I don’t enjoy bearing my testimony. Well, I don’t enjoy bearing my testimony in front of a congregation. I can write bout my feelings until the proverbial cows come home, but standing up and proclaiming what I believe in front of 200 people I only marginally know? Thanks, I’ll keep my seat.
Based on what I’ve heard over the years, many (a lot? most?) Mormons aren’t super-fans of Fast & Testimony meeting. In my head, I think of it as Open Mic Day, and my son with autism asks me every Sunday “Is this THAT Sunday??” hoping against hope it’s not. Sometimes we just stay home. I mean, I get it- I know why we do it, and I think the nexus of the idea is probably a good one- we need to clarify what we believe, and standing before your community and speaking up is a good exercise in personal faith and in finding- or at least asking for- that clarity. It’s hard to stand up and say what you believe- or rather, it is if you are actually speaking from your heart.
In a twist of irony, my very first Mormon meeting, by sheer happenstance way back in 2002, was a Fast & Testimony meeting. I had been church shopping, and I thought the pretty building looked interesting. Turns out I couldn’t go into the pretty building (Hello, Spokane Temple!) but there was another building right across the parking lot, just as big, but lower and brown and plain, where the doors were open. The meeting was partly over, and there was a small girl at the podium, with the microphone drawn down in a tight arc, clutching it in her small hand, as she talked about Jesus.
I sat down.
My baby wasn’t walking yet, and I held his squirmy body in my lap, while I tried to keep him from kicking the folding metal chairs where we sat in the back of the chapel- or in the front of a very large basketball court, depending on which direction you looked. It’s all normal to me now, but at the time… I’m not sure Mormons realize how crazy-special-weird this particular ritual can be to outside eyes. Here I was in this large, strange building (been in a lot of churches, never sat in a basketball court before) and there wasn’t a homily or a preacher… after the child stepped down, an older man stood and approached the front. He was followed by others, some children, some mothers holding babies, some needing assistance up the steps, some tears, some with evident joy. I was transfixed. It was so…odd. But it was also oddly beautiful.
When I got home, my (first) husband asked me how it was. He knew I was church-shopping and he was fully supportive- from his position on the couch. “It was… weird. I think I’ll go back.” Insert fourteen complicated, rich, difficult, trying, beautiful, heartbreaking years, and most weeks I still say that, “It was weird. I think I’ll go back.”
Of course, now I am thoroughly Mormon. I’m my own version of what that means, but I kind of think that’s true of all of us- and it’s one of the things I love about us. We work it out for ourselves, and with our communities—we’re actually commanded to—and figure out what it means to be Mormons. And so, we share our expressions of our faith one Sunday a month. It might be a miracle in and of itself that my introduction to Mormonism was a F&T meeting, and I stayed. I don’t know what was in the water that day, given what I’ve at times heard since, but it was exactly what I needed.
This last Sunday was one of those Sundays where my scars were scraped, and I found myself clutching my seat. Sometimes the platitudes bead up and roll off my back, and sometimes they soak into my skin and sting and bite. Usually, like childbirth, I breathe through it, knowing everyone is birthing different facets of themselves, and perhaps someone actually needs to hear about gallstones or lost keys or the imaginary ideal family—even if that person is only the speaker. They matter.
Then it happened.
A person was speaking about The Family, and veered off into divorce, and spent some time making broad, sweeping generalizations, of which you can, in all likelihood, fill in the blanks.
My head started to swim. Oh no. Nope. I have zero plans on standing up. I am not doing this. I do not have a testimony about this, and this isn’t about me.
But you do have a testimony.
My chest started to get hot, and the wobbliness crept down my legs. My stomach started to ache, and my hands tremble. Dammit, I don’t want to!
But you do have a testimony, and it matters.
My heart hurts.
I think we call it a burning in the breast.
The speaker finished, and without hesitation, I nudged my (second) husband’s knee and he rose so I could step into the aisle. There is that surreal slightly-out-of-body sensation when you absolutely do not want to do something, and you are clearly, absolutely, doing it. My shoes are black and white, their ribbon laces are tied. I am walking to the front, to voluntarily speak to 200 people about my heart. My hands are shaking until I set them gently on the heavy-grained wood of the podium. Like falling to the ground after ring-around-the rosy, everything is joltingly, perfectly still.
“I’d like to bear my testimony of the Atonement…”