You say it’s in this heart of mine
Everything I need to shine
It’s love alone that makes this light
And gives us wings and takes us through the night
-Dan Zanes, “Firefly”
For the past couple of weeks, it has felt very much like my soul has been straining, reaching, trying to uncover something just beyond my grasp. I’m sitting down to write because, like Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
The Mormon news world has been humming with articles, letters, blogposts, comments, so many opinions swirling around the subject of women and Priesthood ordination. Personally, I don’t want to attend Priesthood Session, and I don’t want to be ordained as a deacon, elder, bishop, apostle, or prophet. But my heart has compassion toward those women who are seeking “earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46:8) and grappling with questions. Joseph Fielding Smith has told us: “If [women] are faithful and true, they will become priestesses” (qtd. in M. Catherine Thomas, Light in the Wilderness, p. 287). None of us really knows how God would define a “priestess” and her powers. Do we already possess these powers and simply need to develop them more fully? Will they be given to us at some point in the future? These are valid questions I’ve wondered about myself.
This post isn’t really a “women and the priesthood” post per se, but it was the priesthood issue that prompted my initial straining, reaching, searching. In my efforts to better understand the issue, I have been delving deep into the subject of power, what it means to have power, what it means to em-power—petitioning God in prayer and meditation for answers, scouring the scriptures, articles, scientific research, and various books for the missing pieces in my understanding.
I’ve also scanned my memories, working to discover whose influence has been the most powerful in my life and why. Of course parents, grandparents, and close friends are givens. Certainly my favorite authors. But what about regular people? What about those strangers I can’t forget? What made them powerful?
When I was about thirteen years old, I got stuck in the Columbus, Ohio, airport, flying stand-by with my brother, trying to get back to Boston after visiting our grandparents and cousins in Utah. The flights were packed and the prospects of getting out of that airport reasonably soon were slim. I panicked. My overactive imagination began catastrophizing up a storm. I couldn’t relax. I could hardly breathe.
Then an airline employee at one of the gate desks took compassion on us. We had probably come up to her after failing to obtain seats on the last flight of the evening, asking whether there was any chance of luck in the morning. I don’t remember her name, but twenty years later I can still remember how her kind eyes and smile melted my fears away. If my memory serves me correctly, she spent a considerable amount of time helping us look at our options, talking with our family on the phone about possibilities, probably staying long past the end of her shift. She had a good soul, a nurturing heart, and I could feel it deep in my core. She didn’t make our problems go away, but in her presence, I felt at peace. In her presence, I felt for a few moments that everything was going to be OK. And that was enough to get me through that night in Columbus, Ohio.
Here’s what I know. That woman was powerful.
Carolyn Myss has written: “The truth is that the more you empower others, the more powerful you become” (Invisible Acts of Power, p. 44). How powerful am I? How am I using my power? I love these words from President David O. McKay (I took the liberty of making the pronouns feminine to better suit my theme):
There is one responsibility which no woman can evade; that responsibility is her personal influence, a silent, subtle radiation. . . . This radiation is tremendous. Every . . . person who lives in this world wields an influence whether for good or for evil. It is not what she says alone; it is not alone what she does. It is what she is. . . . Every woman has an atmosphere which is affecting every other person. She cannot escape for one moment from this radiation of her character, this constant weakening or strengthening of others (qtd in Thomas, p. 187).
When I think of the magnitude of the power I wield, it is sort of frightening to me. I can crush another person, or I can send them soaring. I can alter the atmosphere in a room in an instant by my own energy and behavior. That woman in the Columbus airport radiated a character so beautiful that it swept my panic away and replaced it with peace. That’s the kind of power I want. That’s the kind of character I want to radiate.
I was talking to my friend/co-author Felice about my soul-searching and questions about power last weekend. She said, “Have you read The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis?” I happened to have it on my bookshelf (purchased years ago for a book club but never finished). The Great Divorce is C.S. Lewis’s brief fictional journey from hell to heaven. Felice described to me a part of the book that I have now read multiple times and keep coming back to. I’ll paste a condensed excerpt here:
First came bright Spirits . . . who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. . . . Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done. . . . It must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. . . . Only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
“Is it?… is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be . . . well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.” . . .
“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter. . . . Her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. . . .“
“And how… but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat—two cats—dozens of cats. And all those dogs… why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. The abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.” (p. 117-120)
There is much I still don’t know or understand. The longer I live, the more complex, heart-wrenching, and confusing life seems to become. But all of this pondering has led me back to this most basic of truths:
There are many of God’s powers available for us to harness and develop here upon the Earth, and the greatest of these is love.
I can be powerful in this life. We all can. Every moment. Of every day. Radiating who we are, wakening the dead things of the universe into life.