shhhh! Don’t tell my ward!)

22. After playing a hymn, I must immediately set the stops for the next hymn, especially if the next hymn is the sacrament hymn. (Yeah, those trumpets don't work very well with "There is a Green Hill Far Away.")

23. I should never EVER change stops in between verses unless I’m absolutely sure I know what sound is going to result. (I learned this when an impulsive change suddenly made the tenor and bass parts twice as loud as the soprano and alto parts..)

24. I’m still unconvinced that organ shoes are necessary, but I‘ve learned that my feet slide better over the pedals when my nylons don’t have major holes in the toes.

25. And finally, I’ve learned that the Holy Ghost can teach me how improve my organ playing with line-upon-line impressions and ideas of things to try during diligent practice. (I didn’t have to learn everything through painful mistakes.)
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 1 comments

Water to Wine: an Object Lesson about Repentance and Obedient Service

Consider the symbolic nature of how Christ performed this miracle.
1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, [what wilt thou have me to do for thee? that will I do; for] mine hour is not yet come.
5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. (John 2:1-11, JST bracketed)
When I was reading this today with my husband, the bit about how the waterpots were used by the Jews for purifying struck me. I remembered how the law of Moses had so much about washing things in order to mark the transition from ritual uncleanness to cleanliness. With so much concern about the difference between the clean and unclean, a careful observing Israelite would have to have a lot of water handy all the time to take care of those little slips into uncleanness. So large storage waterpots were necessary.

I had a feeling that Jesus was even here trying to teach something through this miracle, which would explain His use of those waterpots. So I tried to imagine some kind of modern equivalent. Imagine there is a wedding reception going on in the cultural hall and the punch runs out. Jesus’s miracle might be something like making more punch out of water from a filled baptismal font. If we see it this way, we can understand the message He wanted to send. Since wine is often associated with joy and gladness in the scriptures, Jesus may have been trying to teach that the best happiness and joy come from purification (repentance). To the servants who saw the governor of the feast drink what they had seen was only recently water used for purification purposes, He may also have been trying to show the necessity for inward purification more than outward cleanliness.

Another thing I though of: the first round of wine could have been symbolic of the law of Moses. It was adequate, but those who had tasted it didn’t know it wasn’t that great until they were given something better—the new covenant, something completely transformed and transcendant. It is also interesting that the governor of the feast was practically blaming the bridegroom for holding back on them. (Do we blame the bridegroom-Christ for holding back on us? How ready are we?)

Yet another way of looking at this story is from the perspective of the servants.

Mary tells the servants, “Whatever [Jesus] tells you to do, do it.” This is a great reminder for everyone who serves the Lord. Obedience is the first law of heaven.

Jesus has the servants fill the waterpots to the brim. This could be compared to how we must fill ourselves with the living water. Then Jesus tells the servants to draw out some of that water and take it to the governor of the feast. This could be compared to how teachers take their lessons to their classes.

It is interesting that this story NEVER says exactly when the water actually became wine. (We may never know unless there is some revelation about it.) Consider what the servants may have been thinking if Jesus had asked them to carry what looks like jars of water to the governor of the feast. They may have thought, But it’s just water! This isn’t what they want! This is a great teaching moment for the disciples to see that what they draw of the living water and bring to the people ends up being better than what the people thought they were going to get and far better than what the servants may have thought it was going to be. This shows those of us who are preparing talks and lessons that though we may feel like what we’re bringing is inadequate, the power of God can transform it into exactly what is needed, exceeding all expectations.

Here’s something else that occurred to me as I was considering how the servants may have felt about taking what looked like water to the governor of the feast. Because the scriptures never actually say when the transformation occurred, perhaps the water wasn’t transformed into red wine. Perhaps it changed into white wine, which looks clear-to-light-yellowish. (I looked up “white wine” on Google Images, and that’s what the pictures show—clear-to-light-yellow, which may have been the same color as their water..) If so, then the only way to know it was wine was to taste it (or smell it?) This suggest to us that the only way we may know whether a lesson is good or not is to taste it by hearing it. “Doth not the ear try words? And the mouth taste his meat?” (Job 12:11)

In summary, through this miracle, Jesus taught the joy that comes from repentance. It also shows us how the power of God can change our weak efforts as servants into something that exceeds all expectation.
Monday, June 21, 2010 1 comments

Alma 19: Spiritual gifts manifested in Lamanite conversion

I found some interesting things in the scriptures recently that I hadn’t noticed before. One was in the story of Ammon teaching the Lamanites. I noticed that when the Lamanites woke up from their Spirit-induced sleep, they immediately manifested spiritual gifts.

When Lamoni wakes up the first time, he says to his wife the queen, “Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.” And then he tells her he has seen his Redeemer (the gift of visions) and he prophesies of the redemption of Christ (prophecy). Further, I looked at that statement “Blessed art thou” directed at his wife and I didn’t see how that had anything to do with anything he said afterward. It was puzzling to me, but then this time I realized that he was demonstrating the spiritual gift of discernment, echoing something Ammon had said to her earlier about her blessed state because she believed more than any of the Nephites. Lamoni could not have known his wife’s blessed believing state unless it had been revealed to him through spiritual gifts.

I further have to point out that Lamoni’s wife seems to have demonstrated the spiritual gift of believing the testimony of others. She believed what her servants said about Ammon being “a prophet of a holy God” and she believed Ammon when he said that Lamoni would wake up after another day. Then, it is no surprise that when Lamoni did wake up and then bore powerful testimony to the redemption of Christ on conditions of belief, she believed what her husband said and thus was overpowered by the Spirit.

When Lamoni’s wife awoke from sleeping in God, it says that she “arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people! And when she said this, she clasped her hands, being filled with joy, speaking many words which were not understood” (Alma 19:29-30) and then raised King Lamoni up. (I can only conclude that she had a conversion experience similar to Alma the Younger’s.) But I wondered about those words she spoke which were not understood. I struck me just recently that she had to have been speaking in tongues.

Perhaps we could argue that she merely spoke things about the gospel that were not understood because of the spiritual ignorance of her people at that point. Or perhaps we could say that she was slipping back into a more native language and she was an immigrant of some sort.. but those explanations do not fit the intensity of the faith manifested in this story, and we all know that miracles happen in proportion to our faith. A manifestation of the gift of tongues is in perfect harmony with the spiritual climate of this story at this point and in perfect proportion to the faith she manifested.

When Lamoni’s servants awoke, they declared the change they had experienced in their hearts, that they had no more desire to do evil. They also “did declare unto the people that they had seen angels and had conversed with them; and thus they had told them things of God, and of his righteousness.” (Alma 19:34) The servants evidently had gifts of visions.. and angelic visions at that.

In thinking about these wonderful spiritual gifts that Lamoni, Lamoni’s wife, and their servants received in their conversion, I can see that those gifts were the fruits of their desires for the truth, their open-hearted acceptance of what they were told, and their immediate efforts to lay hold on salvation. Their enthusiasm was palpable. I look at my own life and I see that far too often I have held back, I have made only tentative efforts, my heart has been only half-open. Their example has reminded me of the commandment to love the Lord with all my heart, might, mind, and strength. It has shown me that to reap the full spiritual blessings of obeying the commandments, I need to give it my best, strongest efforts and my fullest zeal.
Sunday, June 20, 2010 3 comments

Examples of Good Fatherhood in the Book of Mormon

Today in sacrament meeting one of the speakers said they were asked to talk about lessons they learned from the scriptures. Since it’s Father’s Day, I started to thinking about what lessons and what good examples the Book of Mormon contained of righteous fathers.

Lehi taught all his sons (surely not just Nephi) somewhat in all his learning--in the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. He shared his dream about the tree of life because he was concerned about the spiritual status and future of his sons Laman and Lemuel. He also gave blessings to all his sons before he died.

King Benjamin taught his sons in all the language of his fathers to help them become men of understanding so that they could appreciate the scriptures and understand the mysteries of God.

Alma the Elder prayed with much faith for his rebellious son Alma to be brought to a knowledge of the truth. (This must have been after all he could do to teach him the truth.)

King Mosiah allowed his sons to go on a dangerous mission to preach to the Lamanites. He taught his sons to work so they did not burden the people. This gave Ammon valuable shepherding skills that he used to serve others in his missionary work.

Alma the Younger took his sons with him in his ministry and gave them responsibilities to teach the gospel. He gave all his sons charges according to their spiritual needs, each of which were quite different. He shared his conversion story and bore testimony that he had been supported by trusting in God. He shared words of wisdom. He reprimanded his son Corianton for sin, explained why it was wrong, and admonished him to repent. He also answered Corianton’s questions about the gospel to make sure he understood.

Helaman gave his sons Nephi and Lehi names to try to inspire them to do as their righteous ancestors had done. Undoubtedly he also rehearsed to them the stories of Lehi and Nephi and their lives of faith.

Mormon wrote letters to his son Moroni to share revelation he had received about issues Moroni was dealing with.

When you look at what things these fathers did, they were pretty simple:
  • Gave their children good names to remind them to do good.
  • Teaching language, understanding, the gospel of Christ, mysteries of godliness.
  • Telling stories of ancestors, telling their conversion stories.
  • Answering questions, reprimanding, writing letters of instruction.
  • Teaching their children to work.
  • Teaching their children skills.
  • Giving their children teaching responsibilities.
  • Allowing their children to do difficult things.
  • Praying for their children.
  • Blessing their children.
When I look at that list, I see that my father has been a good father; he’s done everything for me that I just listed that the Book of Mormon fathers did.

What effect did these fathers have?

Nephi prayed and pondered on the words Lehi spoke about his dream and obtained a personal witness and angelic visitation and vision about that dream.

Enos’s soul hungered and he sought forgiveness for his sins because he remembered the words his father Jacob had often spoken about the plan of salvation and the joy of the saints.

King Mosiah recognized the mysteries of godliness he read from the account of Ether which he translated and he began to understand the dangers of kingship, so he worked to set up a system of judges instead.

Alma the Younger was able to ask for forgiveness of his many sins because he remembered the words his father had taught about Jesus Christ and His redeeming power.

Mosiah’s four sons gave up any claim to the kingdom and preached to the Lamanites, converting many to the gospel.

The stripling warriors cared so much about the freedom of their fathers that they were willing to take an oath to fight in all cases to protect them.

Moroni worked hard to engrave into the Book of Mormon several letters his father Mormon had sent him, which he evidently treasured. He also continued his father’s work on the Book of Mormon by abridging the Book of Ether, which Mormon hadn’t been able to complete before he was killed.

One of the effects my father has had one me is to build my appreciation of the scriptures. Because he was willing to share his thoughts about the scriptures, I have followed his example, and this blog is a product of that. Happy Father’s Day!
Friday, June 18, 2010 2 comments

The function of the gold limnah and the silver onti in the Nephite currency system

The Nephite system of currency was a binary system. This is manifested by how the values of each coin or measurement were twice the value of a lower denomination or half the value of the upper denomination. The advantage of a binary system is that it becomes easy to do mathematical functions on the numbers. Adding in particular becomes easy.

One odd part of the currency system is the gold limnah and the silver onti, whose value is reckoned as the value of “them all.”
Limnah = senine + seon + shum
Onti = senum + amnor + ezrom

In an intangible binary system, there is no need for a denomination that specifically represents a cumulative value of all the lesser ones. However, when the denominations stand for something heavy and tangible like silver or gold, there is an advantage of convenience in being able to exchange a large amount of metal for a small amount of metal. This makes it easier to carry large sums.

But this is not the whole reason for the gold limnah and the silver onti. The main reason lies in accounting and carrying numbers. Again, adding two binary numbers is pretty easy. (Below, I have used the silver denominations in my examples.)



What if you have to add lots of binary numbers? (People who collected taxes or fees or tribute would have to do this.) The larger the sums, the more likely you will have carry bits that slosh outside the range of your reckoning.







The function of the silver onti (and the gold limnah) were to flush the higher reckoning columns of digits so that no sneaky carry bit would escape their system. First they would bleed the higher denomination columns of bits (represented by the blue numbers). When they could no longer make ontis, they knew they could start adding.











In summary, the denomination of the gold limnah and silver onti were designed to cope with the inevitable carry bits that would result from adding together large sums.
Thursday, June 10, 2010 8 comments

Symbolism in Revelation: the Mark of the Beast and the Locusts of War

The Mark of the Beast

I suppose everyone has to take his or her turn trying to interpret the imagery of Revelation, particularly the mark of the beast.  People like to point to RFID chips and implantable chips as examples of the mark of the beast.  I think there is a much simpler way to read it.
16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
  17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)
I think body-part symbolism is being used here.
  • Hands = work  (Hands are used for manual labor)
  • Forehead = thoughts
When people receive the mark of the beast, I think it means the way they work and the way they think has been corrupted, so that in everything they do or think, it is obvious (as if they were marked) that they are motivated by unrighteous desires.  When too many people do business using unrighteous methods, it becomes very difficult to do business any other way.  The ones with the money say, “It’s my way or the highway.”   Those who don’t want to be corrupted are automatically marginalized. 

The Locusts of War from Revelations 9:1-10

Now we’re going to go to a completely different chapter and look at some verses that usually have stumped people.  Many people like to try to match the strange imagery up with modern methods of warfare, but I’m going try to try to stick with simple spiritual symbols that teach spiritual truths.
1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
a star fall from heaven = Satan fell from heaven
key of the bottomless pit = authority to command all hell
  2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
smoke from the bottomless pit = temptations  (Think of the mists of darkness from Lehi’s dream)
smoke darkening the sun and the air = obscuring the source of light (the Lord), making it feel like a dark, stormy world
  3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Locusts = devouring and destroying multitudes (armies/mobs/crowds/ organizations/groups) that seem unstoppable in the aggregate because of their numbers
locusts from the smoke = devouring and destroying multitudes formed because of great temptations 
given power as scorpions have power = power to sting (persecute, torment)
4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
 locusts commanded to not hurt the grass, any green things, trees… If we wanted to find a literal interpretation, we might say that these multitudes are ultra-worried about preserving the environment.  But this doesn’t have spiritual universality, so I reject this interpretation.   A spiritual interpretation is that these multitudes do not hurt those sealed in their foreheads (those who are spiritually alive like a green tree or green grass).

Interesting that ordinary locusts go straight for the green things.  These locusts specifically avoid green things.  (They only hurt those who aren’t sealed in their foreheads.  They go for the spiritually dead.)  (This nugget suggested by http://bible.org/seriespage/all-hell-breaks-loose-revelation-91-21)
  5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
locusts with scorpion power = multitudes that sting (persecute and torment)
locusts not permitted to kill, only sting = multitudes not permitted to kill, only persecute
  6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
  7 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
locusts shaped like horses prepared to battle = fierce multitudes prepared to fight.  They work through horses, meaning things that serve them by increasing their abilities.
crowns = ruling powers
head= thoughts
locusts with crowns like gold on their head = multitudes that think they have power over everything, think they are the best (pride)
locusts with the faces of men = multitudes led by individual leaders
  8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
faces of men with hair like women =  shame  (“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14))  (This is the best I can do for now.  Your suggestions are welcome.)
Teeth like lions = very violent way of talking, very mean
  9 And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.
Breastplates like iron = very hardhearted
Sound = rumors or warnings
Wings = power.  Lots of times in the scriptures, wings are used to suggest heavenly powers.  (“And the sound of the cherubims’ wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh.” (Ezekiel 10:5) “I will bear him up as on eagles’ wings” (D&C 124:18)  Yet in this case, I think the wings are not necessarily representative of heavenly powers.  Think hellish powers instead.
Sound of wings = rumors of power 
Sound of wings like sound of chariots of many horses running to battle = they make everyone think that they are very powerful and about to come and completely destroy them with superior force and technology
  10 And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months. (Revelation 9:1-10)
Tails = followers.  (Just like a tail follows an animal, people follow a leader)
Tails like scorpions = followers that sting (persecute) and poison? (embitter against the truth)
Stinging tails with power to hurt men five months = persecution that hurts for a long time and takes a while to heal from

Now lets go on to another section of the same chapter..  Revelations 9:17-19
17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
Horses = a domesticated animal/tool that can be useful for service in peace or in war.  They magnify a man’s speed, power, and height.   In this scripture horses have been trained for war.
Breastplates = the condition of their hearts.  Their hearts are guarded by a thick shell.
Breastplates of fire = angry (and destructive) hearts
Jacinth = a red-orange gem  (possibly communicating qualities of attractive sparkly-ness, but still rock hard; the color may further highlight anger)
Breastplates of jacinth = hard-hearted, angry
Brimstone = sulpher (stinky like rotten eggs)  torment (Brimstone is always paired with fire to refer to eternal torment.)
Breastplates of brimstone = tormented hearts
breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone  = angry, hard-hearted, tormented hearts
heads of the horses = ?? Hmmm.  This one threw me for a loop for a little bit.  If heads represented thoughts and horses were domesticated animals or tools, I wondered, how can tools of men think?  Then I realized that a modern equivalent could be the computer, which helps men generate ideas and solutions.   Computer programs simulate, allowing planning, designing, and other thought-oriented tasks.  Computers, like horses, augment men’s power to do things.  They can be used for peace or war. 
Lions = an animal naturally violent, fierce, predatory
Heads of horses like heads of lions = domesticated tools trained to serve for violence, ferocity, and predation
  18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
out of their mouths = words
fire = anger, persecution
smoke = temptation
brimstone = sulpher, stinky-like-rotten-eggs torment
third part of men killed by fire, smoke, brimstone = many died spiritually
19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. (Revelation 9:17-19)
Power in their mouth = power from strong words
Power in their tails = power because of how many people follow them
Tails like serpents = followers who tempt like Satan (serpent in the Garden of Eden)
Tails had heads = followers have their own evil ideas as well

Conclusion

This is the best interpretation I can give of these verses now.  I have tried to stay true to simplicity of spiritual meaning.   The large view that we get of these verses is much the same as that seen by Nephi:
  • multitudes fighting and tormenting each other because of their wickedness and susceptibility to temptation,
  • multitudes using their tools to prey on each other,
  • multitudes persecuting one another, tempting one another, and causing many to die spiritually.
The word of hope from these verses is that if we keep ourselves as green trees (spiritually alive) (sealed with name of God in our foreheads) we will stay safe.
Sunday, June 6, 2010 1 comments

Awake, O arm of the Lord!

9 Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?
10 Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? (Isaiah 51:9-10)

There is a lot going on these verses. First, we have to deal with some phrases that can confuse us.

Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab,
and wounded the dragon?

Who is this Rahab? For a long time I wondered about this until I figured out that Isaiah must have been using the name “Rahab” to remind his listeners of the story of the harlot Rahab (she’s the one that hid the Israelite spies who were on a reconnaissance mission to Jerico). But this can confuse us even more because in that story, Rahab is considered one of the good guys. The other thing we need to remember is that often in the scriptures prophets used the image of the harlot as a type to symbolize the infidelity of the covenant people to God. “Thou [O Lord] hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm” (Psalms 89:10). “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid” (1 Cor. 6: 15-16). Those who are unfaithful to God’s covenant are those who are going apostate, so as readers we should associate mentions of harlotry with apostasy from the gospel.

What is the dragon Isaiah refers to? I suspect that it is yet another way to refer to Satan. The phrase “wounding the dragon” was to remind the people of God’s promise in the Garden of Eden to put enmity between Satan and the seed of the woman. “[the seed of the woman] shall bruise [Satan’s] head” (Genesis 3:5). Wounding the dragon is an alternate way of saying that. To crush Satan’s head is a great way of symbolically saying that the thoughts/desires/temptations from Satan would be destroyed. If it is hard to see how a snake in the Garden of Eden could be equated with Isaiah’s much more fearsome term of “dragon”, we need only consider how much sin has grown in the world since Adam. Satan is no little garden snake now; his power has grown in proportion that mankind has listed to obey him. The only way we wound him is by repenting through the Atonement of Christ and by following God’s commandments.

Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep;
that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over?

Here Isaiah is making reference to the great miracle of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea to try to remind the “arm of the Lord” to put on strength and get to work.

The odd thing about these verses though, is that it seems odd for Isaiah to address these verses to the Lord. If we read it that way, it makes it seem like Isaiah trying to provoke the Lord into doing miracles like were done in days of yore.

Then I realized that there was another way to read “arm of the Lord”, and it was suggested to me by the talk Elder Uchtdorf gave in conference about how we are the Lord’s hands. It seemed to me that Isaiah was speaking specifically to priesthood holders everywhere and at every time. The priesthood is responsible for cleansing the church of apostasy (cutting off Rahab) and administering the saving ordinances that allow mankind to put off the natural man and be born again (wounding the dragon). The priesthood (specifically the bishop) is also responsible for hearing confession and guiding people through the repentance process (which also wounds the dragon). The priesthood was the power by which Moses the prophet parted the Red Sea and led Israel through on dry ground. Isaiah was calling on the priesthood to put on the strength of the Lord and reminding them of the great things that the priesthood had done in the past.

Thus, we can see these verses in several ways. For those in Isaiah’s day, his words were a call to the priesthood to be strong in their holy offices. In terms of the restoration of the gospel, Isaiah’s words can be read as a prophecy of the restoration of priesthood authority to the earth. No longer would the priesthood sleep in the dust of death; resurrected beings—Peter, James, and John—would awake and arise and ordain mortal men with this same heavenly power and authority that they had. Finally, in terms of today, it is a wake-up call to priesthood holders everywhere to awake from their apathy and stand with valor in their office with the same powers as were used anciently.
Saturday, June 5, 2010 2 comments

Blessed the peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
I was pondering this recently, wondering why peacemakers would be the children of God. A peacemaker is one who tries to reconcile two disagreeing parties and bring them into unity with each other. I realized that in a sense, a peacemaker is another type or shadow of Christ, who has worked out the At-one-ment whereby He can bring us into reconciliation with Heavenly Father. When we act as peacemakers, we do in a small way the same type of thing that Christ has done for the whole world, so that certainly makes us a child of God in deed.
Friday, June 4, 2010 0 comments

Baptism—New, Everlasting, and Ancient

Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning. (D&C 22:1, emphasis added)
I think it is very interesting that the covenant we are asked to enter is described as “new” and “everlasting” and “that which was from the beginning”. We are left wondering how those somewhat contradictory adjectives can all be true.

What is new about it? The restoration of the priesthood authority made it something special and different from everything else that had been known among men at the time. People knew about baptism, and there was a vague idea of priesthood authority (even if only Catholics believed something about that at the time), but the idea that baptism was a covenantal act was certainly new.
Another thing that could be new about it was that it would make a person a new creature as it washed away sin--“being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).

The dictionary has some definitions for “new” which are very helpful too.
  • “in original condition; not worn or used”
  • “already existing but seen, experienced, or acquired recently or now for the first time”
  • “different from a previous one”
  • “just beginning and regarded as better than what went before”
  • “superseding another or others of the same kind, and advanced in method or theory”
What was everlasting about it? It applied beyond the grave, through the eternal nature of the priesthood power that executed it. It did what it promised.
If we combine this with “new”, it implies that the newness can last forever!

How was it “that which was from the beginning”? It was done at the very beginning of the world; Adam and his believing posterity submitted to baptism.
64 And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water.
65 And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
66 And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever; (Moses 6:64-66)