A face

July 6, 2006 | 33 comments
By

Sacrament meeting in a small ward, in a large coastal city.

He sits in the fourth row. He is in his seventies, perhaps close to eighty. I sit one row behind him, a little aside, and glance, discreetly, at his face.

An elderly face, but wholesome, blooming amidst the furrows. A face carved by decades of labor as a longshoreman in the city’s harbor.

He is an Elder, always has been. When the stake was finally organized, having reached the minimal level of priesthood potential, many were ordained High priests to fill leadership positions. Over the years releases and new callings further emptied the ranks of the Elders. He continued to serve in quiet, rotating assignments – family history worker, assistant ward librarian, janitor. On Sundays, at priesthood, he joins the missionaries and a handful of men in their twenties and thirties.

I wonder how those decades of labor as a longshoreman have made his face so wholesome, blooming amidst the furrows. Tiny scratches on his skin betray an old-fashioned razor. A faint smile, one that endures for some unknown reason, sits anchored in the corners of his lips, emitting an aura of mercy, majestic and tender.

It is a face any stranger recognizes as familiar, someone known from times of yore.
A face telling you it is good to be alive.
A face to trust.

Out of this face, out of this accumulation of mature sensibilities and wisdom, a restrained exuberance flows. From this radiance the singing of the congregation draws depth as the old man joins in. From this radiance the bread and water take on enlivened meaning. From this radiance the dreary talks gather light.

But now, almost imperceptibly, his head bows forward, his eyelids close.
He becomes immensely accessible in the innocence of his slumber.
Even out of the flow of time, he is here.
His fingers, holding his glasses, slowly weaken their grip.
His wife, watching from experience and the corner of her eye, moves her arm, in a barely visible gesture, touches him gently, and he regains himself, and they exchange a furtive glance, which carries love.

No doubt his life has also seen misery and grief. Are not those wrinkles scars of former battles too? No doubt he suffers, perhaps even more at his age, at the sight of sorrow, of starving children, of sin.

And yet his countenance conveys that all calamities are ephemeral.

How much closer can we come to a semblance of the face of God?

33 Responses to A face

  1. lamonte on July 6, 2006 at 8:37 am

    Wilfried – Thank you for your perceptive nature and for the beautiful rhythm of your words. It is a wonderful blessing to be able to identify the face of God in many things – whether that be the innocent face of child or the worn face of an elderly man whose life experience is evident in his countenance. We can see His face in the beautiful wonders of nature as well. God is all around us if we just open our eyes. Thank you.

  2. Ana on July 6, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Thank you. I came here today thinking, “Maybe Wilfried has posted.” I’m so glad you did.

  3. Proud Daughter of Eve on July 6, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Your posts are always so powerful and moving. Please write a book!

  4. Aaron Brown on July 6, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    At one point, I was sure this was going to be a story about the injustice of keeping elderly priesthood holders in Elders Quorum and not letting them advance to High Priests. Shows what I know.

    Aaron B

  5. Kevin Barney on July 6, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    Aaron, I was thinking the same thing. I fully expect that I’ll be an elder when I’m in my 70s, too, but I don’t see it as an injustice. In fact, I take a little bit of perverse pride in being a 47-year old elder. My father died as an elder in the church, and if that was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

    Beautiful post, Wilfried, as usual.

  6. Wilfried on July 6, 2006 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks, all!
    Yes, I guess that was somehow part of the underlying thoughts: an older Elder may be closer to God than a younger High priest.

  7. tyler on July 6, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Beautiful and subtle, Wilfried. Thanks.

  8. bbell on July 6, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Hi Wilfried,

    Geat Post!!!!!!!!!!

    My Dad/Bishop says that there are many many older elders in his ward that are faithful just like decribed in your post. He has recently been on a campaign to have them all ordained HP. He says that they feel a great sense of honor when they are informed that the Stake has decided to have them ordained HP.

    “an older Elder may be closer to God than a younger High priest. ” This is also a great insight.

  9. Chance on July 6, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    I have the reverse problem, I was ordained a High Priest at 23 just after we were married. Every Sunday I get to live my senior years vicariously through the members of our group. I relish every opportunity I have to sit through an hour of EQ because there is only so much talk about the Depression, death, and surgeries (oh yeah, and bodily functions) that one can endure.

    Beautiful post Wilfried. It’s always a plreasure.

  10. ndJim F. on July 6, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Chance, I have only been in the HP group since I was in my forties, and at 58 I remain one of the younger members of my group, but I’ve almost never had to endure those kinds of discussions. You have my sympathy. Someone needs to remind your HPs what Priesthood Meeting is about.

  11. gst on July 6, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    I was born in the Ford administration. Another high priest in my ward drove a tank on to the beach at Anzio (that is, back when that was an appropriate thing to do at Anzio). Sometimes I wonder if he’s going to rip the stripes off my arm and bust me back to Elder.

  12. gst on July 6, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    To be clear, I was born during the Ford administration, not in the Ford administration. I was not a member of the executive branch as an infant.

  13. Bookslinger on July 7, 2006 at 12:06 am

    In our stake, men over 55 or so, even if they are not ordained a HP, attend the HP group. They are technically members of the EQ, and still are called upon for EQ “sustainings”, but for that block of time, they are in the HP class.

  14. gst on July 7, 2006 at 12:20 am

    Bookslinger, do 30 year-old HPs in your stake attend EQ?

  15. bbell on July 7, 2006 at 10:10 am

    GST,

    Did you live in the Wilmette stake and get caught up in the 25-30 year old mass HP ordinations that occur there from time to time?

    I was an EQP in that stake and in one year in my ward we had 5 elders called to the High Council and one in the bishopric.

    I moved when I was 26 thank goodness.

  16. tracy m on July 7, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    I always love you, Wilfried.

  17. Tony Loyal on July 7, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    New convert here (coming up on a year), so please bear with the “stupid” question…Are men in their 40′s and beyond typically ordained high priests? What is the criteria to be ordained a high priest? I’m 41 now…should I feel insulted if I’m still sitting in EQ three years from now?

    Sorry to hijack your thread, Wilfried…

  18. Cordeiro on July 7, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    Tony:

    Take it from someone who’s been a High Priest since he was 26. Stay in EQ as long as you possibly can. I’ve been the youngest High Priest in every stake and ward I’ve been in for nearly a decade now. While I understand the reasons why I had to be ordained to the office of a High Priest (I was called into the Bishopric) I’ve really missed my peer group and know it’ll be another 20 some years before I sit in a quorum or group meeting with them again.

  19. Tony Loyal on July 7, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    Cordeiro,

    Thanks, but what about my other questions?

  20. Aaron Brown on July 7, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    Tony, I’ve been a member all my life (I’m 34), and I still don’t know the answer to your question. Granted, I haven’t really cared, or I presumably would have asked and found out. But I really don’t get why some people are pushed into High Priests, and others aren’t. Obviously, holding certain callings will graduate you, but otherwise, I don’t get it. Anyone?

    Aaron B

  21. bbell on July 7, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    My Bishop father thinks there are a couple of issues that relate being ordained a HP.

    1. Did you live in a struggling ward/Stake? If so at some point you will if you are active and willing be called to serve in a Bishopric or HC and be ordained. See my comments directed at gst regarding the Wilmette stake. This stake is essentially carried by the members of one ward in particular in regards to Stake Presidencies and the HC. There is a revolving door on callings.

    2. Are you a capable public speaker? If so look out.

    3. Cynical answer: Are you buddies with the SP?

    #17 I would say no. Nobody has been ordained to the office of a HP in my current ward that I am aware off in the last 5 years. That is because the bench is so deep in the current HP group that when a new HC or Bishopric is member is called they just take them from the current HP group

  22. CS Eric on July 7, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    My father-in-law for years resisted any and all attempts to make him a high priest until a few months before his death last year at age 72. He didn’t want to be with all those “old guys.” In our ward, I am older than most of the elders, and younger than most of the high priests. Thankfully, I play the piano for primary, and get to do sharing time instead of priesthood meeting.

  23. Kevin Barney on July 7, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Tony, my understanding is that, usually and these days, at least, one is ordained a HP when one is called to a calling requiring that priesthood (especially a bishopric or high council). So, no, if you’re still an elder three years from now, you shouldn’t be offended. If you feel more comfortable meeting with the high priests’ group, you are always welcome to do so (I believe this is an official church policy). Many high priests’ groups have older men who meet with them who technically are elders.

  24. Kevin Barney on July 7, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    bbell, interesting that you should mention Wilmette. I’m in the Schaumburg Stake, one stake to the west of Wilmette, but when I was growing up (in DeKalb) we were in the Wilmette Stake.

  25. bbell on July 7, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Hi Kevin,

    I was in Wilmette for a few years while at school. We saw the Schaumburg stake as a strong stake and wished that people were still moving into the Wilmette stake. But alas 500K 3 bedroom homes put up a major barrier to entry and the Chicago public school system was the other barrier in the stake. hey if you desire to be a HP move to the Wilmette stake.

    We had a family who lived in your stake be converted thru the efforts of our Bishop in North Shore 2 and they ended up in one of the Arlington wards. I also used to play bball at the Arlington H building.

    Its a small world in LDS land

  26. Wilfried on July 7, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Probably in vain, but to try to curb the threadjack: This post was meant to make us ponder about our belief in the reality of a physical Father in Heaven. The face of God.

  27. Tony Loyal on July 7, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    I hope you noticed my apology at the end of my post (#17), Wilfried… : )

  28. Wilfried on July 7, 2006 at 4:19 pm

    No need to apologize, Tony! The topic on Elder vs HP started earlier and, indeed, it is an item in my text, thought not really meant as issue. But, threads are free and if topics interest people, that’s what blogs are about. At the same time, we can always try to focus back to the main idea, especially if comments walk further and further away…

  29. Blake on July 7, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    Thanks Wilfried — for bringing the simple value of a good heart and committed soul back to the gospel in its fulness. I was made a HP at 25 and struggled with a lot of more… “mature” that I had a hard time relating to in a lot of ways. But they loved me and nurtured me. Besides, we needed someone who was awake and strong enough if someone who appeared to be sleeping actually had a heart attack or stroke. I was kind of the kid. Thanks again. I love your posts.

  30. gst on July 8, 2006 at 12:04 am

    bbell, I have lived in the Wilmette stake, but I was ordained an HP in a southern California stake subsequently, when my ward was apparently pretty hard up for a bishopric counselor.

  31. Clair on July 10, 2006 at 1:08 am

    The face of God. Which face is it? Wilfried’s longshoreman is as good an example as any.

    If we accept that “as man is, God once was,” then the question is more than theoretical. If God lived a mortal existence, then what was his life like? Was he baptized on earth, or by proxy after death? Was he of the majority race in his land? Was he wealthy or sitting by the side of the road covered in sores? Was he an honor student or barely getting by?

    I had pondered these things prior to speaking on a related topic. While traveling, I looked at the crowds of people in O’Hare airport and felt a feeling I hadn’t felt before. It was as if each was a god, whether they knew it or not. The feeling was one of awe at the glory of God, shown in the scope and goodness of his creations. It was a wonderful feeling.

  32. Silver on July 10, 2006 at 3:34 am

    It\’s like the Joan Osborne song:

    What if God was one of us?
    Just a slob like one of us?
    Just a stranger on a bus, trying to make His
    way home…

    If God had a face,
    what would it look like . . .

  33. Wilfried on July 10, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Thank you, Clair. Thank you, Silver.

    “While traveling, I looked at the crowds of people (…) It was as if each was a god, whether they knew it or not. The feeling was one of awe at the glory of God, shown in the scope and goodness of his creations. It was a wonderful feeling.”

    That is exactly what I tried to convey, Clair. Our believe in a physical God allows us to imagine him with a specific face, and it could be any normal, authentic face. Probably not the kind of vague, upgraded Santa Claus that we are sometimes shown, though we understand the Christian tradition where that figuration comes from.