A Christian by Yearning

Levi speaks on his upcoming book Rascal by Nature, A Christian by Yearning, A Mormon Autobiography at the University of Utah tomorrow, April 11. You Utahns still have time to make plans to see him.

The September 88 Sunstone first published his Pillars essay, A Christian by Yearning. This Easter season I find myself thinking about Levi’s emphasis on hope. He wrote then:

I am a Christian by Yearning. Opposed to my doubt and perversity is a longing that the gospel be true. Christians are made, said the apostle Paul, of faith, hope, and charity. Though I have little charity and less faith, perhaps I have hope in some abundance. Often when I recognize how intensely I yearn for eternal life, I find myself elevated and encouraged. I find that my yearning has transformed itself into hope and I find myself responding to the sacrament as a ceremony of hope. On many Sundays while I participate in this solemn rutual, I ponder the possibility that Christ will one day resurrect me, and I am filled with gratitude that such a thng might come to pass…

If Christ has indeed purchased eternal life for humanity, I for one will awaken to the reality of his gift with an immeasurable gratitude. In the meantime I will make it the center of my Christian worship to anticipate that gratitude when I partake of the sacrament. I do not belittle the communion of my fellow Mormons. It is not an unworthy way of celebrating the Lords’s Last Supper to measure one’s successes and failures in keeping the commandments and to renew one’s covenants to live righteously. Yet in a sense it seems a pity to take one’s immortality for granted, to expect it and count on it. It seems a pity to be so sheltered from the terror of death that one’s gratitude for the resurrection is merely dutiful and perfunctory. Perhaps truly there are religious advantages to doubt. Perhaps only a doubter can appreciate the miracle of life without end.

Actually, I can personally attest Levi has charity, as well as hope, in abundance. And though some of us may claim more faith than does Levi, faith ebbs and flows with doubt, its natural companion, in us all. This Easter I am particularly mindful of the advantages of sincere and seeking doubt, doubt that spurs us closer to truth and further from smugness, doubt that produces new beliefs and resultant new questions, doubt that makes life demanding, interesting and fun. I will try to be grateful for the possibilities as well as apparent certainties. And I will be grateful for Levi’s example of hope, courageous hope far surpassing wishful thinking.

Levi’s book will be widely available in about 2 weeks. Don’t miss it. He’ll no doubt chide me for saying so (in fact, for posting this post at all!), but he is an uncommonly fine man as well as an uncommonly fine writer. Meanwhile, as you contemplate the import of this Easter week, perhaps you would share your ideas of the advantages of doubt and the value of hope.


  1. Antonio Parr says:

    A “Christian by Yearning” may be the finest essay to ever come out of Mormonism. I have reflected upon it often since its original publication, and, in fact, did so yesterday morning as I was pondering this coming Easter.

  2. “A Christian by Yearning” has gotten me through some several times. I second Antonio’s motion that it’s the best Mormon essay. I’m anxious to read his autobio.

  3. This Easter my family will be staying in a yurt on the edge of the Henry’s Fork (Snake River). This essay will make for a nice Sunday text. Thanks for pointing me to it. “A Christian by Yearning.” Sunstone, no. 67 (Sept. 1988)

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I love biographies, and I’ve read (and enjoyed) a lot of Levi’s writing, so I’ll look forward to this book. Thanks for posting this notice, Molly.

  5. I agree that it is a great essay, but shouldn’t we qualify it a bit?

    Best essay to come out of Mormonism, or just the best to come out of Sunstone, or … ?

  6. FYI, here’s the link to Levi’s wonderful essay (search on the page for “A Christian by Yearning”). It’s not Dialogue, but still not bad…

  7. Elizabeth II says:

    Queno (#5), good point. Peterson’s collection in Canyons of Grace, though fiction, may be even better essays on the topic.
    #3 and #6, thanks for the link.

  8. Aaron Brown says:

    I also have reflected on Levi’s essay many times over the years. There are few other Mormon essays I can say that about.

    Aaron B

  9. KathleenP says:

    Someone asked E.O.Wilson if he were optimistic or pessimistic about the state of the world. He said, (I paraphrase) “Optimistic, of course. What other choice is there?” My doubts are legion, but I feel I must always choose hope. What other choice is there?

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