What Today Means

April 22, 2011 | 22 comments
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“We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything- absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer- how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.

Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.”

(Chieko N. Okazaki, Lighten Up, Preface, p. 174, available here, thanks to M.O. for reminding me.)

22 Responses to What Today Means

  1. ji on April 22, 2011 at 9:22 am

    All praise and glory to Jesus Christ, our Lord, Redeemer, Savior, and God.

  2. danithew on April 22, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Chieko N. Okazaki was a wonderful influence. I’m very grateful for her understanding of many things and her ability to craft that understanding in words that had a lot of personal meaning. Along with Sheri Dew she is probably the most memorable woman leader during the time that I’ve been in the church.

  3. Shannon on April 22, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Thanks for posting this. I love the second to last line especially.

  4. Ardis E. Parshall on April 22, 2011 at 9:53 am

    From time to time ‘nacle wisdom has it that Jesus, with his male body, can’t possibly understand what it is to be a woman, with all the pains that CNO lays out in your post. Yet if we deny that he comprehends the heartaches of women, then we have to deny his understanding of children, of animals, of the consequences of natural disasters that didn’t occur in Palestine during his mortality, of forms of death that he did not personally suffer, of the exhilaration of mechanical space flight or the success of medaling in the Olympics or the terrors of total war. Eventually that ideology strips him down to nothing but one man with his limited, idiosyncratic experiences.

    How grand to be reminded that he does in fact comprehend all things, especially, on this day, the sorrows and griefs and terrors and pains of us all. His suffering and understanding was universal so that his salvation could be universal. Sister O. covers it beautifully.

  5. Jax on April 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Julie,

    Loved every word of this post until this sentence

    “He came to save his people in their imperfections.”

    Sounded too close to Zeezrom:

    34 And Zeezrom said again: Shall he save his people ain their sins? And Amulek answered and said unto him: I say unto you he shall not, for it is impossible for him to deny his word.
    35 Now Zeezrom said unto the people: See that ye remember these things; for he said there is but one God; yet he saith that the Son of God shall come, but he shall anot save his people—as though he had authority to command God.
    36 Now Amulek saith again unto him: Behold thou hast alied, for thou sayest that I spake as though I had authority to command God because I said he shall not save his people in their sins.
    37 And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their asins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that bno unclean thing can inherit the ckingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins.

    (Book of Mormon | Alma 11:34 – 37)

    That was my first thought, but then I realized you no doubt don’t mean sins when you say imperfections. So I loved every word of the post all over again for surely we have imperfections that aren’t sins. So thanks for posting.

  6. Middle-aged Mormon Man on April 22, 2011 at 10:08 am

    I grew up with the significance of Easter Sunday outwardly taught. It wasn’t until much later that I took on a greater appreciation for the week leading up to the resurrection.

    Last week a pair of missionaries from another faith dropped a pamphlet by our home entitled “Celebrating the Crucifiction of Our Lord.” My 13 year-old asked me “Why would we celebrate the murder? I would rather celebrate the resurrection.

    Ended up having a great talk with him about the atonement, crucifiction and resurrection, in the context of the whole event. It was great.

  7. Julie M. Smith on April 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Jax, just in case this wasn’t clear, Sr. Okazaki wrote this, not me.

    I agree with you that that sentence only works if imperfections =/= sins.

  8. Julie M. Smith on April 22, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Ardis, that is a very good insight.

    I do think that one of the dangers in over-emphasizing gender roles/differences/traits/characteristics is that it could lead one to think that a male couldn’t save a female, or that women shouldn’t try to be (too much) like Jesus.

  9. SilverRain on April 22, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I love the quote, though I’m not sure I agree with the doctrine. The scriptures say that He descended below all things. Meaning what He experienced was more than any of the things she listed in that quote, not exactly what she listed.

    I used to think this way until I found myself an abuse survivor and survivor of divorce. That gave me a much deeper compassion for many things besides what I actually suffered personally. So I have come to feel that perhaps Jesus didn’t experience labor, or all of the specifics, but rather He suffered beyond any of those things, which gave Him perfect empathy for all those things.

    Though either way, it doesn’t really matter.

  10. Jax on April 22, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    SilverRain, It says near the end of the second paragraph that “he’s been lower than all that.” I don’t think it is mutually exclusive that he do one or the other. Why couldn’t he experience everything individually AND even more? do them both?

    Julie, I did catch the reference at the bottom.

  11. Grant on April 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    I forgot to bring my Wagner’s Parsifal with me to listen to at work as I try to do every Good Friday. I can do it this evening but it takes four+ hours. While Wagner was a little weird himself, I love the message of Parsifal the holy fool (and the music). Parsifal was nearly perfect from his innocence but he felt the pangs of temptation and lustful sin with that one kiss foisted upon him by a deceitful woman totally enthralled to evil who also learned through painful repentance, and service in suffering, to be saved at the end. As I just read in Romans 5 last night:

    . . . but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;

    And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

    And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

    For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

    For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

    But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

    Obviously, it is false to teach that the Lord saves us IN our sins. But his grace is sufficient to save as long as we are doing everything we can, which is never enough, to come OUT of our sins. And basically, all we have to do is turn to him in Faith, and Hope to receive his great Charity “which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men.” I love that phrase. It is good to know the Lord has suffered all for us.

  12. DavidC on April 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Julie,

    This is off-topic, (though it’s about the Last Supper, which is what yesterday meant) but I don’t know where else to ask you this.

    I’m working through a sentence or two in your article on Leviticus, where Jewish dietary laws create a parallel between what God “eats” in his temple through sacrifice, and what we eat or bring into our temples through diet. This ultimately points to Christ as the true sacrifice, and us “eating” Christ in the sacrament.

    I’m trying to write a few paragraphs about the Sacrament without understating the symbolism, which leads me to confront the yuckiness of the Bread of Life sermon and your statement regarding dietary laws.

    Which brings me to a parallel between our bodies and temples. How far can I take the comparison without getting off track?

    Christ is the High Priest who rends the veil and brings his own blood to cleanse the Holy of Holies of the heavenly temple, which contains the tablets of the law written upon by the finger of God.

    Christ is the High Priest who, if we rend our veil of unbelief, brings his own blood to cleanse the Holy of Holies of our hearts, and writes the law upon our hearts with his finger. It seems that some scriptures hint at this interpretation.

    So this reasoning makes the essence of the Sacrament that we drink Christ’s blood that he might cleanse our inner Holy of Holies, which brings me back to the yuckiness of the Bread of Life sermon. (The dietary law against drinking blood would be in this view a way of preserving the sacredness of the symbolism.)

    But considering this symbolism makes other sacramental symbolism seem underpowered by comparison.

    Taking the sacrament to fondly remember the Last Supper would be like my eating a yam casserole to fondly remember my mother’s Thanksgiving dinners. Nostalgic, but underpowered. (see Mark 14:22 in the JST where it says “for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.”)

    Taking the sacrament in remembrance of Christ’s suffering is a step forward, but it reminds me of the statement that it is easier to weep for Christ than it is to understand what he did. Your original post here is an attempt (in a way) to bring us to a greater understanding of what he did.

    Taking the sacrament to “renew my covenants” also seems symbolically underpowered, but it may be ideally suited for a symbolically illiterate culture.

    Any thoughts?

  13. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    This is a beautiful articulation of the testimony of Alma in Alma 7:11-12:

    And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

    This understanding by Alma the Younger is related to the personal experience we each will have at the judgment bar of God:

    Alma 11:43:

    The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.

    Christ can judge us individually, and forgive us individually, because he knows us individually.

    These teachings clearly rule out the impassive “god” of Aristotle and most of the Creeds. If God is truly omniscient, he has to know and understand what each human being experiences. If God is truly loving, his omniscience also requires that he be omni-compassionate. This is the God who can speak to Joseph Smith in his suffering and assure him that he knows what Joseph is going through.

  14. Julie M. Smith on April 22, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    DavidC, I am not sure what the “yuckiness” is, exactly, and I think I will need to understand that better before I try to respond to the rest of your comment.

  15. Mark B. on April 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I guess it won’t help Sister Okazaki to make this comment here, but there were no gas chambers at Dachau. She should have said Auschwitz.

  16. MDG on April 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Mark B., Just to nitpick ;-), there actually were fully functional gas chambers at Dachau, but they were never used for whatever reason. It was still a horrible place nonetheless.

  17. Krissie Ireland on April 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    When I was in labour, I got to that point where I thought “I can’t do this anymore” and an image suddenly came into my mind of Christ on the cross – it was vivid and startling and powerful. My baby arrived minutes later along with feelings of unimaginable joy! I believe He does fully understand women’s experiences… And, in a small way, my experiences as a woman have helped me come to a greater understanding of the Saviour and His experiences. I think I’m only just beginning to comprehend the LOVE that is God…

  18. Cameron on April 22, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Awesome posts Julie and Ardis. So true.

  19. DavidC on April 22, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Consider these phrases from the Bread of Life sermon (John 6) which in a superficial sense sound yucki.

    54: Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

    55: For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed.

    56: He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.

    My goal is to create a personal statement of what I think the Sacrament means. Just as you feel there is power in Sister Okazaki’s description, I feel there is some untapped power in scriptural symbolism about the Sacrament. So I’m looking for something in John, or Leviticus, or the JST, or in temple symbolism from the Day of Atonement. I’m finding some interesting ideas, but I’m still wrestling with how to use those ideas gracefully, and without sounding like I’m trying to push the ideas too far.

    I like the symmetry of “dwelleth in me and I in him” in parallel with how God dwells in the temple. “Veil of unbelief” is a Book of Mormon phrase that may not have anything to do with temple symbolism. Hebrews talks about the law written in our hearts, presumably calling to mind the law written on the tablets behind the veil. Hebrews also mentions hardened hearts, but not in the context of temple symbolism. The phrase from Corinthians is clearer, where it says “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”

    Anyway, these are the kinds of thoughts I’m wrestling with.

  20. DavidC on April 23, 2011 at 12:05 am

    Let me try again. I’m still working through this.

    My original question to myself was, what did Jesus really do when he instituted the Sacrament during the Last Supper. My answer was that he tapped into a large preexisting reservoir of symbolism and redirected it towards himself. The surprise was that your article on Leviticus suggested that this included Jewish dietary laws. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

    So the next question becomes, how can I tap into the power of that reservoir of symbolism to come up with an uplifting description of what Jesus did at that time. And then, how can I create an uplifting description that includes a reference to drinking someones blood. You were able to avoid an explicit description by ending your paragraph on dietary laws with the statement: “This multivalent linkage between food and people primes the careful reader to better understand the role of the sacrament in Jesus’s ministry” leaving the reader to think it through for himself.

    This is something I’ll have to come to terms with in my own way, and which perhaps no one can help me with.

  21. Julie M. Smith on April 23, 2011 at 8:43 am

    DavidC, sounds like my work here is done. ;)

  22. CRW on April 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I don’t believe that Kiskilili’s post at Zelophehad’s Daughter’s (http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2011/04/05/i-know-something-god-doesnt-know-2/)–sorry–I don’t know how to do links–actually meant that she and others believe that God can’t understand us as women. I think she meant that by making gender such a huge, unbridgeable dichotomy, we as Mormons create a false and unnecessary gap between women and deity. I know for a long time as a young woman I thought that God was some kind of three piece suit in the sky who could not possibly comprehend me and my sorrows. It has taken many years to get over that belief, which I blame directly on how we as Mormons insist that there is an inviolable wall between “masculine” and “feminine.”

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