Cover image: Ye Are Not Forgotten, by Jon McNaughton.
I grew up with a mother who had a particular talent for the stage. If she’d had a mind to, I’m sure she would have done fabulously on Broadway, but for us kids it was much more impressive to see the productions she would put together for ward Roadshows and particularly the costumes she would dream up for us each Halloween.
I remember parading around the school grounds as Zeus wielding a lightning bolt made from styrofoam wrapped in gold foil, a Viking wearing actual armor and wielding a real sword, and at the culmination of my elementary years, a 6’6” Ghengis Khan, wielding just a scowl, as both hands were tied up with stilts!
So, reaching middle school, I felt my tutelage under her hand was sufficient to try my own hand at costumery. I was really into basketball at the time and I wanted to dress up as my favorite player, Patrick Ewing, a 7’0” Jamaican-American center. I already had the jersey so that part was simple enough. Rummaging around my mom’s costume cabinet I found a skin toned makeup that matched pretty well, so all that was left was to color my sandy blond hair into something more jet black.
I didn’t see any hair tints or powders but at the back of one of the cabinets I remember spying a can of black colored aerosol. “Perfect,” I thought, “black hair spray!” I quickly, but thoroughly covered my hair in a thick coat. When I took out a brush to style it, I found my hair was absolutely welded in place, possibly never to be moved again. It was then that I reviewed the can more closely and noted with alarm the words “acrylic”, “paint” followed by the word “permanent!”
Needless to say, after a night of trick or treating, shampoo had very little impact on my new hairdo. Indeed, it would be months before I would again put a comb through that solid mass on my head and find the scalp I had once called my own.
While the story is humorous upon reflection, it left me with a deep appreciation of what it would be like if things in this life were permanent. How terrible it would seem if our circumstances, our understanding, our mistakes or our character were set in stone, implacable and unchangeable?
A Mighty Change
Thankfully mortality is fraught with change and because of that we have the capacity to be better today than we were yesterday, and tomorrow better still.
However, when Alma teaches about “a mighty change of heart”, he is speaking about more than just minor modifications or self-improvement.
The spiritual transformation that accompanies conversion is not just about being better, although that is part of it. It is about becoming a new creature with an entirely different perspective and purpose that comes from understanding the true nature of our redemption.
In chapter 7, as Alma taught the people of Gideon concerning the atonement and the covenant transformation each of us undertakes, he spoke saying:
“13 Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
14 Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.”
At some point in mortality we come to the realization that as good, or as smart, or as hardworking as we try to be, our own efforts just aren’t enough to really become what we hope to be now or in eternity.
Sure, we want to be the |”perfect Peter”–the one who doesn’t fall asleep in the garden, the one who is true to his testimony in the most trying of circumstances and the one who walks on the water without becoming afraid and sinking.
[Picture of Lord Save Me]
Yet, just like that great apostle of the Lord being pulled from the turbulent sea, we enter the waters of baptism with the plea, “Lord save me!” in our hearts and are pulled forth, born to a new life characterized by the mighty changes which can only be fashioned through His miraculous power.
Singing Redeeming Love
“And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.” (Alma 5:9)
When I (Eva) joined the church with my parents in Bulgaria, what had felt like little more than a passing existence, was now suddenly infused with purpose and hope unlike anything I had ever experienced. I suddenly understood the beginning and the end and the no-end beyond that. Such a perspective made everyday feel like the most precious gift –to learn, to grow and to fulfill our divine purpose on the earth.
I remember being particularly impressed with my parents ability to live the Word of Wisdom at the time. There had been many previous New Year’s resolutions where they decided to quit smoking. They wanted to do it because they knew it was bad for them and because they loved me. Unfailingly though, a couple of weeks would pass and so would their resolve.
Once we learned about the Gospel and these commandments given by a loving Heavenly Father, the perspective shifted. These sacrifices, to keep divine commandments, were an opportunity to transform our lives, to draw nearer to our Father in Heaven, and to tell Him that we loved Him, and were so grateful for His Son.
Accordingly, both my mother and father ceased smoking almost immediately. That void had been filled by a joy that we infinitely more real and lasting.
The joy we felt, throughout the conversion process, was an emotion that radiated, lifting our hearts and keeping us mindful of the aim and end of the journey we had undertaken. I believe that ultimately the purpose of the changes we experience, when we embrace the Gospel and come unto Christ, is to increase our happiness and capacity for joy!
Can Ye Feel So Now
“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26)
Spiritual experiences of transformation, love and redemption are some of the most profound things we ever experience in life. Yet, like all emotions and experiences, with time the emotions become less sharp and, if not refreshed in our minds and hearts on occasion, they can be forgotten altogether.
This seems to be the plight of the church in Alma’s day. A people that had been so blessed, who had been preserved, delivered, instructed and nurtured by the Lord’s hand as they were gathered from afar in Zarahemla, had gotten too comfortable, forgetful and by turns less joyful.
In these chapters Alma offers three keys to kindling and re-kindling the spirit of conversion and redemption in our lives.
1) “…have you sufficiently retained in remembrance” (Alma 5:6)
The first key is simply to recollect what God has done. Particularly to remember His hand in those moments of greatest need and vulnerability, when we or those we care about, needed him most. (An interesting aside: this is the very same admonition Moroni gives to all those who read the Book of Mormon, prior to asking the Lord for a witness of its truth).
This is not always an easy thing to do. Our natural self finds it much easier to act as if we have never needed help, or to gloss over the times in which we did. But digging a little deeper we can return to those experiences when we felt like all was and then remember the express joy of what it means to be found and restored again, even as we continue to seek that power of forgiveness and redemption in our lives moving forward.
The sacrament can be an ideal time for such recollection as we renew those covenants we have made and ask once again for the Lord’s saving power to lead our lives.
2) “And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.” (Alma 7:23)
Gratitude unlocks our hearts and souls as few things can. Following remembrance with gratitude and an outpouring of thanksgiving, leads us to a place where humility, repentance, patience and every other Godly virtue can thrive while stemming the thorny weeds of pride.
Our family loves the story of Pollyanna and the glad game.
We’re far from perfect at this, but we’ve found that spending a bit of extra effort in thanking, particularly when we take the time to write down the Lord’s hand in our lives and to retell and share these stories, provides a well of grateful memories to draw upon on later.
We’ve found that basking in the spiritual sunshine, when it is shining brightly in our lives, it makes it so much easier to recall what that warmth and happiness feels like when clouds and storms arise.
3) “I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” (Alma 5:19)
This is one of the most powerful verses in Alma’s sermon.
In Alma 7:6 an allusion is made to the idolatry of the church in Zarahemla. Here, speaking to those same people, Alma takes words of the commandment regarding graven images and turns it to mean our complete devotion to and trust in the living God. (Alma 5:13)
The term engraven is particularly intriguing. When we take the pains to engrave something, it is because we want it to go deep, to last and to stand the test of time.
To have God’s image engraven upon our countenances is to take part of His nature to ourselves. It is faith that God alone is enough. It is the trust that the Good Shepherd knows and will fulfill our deepest yearnings and our greatest needs. By the same token it means abandoning the notion that, in certain areas of our lives, we are better off relying on our own strength, or looking to other sources to make us whole. It is the reliance that, in the hour of our extremity, He who has graven us upon the palms of His hands, will not and cannot forget us (Isaiah 49:16). It is to be washed white in the blood of the Lamb, receiving the full power and weight of His atonement in our lives and then to carry on in that light and love all of our days.
What a beautiful gift we have been provided by the grace of our Savior, to be redeemed from the otherwise permanent stains of this mortal experience as we learn to change and become, line upon line, even as He is.