Picture first our living room: A long addition to a formerly small two bedroom, one bath ranch house with small windows at the top of the west wall. Paneling like none I’ve ever seen before, fake pine-decorated sheetrock—hard to describe, obviously, since it wasn’t even a veneer that could be called fake. A picture window on the right that faced east, where I sprouted my pinto beans. Some bookshelves at the end, and a place where the previous family had built in a television. Square tan linoleum tiles that needed to be swept regularly and waxed occasionally. The couch and a chair were covered in cheap faux leather, green, with button tufts, some of which were missing. Our father’s pride and joy was the coffee table. He had glued a piece of hot pink laminate a friend had given him into a rectangular frame he’d refinished.
Into this came two missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My parents were heavy smokers and heavy coffee drinkers, so it must have been a bit unpleasant in that regard as well. All I can remember is a slide show, though this version from 1964 is a film called Man’s Search for Happiness. No one in my family joined the church then, or mine would be a much different story, of course. They weren’t spiritual people, really, but when I joined the church, my mother did tell me that she believed Joseph Smith really had seen the Father and the Son in that grove. She didn’t have any intention of joining the church even though that was true, but it did give me pause.
This spring marks the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s decision to seek answers to his questions through prayer. He had read James 1:5, a simple instruction: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” What followed when he voiced his concerns changed not just him but the world. The privilege of seeing God has been reserved to very few throughout history, and none of us has any expectation of that privilege. What we can expect, however, is answers, just as surely as that 14-year-old did when he went to a quiet grove of trees to pray. Here is a link to his various accounts of what happened. This hymn contains today’s title.
At first, I thought Joseph and I were much the same, actually. No one disabused me of the fact that I had little in common with someone who was a prophet and who eventually died for his beliefs. I, too, prayed and received an answer to my questions. I, too, suffered some (not much, a little) persecution. I, too, was willing to die for those beliefs, though I hoped not to have to. C.S. Lewis wrote about this feeling in his brief book The Screwtape Letters, well worth reading because of his own conversion.
That brings me to my conclusion. The Greek word martyr just means “witness.” We are all, ultimately, martyrs for what we believe in. Rarely are our lives taken from us; we more often just trudge through them and sigh them away. How will we be remembered? Will we have a legacy? Whether we expect to step into another life or blink out of existence, we want to have made a difference. Yet, that may not be the right question to ask. Rather let it be, have I searched for the divine? Have I assumed it doesn’t exist? Have I asked?
Today’s illustration is a print I just purchased called “Moonbeam” by Iwasaki Tsuneo. It’s impossible to capture the sense of immensity in the scale of a computer screen. The print is 40 inches long, after all. At the bottom is a tiny being with (her) hand raised to the heavens from which streams a message. I love it. I believe such things happen. Whether you join the church or not, at least consider asking if that Being is there. Lift up your hand, or your heart, or your mind. It doesn’t matter so much as the fact that today–any day–is a lovely morning when you get one.