Saturday, September 20, 2014

Miriam: Leprosy and a Bad Case of Spiritual Ego

I  have written, and re-written, the second half of Miriam's story a dozen times (read the first part here). It was hard for me to write. Mostly because the topic is so close to my heart.

Over the last few years my heart has broken as I have watched people I know and love, and even people I don't know, make choices that have caused them to be excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or to voluntarily leave the LDS church. I have grieved and pondered over their situations. My heart breaks for them because some of them don't fully understand what they have lost, or what they have done. As I thought about them the story of Miriam kept surfacing and re-surfacing in my mind. So several weeks ago I opened my scriptures and re-read the story of Miriam, as told in Numbers 12, and I was astounded at how applicable the story was to their situations. It just reminded me that we are NOT the first generation to ask the hard questions. People of every dispensation have struggled with all of the same spiritual questions and doubts that we still have today. We are not unique by any means.

Questions, Spiritual Ego and Apostasy

In Numbers 12 it tells how Miriam, and her brother Aaron,  both spoke out publicly against Moses for his marriage of an Ethiopian woman. This Ethiopian woman has a fascinating story (and will have her own post very soon) and there are several possible reasons for why Miriam and Aaron confronted him about her. I won't go into all of them in this post, but suffice it to say that the real issue wasn't his marriage but deeper doubts that Miriam and Aaron had about his role as the prophet and his ability to receive revelation from God.

Miriam and Aaron had both been blessed with spiritual gifts, specifically the gift of prophecy. In fact, Miriam's gift was so powerful that she was known as "the prophetess".  She had the ability to speak with power and with authority. So when Moses did and taught something that she didn't like she questioned his ability to receive revelation, saying, "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?" (Numbers 12:2)

Miriam's question wasn't wrong-- it was a good question about the way in which God was operating His kingdom on the earth. Later on we see that her process of questioning opened up an important dialogue with God about the role and responsibilities of the prophet. It was because of her question that the Lord was able to give the Children of Israel more understanding about how the priesthood and God's kingdom operates.  The question isn't what was the problem. The problem was that Miriam had, at at her core, what I have heard called  "spiritual ego". I loved how this woman explained what "spiritual ego" is:
What exactly is the spiritual ego...[it ]is borne the first moment... that a profound spiritual realization has been made. It is that part of self that feels it has accomplished something very special and it causes us to feel superior in relations to others because we believe we have made a realization that sets us apart from the masses. If we find ourselves at any point along the path of spiritual growth and expanding consciousness, feeling that we’ve arrived, conquered, or accomplished something really spiritually superior, and that this accomplishment puts us above others in any way, we can rest assured, we’ve activated the spiritual ego.
When we have spiritual ego we have an over inflated sense of our own spiritual ability and understanding. We begin to think that we are somehow unique, that God has told us or given us something that others don't have. When we have spiritual ego we don't ask questions sincerely desiring an answer or direction. Instead we ask a question, already thinking that we know what the answer should be. The problem is that, when the answer comes and it isn't what you were expecting, it can be really hard to humble yourself and accept counsel. As a result it is usually spiritual ego that causes people to apostatize or leave the church.

For example, this is a quote by Brigham Young about the causes of apostasy and it is uncanny how much of it can be seen in Miriam and Aaron's actions.  He said:
Whenever there is a disposition manifested in any of the members of this Church to question the right of the President of the whole Church to direct in all things, you see manifested evidences of apostasy—of a spirit which, if encouraged, will lead to a separation from the Church and to final destruction...When a man begins to find fault, inquiring in regard to this, that, and the other, saying, “Does this or that look as though the Lord dictated it?” you may know that that person has more or less of the spirit of apostasy...

 Brigham Young continued:
Many imbibe [conceive] the idea that they are capable of leading out in teaching principles that never have been taught. They are not aware that the moment they give way to this hallucination the Devil has power over them to lead them onto unholy ground... Such a person will make false prophecies, yet he will do it by the spirit of prophecy; he will feel that he is a prophet and can prophesy, but he does it by another spirit and power than that which was given him of the Lord. He uses the gift as much as you and I use ours... (source)

Can you see Miriam and Aaron in what Brigham Young was saying?

They, whether they realized it or not,  had a bad case of  spiritual ego. The type of pride that, if goes unchecked, results in apostasy.

Compare this to Moses whom it says in Numbers 12:3, "was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." Moses, who was the prophet of the Lord, was devoid of all spiritual ego. He was humble, contrite, and teachable. He had seen a vision of all of God's creations and knew, "that man is nothing"(Moses 1:10). He understood, he saw and as a result he was meek and humble. Directly the opposite of the attitude Miriam and Aaron had.

It was a result of their pride that God called Aaron and Miriam to the Tabernacle. He explained to them about the difference between possessing the spiritual gift of prophecy-- which both Aaron and Miriam had-- and the calling of the prophet-- which only Moses had. He told them,
"If there be a prophet [ one who has the gift of prophecy] among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream." 
This must have been something that both Aaron and Miriam could relate too. Perhaps they had seen the Lord in a dream or had strong spiritual promptings that had led them to believe that they had more authority and understanding than they really did.

Then the Lord clarified that Moses was not this type of prophet; he was the Prophet who had been  called and chosen by God to lead His people and that,
"..with him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold" (Numbers 12:8). 
With these words the Lord was clarifying how His priesthood power worked, and who held the right to receive revelation for the church. Making clear that it was not Miriam or Aaron who held these keys and this power.

Leprosy and Living Death

After speaking with the Lord in the tabernacle Miriam was struck with leprosy. It is interesting to me that it is Miriam, and not Aaron, who ended up with leprosy. At first this seems supremely unfair, because even Aaron admits that, "we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned." (Number 12:11)

If they are both at fault, if they both asked the question, then how come it was only Miriam who was cursed with leprosy?

The text in Numbers 12:1 can give us some clues. First, in Hebrew the verb that is translated as "spake against" is in the feminine tense indicating that Miriam was the main speaker. Second, Miriam's name is listed before Aaron's in the story indicating that, while Aaron certainly was involved, it was primarily Miriam who instigated and lead the opposition to Moses.

The curse of leprosy is a very interesting consequence for Miriam's actions. The law of Moses consisted of many physical rules, which while they did often have health benefits, were primarily designed to bear witness of the need for Jesus Christ. Leprosy was no exception, and Miriam's bout with leprosy was designed to be a physical symbol of her a spiritual ailment.

Let me explain.

Leprosy in the Bible included a wide variety of skin aliments. Among them was what we know as leprosy today, a  highly contagious bacterial disease that results in nerve damage, especially in the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. As a result of this nerve damage many people with leprosy are unable to feel pain and often loose parts of their hands, feet, and other extremities due to repeated injuries.It is also possible for the infection to lie dormant for anywhere from 5 to 20 years before symptoms begin to manifest. In Bible times leprosy was thought to be a curse from God because no one knew how you got it, it spread from person to person, and there was no cure for it. Even today, though scientists are able to treat and cure leprosy, they are still unsure about how it is spread.

Understanding the nature of leprosy makes it easy to see why ancient people were terrified of the disease and often required lepers to live outside of cities and limited their contact with others. In fact, in the Old Testament the Law of Moses gives a detailed set of rules concerning how leprosy should be dealt with among the Children of Israel. Leviticus 13:45-46 instructs that a leper's,

 "...clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip (ie, cover his mouth) and shall cry Unclean, Unclean... and he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his inhabitation be."  

 There were also complex rules for determining if a person, a piece of clothing and even a house were infected with leprosy (See Lev. 13- 14).

It is interesting that when you study leprosy in the Bible that it speaks of people being "cleansed" from leprosy and not "healed." (see Matt. 8:3; Mark 1:42; Lev. 14:7). This is because among the  Israelites someone having leprosy was considered "unclean". This word in Hebrew is tuma and it doesn't mean  "dirty" or "contaminated".

It is complex word  that can't be directly translated into English, but in the simplest explanation-- it is the spiritual state that results from coming in contact with something that has lost its spiritual power. A dead body is the highest form of  tuma (or "uncleanliness") because it has the greatest spiritual potential and thus the greatest "spiritual vacuum" when that life departs. In a similar way a woman is considered tuma after giving birth because while pregnant she is filled with a high level of spiritual power, but when her child is born that power departs. Having leprosy also made someone tuma (unclean) because there was no cure for it and in the eyes of the camp the person was a good as dead. In fact leprosy was sometimes called "living death".

Miriam was cursed with leprosy-- living death-- because her spiritual ego had caused her to doubt and fight against God. As a result she had become tuma, "unclean", meaning that she had  lost her spiritual power. Her outward condition of leprosy was a sign of the inward condition of her soul. She had "spiritual leprosy", the eating away of the spirit that comes through apostasy and sin. Just like physical leprosy kills nerves and destroys your ability to feel, spiritual leprosy  destroys the soul's power and results in a decrease of the ability to feel or to perceive the promptings of the spirit. Brigham Young taught,
"Let a man or woman who has received much of the power of God, visions and revelations, turn away from the holy commandments of the Lord, and it seems that their senses are taken from them, their understanding and judgment in righteousness are taken away, they go into darkness, and become like a blind person who gropes by the wall [see Isaiah 59:9–10;Deuteronomy 28:29] (source).

Also, just like physical leprosy, apostasy or spiritual leprosy is highly contagious. It doesn't take much contact with someone who is infected to spread germs of discontent, anger, fear, doubt, and sin. And just like physical leprosy those germs might lay dormant for years until a person realizes they have been infected. The ancient Israelites dealt with leprosy by closely monitoring people for the disease, going through complicated procedures to diagnosis it, and when a case was confirmed separating the person from the rest of the camp. 

Today, excommunication and dis-fellowship are our modern day tools for coping with outbreaks of "spiritual leprosy" among our congregations.  Just like the Israelites of old we closely examine people for the signs of spiritual leprosy and go through complex procedures to diagnosis the disease (in fact, priesthood authorities dealing with cases of apostasy might find the procedures in Leviticus 13 and 14 to be helpful). We also do everything within our power to help cure or help the infected person.  Yet, when there is a real case of leprosy-- apostasy-- it is imperative for the health of everyone to separate that person from the rest of the  group.  The key thing to remember though is that this separation is NOT done out of anger, hatred, or even fear. It is done with the hope that 1) the infected person will be healed and return or 2) wallow in misery as the disease eats away at them until they die. 

But preferably the first one. 

In fact, when Moses and Aaron found out that Miriam had leprosy (both physical and spiritual) they mourned and begged God on her behalf saying, 
"Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb...Heal her now, O God" (Numbers 12:12)
But even after their pleading the Lord  tells them that Miriam must be taken without the camp for seven days. The Lord reminds them that she is sick with leprosy-- both physically and spiritually--and the only way for her to get better is to go through the processes that God has set up to "cleanse" those whose souls have been eaten away at by sin. God reminds them that if she isn't separated, if she isn't "excommunicated",  she will never be able to be healed and go through the process to become whole.

So, in what must have been a tragically sad procession, Miriam was taken without the camp and left for seven days and "and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again."

Now this is where Miriam's story really gets powerful. 

Look at that last phrase. It says,"the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again." 

First, it tells us that the children of Israel didn't give up hope on Miriam. They had faith that she would be healed of her leprosy-- both spiritual and physical- and that she would return to them. They shut her out of their community but they didn't walk away from her. They waited for her, they prayed for her, and they had faith that she could be healed. This is a powerful reminder to me that we should never give up or walk away from those who been excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or who have left the church voluntarily. We still need to be smart-- meaning we might need to separate ourselves emotionally or intellectually from them so that we don't also get infected-- but we don't need to give up on them. We can pray for them, we can have the compassion for them, and we can have faith that they will be healed.

Because unlike the physical leprosy of the Bible, spiritual leprosy does have a cure--and that is the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Second,  that last line in Numbers 12 is powerful because it says that, "Miriam was brought in again." She had preached things that were not true, she had challenged the priesthood authority of the prophet, she had been full of spiritual ego and pride, she had fought against God and His prophet, she had lost her spiritual power, and she had been shut out of the presence of God and her people. 

But Miriam came back.

And that is powerful.

Here was a woman whose spiritual gifts and spiritual power had been formidable, but who through pride and spiritual ego had allowed herself to be deceived. In such situation it would have been easy for her to succumb to her ailments, to rely on her pride and her own understanding and forsake her covenants, her God and her people. 

Yet Miriam is a powerful example because she refused to let her leprosy over take her body and her soul. She was willing to humble herself, accept guidance from the Lord, and go through the process that God had outlined for becoming clean-- whole-- and full of God's power again. In fact, the number that symbolizes wholeness or completeness in the scriptures is the number seven. So it seems fitting that Miriam was without the  camp for seven days, a time during which she repented and became whole-- physically and spiritually-- once again.

After she returned to the camp the only other mention we have of Miriam is that she died in a place called Kedesh, and that the children of Israel buried her there (Numbers 20:1). We don't know if after Miriam's return to the camp she regained her position of leadership among the children of Israel, but I'd like to think she did. God teaches us that,
"Behold, he [she] who has repented of his [her] sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more." (D&C 58:42)  
Even today people who come back after excommunication have their records washed clean, with no mention of excommunication on them. So perhaps the same was true for Miriam. Regardless, what we do know is after she came back she traveled with her people and dwelt with them again until the day of her death. 

This is why Miriam's story has been running through my mind as I've thought about those people I know who have fallen away from the church. My heart aches for them as I see the spiritual leprosy eat away at their souls-- often so gradually that they don't even realize what has happened to them. It can be hard to bear.

Yet like the children of Israel I am not going to walk away and leave them behind.

I am going to wait.

Filling my heart with prayers and living with hope and anticipation for that day when-- just like Miriam did-- they come back and claim their spiritual power...again.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Link and Mingle!

I'm excited to be hosting Link and Mingle today with my friend Shaylee Ann! 

The rules for this are very simple. 

Just use the linky tools below to link up to your blog (you don't have to have a specific post) , your website, your Facebook page, Instagram or Pinterest account... pretty much any social media site that you would like to connect with more people on. 

That is it. 

The point of Link and Mingle is simply to meet new people and have new people find you. 

A win-win situation. 

I am excited about this and would love to have you link up! 

Meet this week's hosts:


[ if you are interested in co-hosting this link-up permanently or temporarily, please email or leave a comment below ]

 · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Copy the code beneath the button to share the Link & Mingle on your site:

Link & Mingle

[ hashtag is"#link&mingle" if you link up! ]

Now follow your hosts, add your links, and meet new friends!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Pre-Order "Walking with the Women of the New Testament" Now!!!


So pre-orders for my book, "Walking with the Women of the New Testament" are now available through Amazon!

And it is on sale!!!

You should go order it RIGHT NOW... really you should.

Because if you do then you will have it in your loving arms, all ready to snuggle with by the fire,  by November 11th, 2014!

Crazy, huh?

Did I mention that is in on Sale... 23% percent off... that is almost as good as 25% off.

So click here and  go order it NOW!

Can you tell I am excited?

Deep breath.




PS. I also just added a link on the side bar of my blog to sign up for my forthcoming newsletters. If you sign up I will-- eventually-- be sending out scripture study tips as well as a Study Guide for the Women of the New Testament. So go ahead and sign-up now and there will be good things to come!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five Things for Friday, Kindness, Maria Merian, and Scaly-itis Edition


We have been having and on again, off again battle with our lawn mower this summer. It is super fickle and will only turn on if it feels like it, which isn't very often. Even when it does get going it doesn't cut very well because the blade is uneven. This means that even after mowing our lawn it still looks a mess because the grass is all different lengths! On top of that, I am the only one who can use the lawn mower because Jon is heavier than I am and it over heats really quickly when he drives it.


I have been feeling really bad about our yard all summer and have been trying my best to keep on top of it. About two weeks ago I was feeling especially bad about it because my sister and her fiance were coming to visit us and our yard didn't look very good. I was sad that their first view of our house would be through a jungle of grass. So the afternoon before they were suppose to arrive I decided to go out one last time and try to jump the mower battery... again... to see if I could get it to work. I wasn't too hopeful that it would work, but I wanted to try. I got side tracked blowing up the swimming pool for the kids and while I was thus employed Asher brought me the mail, excited that there was a letter, with no return address, simply marked "Farrell Family." I let him open it, which he did, and promptly threw the letter on the ground. Looking back now, I should have just left it there on the ground, but I picked it up and this is what it said.

It was signed "a concerned neighbor." I felt like I'd been hit with a baseball bat and slunk onto the ground. I was crushed. I couldn't believe that someone would be so unkind as to write such a mean letter, especially since they didn't know what struggles we'd been going through.

So, I bawled.

And bawled some more.

Then I called Jon and told him we should stop mowing our lawn for the rest of the summer... just to spite them.

And then I bawled some more.

When Jon got home we were able to talk more sensibly about the letter, and while it still really hurt, talking about it helped us see some important things. It was a real wake up call to Jon and I about how important it is to be kind. You NEVER know what someone else is going through. Kindness is always the best choice. Even when you think you understand a situation... you really don't... so just be kind. And second, we realized that we couldn't judge the person too harshly because, even though we'd never gotten the nerve to send a letter to someone, we both have thought unkind things like that before about other people and their homes. We really didn't have much of a moral high horse to stand on.

In the end, even though the letter still stings two weeks later, I'm grateful for it. Being on the receiving end of hatred and unkindness can sometimes be the biggest reminder of how important love and kindness are. I really hope that one day I find out who wrote this letter, just so I can tell them that.


Classic Tabby snarl 

We've had two birthdays the last week! Rose turned five-years-old, which I can hardly believe, and Tabitha turned 1- year-old.  I love those two little girls so much. And even though they are both often feisty balls of pure energy, who exhaust my patience and challenge my parenting skills-- I can't imagine my life without them. They fill my life with so much joy and I love their personalities. I just need to get all their energy, passion, determination and stubbornness moving in the right direction and these girls will change the world! Or at least have a really good time trying.

I was especially excited about the gift I gave Rose for her birthday. A few months ago we checked this book out from the library. 

It is about a woman named Maria Merian who lived in the 1600's and was one of the first biologists. She studied insects and small animals and drew incredible pictures of them. She was one of the first to discover that butterflies and frogs underwent a metamorphosis. Basically, she is a really incredible woman. For some reason Rose LOVED this book. She'd ask to read it a few times a day. She also took to drawing pictures of butterflies all over her notebooks.

So for her birthday I got her a copy of the book, a butterfly journal,  and scoured the Internet until I found some prints of Maria Merian's work (which was hard to find!), downloaded the highest quality I could find,   printed them off, and framed them for her room. I think they turned out so beautiful!

And Rose was really excited about it all... which I thought was really funny. Who knew that a five-year-old would be excited about a 200-year-old biologist!

Tabitha's birthday present was much easier. We just bought a bag of balloons, blew them up and then dumped them in the living room. She was in heaven. It was the best one-year-old birthday present ever!


Our chickens have scaly leg mites. Sort of like fleas or lice that live under their scales and makes their legs look something like this.

Pretty, huh?

It is spreading through our flock and Asher has been very concerned about it. A few days ago I noticed the kids going in and out of the house with buckets of soapy water. When I walked out to see what they were doing I found Asher, Rose and Abe giving our chickens baths in the soapy water and overheard them talking about the chickens having "scaly-itis" on their feet.

After this Asher announced that he was now going to be a "chicken doctor" and set up a little office outside with a sign that announced when he was in and when he was out. It only lasted a few days, but oh it was cute! We've taken to calling Asher our  "chicken whisper" because he spends a remarkable amount of time with the chickens-- enough that we've contemplated putting a chair in the chicken coop for him-- and is the most chicken obsessed person I've ever met in my life. Which is saying something because I once knew a woman whose chicken wore a diaper and rode around in her purse!


Our home school support group started this week and our first field trip was to the Living History Farms. We had a great time. Rose and I liked the millinery shop best because we got to try on corsets... and I think I want one. Really, I do. A whole set of old fashioned underwear would be so much fun! As would wearing hats with all those feathers and ribbons.. maybe I could start something?

Or not.

The other thing we loved was this old sheep-- yes sheep-- powered butter churn. Tell me this isn't the most brilliant thing you've ever seen in your life.

I really think we need one of these. Forget butter, I could have my sheep-- or kids for that matter-- power all sorts of useful things!

The other thing that really struck me about the Living History Farm  was how many things have been invented in the last 100 years. It got me thinking about how much has changed in my life time (internet, computers, cell phones) and how different the world will be in 100 years from now. It made me wonder what the Living History Museum of the future will be like. In a 100 years will there be exhibits with things like CD players, phones with cords that plugged into the wall, computers you couldn't fit in your pocket and TV's you couldn't mount on the wall.  Will kids  exclaim, "Can you believe they didn't have the Internet?" in the same way my kids said, "Can you believe they didn't have electricity?" Will there be replicas of Walmart that people will walk into, the same way I walked into the old General store, and exclaim,  "Oh how quaint, they came here to get all types of things. Now I just order my things online." 

Who knows... but it is possible right?

What do you think will be in the Living History Museum of 2100 AD?


And I promise that Part 2 of my Miriam post is coming soon. It has been harder to write than I expected. It is a complicated story... as are the modern day applications. I am also teaching online seminary again for our Stake (which I LOVE) and setting that up has taken a lot of my computer time the last month. But don't worry,  it is coming... just in case you have been dying of suspense.

Oh, also if you are on Instagram and would like to follow me my account is private, but if you send me a request and your profile picture doesn't look too scary, I'd love to connect with you. My account is hltfarrell.

Have a wonderful weekend and I'd love for you to link up-- even if it is later on in the week. I so enjoy meeting new bloggers! 

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