Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dying Dreams and the Sacrament

Sometimes I have glimpses of triumph. But it's not like I imagined it would be when I was younger.

In my youth I had grand plans for my life — aspirations of personal greatness and glory. On the rare occasions when those schemes have come to fruition I have invariably discovered less gold and more rubble than I had imagined, but almost always with a few unexpected gems hiding among the detritus.

Like nearly everyone else, however, most of my great ambitious have fallen prey to life's realities. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is (or can be) the process by we gain perspective and become grounded.

I think the first major adjustment to my lofty objectives came when as a young adult I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable and sometimes debilitating chronic illness. Previously unknown dimensions suddenly confronted me, forcing a major reassessment.

Parenthood — one of the goals deliberately pursued — has instilled nearly continuous revisions as children's needs have surpassed my own. Nowadays I am mostly just trying to get by, hoping that my current trajectory will culminate in something much better than I had imagined as a young man.

This isn't as bleak as it might sound. Some of my wrecked goals can now be seen to have been puerile. In retrospect I am glad for their demise. Others simply weren't meant to be. I have become a different person than I had planned, but unlike Robert Frost's traveler in his poem The Road Not Taken, I do not regret taking a different path.

Some glimpses of glory yet to come have occurred in unexpected moments. I am reminded of an occasion several years ago when I was serving as a member of a bishopric. Like many LDS congregations, ours struggled (still struggles) with reverence problems in sacrament meeting, which, according to Elder Dallin H. Oaks, should be "the most sacred and important meeting in the Church."

That Sunday was like most in that our congregation was not particularly reverent during the administration of the sacrament. But something was different.

I don't recall the hymn we sang in preparation for the sacrament, but during the ordinance I kept thinking about President James E. Faust's lyrical poetry, This Is The Christ (see Mormon Tabernacle Choir rendition). As I knew my own broken self and my need for the Savior's atonement, I reflected on Pres. Faust's question, "How many drops of blood were spilled for me?"

Then something deeply spiritual occurred within me. The gratitude I felt for the Savior caused tears to spring unbidden to my eyes — enough so that I couldn't hide them from the congregation. But it was not primarily an emotional experience; it was a spiritual event.

As I self consciously glanced sideways at the bishop and the other counselor I quickly noticed that each was having his own spiritual moment and that each had tears in his eyes. At that moment we all noticed each other. In a flash we shared a profound spiritual understanding that cannot adequately be described in earthly terms. We were united in divine worship. We felt God's love for us and for each member of the congregation.

The congregation wasn't any different. Children were still moving around and making noise, bored teenagers still whispered to each other and shifted in their seats, adults still flipped book pages and cleared their throats. But we were different. The sacrament, an ordinance I had experienced thousands of times, had risen to a new level of sacredness for us.

As with some of the rare moments parents experience with their children, this moment of joy reprioritized earthly matters and whispered of a greater and more sublime future.

1 comment:

Michaela Stephens said...

Thank you for sharing that beautiful and sacred experience.

I am always amazed at how taking the sacrament changes me. So many times I drag myself to church, desperate to regain a connection to the divine and after taking the sacrament the change begins. The talks and lessons move me and edify me and I leave church 3 hours later feeling thoroughly fed and a better person than I went in.