Believing Mary Oliver

Image from Pawel Cerwinski via Unsplash

The first time I heard Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese was in a therapist’s office nearly a decade ago. It was our first session, and I was trying to explain the crippling perfectionism that has often accompanied my spiritual life. The man nodded understandingly, then offered this passage as an antidote:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

As I heard the words I felt my heart swell, then promptly clamp down. Clearly, I thought, this guy doesn’t get Mormonism. I called the office later to see if they had any LDS therapists. They didn’t, so I didn’t go back. 

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Babies, Prayer, and Just Why

I prayed for Chrissy Teigen last night. And then I felt silly.

If you aren’t aware, she and her husband John Legend recently lost their third baby due to pregnancy complications. Chrissy has been vocal about infertility in the past, and I count myself as one of many women who appreciate the way she’s normalized conversations around babies and how hard they can be.

My prayer was the addendum type,  where I’d already gotten up off my knees and climbed into bed when I remembered her Instagram post and I felt newly heartsick.

I added, “oh – and please bless Chrissy and John.” And then I felt silly because a little voice said, You don’t even know these famous people! You don’t even follow them on Twitter! Surely they have plenty of others thinking of them anyway – they are CELEBRITIES.

(Maybe I felt silly because, you try saying the words, “please bless John Legend.”)

I think the real reason I feel so deeply for Chrissy is because babies are in most of my prayers these days. Five of the women I cherish most in the world are currently pregnant or have new babies. Some of them have had heartbreaking issues with pregnancy in the past, and some are facing them now.

Over the last few months, our interactions have essentially turned into long, drawn out prayers with and for each other. Sometimes it’s more formal, where we send around a group text asking for prayers for so-and-so who needs us. Other times it’s asking what can I DoorDash you tonight or are you still throwing up — each a type of prayer in its own way. 

I have seen the power of communal prayer. My sister told me about a tradition in her ward, where, when a woman goes into labor she tells one friend, who tells all the others. Each woman lights a candle and keeps it burning until the baby is born.

I have seen the answered prayer. The miracle recovery. The friend who heard about my friend in the NICU and drops off dinner since she lives nearby (the two women have never met). 

But what about when prayer doesn’t “work?”

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My Holy Horcrux

A few years ago at a church conference I was seated behind a woman furiously taking notes. As she scrawled all over her specially-made LDS note-taking journal, it became apparent this Sister had come to be fed by the spirit, and that her desire was being met. 

She scribbled and scribbled through each speaker until one began a talk focused on homosexual sin, at which point her pen stopped moving. When the talk was over, I couldn’t help but notice the two lone words she’d written, easily legible on the otherwise blank page: “LGBTQ issues.”

That image has stayed in my mind for years, because it mirrors how I feel anytime “LGBTQ issues” are addressed over the pulpit. It’s a record-scratch moment, where the spirit stops flowing and a stupor of thought takes its place. 

I am not here to discuss the doctrine around LGBTQ issues or argue about policies. I simply needed to write this in the hope of some catharsis.

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The Author and Finisher of our Faith: Reflections On #NaNoWriMo

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” – George Orwell

November 30th marked the end of #NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, an online write-athon where writers all over the internet attempt to finish a novel in November. The word-count goal is 50k, which in 2019 came out to 1,667 words a day. There’s a whole website dedicated to helping motivate writers through the slog that is putting words on a page, and a whole other website called Twitter where writers go to complain about how hard writing is. (George Orwell would have had plenty to add.) 

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Testimony And Its Opposite

Earlier this year I wrote a piece about what I perceived as a lack of mourning with those who mourn in the church. It drew from some recent church issues that had troubled me deeply, and though I needed to write through them for my own sanity, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to share it or not. 

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