Saturday, February 26, 2011

A prayer of thanks

I learned tonight that a friend of mine—a fellow student in my graduate program—has been offered, and has accepted, a faculty position at an institution in another state. In a terrible job market, it's very, very good news for her. She's going to make a fine scholar and teacher.

I express gratitude for this opportunity for her, and I pray that all will go well as she finishes her dissertation, prepares to move, and settles into her new career. I'm thankful for the friendship we've had during our time together in the program, and I'm going to miss her when she's gone, though I hope we'll be able to collaborate in ways as colleagues in the same field.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Protests in the Arab world

So much could still go wrong, and yet it's so hopeful to see the democratic protests that have been springing up across the Arab world. God of justice, Liberator of the oppressed, be with them.
That law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind and is justifiable before me. (D&C 98:5)

Laws and [a] constitution of the people . . . should be maintained for the rights and protection of all fliesh, according to just and holy principles. (D&C 101:77)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Post-mortem for a funeral

Live together in such love
that you weep for the loss of those who die.
(D&C 42:45)
I'm nearly 40 years old, and I have no experience with funerals. Until attending my mother's funeral this last weekend, I can remember attending one other funeral—that of a teenaged peer from one of my wards. I didn't attend the funerals for any of the three grandparents I've lost so far. I've been to a handful of memorial services, but never a viewing or a graveside service.

I found the viewing disconcerting. I had gone in wanting to touch the body. But then when I saw her, she looked like a wax doll—like something you'd see in Madame Tussauds. I presume that the viewing is supposed to help reconcile us to her death by giving us an image of her in peaceful repose, but I found the artificiality of it alienating. I couldn't touch her. All I could keep thinking was: This is a wax shell pumped full of formaldehyde.

On the other hand, I suppose I would rather have had that last sight of her than a closed casked without a viewing.

Once they closed the casket, she was gone for me psychologically. The casket became a sign standing in for her; I wasn't thinking of it as a container with her inside. When it came time for me to help carry the casket to the hearse, I just thought of it as carrying the casket. It didn't dawn on me until the next day, as we were revisiting the burial site, that I was actually carrying her body. And it didn't dawn on me until even later that night that as I was carrying the casket, I was positioned right by her head. Again, I find this all alienating. I was inches away from her face, but I had no consciousness of her being there.

The funeral was... I don't know what adjective to use. Nice? People spoke well. It was good to hear takes on her life that are less tragic than mine. I'd been gloomily anticipating the "prettification" of her life—the same process that turns church history into hagiography. But I respect the representation- and meaning-making that was done there.

A theological reflection that rolled around my head during the weekend: If we take seriously the statement that "the spirit and the body are the soul" (D&C 88:15), then my mother's disembodied spirit (assuming it exists, which is my operating assumption) is no more fully and truly her than her inanimate body is. We use the idea of the immortal spirit to tell ourselves that the dead continue as we knew them. But it seems to me that our doctrine actually works against that idea. The same sense of false or incomplete identity I had when I looked at her body—this isn't really her—I should also have if I were able to see her spirit. Her spirit isn't really her, because it's missing the body, just as her body isn't really her because it's missing the spirit. What reason do I have to think that I would even recognize her spirit if I encountered it? Why would it look like her body? Why would it have her personality? It doesn't have her genes. It doesn't have her brain.

More alienation.

Alma 40 tells me that my mother has gone home to the God who gave her life. I want that to be true. I want her to be in a state of rest, as that passage says. But D&C 88 and 138 tell me that she's in a profound dissociative state. Her soul has been broken in two. And now she waits to be fixed—restored. "For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage" (D&C 138:50).

I believe that ensoulment is embodiment—I'm firmly decided on that point. Which I guess means that I also have to hope for a physical resurrection if I want to hope for the immortality of my mother's soul. I'm not really thrilled about that: physical resurrection is so problematic, philosophically. I'd prefer to be much more agnostic and noncomittal about the afterlife—just trust that we're in God's hands. But that's not going to be enough to let me maintain my beliefs and hopes consistently. Bodily resurrection it is, I guess. Not the most enthusiastic profession of faith.

I'm tired. And I'm not in the right emotional state to be getting philosophical about these subjects.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I fly out to Utah tomorrow for my mother's funeral.

Music has long been an important part of my spirituality: the song of the heart really has been a major form of prayer for me, as the scripture says. Ever since I was young, I've been composing—really amateur stuff, since I'm mostly self-taught as a musician. Mostly religious songs. Won an Honorable Mention or two in the New Era music contest, actually, in my young teens. Between 1997 and 2004, I did quite a bit of composing for the guitar, which was important to me as a way to keep engaging with texts from LDS scripture after coming out.

I've composed hardly anything since I've been in graduate school, until just recently. I'm posting here two things I've composed in the past couple of months, as a way to cope with my mother's decline and death. Just sheet music, I'm afraid (PDF files), no recordings—I don't know how to do that. The songs are inspired by the Taize style of music: a simple verse, often taken from scripture, sung over and over as a kind of meditation.

Take her home (Alma 40:11-12) - PDF
We shall declare (D&C 133:52-53) - PDF