This week I am sharing a personal essay that I wrote and contributed to the David O. McKay Essay Contest at Brigham Young University. It received no recognition. However, it did teach me about ordinances, family, and a loving Father in Heaven. Read on.
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh. (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-21)
Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name. (Doctrine and Covenants 20:70)
I could not yet see through newborn eyes still learning to focus their blue intensity when Dad first laid hands upon my head. What I could not see without, my soul saw within, resonating to the rhythmic pulse of pumping blood, spiritual heartbeats. Born “trailing clouds of glory,” as the poet William Wordsworth penned it, this first moment in the multitude of strong priesthood hands reverberated with the echoes of such glory. The Spirit descended. I was uplifted and touched. As a pebble in a still pond, the touch sent soft ripples of light, memory, spirit. That memory of glory, at only six weeks now receding behind the veil, embedded itself not in my infant brain but within my spiritual heart, leaving behind one last resonating chord of a prayer from above-come home. Come home.
As each one of us experiences, I moved from the season of premortal preparation to a new season of mortal testing, a second estate, on November 5, 1967. How many hundreds of thousands of children were born that year? Only one at 11:27 p.m. in Mary Greeley Hospital on a cold November night in Ames, Iowa.
How many remember the echoes of glory, really the echoes of home? I do. Why? Because of those hands administering the gospel, for “in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” Blessed to be held in that circle of reaching arms, I think back now upon what their hands represent, and realize they also were praying that I might come home again. This ordinance, as is true with all gospel ordinances, was meant to re-connect me with God, and to symbolically show forth all that God holds in store for each of us-salvation, family, oneness, joy. To make the power of godliness manifest.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
So much in the doctrines and practices of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ centers in a very simple principle-connecting us to God. Certainly the prophet Alma goes to great lengths in the Book of Mormon to help us understand clearly that “spiritual death” means being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 42:9). We move from season to season in our lives, alternately drawing close to and drifting away from the Father whose entire purpose revolves around bringing us back into His presence. My attention often wanders; yet I am sure that His never does.
At age eight, my child’s faith insecure but growing, God reached down from heaven and plunged me, literally, back into the reality of my relationship with Him. Dressed in white, I remember descending the steps into the lukewarm water of the font, gripping Dad’s forearm, and then the warmth closing in and surrounding me. Caressed momentarily in God’s embrace by those waters, my father’s hand reached down and drew me forth again, cleansed, holy, newly resurrected in the similitude of an exalted being. Can one possibly forget feeling so perfect?
The baptism bathed me anew in the sense still remembered, godliness, and that full sense of connection with an Eternal Father briefly returned. The next day I felt those heavy hands, blessing and promising, and had confirmed upon my soul the possibility of perpetual re-connection through the gift of the Holy Ghost. I wonder now. Would I have remembered Him without the baptism? Would I be able to come home again without the promise?
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. (Moroni 4:3)
Clean and holy at age eight somehow doesn’t translate into clean and holy at age twelve or thirteen. Name-calling. Hitting my sister. Telling Mom I wasn’t the one who lost the keys-I really was.
Baptism usually happens only once, although at times I felt I needed it at least once a week. Of course, it is not baptism but repentance through Jesus Christ that makes the perpetual renewal of our relationship with God possible. For us to be turned to God, we must be turned to Christ.
As a young deacon, quorum assignments found me at church an hour early every Sunday, setting up chairs for sacrament meeting or preparing the sacrament trays to be used. Often I took my turn to carry the emblems of Christ throughout the congregation, here and there administering the tokens of atonement. The weekly breaking of the bread, the weekly prayer before the altar, the weekly partaking of crusts and water in remembrance of Christ cemented my understanding of the depth of this connection.
Remembering my Savior’s sacrifice, I place upon the altar this broken heart and contrite spirit, and return to God. This is learning how to come home. This is learning how it is possible.
And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. (3 Nephi 17:21)
Does God ever grow lonely for me? Does He take time to watch my basketball games? Does He hope for my sake that a particular girl will say “Yes” when I ask her to the prom? Does He also spend time as an earthly father, and not just as a Heavenly Father? Dad always tells me that he wants to be more like Heavenly Father.
Does Heavenly Father ever want to be like my Dad? Does he want to spend moments with just one of His children, watching a piano recital or brushing away a tear or throwing a football?
At seventeen I spent too much of my time daydreaming about whether the girl in the third row in choir liked me personally. But I also wondered if God liked me personally. Was a relationship with God meant to feel personal, one-on-one, intimate?
Dad used to roust me out of bed early on summer mornings and we’d leave for the hour-long drive to the Strawberry Valley, walking out across the pasture to catch the horses while the dew still lay heavy on the grass. Stuffing a bagel or an apple in a coat pocket for breakfast, we’d then ride into the high pastures looking for sick cattle and collecting the strays. I’d always jump out of the saddle for a few minutes to run along and look at the trout in Clyde Creek. All day we’d ride until by mid-afternoon the heavy riding was done and we could drift home down the narrow canyons, sweaty and tired but also filled with an utter sense of completeness. I don’t know if it’s possible for a young man to feel closer to his father than I did on many of those occasions.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1985 my Grandpa Earl, a patriarch, ushered my parents and me into his musty office and spoke to me about the meaning of a patriarchal blessings. He spoke about the role of a patriarch, in being an instrument for God to lay His hands upon me and pronounce His personal blessing. A blessing from God to me.
I listened with rapt attention as he laid his hands upon my head and the words flowed as if from the lips of God. I wonder what was said, because after finishing we discovered that the tape recorder had not been working. We struggled to reconstruct the blessing from memory, and then my grandfather said, “There is no need.” He left to pray, returned, and again I had the mind and will of God concerning my mortal soul revealed in a showering of spiritual instruction. God does not need to come to know me. I must come to know Him again.
For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.
Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house. (Doctrine and Covenants 110:7, 9)
The scriptures record that the earth is at present like the telestial kingdom in its pattern and glory. The beauty of this earth touched me most deeply on a crisp morning in Egypt as I spent several hours watching the sun rise in all its brilliance from the crest of Mr. Sinai. Purples, reds, golds, then the rays of pure white light streaming across an endless horizon, hints of celestial light. On that mountain temple I sat and pondered upon its history, God descending to write the tablets of eternal law with his finger for Moses, and whispering in the still small voice to the prophet Elijah. How many times in its history had God descended and set foot upon this mount, to counsel with those he had called into the service of Christ? Surely, I thought, no place on earth can come so near to God as this holy mount, with its celestial light and history of God’s very presence.
Three months prior to entering the mission field to embark for South Korea, I woke early on a Saturday morning and drove five miles with my parents to the Provo Temple. A squat but not unattractive building, for the first time I passed its outer portals into the interior sanctuary. Offices, dressing rooms, a cafeteria-the house of God? I entered the preliminary ordinances of the endowment with trepidation, unsure of how this new ordinance might connect my soul to God.
Then we ascended. Up flights of stairs into the upper chambers of God’s house, and here a new season of instruction and preparation began. The blessing, the baptism, the sacrament were hints, but here I became aware of the full measure of a godly relationship, the true pattern for coming home.
The endowment of understanding my connection to this Father began with that first faint echo back to a premortal existence, unfolding step by step into the final welcome back to a loving Father’s arms. Measure by measure, promise by promise, covenant by covenant this journey of renewal moved me towards a reunion with glory-into the presence of God. This ordinance, more than any other, drawing me back home again, but only through my willingness to return. I left for Korea armed with one sure goal for those I would meet. Help them return.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
I’ve watched my mother-in-law struggle with so many challenges over the past years. The death of a younger brother. Her mother’s illness. And then, her husband’s cancer.
I didn’t think that the journey home would have so many trials along the way. Despite her hope turned to disappointment, faith turned to despair, again and again I see her kneel and pray in thanks for her relationship with a loving Father. Never did she criticize her husband. Never did she leave his side when cancer took him to illness and finally death. A modern-day Adam and Eve. In this marriage I witnessed the true meaning of “to cleave,” or to leave all else behind and join another, to become as one.
My wife, Kristen, is like her mother in so many ways. Dark hair, hazel eyes, and so beautiful. A willing spirit and a loving heart. I wondered long before we entered the temple together what the crowning ordinance of eternity would be like with her. All of the ordinances bring connection, yet it is marriage itself that becomes the proving ground of whether a person’s heart and spirit can rise to the challenge of eternal unity. We picked the Salt Lake Temple, close to home, always there to remind us of the journey we agreed upon.
November 1990 found me almost exactly twenty-three years beyond that cold November night in Ames.
Another new season. The preparations were hectic, the schedule too busy, but entering the temple I found a spirit of peace beginning to slowly enfold me. “I should have the jitters,” I thought. Maybe I did, but the palpable warmth of the Spirit calmed my senses.
I wonder if marriage is God’s favorite season. They call the marriage ordinance a “sealing.” Connection. Unity. Closer and closer we return through the ordinances to the pattern of eternal relationships. So simple this ordinance, so exalting in its symbolism. We kneel. We give. We kiss. Sealed. If we are willing to return, for eternity.
My eyes, then closed, are now more fully open. I can see. The journey of life runs in a circle, season to season, back to the presence of God. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ provides the connection, the reminder, over and over again, so that I need not always be “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 42:9).
For each season there comes an ordinance in due time, bringing godliness, bringing “the key of the knowledge of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:19). Eternal connection.
I held Ellen Bronwen in my arms two years after looking across the altar into Kristen’s eyes. Will she remember? Again, the circle of priesthood love, and the symbolism of the whole, of salvation and family, of oneness and joy. I hold this child come from glory, my blood pumping, and hands reach out to support and lift her in a brief remembrance. The Spirit descends, she is uplifted, the touch, and I know what it means to be a father.
O Lord, may thy Spirit be in her heart and round about her always. O Lord, bless her to walk the path of righteousness and to receive the ordinances of salvation. O my Lord, wilt thou guide her steps upon the journey home. O Lord, bring her home. Bring her home.