I went to the Young Women General Meeting with my mom last Saturday night. I left feeling more frustrated than hopeful or edified. To improve my negative attitude, I tried repeating, “This is a net positive,” to myself. The LDS cultural and doctrinal view is better than many others to which young women are being exposed. The value of experiencing structure and support from a church organization and being exposed to strong female leadership shouldn’t be underestimated.
Still, I was disappointed. The most interesting moment of the meeting was when Ann Dibb, the second counselor in the general presidency, quoted Charlotte Bronte, illustrating Jane Eyre’s integrity. I appreciated the themes of chosenness, obedience to God’s law, temple preparation, and the gospel of Christ being a source of light in darkness. But the messages were not presented in what to me would be a meaningful or thought-provoking way. The project of this meeting was clearly a cultural one–Mormon culture should provide an alternative to the cultural evils of the world; the gospel should inspire conduct that is better, more holy, than that which young women might otherwise be led to participate in.
Given the article above, how can I say this aim is a bad thing? Nevertheless, the young women were not presented with a complex morality or series of archetypes. Difficulty and negativity were almost entirely shuttered away, except being spoken of in vague terms. The sweet young women who gave their testimonies in a video presentation were optimistic. One of the girls expressed gratitude for what she was learning now that would help her be a mother later. It was painful. What if her motherhood were curtailed? What of all the other sorrows that these young women will grow up to face? What will these girls do when prayer does not seem to be enough, when God seems to disappear? Oftentimes difficulty cannot just be prayed or studied away. Difficulty must be endured. We are forced to go through this vale of sorrows, as Christ did, and often must walk in darkness, despite trying to do everything right.
I understand these leaders only have an hour and a half in which to present the message they feel to be most vital, and that probably does not include dwelling on sad things. But without the dark, how is the light meaningful? And why create what seems to me to be an entirely manufactured culture, one whose roots seem to be only slightly connected to the great streams of history and literature and art that could otherwise enrich it?
The closing hymn was such a relief. John Keith’s “How Firm a Foundation” acknowledges the deeply distressing nature of life made meaningful, bearable, sanctified through bolstering grace. I resonated much more strongly with the soul shaken by hell who choses not to forsake her redeemer:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
This is the message of the Psalter. God is teaching Israel that he will be their God unfailingly in the deep waters if Israel will covenant with him. Without the depth there is no salvific height. Without Israel’s pettiness and infidelity, God’s commitment would be far less significant. Without death, no resurrection. I wish the Young Women leaders could tap into some of that complexity and give the girls something to think about that might enhance their life experience and the way they deal with difficulty.
Lately I have been reading the Liturgy of the Hours from the Lectio Divina. My goal is to read each hour’s reading at the time it would be read by monks as required by canon law, to establish this prayer practice much as Muslims practice Salat. The admonition to avoid vain repetition in prayer has robbed Mormonism of what could be a great strength–an hourly reminder that we are living in sacred time and that devotion must be continually reenacted. I am incapable of always remembering Christ. I do my best to ignore him half the time. I want to think that I scrabble and subsist on my own power, that I am fittest in my survival. But reading the Psalter and hymns and thinking about the daily saints allows me to acknowledge my suffering in God’s presence and then surrender it to the infinitely greater suffering of Christ. Despite believing truth comes from many different sources, Mormons, in their meetings, often settle for a culture that does not satisfy nor is completely theologically accurate. I hope this will one day change.