Friday, April 10, 2020

On the Ministering of Angels

I'm looking out my window on the very quiet streets. It's a Friday. For Jews, the Sabbath is settling over homes celebrating Passover, that ancient time warp of a holiday that places participants back into a tense Egyptian night, awaiting deliverance or destruction. For many Christians, it's Good Friday: a time warp back to the long afternoon when Roman soldiers crucified Jesus on a lonely hill outside the sacred city.

There is a virus circulating the small planet we share now. I'm no expert, so I rely on the simplest of mathematical models to imagine what might happen.  If the new virus turns out to have the same mortality rate as the flu but spreads to 70% of the world population, as is thoroughly possible when no one starts with immunity, 5 million people will die. No one is sure whether the mortality rate is that low.

So we sit, looking at screens or out windows on this time warp of a night. Hoping to do our part so that the virus won't spread too quickly, so that hospitals don't grow too overcrowded, so that the fewest possible number of people in our communities have to get sick and struggle for air. So that the fewest possible number of people have to die without a loved one there whose hand they can hold.

It's that last part that gets to me most. People will always suffer, one way or another. Everyone is going to die. I don't mind that. It seems (most of the time) like a fair price for the privilege of knowing each other, of growing close to each other against the backdrop of this life's struggles. But taking away the comfort of human touch does seem like a high price to pay, even weighed against the clear need to slow viral transmission.

Rosalynde Frandsen Welch wrote last weekend about the particular problem the lack of touch plays in religious communities, including among Latter-day Saints. In times of sickness and sorrow, we long for the familiar warmth and weight of hands on the head in blessing. It's not a small thing to lose that. Going into the hospital is hard. I believe in hospitals, but I've spent enough time in them to have some sense how hard and disorienting it can be.

The loss of comfort and support in the hospital can have real and lasting consequences. Sam Brown, a careful Latter-day Saint thinker who works in hospital ICUs, has written about the psychological and emotional scars the kind of healing he does professionally can leave, and the health consequences that come when people can barely stand to drive in front of a hospital long after physical recovery.

We need to do all that we can do for those in need of comfort. It's our covenant. And it's not a small thing.

Last weekend, as she talked about the problem, Rosalynde wrote about a the story of the centurion and his servant in Luke 7 and Matthew 8, where the centurion says Jesus doesn't need to come to perform a healing because leaders can act by giving commands. In response, an artist named Daniel Bartholomew speculated about whether unseen spirits might have carried out the command.

As a young man, I was taught from the Doctrine & Covenants about how the Aaronic Priesthood holds the key of the ministering of angels. It's a huge statement, but not one we really did anything with. The notion of ministering angels appear all over the Book of Mormon, though. Even Book of Omni, probably written on plates that were running out of space, takes time to tell us to believe in the ministering of angels. And when it comes to taking care of the world of the dead, we do. We tell all kinds of stories about ancestors searching for us, helping us find names.

Right now, though, we also need them to care for the needs of the living. We need to pray for them to be sent to bless the patients in hospitals--and the people getting lost in their own anxiety and despair as they sit at home. We need young men to think about how to turn the key and call them down to bless and protect their elders in this hour of need.

We need angels from the heavenly host to attend every quiet graveside service attended only by immediate family members, robbed even of the chance to safely embrace each other. We need the angels to speak their Holy Ghost tongue and whisper a mourners' prayer.

About two thousand years and perhaps a night ago, Jesus left after his Passover meal and went out into a garden. He felt very heavy, a weight of bewildering pain and sorrow crashing down on him, crushing against him. He didn't want to be alone. He didn't want to be alone, but though the closest disciples were willing, their flesh was weak. Flesh has always been so weak.

So an angel came, strengthening him.

May they come, in an hour of need, to us all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Big News

It's been a wild month for me and today feels like a very big day.

Let me back up. About six months ago, I took a job managing the editorial department at an educational publisher focused. They were interested in my mix of experience in writing and history, as well as my multicultural sensibilities. I was excited about the opportunity to help children get a more complete and nuanced picture of social studies.

I got to really like the members of my department and others at the company as we worked toward that vision and got some cool things accomplished, though. As the current pandemic really hit the US, though, they decided to reorganize my department into another. I was out of a job.

Since then, I've been thinking a lot about what might come next. While I'm still looking for a regular job, Nicole and I also did some math about what we need and have felt like maybe it's time now to see if my long-term dream (which has always felt kind of impossible) could actually happen.

For 14 years, my driving passion has been to write challenging, sophisticated literature that speaks deeply to my religious community. I've gotten really good at it as a playwright, poet, essayist, blogger, novelist, history writer, screenwriter, literary translator, and creative midwife for others. As readers of this blog have noticed, though, it's gotten tough to squeeze in as much writing as I'd like between so many other obligations.

My books have sold quite well by the standards of niche-work-about-a-small-minority-community-rarely-covered-on-college-syllabi. The odds of selling enough books to literary-minded Latter-day Saints to survive off royalties, though, are extremely low.

Losing my job made me take a serious look at another model. On the website Patreon, people make monthly pledges to support artists they appreciate, subscribing to their work. I decided to create a Patreon page for my own work.

It feels like a good model for someone whose work means a lot to a relatively small audience. Support from as many patrons as they are people in a ward would be enough (with Nicole's income from teaching and a little side work from me), I could focus most of my time on creative writing.

That's a big deal. In two centuries, one of the main barriers to Latter-day Saints having "Shakespeares of our own" like Orson F. Whitney longed for way back in 1888 is that we're not organized well to economically support them.

It's outside my comfort zone to try and organize funding, but I feel like this is the right moment in my life to at least try. If you're appreciated my work (and are fortunate enough to have some stable income yourself), I hope you'll consider pledging.


Related Posts with Thumbnails