Unlike some people I know, I always attend the General Relief Society broadcast–willingly and gladly. But not for any righteous purpose. I just like getting out of the house all by myself. I get out of the house by myself on a fairly regular basis, but due to their tangential religious connection(s), Relief Society meetings are like Get Out of the House Free cards. Not using them just seems like such a waste. Especially with the annual broadcast, which is held in a darkened room, I figure that if nothing else, I could always get a good nap in (if I were so inclined).
My usual habit, though, is to sit in the darkened room and take copious notes of what is said. I have to take notes or otherwise I will never pay attention, and I might miss something important. (No snickering. Sometimes it happens!) The notes have to be copious or otherwise I will lose focus and start thinking about something unedifying and/or irrelevant, and you already know where that sort of thing leads. Also, what if my husband decides to quiz me? (He never has before, but after this post he may start getting suspicious of all these “Relief Society meetings” I’m attending.)
I almost never revisit the notes I take during any church broadcast. It’s something I do purely to keep myself entertained and engaged. I end up writing a lot of what the speaker says, but occasionally I throw in my own commentary–you know, all the stuff I wouldn’t be comfortable whispering to the sister sitting next to me. (Not because it’s inappropriate, mind you, but she’s probably trying to pay attention herself and doesn’t need me interrupting her spiritual reverie or whatever it is she’s having. I sure don’t like when people interrupt me doodling in the margins, “I [heart] my Prophet, Seer & Revelator.”)
I was happy to see Sister Beck conducting–not because it was some pleasant surprise or anything, but because I had the opportunity to meet Sister Beck a few months ago and I have ever since been unable to look upon her with anything but great affection. I found out that she’s a tall woman. For some reason I had been under the impression that she was short. I don’t know why I would have had this impression, as it’s not easy to gauge someone’s actual height from looking at a televised image of a person standing behind a podium–and I wasn’t aware that I’d even had this impression until I saw her face to face and was struck by how wrong my impression had been. I can’t say that I had strong feelings about Sister Beck one way or the other before meeting her, but since meeting her she seems to me taller in every respect. Watching her onscreen on Saturday, I thought, “I like that Sister Beck. (Golly, she’s tall.)”
I just remembered that I had decided a while back that I would refer to Sister Beck as President Beck–mostly just for giggles, not for any political reason–but you can see that in real life I’m having difficulty with this. I think the best I’m going to be able to do is President-Sister Beck. I think I like that better anyway.
So the opening hymn was “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today.” I only mention this because I’m reminded every time we sing that song that I really, really like that song–which is funny, because I’m totally not the kind of person who walks around with sunshine in her soul, today or otherwise–but I think the main reason I like that song so much is that most of our hymns about Jesus are about him suffering for our sins, and in this one he’s actually smiling. It has a cheering effect on me. But I should really get on with the meeting.
I for one was delighted when President-Sister Beck announced that we wouldn’t be using the name “Home, Family and Personal Enrichment” for our midweek Relief Society meetings anymore. I’ve always pretty much detested that name if only because it was so freaking long. Those of you who know me know how I feel about long names. I keep hoping they’ll change the name of the church to “George” someday. But getting rid of “Home, Family and Personal Enrichment” is certainly a step in the right direction, even if they’re just going to call it “mid-week Relief Society meeting” now. I guess that’s technically just as long as “Home, Family and Personal Enrichment,” but nevertheless it strikes me as a simplifying gesture. Because we have important work to do, and we’re too busy to come up with some frou-frou name! Why, with all the emphasis on local leaders being responsible for their own business, maybe women will feel empowered to call it whatever the heck they like (after counseling with their bishops, of course *cough*).
I appreciated the emphasis throughout the meeting on the importance of individuals and the need for local leaders to craft programs that cater to the specific needs of the sisters in their wards and branches and the inadequacy of large, centralized programs to meet those needs effectively. Maybe it’s a Republican thing, but I just love deregulation.
[Note: That was a joke, kids. If you have questions about the humor or appropriateness of such a joke, counsel amongst yourselves and decide what's funny or not funny. Don't hassle me about it!]
The choir sang “As Sisters in Zion.” I mention this because in my notes I wrote, “Can any arrangement save this song?” But I also noted that I was moved by the repetition of the final line, “Oh, give us the wisdom to truly succeed!” because Sister Beck had just finished talking about true success in Relief Society work, which had nothing to do with numbers and percentages and everything to do with the spiritual and temporal welfare of each sister. We will seem to forget that from time to time, surely–it’s inevitable that we will count visits and calculate percentages and check off lists–but we will also occasionally step back and realize what is truly needful. I loved the quote from Camilla Kimball: “Never suppress a generous thought.” It’s on my list of things to cross-stitch on a pillow, as soon as I start cross-stitching. (I will someday. You just wait.)
I’m not going to comment on every talk that was given, but suffice it to say that I found something I could appreciate in each one. Which is pretty good, considering the attitude I went in with.
I prefer to end on this note: the choir and congregation sang “How Firm a Foundation.” I mention this only because I also often forget how much I love this hymn, and this time I was particularly touched by the third and final verses. In fact, I couldn’t finish the last verse because it made me cry. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, you should probably know that Sister J has been crying at the drop of a hat lately. I cried when I found out my favorite talk show host’s mother had died, and I cried when I forgot my daughter’s piano lesson. That said, I still find these words particularly beautiful.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
In the context of this meeting this seemed to me not only God’s promise not to forsake us–a promise that has in my own life seemed awfully flimsy at times–but also our own promise not to forsake our fellow travelers. That is the greater purpose of Relief Society and the reason why they make us sit through ninety minutes of cheerleading for Relief Society each September. In practice Relief Society is often not what it’s supposed to be, and that is most likely why we need an annual reminder of how essential our individual participation is to its success–if we are to truly succeed.
This is what I got out of the Relief Society broadcast, despite the fact that I went mainly to participate in the light refreshments afterward. (Our stake really does food right, I have to tell you.) I did not really expect to be spiritually fed, nor had I prepared myself spiritually for the meeting. I put on a dress; that was my preparation. Just so it’s clear that I’m not making myself out to be all noble. I’m just glad I went and I took copious notes and didn’t miss anything important.
On a completely unrelated note, they served us pecan tassies afterward. Also totally undeserved on my part, but delicious nonetheless.