Snapshots of Life

Sunday, October 26, 2008

When Thy Sweet Spirit Strikes the Strings

Over the past year or so I have been a member of 3 different wards.  In conjunction with various family functions and vacations I have had the opportunity to attend a few others.  I've been reflecting quite a bit in the last several months about what I see at church.  I must admit that sometimes I have a knack for picking up the character and personality of others, especially when it comes to their eccentricities and quirks.  It's not a trait that I am particularly proud of and I try not to use it as a source for criticism.  I also try not to psychoanalyze anyone who is not sitting in front of me in my office.  Nevertheless, it is easy for me to get frustrated or amused or annoyed by the man who constantly talks about the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon and its contents or the one who bears his testimony about how Barack Obama is going to destroy the world (not a supporter of Obama either but, really, testimony meeting??).  The choir director who has ADD or the auxiliary leader who is just a bit too focused on the presentation and the details instead of the message.  You have your know-it-alls and your tell-it-alls, your yappers and your snappers, your out-of-control children, and your too-much-in-control teachers/leaders.  This to say little of some of the resulting lessons, talks, and comments from these unique folks.  It's the same everywhere you go, right?  I don't think it matters if it's a student ward or a family ward, a Utah ward or an any other ward.  "The church is the same everywhere you go" as we like to say.

But, you know, that's not the real focus of what I've been pondering about.  I'm aware of it, sure, but all those thoughts are just part of my dirty, stinking pride that creeps up too often.  I've been thinking instead about the miracle of the Church.  The absolute wonder of it.  I've been thinking about how every Sunday people all over the world gather together to give talks, and read scriptures, and make commentary, and listen, and take bread and water.  The people are busy and preoccupied and burdened.  They are imperfect.  Yet, in each ward that I've been in, as a member or a visitor, I sit in a sunday school class or sacrament meeting and feel the goodness of the people.  The pure goodness.  They come and they participate for the same reasons I do.  They are called by the same Voice and are united under the same Head.  I sense that often they have a keen awareness of their imperfection but they are trying.  In the midst of all the weirdness and weakness I see remarkable faith and humility, often from the same people!  I see hope and virtue, diligence and love.  I am taught and touched by their gifts, examples, and sacrifice.  It is an incredible thing to see people in their true light.  Those talks and lessons and comments are more than words, they are inspiration, they are more than filler, they are truth.  The taking of the bread and water in unison with the saints is a process of covenant renewal and sacred worship, not just taking a tray and passing it down to your neighbor.  We remember and witness individually and collectively.  In the process, my imperfection and their imperfection is being chipped away - all that sin and all those quirks - one piece at a time. 

The last few Sundays I've felt this impression particularly powerfully.  It was a typical Sabbath today.  Priesthood was about service and we heard mission stories and testimony and home teaching plugs.  Sunday school was centered on 3 Nephi 17-19 and we discussed the Savior's visit to the Americas.  Sacrament meeting was the Primary program and we heard familiar primary songs and the simple Word from the children.  We smiled at their indiscernable shouts into the microphone and their waving and daydreaming.  For all intents and purposes, very usual meetings.  We even had kids crying so loud by the end of the program that the benediction was not audible.  Yet, through it all I felt a profound and comforting spirit.  It was a spirit of reverence and awe at what was happening.  In the process of those lessons I heard sincere and thought-provoking words.  I felt faith and testimony.  I saw and received charity.  I observed humility.  I was touched by song.  There I was, one of many in our building today and one of millions all over the world, to worship and to learn.  I came to commune with God and be uplifted by my brothers and sisters.  Wonderfully and mercifully, in the midst of all the imperfection and weirdness, I did and I was.

At the close of the meeting our Bishop stood to offer a few closing remarks.  He spoke emotionally of how the previous day he had participated in the funeral of his infant grandson, who we had all been praying for with him and his family for several weeks.  He mentioned how he had been so touched by the outpouring of love and support from the ward that this little baby and his parents belong to.  He bore testimony of the blessing of little children.  As he concluded his remarks the primary children presented him with a huge card showing their love for their Bishop at a time of grief and loss.  He thanked the children and simply said, "there is always good that comes of tragedy".  It was a snapshot of exactly what I'm talking about.  The tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat prevented me from singing most of the closing hymn, even with all the screaming children.  I was just consumed for a moment in the goodness of God and the goodness of His people.  The words of the hymn expressed the feelings of my heart.

Before thee, Lord, I bow my head
And thank thee for what has been said. 
My soul vibrates; my poor heart sings
When thy sweet Spirit strikes the strings.
How sweet thy word I've heard this day!
Be thou my guide, O Lord, I pray.
May I in patience do my part.
Seal thou the word upon my heart.

Do thou, O Lord, anoint mine eyes
That I may see and win the prize.
My heart is full; mine eyes are wet.
Oh, help me, Lord, lest I forget.
So may my soul be filled with light
That I may see and win the fight,
And then at last exalted be,
In peace and rest, O Lord, with thee.




Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tempio a Roma #2

A few satellite pictures of the temple site!

I wish I could figure out how to highlight the plot of land...but I've tried and I can't.  Running from the top-center to the right-bottom is a piece of the freeway that circles Rome, known as the GRA.  The church land is in the center of the image.

A closer view.  The land stretches from the top to the bottom of the image.  You can see the villetta with the olive grove underneath.

A closer view of the villetta and the olive grove.  The satellite photos must have been taken in the Fall or early Winter because I don't remember it being brown like this.  They don't do it justice.  It really is a cool place.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Tempio a Roma

In May of 2005 I began this blog with a post about the very first stake in Rome, Italy, which was being organized that very day.  I mentioned the historic nature of this event, not only because it was the first stake in Rome since the apostasy, but because it was an important step toward the building of a temple in Italy.  I talked about some of the prophecies that had been made by Lorenzo Snow and Ezra Taft Benson regarding the future of the work of the Lord in Italy.  Well, now 3 1/2 years later the Lord has seen fit to answer the multitudinous prayers of the Italian saints and the missionaries who have served them over many years!  As you all know, in the Saturday morning session of general conference President Monson announced that a temple would be built in Rome.  The gasp throughout the Conference Center was audible and so was mine, indicative not just of our surprise but also of our excitement.  It was not an announcement that I expected but one that I received with great joy.  I am so grateful and happy for the members of the Church in Italy.  It did not take long for me to determine that Tania and I WILL be attending the dedication.

The temple will be built on a piece of land that the Church has owned for several years.  Just prior to the time that I served in Italy, the Church purchased a plot of land on the outskirts of Rome, just inside a huge circular freeway that surrounds the greater Rome area.  The land is 15 acres and sits on a hill - a classic temple site.  It was formerly the site of an old Villa surrounded by trees and an olive grove.  It has long been suspected that this would be the future site of the temple.  On the day that we arrived in Rome, jet-lagged though we were, we spent some time on this land.  The mission president shared with us the prophecies regarding Italy and then gave us time to go into the olive grove to reflect, ponder, and pray.  One year later, following a transfer to Rome, this piece of land with its Villa became my home.  While the Villa itself was less than ideal, the opportunity to live on this sacred plot of ground was a privilege.  It was truly a beautiful place.  I loved watching the sun shine through the olive trees in the early hours of the morning as I studied, or watching the sun set from the balcony on the rare occasion that we were home at sunset.  I have treasured and sacred memories of this place, which will soon be the site for the first house of the Lord in Italy in the known history of the world.

On one occasion the neighboring property had a significant grass fire.  The fire spread rapidly and burned a good portion of the neighbor's land.  Strangely enough, it did not even touch the church land.  There was a distinct line right at the property where the fire stopped, and I have pictures to prove it.  It was remarkable.  On another occasion the Lord granted my companion and I a great "tender mercy".  Our water heater was less-than-consistent.  We had been working hard preparing for conferences and we were tired of taking cold showers.  We determined that in our companionship prayer we would pray that the following day we would have hot water.  In fact, I believe we thanked God for giving us hot water the next day, as if it had already happened.  Sure enough, the following day we took showers in steaming bliss!  The next day the water was cold again but we didn't mind.  Some might want to dismiss such trivial things as mere coincidence, but I'm just simple enough to believe that a kind Father was passing out bread and fishes.

On the day I was transferred from Rome I again took some time to walk through the olive grove one last time.  I felt the love of God and the sweet spirit that was a part of that future hallowed ground.  I grabbed an olive branch as a reminder and souvenir.  The olive branch is now just twigs and leaves in a baggy, but I still have it, and it still reminds me of the time I lived on the plot of land that will soon house a temple in Rome!  God be thanked for having seen fit to grant this blessing to the people of Italy and the whole Mediterranean region!