Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chapter 2 - Let

Over the years I have not been very comfortable with Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Suffice it to say that the phrase, let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly, has made me avoid those sweet words. Since recovering from addiction I have revisited those verses without the cloud of guilt hanging over my head. I have visited them and loved them and considered them with awe.The first thing I noticed as I considered what the Lord was saying was the word LET. LET virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly. All my life I’ve been trying to cause or force virtue to garnish my thoughts. How is it that here, God says, let. In this context let seems to mean permit or allow. Its as if virtue wants to garnish my thoughts, but is restricted from doing so, unless I permit it to. That seemed awkward, uncomfortable, confusing. In my mind it was like turning water into a ditch. To do that one must remove the dam or gate preventing the water from flowing into the place you want it. Could it be the same with virtue? Is there a volume of virtue somewhere that wants to flow into my mind if I will but let it?

I looked up the word in my Dictionary.  That was a bit overwhelming because there are a myriad subtleties to it's meaning.  Certainly allow or permit are dominant themes in the definition and subjective intention seems critical too.  My Dictionary sheds some additional light by mentioning three synonyms:  allow, suffer and grant.  And a very telling antonym:  prevent.  If I look at the reverse form, might I not say that if I do not let virtue garnish my thoughts that perhaps I am literally, preventing virtue from garnishing my thoughts.  Let is an active, not a passive verb.  So is prevent.  If I want virtue to garnish my thoughts, I must actively allow it.  Conversely, if virtue is not garnishing my thoughts, I must be actively preventing that from happening.  There really is no passive neutral here.

In his marvelous book House of Glory by a favorite author, S. Michael Wilcox, he tells of an instance when he was in a sealing room in the Temple.  He was gazing into the opposing mirrors in which we think we can see the image reflected back and forth forever.  He found himself bobbing and dodging back and forth at which time he realized that he "could see eternity a lot better if (he) could just get out of (his) own way."  I love that notion and perhaps it applies here.  Perhaps virtue could flow more easily into my life if I could just get out of my own way.  Having grown up raising a garden and irrigating fields I have some experience with water.  Water is able to flow because we have made a place for it to go.  Obstructions cause the water to divert to a course of less resistance.  I suspect that a big part of letting virtue garnish my thoughts has to do with preparing a place within me.  A place for virtue to go.  Conversely, Nephi put it this way "Awake my soul!  No longer droop in sin.  Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul."  (2 Nephi 4:28)  Certainly, if we can give place for Satan in our hearts, it makes sense that we can give place for virtue.  Certainly, if Nephi can invite the Lord to close up the place for Satan in his heart, the Lord can also open up for us a place for virtue.

On Wolf Flat in Provo, Grandpa had a long ditch running out of Rock Canyon.  Every spring it was choked with leaves that had fallen from the Gamble's Oak that lined the ditch.  As the water flowed down the ditch it gathered those leaves and meeting with some other obstruction, such as a fallen limb or tumbled stone, it could plug the ditch sufficiently to cause it to overflow the bank and then erode a new path back into the canyon.  It required work to clear the ditch, to make a way for the water to go, but the resulting irrigation yielded lush fields and orchards.  So it must be with me.  If I desire virtue to flow into my heart and mind, I must make way for it so it can channel into my thoughts, where it can nourish my soul.  My internal ditch may be loaded with the leaves of life's cycles and if a limb of selfishness or a stone of neglect should roll into place, I will have effectively stood in my own way and forced virtue to flow elsewhere.

I began pondering the meaning of the word let in other scriptural contexts. The first that occurred to me was in the creation story where God says, “Let there be light.” Here it is a gain. My natural inclination, indeed my life long conceptualization of this event, was that God created the light. I thought God caused, even forced or commanded the light to come into exisitence. I supposed that He even somehow concocted it out something, or even nothing. But here it seems that my concept wasn’t correct. Instead, it appears that God allowed the light to come into existence in this sphere, as if it already existed and was not here only because it was somehow impeded in its thrust to be present. It appeared to me that God, in saying LET, removed the impediment and permitted the light to come.

Step 6 and 7 of Alcoholics Anonymous' Twelve are instructive.  I'm going to use the slightly adjusted language of the LDS Addiction Recovery Program version:
Step 6 - Become entirely ready to have God remove your character weaknesses.
Step 7 - Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings. 
A key word here is "humbly."  Pride is the fundamental obstruction to virtue in our lives, our minds and our hearts. Addicts eventually learn that their own efforts are powerless over addiction (Step 1), that the grace of God is their only hope of recovery (Step 2) and that turning their lives over to God, lock stock and barrel is, without question,  their only means of escape.  In the words of an old AA adage, "Let go and let God."

In their spiritual context, virtue and light are not all that different. In many cases they are even interchangeable. They each represent purity, divinity and that which is good. Can it be that they are qualities of thought and being that will flow into us rather than being conjured by effort and discipline. I think it can. I believe that God is the source of light and virtue and that our obligation is to open the channel by which it can flow unto us. In other words to let it flow into our hearts and minds. We are free to choose. He will not cram it into us, we must open up the flood gates ourselves. This is done by right living and obedience, but most importantly, we must make the conscious decision to permit it to happen. Actually, I believe it is the other way around. I don’t personally think that I have the capacity to conjure up right living and obedience. To do that I must first make the deliberate choice to let God into my heart, where, invited to do so, He can make the changes necessary to make real right living and obedience possible. My recovery from addiction has made this truth poignantly apparent to me.

Verse 45 of The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 121 goes on to say that if we will let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly, that our “confidence” will “wax strong in the presence of God” “the doctrine of the Priesthood shall distill upon” our souls “as the dews from heaven.” And verse 46 goes on to say that “The Holy Ghost will be” our “constant companion, and” our ” scepter and unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth.” Then the Lord makes this most striking statement, “thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.”

I believe, by His choice of words during the creation, Our loving Heavenly Father was showing us that His dominion does, without compulsory means, indeed flow unto Him. I am learning that the free choice we make to allow God control over our lives does, literally, open the gates of Heaven. I am learning that blessings unmeasured are liberally poured from the windows of Heaven. I am learning that knowledge and light and virture and power are indeed gifts from God and will, without compulsory means, flow unto us, but only if we let them.

Suggestions:  In a good Dictionary, look up words from the scriptures cited in the chapter.  Words such as dominion, scepter, virtue, distill and confidence.  Ponder their meanings and see if Heavenly Father doesn't have further revelation to give you by better understanding His words.

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