…or Discipleship in a Darkroom
The whole darkroom process starts with special materials—ordinary celluloid film coated in a particularly light-sensitive silver-haloid dust. It’s this unique property that makes photography possible.
We are also made of light-sensitive material. We react to it, resonate with it.
“That which is of God is light; and he that recieveth light and continueth in God recieveth more light and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (Doctrine & Covenants 50:24)
Knowing this, each of us have a simple, but fundamental choice to make: We can leave our ‘exposure’ to divine light to chance…OR…we can engage our agency and seek the light we need to create the images we want from our lives.
Great photographers use tools and tricks to use natural light to full advantage—and even create light. Monitors evaluate light levels from all angles. Reflectors focus and direct light where it’s needed most. Flashes create light to fill in dark spots. And a discerning eye can see beauty in shadow as well as in light.
Once an image has been captured on the film, it’s immersed in the developer (emulsifier) where chemicals bind to the unexposed silver halides and strip them from the film.
That is, anything not exposed to the light is no longer part of the image.
“This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater personal discipline. Rather it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures.” –David A. Bednar
We read in scripture about Christ’s arms being “outstretched” toward the sinner and sometimes think the road back is longer than it is.
“Yea I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefor, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” (Alma 34:31)
It’s amazing to watch a strip of film slip below the surface of a developer tub and see images appear in the frames that weren’t there seconds before. Pain, darkness, despair and doubt can begin fading from our lives just as quickly.
“You cannot stay on the summit forever. You have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is beneath. What is below cannot know what is above. One climbs, one sees, one descends. One sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art to conducting oneself in the lower regions according to the memory of what one saw higher up. What one can no longer see, one can at least still know” -René Daumal
The third step is the Stop Bath, which halts all chemical processes and returns the film to a neutral state.
These times are hard for me!
But I’ve discovered over the years that even beloved and chosen people spend a lot of time in the wilderness. And we can gain a lot by studying what happens in those wildernesses—and what makes the difference. Because we can wander… or we can be lead. We can starve…or we can be fed. We can be lost…or we can be transformed.
This final step makes the image permanent, binds it to the medium.
Richard Scott, a modern apostle, talk about the process of writing revelation (the impressions of divine light) on our hearts by writing it physically. He stresses that we record even those insights that seem minor at the time ‘faithfully’—believing in our potential to communicate with the heavens—and carefully, accurately; asking if we got it right; listening for confirmation…or correction; and then asking if there is more yet for us to learn.
The process isn’t easy. These are intense chemicals—not to mention it’s all happening in a darkroom. But if we can remember what we’re doing, what image it is we’re fixing, it will put light in our eyes, make us steadfast and immovable, and we will become the children of light.
For “Beloved, now are we the sons of God—and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” (1 John 3:2) “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray earnestly with all the energy of heart that ye may be filled with this love and receive his image in your countenances. That when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is, that we may have this hope, that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moroni 7:48)
I was recently invited to give a sermon in my home congregation. (Mormons don’t have a professional clergy so members of the congregation take turns teaching each other in Sunday services)
I was asked to speak on “Reading and gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon.” Reading. And the very first thing I thought was why ‘reading’ and not ‘studying’? And when I finally chose to pay attention to that question, I learned some really sweet things.
I grew up with a scriptorian. Any who have had my siblings or me in religious classes know we have been taught how to study and love the scriptures. I have been so blessed by her example.
But I felt impressed to testify that you don’t have to be a scriptorian to be blessed by the Book of Mormon….you don’t even have to study it. I wanted to reaffirm to my congregation the blessings of simply reading the Book of Mormon.
Alma taught the Zoramites that their faith could grow into a perfect knowledge if they could “no more than desire to believe” and I have found over and over in my life that the enabling power of the Atonement reaches out to make “no more than” just reading enough.
In my childhood, it was enough to build the foundation for a testimony of the gospel. I think only the older 4 of us could read when my parents bought us each a copy of the Book of Mormon and we all marked the 25 seminary mastery scriptures in any color we wanted…then each morning, it was someone’s turn to find a colored scripture and read it aloud. It was one verse a day, but I remember learning that everything that “inviteth and enticeth to do good” was from God—and that I could be sure of that.
On my mission, just reading was enough to feel an undergirding gratitude that changed my perspective on trials. Between Canadian and American Thanksgiving every year our whole mission would read the Book of Mormon through, marking things we were grateful for, and giving the books away as we went. Now that’s a rather intense reading schedule, but the approach has helped me multiple times since when I found myself needing a bit of an attitude adjustment.
And more recently, just reading the Book of Mormon has been enough to learn or feel something every day. After struggling with scripture study for a while, and feeling guiltier and guiltier and more and more stuck I finally just opened my scriptures, flipped through a bit, decided that Mormon needed more markings in it, and gave myself permission to stop reading every day once I’d felt the Spirit, learned something, or found something interesting enough to mark. No chapter a day, no time quotas, no “shoulds” about it. I would read until I felt like marking something and then I was good for the day, no questions asked. Some days, it was one stinkin’ verse, but I felt something. Some days, I didn’t gain any real spiritual insight per se, but marked something interesting, or even amusing (yes, the Book of Mormon is funny sometimes) and I stopped. And I was blessed.
Because the Lord has promised blessings for even just reading the Book of Mormon.
We encounter righteous examples, and not-so-righteous counter-examples that teach us how to live. We have quiet time—even if it’s just 5 minutes—for our minds and spirits to rest and be open to love and light and guidance. We store up the words of life, things that the Spirit can bring back to our minds “preaching from the pulpit of memory” when we need them (and often least expect them). We learn how the Lord interacts with His children; patterns of revelation and chastisement, of guidance and succoring. We exercise faith and are obedient to simple commandments (and receive the blessings that ALWAYS come from that). And we prove to ourselves that we can do hard things.
Came back to my desk yesterday afternoon to several puzzling emails inquiring about the cardboard box of kittens supposedly available for adoption at my desk. The wha-? A bit of excavation revealed an email sent by a passing oh-so-clever co-worker from the unlocked iPad sitting on my unattended desk.
The next morning, there were two adorable kittens curled up in a cardboard box on said oh-so-clever co-worker’s desk.
I mean, how else could I have responded?
Naturally, my first stop had been the interwebs:
“Ok friends–odd request of the month. I need to borrow some kittens. seriously. one will do, but several would be much, much better. I promise they will be well-treated and promptly returned. anybody? anybody?”
Fail. (though there was some touching concern for my mental health.)
Twitter, same result.
Humane Society, no dice.
It simply wasn’t ‘kitten season,’ I was told. Apparently there’s a season. Phone calls to a dozen pet stores, official paperwork transfer and a background check (?!) later and I was finally the proud owner of two adorable Siamese kittens.
They spent the day cavorting across keyboards and conference tables, thoroughly delighting (and distracting) the Domosphere. And I spent the next 48 hours sneezing and wheezing while I placed these two darlings in loving new homes.
It actually didn’t click that’d I’d checked off a particularly problematic bucket-list to-do until I handed over the babies’ paperwork to their new family and saw the full breed listing: Himalayan Colourpoint Persian.
Most satisfying $160 impulse buy I ever made. 😉
(continued from Part One)
So how do we engage our agency as we wait upon the Lord? How do we ACT instead of being acted upon in the times when we can’t, or don’t know how to, or just feel like we aren’t moving forward? Here are 4 ideas:
First, we can choose to LEARN.
Now this doesn’t mean obsessive redundant searches for the very answers and guidance that the Lord in His wisdom has us waiting for. This is learning as an attribute of godliness. Learning because, as President Hinckley said: “None of us knows enough. The learning process is an endless process. We must read, we must observe, we must assimilate, and we must ponder that to which we expose our minds. You cannot afford to stop. There is so much to learn.”
Throw yourself into study of a spiritual gift you want to develop. Take up the cello. Construct a historical timeline of Papua New Guinea. Read a biography. Increase your understanding of the Atonement. I have seen blessings flow into the lives of people I love who have chosen to seek learning in times when direction and other blessings just weren’t coming.
Choosing to learn can help us wait upon the Lord.
Second, we can choose to SERVE.
My mama is fond of saying that “a person all wrapped up in themselves makes a very small package.” And it’s easy to get wrapped up in ourselves in times of waiting; especially if we get caught up searching for a “why” to the waiting. President Monson said it this way: “Unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish.”
So, give compliments. Do favors. Spend time. Share your talents. fulfill your callings, work in the temple, be an excellent home or visiting teacher. Even just turning our hearts outward enough to pray for the needs of another person before our own can help us learn to wait. We may even find that our own waiting deepens both our capacity and our inclination to “mourn with those that mourn.”
My favorite verse of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” says “stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death, I found him by the highwayside. I roused his pulse, brought back his breath, revived his spirit and supplied wine, oil, refreshment. He was healed. I had myself a wound concealed. But from that hour forgot the smart, and peace bound up my broken heart.”
Choosing to serve can help us wait upon the Lord.
Third, we can choose to REMEMBER.
This is another word that Satan has sort of co-opted in our modern language. Often when we say we remembered something, we say it like remembering is something that happens TO us, rather than an action we take. But we can choose to remember. And we can choose when we remember, and what we remember.
We can remember our blessings. We can remember His love. We can remember the moments of clarity and power that are the foundation of our testimonies, however distant they may seem.
Rene Daumal wrote: “You cannot stay on the summit forever. You have to come down. So why bother in the first place? Just this. What is above knows what is below. What is below cannot know what is above. One climbs. One sees. One descends. One sees no longer, but one HAS SEEN. There is an art to conducting oneself in the lower regions according to the memory of what one saw higher up. What one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
In some way, at some time, all of us who are waiting now have seen. And choosing to remember can help us wait upon the Lord.
And finally, we can choose to REST.
I vividly remember the first time my yoga instructor referred to downward facing dog as a “resting pose”. With my hamstrings screaming and my hands slipping in the sweat that was literally dripping from my forehead, all I could think was “you have got to be kidding me.” Nothing about that pose felt restful. In fact, it was a LOT of work! But as I practiced, I came to understand the concept of “active rest”. Our bodies do this naturally with healthy sleep–chemicals balance out, energy stores are readied for use, damage is repaired. There’s a lot going on while we “rest”. In yoga, resting poses are a time to check in, correct your alignment, take note of tension or pain, gather energy, and make choices about your practice going forward.
Bearing little resemblance to the “veg in front of the tv with potato chips and Haagan Daaz” kind of rest, the rest of the Lord is an inner stillness and trusting confidence at the core of life regardless of what other motion is going on around it.
It’s okay that life goes slower than we’re capable of moving sometimes. Like the natural cycle of night and day, winter and spring, we can use those waiting times to center ourselves, evaluate our goals, gather strength and light and love, and take time to heal.
Choosing to rest can help us wait upon the Lord.
One of my favorite songs from Rob Gardner’s “Lamb of God” captures the essence of what I’ve learned about waiting upon the Lord. It’s sung by the apostle Thomas, and I’d like to quote the words:
“Not now, but in the coming years, (it may not be when we demand) we’ll read the meaning of our tears. And there, sometime we’ll understand; why what we long for most of all eludes our open, pleading hands. Why ever silence meets our calls, somewhere, sometime we’ll understand. Sometime we’ll fall on bended knee and feel there, graven on his hands. Sometime with tearless eyes we’ll see what here we could not understand. So trust in God through all thy days. Fear not, for he doth hold thy hand. Though dark thy way, still sing and praise. Sometime, sometime, we’ll understand.”
So whether you’re stuck in a job you hate but can’t quit and every door that seems to open closes before you can get through it, or it’s been two years of praying every day for the next step in your life and you still don’t know what it is, or you were strong and happy and knew where you were headed only to get sideswiped by an illness that completely flattens you, or you’re turning 31 and the only plan you ever really wanted had you married with 4 kids by now,
Wherever you are waiting (and at any given time, most of us are waiting) you can choose to learn, choose to serve, choose to remember, and choose to rest.
And I pray that you will. Because I know that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love him.” I promise you IT WILL BE WORTH THE ‘WAIT’.
I think it’s a safe assertion that our society isn’t fond of waiting. We hate traffic, eat way too much fast food, and can ship something between any two points on the globe in 24 hours or less. If a website takes more than 2 seconds to load, we refresh the page. And if our pizza isn’t prepped, baked, and driven across town to our doorstep in under 30 minutes, it’s free (because clearly something went wrong.)
In our world, if you have to wait, something is generally BROKEN. We see waiting as unnecessary at best, and more often problematic. And it makes us feel powerless and unproductive.
But this is a very modern conception of waiting, and I believe Satan wins an important battle when we buy into it. Because when waiting means something is broken to us, we miss what it means to God, and the role it plays in our eternal progression.
The word wait comes from the same root as “watch” or “guard.” (hardly passive inactivity, right?) And some of the archaic definitions include:
- “to be in readiness to serve or execute orders”
- “to be stationary in readiness or expectation”
- and “to remain hopeful and trusting”
As a people, we believe that the course of our mortal life is critical to our development as children of an all knowing, all powerful and loving God with whom we can communicate through prayer. Sometimes, in answer to our prayers, we receive clear, specific and undeniable guidance from our Heavenly Father. The path may be challenging, but we are confident in our direction and we press forward with vision and purpose. Those times, for me, are pretty much bliss.
But, as President Hinckley said “anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to spend a lot of time running around screaming that he’s been robbed.”
Far more often in life, guidance, direction and answers to prayer come neither clearly nor quickly.
And so we wait.
- Sometimes we wait somewhere in the middle of a road we’ve been on forever, can’t really remember how we got on, and can’t see where it’s going.
- Sometimes we wait at the crossroads where the paths go off in opposite directions and we have no idea which one to choose.
- Sometimes we wait at the giant rock slide that is the dead end of a path we were pretty sure He’d set us on in the first place.
- And sometimes we wait dangling off a cliff at the end of our ropes, certain that any second we’re going to lose our grip and fall.
But as discouraging, bewildering, maddening or painful as this waiting may be, it is NOT an accident, not a mistake, not even a consequence much of the time. It does not mean God has forgotten you, that he never really loved you, or that you have done anything to lose his love or care.
Waiting is part of life, and it is part of the plan.
For evidence, we need look no further than the scriptures. Sometimes, though, I think the scriptures give us a warped sense of the timelines of our heroes’ lives. One verse presents the seemingly insurmountable problem, and in the next verse, there’s the solution! Sometimes years of waiting are encompassed in the simple phrase “and it came to pass.” But if we read carefully, we see that…
- For Abraham, it was four agonizing days, with an altar built and a knife poised at the throat of his only son before “God provided himself a lamb.”
- For Joseph Smith it was 5 months of the hell that was Liberty Jail between “Oh God, where art thou?” and “know thou, my son.”
- For Nephi and his family it was 8 years of raw meat and wandering between “take thy family and depart into the wilderness” and “thou shalt construct a ship.” (to say nothing of the rest of the journey)
- For the woman in Jerusalem, it was 12 years, dozens of doctors, and everything she owned between the start of the bleeding and “thy faith hath made thee whole.”
- And for Elizabeth and Zachariah, is was a LIFETIME of “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless” between their covenant of marriage and the birth of their first and only son.
These and many other beloved and faithful men and women throughout history have been challenged, refined and ultimately blessed by learning to wait upon the Lord. Would we truly want to be exempted from that?
Preach My Gospel says “Patience [and I see “waiting upon the lord” as a synonym here] is the capacity to endure disappointment, delay, trouble, opposition or suffering without becoming angry, frustrated or anxious.”
Notice, please, that it does NOT say waiting upon the Lord means enduring all those things without FEELING anger, frustration and anxiety.
Enduring the delay of answers, direction or blessings is HARD. And it was designed to be! The scriptures promise us that “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Generally, things don’t need to be renewed unless they have first been depleted or run out entirely. So, you’re not doing something wrong if waiting is draining…or if it hurts. Feeling and acknowledging the pain (or anger, frustration or anxiety) of waiting is not faithless.
But if we disengage our god-given agency; if we buy in to Satan’s counterfeit and believe that this waiting means something is broken–in ourselves, in the world, or in God; if we allow our waiting to be passive and powerless, then we risk BECOMING angry, frustrated and anxious.
So how do we engage our agency as we wait upon the Lord? How do we ACT instead of being acted upon in the times when we can’t, or don’t know how to, or just feel like we aren’t moving forward?
Over the years, social media has challenged, amused, embarrassed, inspired and enlightened me. In no particular order (but numbered, so I can call it a “top-10” list) here are some of my favorite moments:
10. Opting out of a page in ” the Facebook” in early 2005 with the quip, “I just don’t see why anyone would want one.” doh.
9. Sending what was meant to be a funny tweet about spending my 12th night in a month at JFK’s Terminal 5, only to get a reply from someone I didn’t even know 5 minutes later confirming my *prepaid* reservation at the Marriott down the street.
8. Discovering the Twitter backchannel at an academic conference–and getting WAY more value out of it than I ever had from any plenary, panel, or keynote.
7. Watching bloggers who had never actually met greet each other like long-lost sisters the first day of a social media conference. Being baffled. And then doing it myself the next year.
6. Finally “getting” Facebook as dozens of people from my graduating class (most of whom were never really “friends” in high school) came together to support a classmate whose baby daughter was born with a hole in her heart.
5. Watching a dozen inner-city teenagers actually fact-check–and spell-check–their homework, because their audience was the world (aka Wikipedia)…instead of just their over-earnest teacher.
4. Being brought up on stage and called out as the only person in the audience of a social media conference still rocking the flip phone.
3. Seeing my blog called “wise and delightful” in a tweet from someone I would have been tempted to faun over had I we ever been in the same room.
2. Realizing that one of the projects we’d funded through TippingBucket had helped to launch the Arab Spring.
1. Signing the check for our first $1,000,000 crowd-funded grant. (This one hasn’t happened yet. But it will.)
Those are my moments…
What are some of yours?