Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Modern Day Prophetess

I simply adore Sister Beck, the president of the Relief Society, and love to hear her talk. She just radiates light and power from her when she bears testimony, and every time I hear her speak I walk away so proud and excited to be a woman in this dispensation. Today I heard her talk at the General Relief Society Training Meeting held in SLC. It was an amazing afternoon. Sister Beck and her counselors bore such powerful testimony about the mission and purpose of the Relief Society. It made me so proud and excited to be a part of this amazing organization for women. As I heard Sister Beck speak I was struck by the thought that she is a prophetess, in the same sense that Anna, Deborah or Miriam were prophetesses, and the same way that all women can be prophetesses. She prophesied of Jesus Christ, she bore testimony of Him, she exhorted those around her to repent and come unto Him, and she inspired other women with a sense of their divine purpose. What she said today impressed me deeply and I wanted to share a few of the things that she said (if it is in italics then it is a direct quote if not then it is just me paraphrasing it).

  • "The Relief Society is not based on any earthly model. There is no other women's organization like it in the world.... It is not just another women's club... because we have been called to the Lord's work... We are in the business of salvation, not entertainment."
  • She talked about the great potential women have to influence the world when they are united in Christ. She gave the mothers of the stripling warriors as an example saying... "Why don't we have the names of the mothers? Was there just not enough room to put them in? Why don't we know their individual names?.... It is because they were united. It wasn't just one individual mother teaching her son to follow Christ, but it was 2060 of them, doing it 100%."
  • She also talked a lot about visiting teaching and about how her visiting teacher calls her every Monday and asks "How can I help you this week?" Sometimes all Sister Beck needs in to be loved or prayed for, but at other times this visiting teacher has ironed her husband's shirts, brought her food or picked up her mail. Sister Beck said "She never checks me off her list-- she is never finished with me." She explained that visiting teaching isn't just about friendship but about ministering-- physically and spiritually. She said that Christ expects us to bring others to Christ to be healed, not just to visit them.
  • "If you aren't learning something new, then pray and the spirit will teach you something new."
Mainly what I gained today was an amazing glimpse into the purpose and potential of Relief Society. Truly there has been no great women organization in the history of the world, nor one with such potential to change the world. Imagine what we, the women of the Relief Society worldwide, could do if we were truly united in our testimonies of Jesus Christ-- if we didn't let other things distract us from our divine mission and if we weren't afraid of opening our mouths and stretching forth our hands. When I think about the Relief Society and what great work God has entrusted to women, I am thrilled to my very core to be a woman. Not only to be a woman, but to be a woman in this dispensation when women have more opportunities than at any other time in history! And what are we going to do with those opportunities? How are we going to change the world? Our communities? Our families? What are you going to do?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Daughters of Zion

Isaiah 3:16-26
2 Nephi 13: 16-26

These passages have always interested me because of the long list of women's clothing and adornments listed. I've often wondered what a "wimple" or a "caul" was and what the women Isaiah is referring to must have looked like. As I did a little research I found that scholars do not all agree as to the nature of these adornments. One of the problems is that the King James Version of the Bible was translated by 16th century men, who translated the Hebrew words into their modern day vernacular. For example, a caul, a wimple, and a bonnet were English names for what the men thought the clothing must have been similar to. And in fact, very many of the Midevil headdress and clothing styles originated from the Middle East and so were in fact similar to what women must have worn during the time of Isaiah. I've made an attempt to put some pictures together of what some of these adornments may have looked like. Keep in mind I am DEFINITELY no scholar on this and am just making guesses, but at least it gave me a little better understanding of what Isaiah may have been talking about.

...the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet...



This picture was taken by my husband at the Bedouin Museum in Amman, Jordan a few summers ago. We were walking through the gallery and he saw this and had to take a picture of it because he said, "Its the tinkling ornaments-- like in Isaiah." These were worn by ancient Bedouin women, whose customs and traditions are similar to those of the people living in Isaiah's time. Even today the Bedouin culture is thought to be the nearest living depiction of what life and dress must have been like in Old Testament times.

" ...and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon..."



This is a caul from Midevil times, where the woman's hair was wrapped in fine silks or linens. The origin of these cauls in Byzantine. The cauls that Isaiah was referring to would probably not have been this extravagant and may have looked something like this



made of elaborate ornamental lace and beads to cover the head and shoulders. One scholar I read said that women would have worn a caul when making a visit and on their arrival it would have been the hosts/hostesses duty to come forward and remove it (kind of like taking someones coat nowadays). The round tires like the moon may have been referring to crescent shaped headdresses or ornaments worn with veils.

"...the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, The rings, and nose jewels..."


Bedouin women

The footnotes in my bible say that mufflers refers to a veil in Hebrew. I'm not sure what type of veil this is referring to, a head veil or a face veil, but I thought I'd give some ideas of both types. You can see in these pictures how the women wear chains, bracelets, rings, and headbands too. Oh, and in Bedouin culture a woman's status in society is determined by the amount of jewelry she is wearing. I imagine that this would have been true of the women that Isaiah was prophesying about... well actually it is still pretty true in our modern age as well!


Bedouin woman in Egypt


Women in Bethlehem around the turn of the 20th century


Arab women of the 4th to 6th Century. Drawn around the 16th Century

"...the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins..."

A wimple in the 16th century referred to a long a cloth which covered the head, neck, and chin. Today some nuns, who wear the traditional dress, still wear wimples.


The wimples referred to in Isaiah may have just been shawls or a type of cloaks. He may have also been referring to something similar to the traditional headdress and dress of Arab women, the rida and the isaba


How to tie a rida




How to tie a isaba

As far as I could tell scholars can't agree on what a crisping pin was. Some think that it is referring to a small satchel used to keep money and valuables in. Others think that it is referring to crisping or curling ones hair. If that is the case a crisping pin may have looked something like this (the one on top is modern curling iron, the one below is a crisping pin).



"... instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth..."

The word stomacher used by Isaiah may also be interpreted in Hebrew as a robe. I imagine many of the robes shown above would have been similar to what women wore back then. But just for fun, here is what a stomacher would have been to a 16th century monk.




Queen Elizabeth 1592

Questions to Think About:
  • Why is modesty so important to the Lord?
  • How does how you dress affect your spiritual development and idenity? Does it make a difference?
  • What does it mean to be modest? How do women you know manifest modesty? Is it all about how you dress?
  • As I read this passage I couldn't help but feel that many of the problems of the daughters of Zion, like being haughty, walking with wanton eyes, and taking bravery in tinkling ornaments, were ones that could be applied to many of today's women. What things do modern women have in common with the women Isaiah is prophesying about? What things are different about them?
  • Why does the Lord specifically take away the fine dress of the unrighteous women mentioned in Isaiah as a way of condemning and punishing them?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sapphira



"Death of Sapphira" by Musée du Louvre, 1652
Acts 5:1-11

Background:

After the death of Christ the Apostles began to boldly teach the gospel and perform miracles in Jerusalem. The rulers in Jerusalem conspired against them but were unable to stop their work. After the miracle of the Pentecost many were converted and were filled with the Holy Ghost to such a degree that they were "of one heart and one soul" and they began to live with all things in common (the United Order). Those who had lands or houses sold them and laid the money at the apostles' feet to be distributed to those who were in need.

Facts About Her:
  • She was the wife of Ananias;
  • She was a member of the church in Jerusalem and had covenanted to live the United Order, in which all church members had things in common;
  • Her husband sold a possession (land) and kept part of the money for himself, instead of giving it all to the church, and she was aware that he had done this;
  • Peter perceived that Ananias was lying to him and withholding the money and confronted him about it. As soon as Ananias heard Peter speak he fell down dead;
  • Three hours later Sapphira, not knowing what had happened to her husband, came in to speak with Peter;
  • Peter confronted her about the money that had been held back asking her, "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. " When she heard these words she immediately fell dead;
  • The young men came and took her to be buried next to her husband;
  • When the story of Ananias and Sapphira reached the rest of the church they were very afraid.

" Death of Sapphira, Wife of Ananias" by Giclee

Speculations About Her:

  • Some think that Peter had Ananias and Sapphira killed but the Hebrew phrase "...fell down and gave up the ghost" used in Acts 5:5 the same phrase used when Jael drove a tent peg through Sisera's head—"and he died" (Judges 4:21)—a verb reserved in Scripture for someone struck dead by divine judgment.
Quotes About Her Given by Prophets of God:
"... these comments are for the essentially “honorable” members who are skimming over the surface instead of deepening their discipleship and who are casually engaged rather than “anxiously engaged.” (D&C 76:75; D&C 58:27.) Though nominal in their participation, their reservations and hesitations inevitably show through. They may even pass through our holy temples, but, alas, they do not let the holy temples pass through them... Likewise it is only fair to warn that any determination to seek greater consecration will soon expose what we yet lack, a painful but necessary thing. Remember the rich, righteous young man who was told by Jesus, “One thing thou lackest”? (Mark 10:21.) Ananias and Sapphira, otherwise good members of the Church, “kept back” a portion instead of consecrating their all. (Acts 5:1–11.) Some would never sell Jesus for thirty pieces, but they would not give Him their all either!

- Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Settle This in Your Hearts’,” Ensign, Nov 1992, 65
"Spiritual submissiveness is not accomplished in an instant, but by the incremental improvements and by the successive use of stepping-stones. Stepping-stones are meant to be taken one at a time anyway. Eventually our wills can be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” as we are “willing to submit … even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 15:7; 3:19). Otherwise, though striving, we will continue to feel the world’s prop wash and be partially diverted.

Illustrations involving economic consecration are relevant. When Ananias and Sapphira sold their possessions, they “kept back part of the price” (see Acts 5:1–11). So many of us cling tenaciously to a particular “part,” even treating our obsessions like possessions. Thus, whatever else we may have already given, the last portion is the hardest to yield. Granted, partial surrender is still commendable, but it resembles, more than faintly, the excuse, “I gave at the office” (see James 1:7–8).
- Neal A. Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance,” Ensign, Dec 2008, 26–30

"In our time, those found in dishonesty do not die as did Ananias and Sapphira, but something within them dies. Conscience chokes, character withers, self-respect vanishes, integrity dies."


- Gordon B. Hinckley, “‘An Honest Man—God’s Noblest Work’,” New Era, Oct 1976, 46

"The fourth and fifth chapters of Acts give an account of the unusual fate of two liars—Ananias and Sapphira...Not every lie brings such swift and final physical retribution. In the end, however, every unrepentant liar suffers spiritual death. According to the scriptures, he is doomed to dwell with some rather slimy associates... Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all.” (The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table.) "A lie will bring you quick results but no premiums. A lie will look well for an hour but show shabby for a year. A lie will bring you cash but cut your credit. A lie will bring you velvet for a moment but hard circumstances for a decade. A lie is a commercial fake, a social fraud, an intellectual makeshift, a theological blunder, and a universal failure. Don’t lie.” (Anon.) Tell the truth."
- Marion G. Romney, “Don’t Lie. Tell the Truth,Ensign, Aug 1975, 3
What We Can Learn From Her:
  • Whenever you are tempted to tell a "little white" lie or to withhold part of the truth, remember her story and that God can see into your heart;
  • Consecration is an "all or nothing" covenant and God requires our hearts, minds, and bodies to be fully His in order for Him to give us the immense blessings that come by taking upon oneself the covenant of consecration;
  • Men and women make joint decisions and covenants before God and both are held accountable for them;
  • Just because a husband makes the final decision doesn't mean that a woman isn't held accountable before God for her participation in it-- or her silence about it.
Questions to Think About:
  • Why do you think Sapphira lied? Why did she allow her husband to hold back part of what she knew was for the Lord?
  • Do you think Sapphira's punishment was too harsh? How do you reconcile her of judgment with your understanding of a forgiving God?
  • What things are you holding on to in your life that you know should be consecrated unto the Lord?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Nephi's Wife



1 Nephi 7: 6, 19
1 Nephi 16:7, 27, 35-36
1 Nephi 17:1-2, 20
1 Nephi 18:6, 19

Background: Abt. 592 BC

Lehi was commanded by the Lord to take his family and leave Jerusalem before it was destroyed. His family departed into the wilderness but his sons made several trips back to Jerusalem. The first trip they made was to get the brass plates from Laban and second trip was to bring back women for them to marry. Lehi's sons were successful in convincing Ishmael and his family to leave Jerusalem and join them in their journey into the wilderness. Ishmael, his wife, his sons and his five daughters left their possessions behind and departed into the wilderness (1 Nephi 7:1-5) .

Facts about her:
  • She was one of the five daughters of Ishmael (not the oldest one);
  • She followed her family into the wilderness and left all her worldly possessions behind in Jerusalem (1 Nephi 7:5);
  • She married Nephi (1 Nephi 16:7);
  • She witnessed the writting on the Liahona (1 Nephi 16:27);
  • She murmured against Lehi and Nephi, as did all her other sisters, when her father died and wanted to return to Jerusalem (1 Nephi 16:35-36);
  • Unlike two of her sisters (those married to Laman and Lemuel) she repented of her murmuring and never rebelled again (1 Nephi 16:39);
  • She bore children in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:1-2);
  • She lived on raw meat in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:1-2);
  • Despite her hardships she gave "plenty of suck" for her children (1 Nephi 17:1-2);
  • She suffered all things "save death" (1 Nephi 17:20);
  • She became strong, like unto a man, and bore her journeying without murmurings (1 Nephi 17:1-2);
  • She made the voyage to the promised land and helped establish a new life for her family there (1 Nephi 18);
  • On the voyage to the promised land Nephi's wicked brothers rebelled against him and tied him up, the Liahona stopped working and they were being tossed upon the sea. Her tears and prayers (and also those of her children) were not enough to soften the hearts of Nephi's brethren and it was "... nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts" (1 Nephi 18:19-20);
  • When the righteous Nephites separated themselves from the wicked Lamanties she and her children went with them (2 Nephi 5:6).
Speculations about her:
  • In 1 Nephi 7:19 Nephi says that one of the daughters of Ishmael, her mother and one of the son's of Ishmael plead with Laman and Lemuel not to kill Nephi and were successful in softening their hearts. We don't know for sure, but I suspect that this was the daughter Nephi later married;
  • She may have been youngest daughter of Ishmael (but not for sure) because we know that her oldest sister married Zoram and that her three other sisters married Nephi's older brothers-- Laman, Lemuel and Sam. One would just suppose they were older because the brothers were older, but older women can marry younger men-- so who knows.
  • She wandered for over 11 years in the wilderness and in that time probably suffered extreme hunger, thirst, fatigue, sickness, heartache, grief, loss and every other imaginable hardship.
My Thoughts:

When I read the story of Nephi's wife I can't help but think of how similar her story is to Emma Smith's, the wife of the prophet Joseph. Even though these two women lived hundreds and hundreds of years apart they both experienced similar blessings and trials. Both of these women were married to men who became prophets while very young. Both of their husbands were persecuted by wicked men (even though Nephi had it worse because the wicked men were his brothers) who attempted to kill them multiple times. Both women left comfortable homes behind in order to support their husbands and to follow the teachings of the gospel. They both wandered in the wilderness (remember Ohio, Missouri and Illinois were literally wilderness countries in Emma's time) for most of their married lives. They both bore children while wandering in the wilderness-- we know Emma lost several children and can only suppose the Nephi's wife may have also. Both of these women sustained their husband's callings and supported them in the difficult work the Lord had called them to do. Also, they both helped their husbands lead their people to a promised land and start a new life-- Nephi to the Americas and Joseph to Ohio, Zion and Nauvoo. They were no strangers to heartache, disappointment and fear. Yet, even despite the great trials these women faced they were strong in their faith in Jesus Christ and endured faithfully to the end. I'd like to think that these two are now great friends up in heaven, each understanding perfectly what the other has suffered and what it is like to be the wife of a young, persecuted prophet.

What we can learn from her:
  • Women are strong-- physically and spiritually;
  • Even though we may murmur against the Lord when our trials become more than we can bear, if we repent He will forgive us and strengthen us that we may learn to bear our trial without murmuring;
  • Even though we don't hear about them, every prophet mentioned in the Book of Mormon had either a wife or a mother supporting him in his sacred calling. We may not know their names or just exactly what they did, but it doesn't make their contributions any less important or grand in the eyes of the Lord. He knows each and every one of those women and what they suffered and contributed to his work.
Questions to think about:
  • What qualities did she have that made her a good wife for Nephi? Why did he see in her that led him to choose her? How did she help him in fulfill his calling from the Lord?
  • Do you think you would have been able to endure what she had to in the wilderness? Would you have murmured?
  • This is more of a challenge than a question-- I challenge you to start paying more attention to the unmentioned women in the Book of Mormon, and start looking between the lines and find the women who are behind the stories-- they may not be mentioned but they are there you just have to look for them.