by Robyn

Your Birth and Rebirth by Brittany Cromar

February 23, 2016 in Baptism, Birthdays, Guest Post, Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, Rebirth, Rites of passage, Robyn, Sacrament, Savior, Symbolism, Uncategorized by Robyn

Brittany was kind enough to share her insightful talk given at her daughter’s recent baptismal service. We have blogged about the connection between baptism and birth before but I love how she connected each element together in her thoughts. I am looking forward to my son’s baptism in a few weeks so this talk was so timely for me. Thank you Brittany! —-Robyn

 

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Eight years ago, you were born. That day was a special day. Today is another special day, because it is the day of your rebirth. In John chapter 3, Jesus taught that everyone must be born again, born of water, which is baptism, and born of the Spirit, which is receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

 

On the day of your birth, you started a new life. Today when you are reborn, you will start a new life as a covenant follower of Christ. In Romans 6, we learn that baptism symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when you go under the water the rebellious natural woman in you symbolically dies along with Jesus. Then you come up out of the water symbolizes Christ’s resurrection, which gives us new spiritual life today and someday, our own resurrection.

 

On the day you were born, you became part of our family. Today, you will become part of Christ’s family, which is His Church. In Mosiah 5:7, it says that when you are baptized, you become a Child of Christ because “your heart has been changed through faith on his name.”

 

When you became part of our family, we named you, and we gave you the same last name as us to show that we were family. Because you will now be part of Jesus’ family, you also take upon yourself His name, and will be called a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

In Mosiah 18, the people Alma taught were ready to be baptized, and they were a lot like you, he saw they had faith in Jesus Christ, were willing to love their neighbors and willing stand as witnesses of God–they were ready to join Jesus’ Church family. So, like you, they were ready to promise to serve Heavenly Father and keep His commandments. When you are baptized, He promises to give you His Spirit and eternal life. The great part is, that these same promises are also part of the sacrament, so every week, even when you make mistakes, if you keep your heart open to change and following Christ, taking the sacrament is like getting baptized all over again.

I’m so proud of you for your choice to be reborn, to make covenants, and to become part of Christ’s Church family. I say this in the Name of Jesus Christ, amen.

by Robyn

Did Mary Really Ride a Donkey to Bethlehem?

December 8, 2015 in Angels, Christmas, Jesus Christ, joy, Mary, Pregnancy, Robyn, Savior, Symbolism, Uncategorized by Robyn

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There are many beautiful works of art depicting Mary riding a donkey as Joseph led them to Bethlehem. I never questioned whether or not Mary rode a donkey on her journey with Joseph.  However, as I was researching the symbolism of Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem and Christ riding a donkey as he entered Jerusalem in the Triumphal Entry, I realized that the scriptures don’t actually say that she did.  She could have. It is likely that she did given it was the popular mode of transportation for people of her day and circumstances.  But we really don’t know.

Nevertheless, it is interesting that it is commonly accepted. And so I wanted to delve into the symbolism of Christ riding the donkey into Jerusalem and what that may mean for our common belief that Mary rode upon a donkey too.   In Egypt the donkey is a symbol for the god of evil. In Hebrew writings the donkey or ass symbolized the devil, evil, harm or non-covenant people (Lost Language of Symbolism, 307-308).  What does the Son of God riding upon something that symbolized evil mean?

 

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The answer is two fold in Christ riding upon the donkey/ass. First, it symbolized that He would overcome all evil even the devil himself. This He did with his sinless life though being sorely tempted by even Satan himself.  By riding into Jerusalem in this manner He foreshadows His triumph over physical and spiritual death and His ability to grant salvation.

Secondly, riding upon the ass represented that He was the God of the Jews and Gentiles, “Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also” (Romans 3:29).  In addition, the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles as well as be “blessed and numbered among the house of Israel” (2 Nephi 10:18).  The word Gentile means “the nations.”  It designates people of non-Israelite lineage but also nations that are without the gospel (Bible Dictionary, 679).

He is the Lord to each one of us whether we know it or not.  Christ did not come for the saint but for the sinner.  He is your Savior whether or not you accept Him as such.  He loves you whether or not you love Him.  He waits for you even when you stray.  He is merciful and makes it possible for each one of us to receive His salvation in one way or another.  To Him we are numbered.  He knows us.

And so Mary riding upon the back of a donkey pregnant with the babe Jesus is a beautiful foreshadowing of what was to come. So whenever I see Mary riding upon the donkey I think of the power and triumph of Christ entering Jerusalem upon a donkey with the crowds of people throwing their clothes and palm fronds in His path honoring Him as a King proclaiming,

“Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9).

These beautiful words are similar to the refrain of heavenly hosts heralding the birth of Jesus,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

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In pondering these symbols a conversation with a dear friend of mine came to mind as we talked about her approaching birth.  She could feel the darkness surrounding her, trying to rob her of the joy that should accompany the birth of a child.  Knowing the challenges she had faced in the past I was reminded that she had overcome them.  The darkness did not beat her.  She had triumphed.  So if you find yourself pregnant or with a little one during this sacred time, or struggling in anyway, I hope you know that Christ will help you triumph over the evil.  It is not unusual to feel weighed down physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as you overcome the evil of the world and choose to give the Gift of Life.  May you seek to be ever closer to Him and feel his love surround you as you bravely move forward to your “Bethlehem.”

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  John 14:27

 

The Gift of Giving Life is on sale for the Holidays.

Buy at Amazon.

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by Lani

Watch with Me

July 13, 2015 in Adversity, Atonement, Breastfeeding, Dads, Doulas, Jesus Christ, Lani, Pain, Sacrament, Symbolism by Lani

Yesterday Kevin Barney posted “A Feminine Insight to Gethsemane” on By Common Consent. He explained that, as a man, it had never occurred to him to relate Christ’s longing to “let this cup pass” to a woman’s yearning to avoid the pain of childbirth. His post and the comments are worth checking out, especially the ones plugging The Gift of Giving Life. 😉

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Our wonderful Robyn Allgood is the author of a beautiful essay, “Birth in Remembrance of Him,” examining the connections between Christ’s Atonement and childbirth in The Gift of Giving Life. Here’s an excerpt:

The blood that was squeezed from Christ for us has the power to give us eternal life, while the blood that a woman sheds for her baby gives physical life. The work of labor often causes a woman to sweat as she exerts pressure to push her baby out. As the baby moves through the birth canal, mucous and other fluids are squeezed from the baby’s nose, throat, and other orifices. This squeezing or massaging of the baby prepares the baby to live outside of the womb. In this way, the labor that a woman experiences is benefiting her baby, just as the labor the Savior endured for each one of us is for our benefit.

Just last Sunday we attended Gospel Doctrine in my parents’ ward and discussed Christ’s experience in Gethsemane. As we discussed the Apostles’ difficulty staying awake to “watch with Christ,” our instructor suggested that Christ’s agony and the heaviness He felt were likely so intense and overwhelming that His apostles may have, on some small scale, felt it in the energy pervading the area. Because of their deep love and connection with Christ, they may have been experiencing some sort of “sympathy pains.”

asleep-in-the-gardenThe scriptures say that “when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow” (Luke 22:45). Our instructor suggested that it may have been that they were not necessarily “asleep,” but rather literally unconscious from the depth and intensity of the agonizing atmospheric pain they, as mortals, were incapable of withstanding. Personally, I have on a few occasions felt a pain so intense that I have fainted from it. I think our instructor was definitely onto something, and I think hers is the best explanation I have ever heard for the apostles seemingly “slacking on the job.”

When Christ asked them to “watch with Him,” I think He was, essentially, asking them to “hold space” for Him. I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of holding space lately. Holding space for someone enduring a difficult experience is both an honor and a challenge. Our Gospel Doctrine instructor last Sunday explained that when Christ said, “pray that ye enter not into temptation,” scholars suggest that it meant something more like “pray that ye will not break under the weight of this hard trial.” It seems that Gethsemane was not just a difficult test for Christ but also for His Apostles.

posteriorAs she shared these insights, I also found myself thinking about childbirth. My second baby was posterior, facing my front, or “sunnyside up,” which is not ideal for the journey through the pelvis and birth canal. It wasn’t easy pushing her out, and I was making a lot of noise.

As I worked to push her out, my stepmother was on my left and my husband was on my right. At one point I looked at my stepmom, and I could see that she was crying. When I asked her about it later, I learned that they weren’t tears of joy as I had originally suspected. She was crying because it was so hard for her to see me in that kind of pain. Almost simultaneously, to my right, my husband was bent over, and at first I thought he was vomiting. In fact, he was having a hard time staying conscious and was on the verge of fainting. Though they were not enduring the pain themselves, they were having very real and visceral reactions to it.

After the hard work was over

After the hard work was over

I don’t know if Christ’s apostles could see Him as He prayed. The scriptures aren’t entirely clear. Perhaps they could see Him or yearned to help Him. Or perhaps they could simply feel a small portion of the heaviness and pain projecting from Him as He accomplished the Atonement. They offered “sacred support” in much the way fathers and doulas support their wives and clients through childbirth (see “A Father’s Sacred Support” in The Gift of Giving Life). They could not remove His burden, but I suspect they were able to feel some of the weight of it as they struggled to remain conscious.

It is not easy to hold space for someone in pain, and the Apostles were holding space for the most intense experience of pain that has ever occurred. This perspective has given me a deeper appreciation and respect for the disciples Christ chose to “watch with Him” as well as a heightened sense of gratitude to all those who have “watched with me” in childbirth and other intensely challenging or painful experiences. Their service was a beautiful gift to me.

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by Lani

Ritual Rebirth in Ancient and Modern Practice

April 8, 2015 in Atonement, Baptism, Heavenly Mother, Jesus Christ, Lani, Old Testament Women, Priesthood, Rebirth, Rites of passage, Savior, Symbolism, Temple by Lani

I enjoyed so many beautiful moments in conference last weekend. Part of me wanted to write about Linda K. Burton’s beautiful talk. While listening to her words, my cheeks ran with tears as I was completely overcome by an overwhelming gratitude for the man who has stood by my side and held me up through so much pain and darkness. I also wanted to write about saints and sinners, enduring to the end, and Mother Teresa’s intense battle with darkness.

But this morning I felt impressed to write about something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time, and I’m not really sure why it has taken me so long to get around to it. What I want to talk about touches on some statements made by a couple of speakers last weekend:

Nothing relative to our time on earth can be more important than physical birth and spiritual rebirth, the two prerequisites of eternal life. –D. Todd Christofferson

To inherit this glory, we need more than an unlocked gate; we must enter through this gate with a heart’s desire to be changed—a change so dramatic that the scriptures describe it as being “born again; yea, born of God.” –Dieter F. Uchtdorf

During my senior year at BYU (2002, holy cow that was thirteen years ago), I completed an internship as a managing editor for an on-campus student journal Studia Antiqua. The journal was the brain-child of Matthew Grey, who was a student and editor-in-chief, and was supervised by S. Kent Brown, director of Ancient Studies at BYU. As part of my “training,” Matt gave me copies of the journal’s first issue, published before I joined the team. I still have my copy of that issue and treasure it. Truthfully, I only really treasure the last article in the issue, containing information I wished I had known before I attended the Provo temple to receive my endowment the previous year. The article I’m referring to is called “Becoming as a Little Child: Elements of Ritual Rebirth in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,” by our editor-in-chief, Matthew Grey, now known as Dr. Grey, assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.

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As D. Todd Christofferson reiterated in conference, God has commanded us to teach our children what it means to be reborn and all of the symbolism involved in it. Until I became acquainted with Matthew Grey’s Studia Antiqua article about ritual rebirth, I didn’t realize that baptism wasn’t the only rebirth ritual we participate in as members of the Church. In ancient Israel there were specific acts performed each time a child was born. Matthew Grey outlined these in his research. These include: 1) a washing with water, 2) an anointing with oil, 3) clothing in a garment, and 4) receiving a name.

Matthew Grey shared excerpts from Ezekiel 16, where the Lord spoke to the people of their original “birth” and the elements that were missing: “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all” (vs. 4). Then the Lord described how they had been “birthed” of Him through their covenants with Him and how He had provided the important birth rituals they originally lacked: “Then washed I thee with water; yea I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil. I clothed thee also with broidered work” (vs. 8-10).

The scriptures outline a similar ritual rebirth process for High Priests before entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement each year. At the door of the temple, a priest would be washed with water, anointed with oil, and clothed with sacred attire. This sacred attire included a cap/mitre, also translatable as “turban” (Mitsnepheth in the Hebrew) or “crown” as described by Myers in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (see footnote 35 in Matthew Grey’s article). Following the washing, anointing, crowning and clothing, the priest was consecrated to the service of God with the the Divine Name inscribed on a plate of gold fitted on his head: “Holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36-38).

Referring specifically to the anointing aspect of these rituals, Matthew Grey explains: “In most cases, the act of ritual anointing serves to empower or enable the person to do what he was made worthy to do through the washing. In its most common application, anointing with oil was used in the coronation of a king or in the consecration of a priest” (p. 68).

These words from an Ensign article (published two months before I was born) seem particularly pertinent: “In the temple men are prepared for their roles as kings and priests, and women are prepared to become queens and priestesses” (Carolyn J. Rasmus, “Mormon Women: A Convert’s Perspective“). President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive . . . authority and power as queens and priestesses” (Daughters in my Kingdom).

Nothing is more important than physical birth and spiritual rebirth Elder Christofferson told us. Our mothers have given us the gift of birth and our first naming. Christ gave us the gift of rebirth through baptism and offered us His name. We may experience other rebirths in our journey upward, but none is more sacred than the rebirth our Heavenly Parents offer to us: a rebirth as kings and queens, priests and priestesses, and the sacred naming given only to those who have overcome the world:

To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written , which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it (Revelation 2:17).

by Robyn

Inward and Outward Ordinances

January 31, 2014 in Menstruation, Parenting, Priesthood, Puberty, Rites of passage, Robyn, Symbolism, Temple, Uncategorized by Robyn

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Faith In God, My Gospel Standards, and The Gift of Giving Life

“That they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”

John 17:3.

I was recently released from serving in Young Women. My new calling is to teach the Valiant 10/11 year old girls.  In addition to that I am also their Activity Day leader.  I have been studying the Faith in God program with new eyes, looking for ways in which it prepares a girl (or boy) to give life.

The entire purpose of the Faith in God program is that each girl and boy of the age of accountability is set on a path that will bring them to know God and Jesus Christ.

The program is split into four sections: “Learning and Living the Gospel,” “Serving Others,” “Developing Talents,” and “Preparing for Young Women or the Priesthood.”

All of the requirements are identical for a boy and girl until you reach the section on Preparing for Young Women or the Priesthood.  The choice of scriptures for these sections is not a coincidence:

For the soon to be Young Women: “Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come” D&C 87:8.

And for the soon to be Young Men: “The Priesthood of Aaron . . . is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances” D&C 107:13-14.

Did anyone else catch the significance of comparing these two scriptures next to each other? These young priesthood holders administer in “outward ordinances,” which begs the question, what about the “inward ordinances?”  Inward ordinances happen inside a holy temple, in “holy places.”  There are the washings, anointings, endowments, and sealings we have all been taught about that take place in holy temple buildings.  But we are also told that our body is a temple.  If you have read Heather’s essay, “The Two Veils,” you are aware of some of these inward ordinances: intimacy, conception, pregnancy and birth.  I would add to that list, menstruation and lactation.  These girls are preparing to shed blood as did the Savior.  They are a holy place where ordinance work will take place beginning with menstruation and continuing through other the other inward ordinances.

As our girls become young women we must teach them the sacredness of their bodies and that they are places of holy ordinance work symbolizing the mission of our Savior. (Boys need to be taught their bodies are sacred too.  This could be a whole other post. I’m just concentrating on the role of girls preparing to be young women.) The point I am trying to make is that if we do not teach them what that means they will be confused as to why and how to express the power they hold within them.  Why be modest?  Why avoid harmful substances?  Why keep the Gospel Standards?

It is easy to misunderstand the importance of inward ordinances.  It is easier to understand outward ordinances and their significance because of their apparent visibility but that does not mean they are more important than inward ordinances.  The fact that inward ordinances are so misunderstood speaks to how sacred they truly are. 

As a girl becomes a woman she experiences changes in her body that are symbolic of the Savior’s life giving properties.  Hair begins to grow and is symbolic of life.  The curves she develops give her body the strength and shape to carry life within her and bring it into this world.  Hair begins to grow and is symbolic of life. Her breasts grow so that they may eventually be filled with living water to nourish her baby just as the Savior’s living water is meant to nourish us. Her body begins to ovulate and shed blood as did the Christ.  Whether inward or outward we should always, ask ourselves, “in what way does this ordinance testify of Christ and His Atonement?”

Each of the sections within the Faith in God program is preparatory to coming to know God and Jesus Christ.  In order to truly know God we become like our Heavenly Parents.  Part of that is reverencing inward ordinances.  We must help our boys and girls keep baptismal covenants, learn and live the gospel, serve others, develop talents, and prepare for more ordinance work in the young women and priesthood programs.

How do we help our boys and girls understand inward and outward ordinances?

  • Utilize A Parent’s Guide. It is a manual by the church for parents to help with teaching our children about their bodies and intimacy according to their understanding and age.
  • Participate in Faith in God.  Attend scouting or activity days.
  • Celebrate and teach them about the inward ordinances. Consider a coming of age party for your daughter as she nears puberty.
  • Put together a special binder/book of information for your daughter about the changes she will experience. 
  • Attend the new General Women’s Meetings with your daughters (or boys the General Priesthood Meeting with their fathers). It seems God has much in store for our girls and we must be ready to help them understand what is coming. Study both the Women’s and Priesthood sessions.  Teach your daughters and sons what was discussed at both.
  • Listen for those informal, spontaneous moments when you can talk about these topics and bear testimony of their significance.  Don’t have this conversation just once. Leave the lines of communication open for questions.
  • Go on “dates” with your child. They need not be extravagant, they just involve one on one time. 
  • Be aware of how you talk about your body, motherhood, and fatherhood, etc.  Our children tend to mirror our insecurities.

I have already been learning a great deal from these powerful girls who are on the cusp of becoming women.  They are smart.  I have to prepare for their lessons studying not only the primary manual but the adult Sunday school lesson as well.  Their questions are thoughtful and reflective.  I feel a great responsibility to give them what matters most.  I seek the spirit every week as I prepare to teach them.   

I would love to learn from you. What have you done to teach your children or primary kids the significance of inward and outward ordinances?

 

 

by Robyn

The Covenants of Mortal Birth

October 25, 2013 in Baptism, Free Agency, Holy Ghost, Prenatal influences, Preparation, Robyn, Savior, Symbolism, Uncategorized by Robyn

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I recently attended two baptisms on the same day for two of my nephews.   As I watched these two boys stand next to their fathers surrounded by water I thought of their first baptism when their place was next to their mother once again surrounded by water.  A friend of mine pointed out that we likely left our Heavenly Mother’s care to enter earth life and be brought toward our Heavenly Father’s care just as symbolized through birth and baptism and other ordinances.

“inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the aspirit, which I have made, and so became of bdust a living soul, even so ye must be cborn again into the kingdom of heaven, of dwater, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and eenjoy the fwords of geternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal hglory” (Moses 6:59).

When my oldest daughter was baptized we spent quite a few family home evenings talking about it.  We even planned a “Baptism Week” in which each night for a week before the baptism we had special baptism lessons.  We are now in the process of preparing another daughter for baptism.  As we make plans for her baptism I have started to ponder our preparations for mortal birth. We prepare for baptism so it makes sense that we must have prepared for birth into this world.   In that birth was the crowning event and purpose of preparation in premortal life I am assuming that much of what we were preparing toward was to hearken to our Mother just as in this life we hearken to ordinances that bring us toward the Father.

“Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first alessons in the world of spirits and were bprepared to come forth in the due ctime of the Lord to labor in his dvineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:56).

In order to be found worthy of baptism we make covenants.  We promise to take upon us the the name of Jesus Christ, keep the commandments and serve the Lord (True to the Faith, 23-24).  So it begs the question, what covenants did we make before mortal birth?  It makes sense that they were likely similar in nature.  “Those who followed Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were permitted to come to the earth to experience mortality and progress toward eternal life” (True to the Faith, 116)  So we had to actively choose God’s Plan and covenant to accept Christ as our Savior (Moses 4: 2; Abraham 3:27). Before my oldest daughter was baptized we asked her to pray to know if this Church is true and about her decision to be baptized.  It was important to us that she consciously choose baptism for herself.

We receive blessings from being baptized.  We are promised the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, a remission of our sins, and to be born again (True to the Faith, 24-25).  So what blessings did we receive upon our first baptism, or birth? We received a body, the light of Christ, and a new life.  Quite similar to baptism.  And in the temple when we really ponder the covenants there, it all comes down once again to further consecrating ourselves to Christ.

Before the saints left Nauvoo they spent day and night in the temple making covenants.  Covenants that they knew would sustain them on their difficult journey.  My thought is that we made covenants before birth to sustain on our difficult journey through life.  “Covenants sustain us in good times or in difficult times” (Barbara Thompson, Ensign, Nov. 2011).  They are intended to give us purpose and see us through our journey preparing us for further light and knowledge.  Felice also wrote about “sacred contracts” or in other words the more specific missions we were given in life.  We are given some information about them in our patriarchal blessings but often there are parts of our mission that we learn as we go. We likely covenanted to take on our specific missions and life circumstances.  I believe I covenanted to bring my children here.  (The post, “Here Am I” is a beautiful explanation of that.)

If you would like to read more about the symbolism of birth and baptism you can read Heather’s essay, “The Two Veils” in our book or these additional posts “Born Again,” “Giving Light,” and “If Birth Were a Temple.”

*This post is my own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

 

 

Rent in Twain

October 17, 2013 in Heather, Jesus Christ, Pain, Symbolism, Veil by Heatherlady

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My first baby was hard to push out.

After an extended length of pushing he was born and we saw that he’d had his elbow up by his head (try reaching your arm to your opposite ear and you’ll have the right position, except he was so flexible his elbow was in line with his head). His unusual arm placement explained why pushing had been so hard and it also explained why I ended up with a really bad tear. It  took the midwives almost an hour to sew up… not much fun.

Emotionally that tear took a toll on me. I felt like I had been split in two. I felt vulnerable, sensitive, and overwhelmed.

Two years later when my daughter was born I only ended up with a minor tear (which needed one stitch) but again it sent me on the same emotional rollercoaster. I remember changing her diaper and looking at her perfect, beautiful little girl parts and sobbing about how torn apart I felt.

So understandably one of my biggest fears about giving birth again was tearing.  When I was pregnant with my third baby my midwife taught me  how to give myself perineal pressure as his head crowned. That seemed to work and when he was born I didn’t tear at all. I was amazed at how much better I felt afterward and how much easier my recovery was.

Several months later I attend a birth as a doula.  The mother was doing great but, like most women when they reach the final stages of labor, she was beginning to doubt herself. As an exceptionally hard contraction swept over her she screamed out, “ I can’t do it!  I am going to rip in half! It is tearing me in half!” Twenty minutes later her baby was born, she hadn’t torn a bit, and she was ecstatic. But her exclamation really struck a chord inside of me and when I got home I pulled out my scriptures and read the story of Christ’s crucifixion. It was this scripture (which is given just after Christ dies) that I was searching for:

“And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent.  And the graves were opened; and my bodies of the saints with slept arose.  And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Matt. 27:51-53

As I thought back to my birth experiences and the exclamation of my doula client I realized that, in many ways, giving birth is being split in two.  No matter how a woman gives birth her body must open– be rent in two– and allow a new life to pass through. This can be seen in the cervix (which is normally closed tightly) which must thin out (efface) and open (dilate) to allow the baby to be born. It seems so normal, because women all over the world do it everyday, but just think about it for a moment. How incredible is it that a woman’s body voluntarily opens it self wide enough for a baby to come through and then voluntarily closes itself back up again?

It is really a miracle. Like parting the red sea.

Birth is also a splitting in two because the baby which has grown in your womb for nine months is literally a part of you. Every cell and every molecule is a part of your very body and the baby is literally made from  your flesh and blood. So as that child leaves the safety of your womb it is like loosing a part of yourself… a part of yourself that can never be gotten back. That splitting can be painful, and in the case of cesarean birth a woman is literally cut in two in order to bring mortal life to her child.

Yet the beautiful part is that what we endure to bring children into this world is symbolic of the sacrifice that our Savior Jesus Christ made for us. The motions our bodies go through, the pain, the sacrifice, the sensations we undergo are not meaningless; they are beautiful symbols that can– and should– turn our hearts towards Christ.

I recently gave birth to my fourth child and, while I didn’t tear this time either, her pushing experience was intense. At one point I sprang forward onto my hands and knees and, in my husband’s  words, “howled” like a crazy woman– “Just get it out of me!”  The sensations I experienced were so overwhelming that I literally felt like the baby was going to tear my body in half. Yet I pushed through it and minutes later she was in my arms.

My veil had been rent and a new life had emerged.

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And let me tell you… it was so worth it.

by Lani

Birthing Hymns

October 2, 2013 in Atonement, Divine nature, Lani, Motherhood, Music, Savior, Symbolism, Temple, Zion by Lani

A couple of months ago, I was listening to the song “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and I thought: this would be a great song for childbirth. Especially this line…

Come, come, ye saints, no toil or labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear
Grace shall be as your day.

Then I got thinking about some of the other hymns and realized that so many of them could be seen through the lens of childbirth and take on new meaning. For instance,”work,” “toil,” “labor” and related words can be considered in terms of childbirth. “Temple” can refer to our bodies/wombs or the holy places where we choose to give birth to our babies. Here are some passages I found particularly meaningful as potential aids for women in childbirth.

Motherhood Rooted - by Alija Craycroft

Motherhood Rooted – by Alija Craycroft

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.
We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.
(As Sisters in Zion)

***

In many a temple the Saints will assemble
And labor as saviors of dear ones away.
Then happy reunion and sweetest communion
We’ll have with our friends in the beautiful day.
(The Day Dawn is Breaking)

***

How beautiful thy temples, Lord!
Each one a sacred shrine,
Where faithful Saints, with one accord,
Engage in work divine.
(How Beautiful Thy Temples, Lord)

***

From grim confusion’s awful depth
The wail of hosts, faith’s urgent plea:
Release our anguished, weary souls;
Swing wide, swing wide the gates, and set us free!
(How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True)

***

Holy temples on Mount Zion
In a lofty splendor shine,
Avenues to exaltation,
Symbols of a love divine.
(Holy Temples on Mount Zion)

***

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
(How Firm a Foundation)

***

amanda 008

It’s a Human Thing- by Amanda Greavette

Thus, all my toilsome way along
I sing aloud thy praises,
That men may hear the grateful song
My voice unwearied raises.
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart!
Both soul and body bear your part.
To him all praise and glory!
(Sing Praise to Him)

***

In mem’ry of the Crucified,
Our Father, we have met this hour.
May thy sweet Spirit here abide,
That all may feel its glowing pow’r.
(In Memory of the Crucified)

by Lani

Preparing Our Daughters

September 30, 2013 in Atonement, Birthdays, blessingway, Divine nature, Eve, Faith, Lani, Menstruation, Motherhood, Parenting, Preparation, Puberty, Rites of passage, Symbolism, Temple, Young Women by Lani

Last week I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my birth into motherhood. It kind of boggles my mind that I’ve been a mother for a decade. It also boggles my mind that this baby…

126_7693141899_4545_n…just had her 10th birthday. Double digits?!

For the past couple of years, I’ve been pondering what I want to do to help her prepare as she nears the milestone of menarche. Over the years I’ve taught her little by little (through casual conversations) about her body, her reproductive organs, how they work, what will happen when she starts to bleed, how babies are made, etc. Being the daughter of a birth junkie has its perks! She knows more about women’s bodies than most girls her age, I’d wager, and certainly more than I ever knew before I reached menarche.

I wrote a bit about my own journey into the world of menstruation and my hopes for my daughters in my post “Red and Powerful” HERE. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted my daughters’ experiences to be more positive than mine was. So a month or two ago I started creating a book for my daughter.

It’s not so much a book about periods or vaginas. It’s a book that I hope will prepare her to be an empowered and courageous young woman with profound respect for her body and the beautiful things her body can do.

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It includes seven rainbow-color-coded sections (coordinated with the seven chakras) with values I hope my daughters will develop. The values may sound familiar to some of you…

  • Integrity
  • Virtue
  • Individual Worth
  • Good Works
  • Choice & Accountability
  • Faith & Knowledge
  • Divine Nature (white) 

With each section, I have given my daughter a…

  • Value and color
  • Symbol
  • Scripture
  • Description/definition of what the value means to me
  • Song/Mantra
  • Positive “I” statement affirmations (printed from this site)
  • Woman from the scriptures who exemplified the value (most of the text taken from Heather’s blog)

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(For those who are familiar with the LDS Young Women Values, in most cases the colors, symbols, scriptures, and descriptions I’ve chosen are different from those used in the Young Women Personal Progress program. I won’t go into all the reasons I did this, but I think this book will help my daughter to become familiar with the values and prime her for the Young Women’s program.)

Interspersed I have also included some poems I wrote about Eve and menstruation. At the end of the book I included a revised version of my “Red and Powerful” essay, diagrams of the menstrual cycle, and a print-out explaining the various menstrual product options so she can start thinking about which type she wants to start with. In addition to the binder/book, I am giving her a c.d. with all of the songs/mantras for each value on it. And I made her a charm bracelet containing charms of each symbol and the coordinating colors.

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My plan is to sit down with my daughter and go through each section of the book together a bit at a time (over the next several months) so we can discuss the topics and so she can ask any questions she may have. I think it will be a special bonding time for us, and by the time we get to the end of the book, my hope is that she will feel confident and prepared to face the coming adolescent milestones with grace and joy. Maybe she’ll still be awkward, embarrassed, and moody. Maybe that’s inevitable? But a mom can hope for the best, right?

If you’d like to do something similar for your daughter(s), I’m happy to share what I put together. Let me know in a comment below, and I’ll email you my file(s) and sources so you can make it your own.

by Robyn

Breastfeeding, Sexuality and Pornography

August 14, 2013 in Breastfeeding, Motherhood, Nourishment, Robyn, Sexual intimacy, Symbolism, Uncategorized by Robyn

CCA Christensen

Seagull Monument at Temple Square

I have always wanted to expand on my previous post “Breastfeeding and Modesty” so this post has been forming in my head for quite a while.  If you have not yet read that post, this one will make a lot more sense if you read it first. To be honest, I don’t consider myself a “lactivist.”  I’m just a mommy who wants to quietly nurse her baby when needed without attracting a lot of attention.  Please keep in mind that by expanding on the importance of breastfeeding I am not trying to degrade anyone for bottle-feeding.  This is not a post about bottle vs. breastfeeding.

In the Lost Language of Symbolism by Alonzo Gaskill, there is a chapter on “Body Parts as Symbols” in which it includes the symbolism of the bosom/breasts, “In antiquity the bosom, or breast, was a standard symbol for an intimate, nonsexual relationship” (31).  In fact the people of Enoch are an example of this.  We read, “And thou has taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all creations” (Moses 7:31). Gaskill points out, “Through their consistent obedience and love for things of God, they attained to that favored status and intimacy with the divine that all people on earth have been sent to seek” (32).  So to be held near the breast is reflective of being near God.  What a beautiful symbol it is to hold our babies at the breast and nourish them, a reminder that we are to bring them back to God by teaching them the gospel.

The breast was also considered a place of security and protection (Gaskill, 32).  This is pointed out in the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, “For the child there is safety (“safe on my mother’s breast”) [Psalm 22:9], security (“Can a woman forget her sucking child?”) [Isaiah 49:15]) and consolation at the mother’s breast.  It may be for an adult, the hug provides similar comfort.  Perhaps it is not stretching the imagination too much to see John’s reclining on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper in those terms (John 13:25, 21:20)”  (Ryken, Wilhoit, Longman, 119).  In one way or another we each yearn for the security and comfort that the Savior provides.  Our babies yearn for this safety in Christ too.  As mothers we can provide this security and protection that symbolizes our Savior as we snuggle or nurse our little ones.

Cardsten Alberta temple

Cardsten, Alberta Temple artwork (three nursing mothers)

Sexuality

So with this in mind why have we allowed breasts to have taken on a singular sexual identity in our culture when God intended that their primary purpose be that of providing comfort, nourishment and safety and symbolizing a nearness to God?

“The scriptures often refer respectfully but plainly to the body and its parts… It is the world that makes the divinely created body an object of carnal lust. For example, it makes the female breasts primarily into sexual enticements, while the truth is that they were intended to nourish and comfort children… Teach your children that they will find joy in their bodies when they use them virtuously after the manner taught by Christ” (A Parent’s Guide, 37, 1985).

Our culture teaches us that breasts are only sexual. On the other hand, God intended that their primary purpose be to nourish and comfort children.  Notice that I did not say that breasts are not sexual at all, but their intended primary purpose is that of nurturing.  Unfortunately, the most common way we see breasts represented is in a sexual manner.

“Though any part of a woman’s body can be a focus of eroticism, our era is the first in recorded history where the breast has become a public fetish for male sexual stimulation, while its primary function has diminished on a vast scale.”  (The Politics of Breastfeeding, 2)

Only rarely do we see breasts used virtuously for nurturing and comforting.  And even when breastfeeding is portrayed in the media it is often done in a sexual manner, the brunt of a sarcastic sexual joke, “I’ll have some of what that baby is having, ha ha.”  This kind of representation perpetuates breastfeeding as a sexual act instead of a nurturing act.  I have also been disappointed by some of the pro-breastfeeding campaigns showing women nursing in lingerie in an effort to make the act sexy and savvy with the new generation.  So it does make sense that there would be a disconnect concerning breastfeeding and what it represents.

“In the 20th century, women were presented with an illusion of liberation through the artificial feeding of their babies, only to find their breasts appropriated by men and popular culture.  This continues in the 21st century.  This has been expressed both privately, when men pressure their sexual partners not to breastfeed, and publicly through pornography and the mass marketing of products and information. .  . Just a few hundred years ago, most human societies found breast exposure in everyday life unremarkable.  What has happened to us? ” (The Politics of Breastfeeding, 3)

And I must apologize for the next image.  It does make an important point.

cartoon BF in mall

In contrast,

20th century

At the crux of the debate over public breastfeeding is the argument that breasts are sexual and therefore, breastfeeding is sexual and should not be a public act or at least it should be “covered.”  But is that true?  Are breasts only sexual?  Well, it depends on who you ask (many cultures scoff at the idea of breasts having a sexual function).  Unfortunately because public breastfeeding became a fairly lost art form for a time, we lost the physiologic purpose of breasts in favor of the more worldly attitude for them.

I am very grateful for how the Church is organized.  The purpose behind the organization and programs of the church are set up to strengthen the family.   In order to have families we get pregnant (therefore displaying our sexuality with the rounding of our abdomens), give birth to our babies (another expression of our sexuality when our abdomens become flatter once again), and nurse our babies (again, displaying sexuality by using our breasts to nourish and comfort).  In using the word sexuality it is different from being “sexual.” Sexuality is defined as, “sexual character; possession of the structural and functional traits of sex.”  It also refers to the “possession of sexual potency.” When we carry our babies, birth them, and nurse them we display the functionality of our traits of sex as women.  For men, this sexuality is not as visual.  This type of sexuality is expressed through their female mates.

I have a great love for the Proclamation to the Family.  We are reminded, “The family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. . .  All human beings are created in the image of God . . . each has a divine nature and destiny.  Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

The characteristics that define women are divinely ordained, meaning, use our bodies to give life through pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, nurturing, and other activities. Because the strengthening of families requires the blessings of church attendance, it is inevitable that the expression of female sexuality be witnessed.  Mothers are left confused about how to function when asked to serve faithfully but not put on display their sexuality (that is divine characteristics of their sex like breastfeeding).  It would be impractical to require a mother to never display her sexuality (pregnancy, breastfeeding) when striving to serve faithfully in the gospel. It is my hope that the breastfeeding mother be welcomed into meetings as she is fulfilling the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.

Modesty

About a year ago I attended a lecture titled, “Infant Feeding as Transgressive Behavior.”  In it the speaker pointed out how regardless of how we feed our babies, it has become almost a no-win situation for mothers:

If I do Breastfeed:

  • I follow medical advice
  • I am immodest and indecent
  • I am doing something that needs to be shielded from public view

 

If I do not Breastfeed:

  • I follow norms about modesty, independence and purchasing
  • I am harming my baby
  • I value my independence and work more than my children.

 

No mother should be left feeling like this no matter how she feeds her baby.

 CCA Christensen Father Lehi blesses his children

Father Lehi blesses his children by C.C.A Christensen, breastfeeding mother in the center of painting

Of course there are times and places when discretion is required. It is important to use the Spirit as our guide.  We can always access the Spirit to determine how we will proceed.  Breastfeeding should not be blatantly distracting.  That is not modesty. We do have a responsibility to normalize breastfeeding. One woman commented on my previous breastfeeding post,

“After my first child was born, I did feel uncomfortable feeding him in public, but I also felt like it shouldn’t have to be hidden. I eventually came to the conclusion that modesty really doesn’t have anything to do with breastfeeding. To me, immodesty is about seeking attention or praise for worldly attributes like beauty (by wearing revealing clothing) or wealth (by flaunting extravagant purchases), as a substitute for self-esteem, or testimony of our individual worth. I feed my baby to take care of him, and myself, not for anyone else’s approval. I nurse without a cover, in all church meetings, even recently during tithing settlement (my bishop didn’t blink an eye). I support whatever way other mothers want to nurse, but I do feel like nursing in public without shame helps to undo some of the cultural stigma around breasts, which is a good thing.

This view of modesty has also challenged me to think more about my clothing. I always wore clothes that were generally accepted as modest in the church, but I realized how often I was hoping to receive compliments on my clothing or hair. I don’t think it’s wrong or immodest to look attractive, but focusing on what other people think of my appearance so often probably is a form of immodesty that I need to work on.”

Can breastfeeding be immodest?  Yes, if that woman is trying to attract attention to herself and present it in a way to flaunt herself.  This is not usually the case. I know that for me I simply want to feed my baby without being noticed.  The last thing I want is to attract attention. At the same time I want to participate in the gospel as much as I can.  I love the gospel.  It is my heart and soul and I hope that shows when I use my body “after the manner Christ has taught.”  It should be done virtuously. Many women are able to do this without a cover and without flashing their breasts at people.  Many others are grateful for a blanket or cover or simply want to remove themselves.  All of these women are virtuous in their approach.

Breastfeeding is an art form and took me years to perfect to where I was comfortable enough to do it in public.  But many mothers master the art much quicker.  I still remember my brother leaning over to me after a Sacrament meeting while my baby rested cradled in my arms after having been nursed. He leaned over to say, “she seems so content like she could have been nursing.”  I smiled knowing she already had and nobody around me even knew it but me and my baby.  I recently attended a day at girls camp with my infant. A member of the Stake Presidency stopped to tell me something.  He either didn’t notice I was nursing ( I was not using a nursing cover) or he was completely unaffected.  I smiled to myself as he left, just grateful it was not big deal to nurse my little one in the midst of the young women I serve.

Pornography

465169257492189_a-3ea12d09_1lcNUg_pmI have heard commented that we should be mindful of the men in our midst at church who are addicted to pornography.  Because of their addiction, we should cover or go somewhere else to nurse our babies. Some women have been told that nursing our babies in front of them contributes to their addiction.

So what is pornography?  One definition is “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit.” The origin of this word being from the Greek word for harlot. A further definition offers, “writings, pictures, films, etc, designed to stimulate sexual excitement.”  So is breastfeeding pornography?  Our culture may have tried to twist breastfeeding into something pornographic but we should not be so fooled.  To equate breastfeeding with harlotry is not a fair comparison.  Breastfeeding is not obscene nor is it designed to stimulate sexual excitement.  It is interesting that the Utah code recognizes this, “(2) (a) a woman’s breast feeding, including breast feeding in any place where the woman otherwise may rightfully be, does not under any circumstance constitute an obscene or lewd act, irrespective of whether or not the breast is covered during or incidental to feeding.” (H. B. 262 (2) (a) State of Utah Jan,. 30, 1995) But in practice we struggle with this.  Somehow the bottle, with its protruding nipple in representation of the breast, is okay but the breast is not.  Maybe we should put a blanket over the bottle?

The reality is that rather than being intended to sexually stimulate, nursing actually stimulates prolactin, the mothering hormone that causes mothers to relax and take on the role of a nurturer. Breastfeeding was designed by God to perfectly nourish our babies and make us better mothers.  It is divinely ordained. It is motherly. It is using our bodies “after the manner Christ taught.”

BOM scripture reader chapter about Enos

From the Book of Mormon scripture reader chapter on Enos (babywearing while nursing).

This is a touchy subject.  Pornography is rampant.  And I have seen firsthand how it destroys families, some near and dear to me. But the burden should not be on the breastfeeding mother’s shoulders to control the interpretation of what she is doing.  Somehow society is asking that she be responsible for the dirty thoughts in someone else’s head.  Somehow removing from view the divinely ordained use of breasts will help in the fight against pornography? All the while we will continue to be bombarded by images of breasts in a sexual manner.  I feel that this perpetuates Satan’s plan to objectify the female body and weaken the God given role of women to nurture their little ones.

I have heard people say, what is the big deal?  Just use a cover.  I think breastfeeding covers are great.  However, I have often felt like I was drawing attention to myself.  Putting a cover over us seems to announce  to everyone around me that I am about to nurse my baby when usually I can do that more discreetly without.  And really, everyone knows what is going on under there and can choose to have dirty thoughts about that too.  Just because a blanket or cover is being used does not mean someone is being more modest than someone who is not.  Some babies just don’t like their head covered when they eat.  Would you like to wear a drape over your head while you eat?

A recent study revealed that 79% of moms know that breastfeeding is best for mom and baby.  40 percent of moms list their greatest concern as breastfeeding in public. 28 percent were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to breastfeed long enough. The more uncomfortable a woman is with the breastfeeding the less likely she is to continue.  We have made righteous women uncomfortable with the virtuous use of their breasts because of our culture’s hyper-sexualization and objectification of them.  I think breastfeeding rates (and the duration of breastfeeding) would rise if women felt more comfortable to nurse in public.

Let us not forget that there are many body parts that have dual functions.  In addition to doing very useful tasks, hands and lips perform very sexual functions but they are not required to be constantly unused in public.  We are not expected to not use them or cover them when they are used to consume a meal.  Sadly, if someone wants to interpret something in a lewd manner, they can.  It does not take much and is out of our control.

Is breastfeeding sexual?  It is an extension of our sexual traits if that is how you define sexual.  Is it about sex?  No.  Is it pornography?  No.  It is the antithesis of such filth.  It is because breastfeeding became so hidden that it became so taboo and misunderstood.  “Teach your children that they will find joy in their bodies when they use them virtuously after the manner taught by Christ.” Breastfeeding is using our bodies virtuously, after the manner taught by Christ.  What we need more of is breastfeeding mothers.

So, thank you mamas and babies for standing for truth and righteousness and nursing while you are doing it.