An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Eastern philosophy’

Repentance or Acceptance?

My sister, Edy, developed a brain tumor four years ago. The cancer spread to her bones and liver. She told me recently that she is almost glad for her disease because it has moved her to a spiritual and emotional dimension that usually comes much later in life, if at all.

Edy began questioning the faith of her childhood on her LDS mission 30 years ago. She met wonderful people of other faiths with strong testimonies and spiritual experiences—not something her Utah upbringing had prepared her for. Ten years later, Edy knew Mormonism wasn’t working for her, but had no replacement. Her disease has pushed her into exploring Eastern meditation and religious philosophy.

Edy told me of the peace she feels, even with her uncertain health. She has quit striving for perfection—an impossible goal for human beings. As she has learned to accept herself, she finds herself less critical of others. She has noticed that people react to her differently—often confiding in her.

Edy is my half sister and we haven’t had close contact until recently, so she and I were unaware that we were on the same spiritual journey at the same time. I agreed with her that the idea of acceptance of oneself—warts and all, and other flawed people induces peace. It’s not that we don’t try to improve—but we learn not to be attached to the outcome of our efforts.

Talking to Edy, I wondered—is there a teaching equivalent to acceptance in Christianity? I thought of repentance. Certainly, repentance encourages us to forgive ourselves and others—but repentance implies that our faults are bad—even wicked. Although Jesus told us to forgive others until 70 times seven, he also told the woman taken in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” The second message is the one I’ve heard most often in Mormon discourse. Repentance brings forgiveness—but only if we never repeat the trespass.

Now, I’m all for people who commit crimes being locked up if they can’t be trusted to “sin no more,” but most of us are guilty of lesser infractions such as: Temper, impatience, lust, selfishness, greed, and overindulgence. The notion that we will forever avoid these transgressions defies reason.

Much better to see our faults as unskillful behaviors that prevent us from getting what we want from life. Beating ourselves up for being human just drives our flaws into hiding where they fester and erupt in more destructive ways.

Loving my grumpy self while encouraging more skillful interaction with others works better for me than pretending I’m always Ms Happy-Happy-Joy-Joy.

Faith without Miracles

George experienced a retinal artery occlusion last weekend which resulted in the loss of vision in his right eye. We sought treatment immediately and were grateful to be near a hospital with an ophthalmologist on call. George received good care, but we were told up front that the prognosis for restoring vision in this situation is not high.

“Do you want a priesthood blessing?” I asked. “No. I might get healed and then I’d have to start going to church.” George keeps his weird sense of humor no matter what happens.

 Later, he told me the real reason he didn’t request a blessing.  “I know what the brothers would say. They can’t realistically bless me that my sight will be restored. They could ask for a blessing of peace and for the Lord’s will to be done, but I am at peace. These things happen as you age. I can deal with it.”

George made me think how miracle-oriented Mormon culture is. We repeat miracles stories from the Bible—the poor widow whose barrel of meal and cruse of oil never runs out after she uses her last bit of meal and oil to make a cake for Elijah the Prophet. Our lesson manuals are filled with Church history miracles such as the seagulls eating the crickets. Individual testimonies elevate likely coincidences—such as emptying one’s bank account to write a tithing check, then receiving a check for an unexpected tax refund in the mail the next day—to miracles.

Miracle stories are told to build faith—and to encourage members to more diligence. As the saying goes, “Faith precedes the miracle.”  In Mormonism, faith is demonstrated by works.

Of course, unexplainable events do occur—but rarely. Human beings have tried for thousands of years to earn blessings from the unseen world through all kinds of sacrifice—human, animal, vegetable, and mineral. About 25 centuries ago, Eastern religions stepped away from that and developed the philosophy of accepting what we cannot change.

 George has faith—not that his sight will return, but that he can adjust to the loss. He has learned that the key to living peacefully in a world of limited miracles is found in these words from Zen master Zenkei Shibayama Roshi, “Thanks for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever.”

 

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