Solemnity and Joy- Numbers 10:10, Hosea 2:11

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.

I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.

COMMENTARY

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days ye shall blow with the trumpets
Her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts
When we talk about solemn occasions what first comes to mind might be a sad event, such as a funeral or a departure. And certainly those moments do call for solemnness, but they are not the only ones.
These verses make mention of Israel’s “solemn days,” and how they were part of their feasts, festivals, annual observations, and even celebrations. One of their “solemn days” was Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. On this day two goats were brought to the priest. One of them was set free, while the other had the sins of the people placed upon it. Then the scapegoat was sacrificed, making an atonement was made for the peoples’ wrongs.
Obviously this was all symbolic of Christ’s future sacrifice, which is certainly a good and a glad thing for all of us…but also something that we hold in reverent respect due to the great price he paid.
Thus we see, there is nothing paradoxical about the idea of a good solemnity. Yes, solemn can mean a type of sadness, but it can also mean being respectful, reverential, and in awe.

Solemnity and Joy- Question

Recently I was considering the role of solemnity in the gospel. In many spiritual rituals there is an expectation for a quiet, reverent demeanor. There are situations in life that bring with them a deep gravity. But at the same time there isn’t anything inherently wrong with mirth or laughter either. We are told that the gospel is a message of gladness and it is meant to be a delight to us.

Sometimes it is right to be very quiet and still and other times it is right to dance and laugh. Sometimes we should be serious and sometimes we should celebrate. With this study I want to examine the interplay of these two emotions in the gospel.

I will look at examples of both of these emotions in the scriptures, and the contexts that called for them. I will also consider situations where each would be inappropriate and why. I will be asking myself what the underlying purpose of solemnity is and what the core function of joy is.

In the meantime, have you ever had a situation that you felt was too sacred for loud words and raucous laughter? Why do you suppose that sort of behavior would have tainted the mood? What memories do you have of pure joy? Why was it good in those moments to laugh and be lighthearted?

Calloused Hearts- Summary

Lately the winter months have been difficult for me. Maybe they always were and I just didn’t pick up on it until now. In any case, I have noticed a distinct apathy that comes over my heart at this time, a tendency to isolate, and a desire to pull back into emotional hibernation.
It was from this context that I began this study. Seeking both to understand why people come into these spiritually apathetic seasons and if there is anything we can do when caught in them.
The scriptures speak a great deal about peace within a storm, but I wanted to find accounts of fire within a stifling numbness! I did find a few insights that encourage me, but I should mention that this is definitely still a work in progress for me. Here are a few of the guiding principles that I have learned and which will be guiding me on my way forward.

Removing Our Own Burdens

Many times our distance from God is self-inflicted. And it doesn’t only have to be sin that keeps Him at arm’s length from us. Yes the soul that is burdened with unrepented vice will struggle to feel His love, but also the soul that is just complacent and lazy.
Our relationship to God is an actual relationship. It requires communication, it requires prioritization, it requires making sacrifices. Like every other healthy relationship, this one takes time and effort. It is hard. In fact it is more difficult due to how our connection to God can only be built on sacred ground, there is little of significance that He can say to our mask. He does not require us to be perfect to feel His light, but He does require us to be genuine and sincere.
And that is, perhaps, the greatest obstacle for me when I wish the spirit was more alive in my heart. It just doesn’t work if I am casual in my discipleship, if I offer a prayer with half my mind and none of my heart, if I’m not actively trying to be my truest self. God is not absent, He is already waiting in the deepest recesses of my soul, I just need to find my way back to there.
Enos 1:4-5- And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

3 Nephi 9:20- And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Testing Our Capacity

Reaching that place of authenticity is difficult, but more difficult is to remain there. When we are caught up in a rapture it might be hard to imagine ever feeling spiritually apathetic again. But if in this spiritual awakenings eventually give way to spiritual sleep. I would like nothing more than to be convinced that endless rapture is possible to obtain during our mortal walk…but right now I doubt it.
Consider the feeling of wellness and purification one feels after a good workout. The blood flows freely through the veins, the heart pumps happily, the mind is fresh and alert, and all we would like is to remain in this physical state forever. But we don’t. Without constant physical stimulation our body reclines into a state of needed rest.
And initially this is a good thing. Both our bodies and our souls need to be stimulated and exercised, but then they also need a period to settle, to let the long-term benefits work their way in deep. The problem arises when rest and rejuvenation is not then followed up with stimulation again. If left too long, relaxation just becomes laziness.
We do not have to be in a constant state of rapture, just as we do not have to constantly exercise. But if we will pursue spiritual experiences and exercise as a regular habit, then comes an overall improvement of spiritual and physical life. We will be more awakened, even when in a state of repose. And we will become able to push even deeper and deeper into spiritual and physical health.
Matthew 15:32, 37- Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.

John 10:10- The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Relying on Grace

It is only natural that our own betterment depends on our own effort. This system is good for us, it promotes agency and independence, it motivates to work through the hard to get to the better.
But we can become obsessed with trying to do it all on our own. We can hold ourselves to impossible standards, we can get frustrated at our inability to reach the unreachable, we can become stuck because we aren’t accepting help.
And in this matter of bringing our hearts back to life we need to realize that all our efforts really do is invite the awakening of our souls. They do not enact the actual awakening. The awakening happens as a miracle, it is performed only by God.
And in my experience, once I permit Him to do so, God instigates the awakening of my heart far sooner than I expected and far more fully, too. Once I stop getting in His way I discover that He truly is gracious and liberal with His love.
Ezekiel 36:26- A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
Mark 9:23-24- Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Ephesians 2:4-5- But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Calloused Hearts- 3 Nephi 9:20

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

COMMENTARY

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit
Thus far in this study I have examined our need to give up our stony heart for one of flesh, and also the need to humble ourselves enough to receive that transplant.
Under that context, consider today’s verse. Here the Lord speaks of our old heart needing to be broken and sacrificed before we are baptized into His fold. In other words, coming to God is going to break the person that we were! Is it any wonder that fully coming to God is so difficult for us then? Is it any wonder that we shrink back into our calloused heart at the first sign of complete surrender? We edge closer and closer to the precipice, tease at taking the plunge, but there remains a world of difference between getting close to the edge and actually taking that leap of faith.
We want to have a full life, but are we willing to give up what little we already have to receive it? Because there just isn’t space for Him to raise the new us so long as we’re still clinging to the old one. It isn’t a cruelty of God to ask for a sacrifice of our heart, it is simply a necessity.

Calloused Hearts- Enos 1:2-5

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

COMMENTARY

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God
My soul hungered
I cried unto him in mighty prayer
All the day long did I cry unto him
I did raise my voice high that it reached the heavens

Look at what powerful earnestness is in these verses from Enos. Look at how much he wanted this absolution from sin. Look at how long he worked before finding the voice of the Lord.
And he put in this much effort because that was how much effort it took. He didn’t put in only an hour, because he hadn’t found God yet after an hour. And he didn’t call it quits after a half day, because he hadn’t found God in half a day. He kept with it until he found his way through. And I am inclined to believe that God was not simply waiting for some arbitrary amount of time to elapse before reaching out, but rather He was simply waiting on Enos to be ready to receive Him. God spoke after a day because after a day Enos was in the right place.
So, too, when my own heart feels covered in moss and disconnected from God. If I want that connection restored I have to ask myself whether I am willing to pursue that connection for as far as it has to be pursued. Am I willing to ask for what I need to ask? Am I willing to give up what I need to give up? Am I willing to become what I need to become? And if the answers to any of those is “not yet,” then am I willing to keep wrestling with it until I am willing?

Calloused Hearts- 1 Nephi 2:16

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

COMMENTARY

I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe
Yesterday I examined how our fallen, stony hearts are remade into something more alive and spiritual by divine interaction. That idea is further supported in this passage, where Nephi finds his own soul softened by heavenly ministrations.
Nephi opened the way but he did not change his own heart by himself. He had to let God do that for him. But there is a lot of significance in that “letting.” Nephi could have not reached out and not had his heart made soft, and things would have been very different if he hadn’t. It was a choice and an action on his part, but the transformation that followed was God’s.

Calloused Hearts- Ezekiel 36:26

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

COMMENTARY

A new heart also will I give you, I will take away the stony heart, and give you an heart of flesh
I believe this verse captures exactly the difference I was describing when I wrote of a “calloused heart” and a “heart that was made alive.” Describing the unfeeling, spiritually cut-off, cynical heart as “stony” is perfectly fitting. Cold and hard and dead and unmalleable.
And this verse seems to make clear that a “heart of flesh” is something that is given of God as a sort of miracle. We don’t tenderize our heart into submission, we ask Him to replace it within us. God designed the first people and he designed them to dwell directly in His presence. But then humanity fell and now our hearts are formed within that fallen sphere. So we must ask Him to redo His act of creation in us. We need to stop trying to make our fallen heart into something it cannot be and have Him replace it for us entirely.

Calloused Hearts- 1 Kings 19:11-13

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

COMMENTARY

And the Lord passed by, and a great wind rent the mountains; but the Lord was not in the wind
And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire
The Lord was somewhere around Elijah, passing by, but He could not be perceived. There were other loud and impressive forces going on at the same time, which were magnificent in their own way, but the Lord just wasn’t to be found in them.
Sometimes there is too much loudness in my own life to perceive God as well. I become bored in quiet moments and look for a song or a video or a notification to keep me stimulated. And maybe I will be able to find something loud, impressive, and even magnificent there…but I won’t be able to find God.

And after the fire a still small voice
God is always about us, but it is very, very rare that He uses His voice of thunder. Instead, if we want to hear Him, we will have to be very quiet and still.
I believe He speaks so softly because He does not want to be heard by just a part of us. He wants to be heard in the heart so that we are likely to heed Him. He wants us to fully be ourselves, with no other baggage to get in the way. So He will wait until we come fully into our own hearts and are our most authentic self, and then we will find Him.

Calloused Hearts- Mother Teresa

Previously I considered a passage of scripture that described a dark cloud which falls upon us all, temporarily blinding us from the love of God. This phenomenon has also been referred to as the “Dark Night of the Soul,” and this condition seems to describe Mother Teresa’s experience perfectly.

Though the woman dedicated her life to the service of her fellow man and constantly professed her love for God, she admitted in letters and personal writings that she had ceased to feel His love coming back to her. In her own words she expressed that “even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness.” She also wrote that “for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

After ten years of this darkness she described a month of reprieve, a time where “the long darkness … that strange suffering” was lifted away and she could feel God’s love again. Later the darkness returned.

Of course one could be cynical about the whole thing. Maybe she was hiding secret sins, maybe she had a mental condition, maybe she was agitating a passing sensation into a consuming obsession.

Maybe.

But having no compelling evidence that these were the case, I prefer to give her the benefit of a doubt. I like to remind myself that even Jesus had his moment of disconnection where he cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). My assumption is that Mother Teresa was simply caught in that same dark cloud which falls on each of us. It comes upon us at different periods of life and for different durations, and for her it appears to have been particularly late in life and of particularly long duration. But I like to believe that like her Savior, she felt her way faithfully through it and finally rested in the light at the end of the tunnel.

Personal Commitment: Month 9

January’s Review

For January I recommitted to regular, two-hour checkins to ground myself and to refresh my efforts to live as my best self. Throughout the month I found a great deal of vitality enter my spiritual life through this practice.

During this month I also shared an epiphany that I had through the process. I had been striving to invite God’s help, but not following it with an immediate effort to do some small, good thing. Over the past weeks I have tried to correct this by beginning a new ritual where I invoke God’s help, but then pair that request by doing whatever my conscience is currently prompting me to do. It is usually a small thing, and many times I don’t understand what good is even going to be accomplished by it, but it just feels right so I do it. There is a strong sense in this of putting an offering on the altar, giving a small sacrifice to deepen the sincerity of my intentions.

Just this last week I had a moment where I was already feeling tired and depleted, but I knew the right thing was to start playing with my children. I paused to ground myself, prayed for God to come into my heart and make me alive for the task, and then paired that request with my own effort to invent a new game to play with them. And as I was in the process of giving what little I could, I felt the vitality flowing back into my heart and I was able to really lean into the moment and have a wonderful time with my children.

I want to keep chasing experiences like that.

February’s Commitment)

And so this new ritual will be my guide during the month of February. I will start every day with this pattern of prayer and doing the first good thing I can think of. I will do it again each time I change my setting, such as when arriving at work or back at home. I will do it any time that I realize I am slipping into an autopilot mode of apathy and distractedness.

My goal is to make this practice become the new baseline for me. I want to repeat it so many times that it becomes routine, as standard a part of life as studying the scriptures became through doing this blog. This is the next step in my permanent development.

As with any lifestyle change, I assume this will take a lot of work and a lot of recommitment to really stick. So I’m approaching it with the mindset that this a long term effort, not just an exercise for February. In future months my checkin will likely be to modify this commitment as necessary and refresh my resolve to it. Come back at the start of March to hear how it’s going.

Thank you.