Building Sacred Space (Doctrine & Covenants 109-110)

Monday, September 27, 2021


A HUGE thanks to Heather B. for transcribing this episode!

Channing:[00:00:00] Hi, I'm Channing, and this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise:[00:00:18] And I'm Elise. But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the incredible ways  faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: [00:00:37]We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 109 through 110 for the date September 27th through October 3rd. We're so glad you're here!

Elise: [00:00:58] Yes, welcome back everyone. We've got two really, really lovely sections. I think both Channing and I were kind of surprised how drawn to these sections we were, especially after a few weeks of feeling kind of disconnected from the text and kind of uninspired by the text. So we're grateful for both section 109 and 110.

Channing: [00:01:16] Yeah, these sections are really, really lovely. And section 109 is formatted just like a prayer. It's actually a dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple, and it's actually super lovely. It has some really beautiful verses in there. And, it's really well-written, I feel like. And then section 110, the Saints have this kind of amazing collective vision of things that happened in the Kirtland temple. So, it was just this really momentous occasion for the scenes where they're all in the temple, experiencing a sense of divinity and spirituality and togetherness and Joseph and Oliver see a vision. And it's just this really incredible experience for everyone. And I really appreciated the authors of the Come Follow Me manual this week because they included quite a few accounts of what this experience was like. And I love when they include accounts from women and actually, it's actually really equality in the Come Follow Me manual this week. There are three accounts from women and three accounts for men. So I feel like that's something that I want to celebrate and I'm really excited about. In one of the accounts from the manual this week, Eliza R Snow writes of this dedication session, quote, “The ceremonies of that dedication may be rehearsed, but no mortal language can describe the heavenly manifestations of that memorable day. Angels appeared to some while a sense of divine presence was realized by all present. And each heart was filled with joy, inexpressible, and full of glory.”

[00:02:54] We also have a really lovely anecdote from Sylvia Cutler Webb about her experience as she was there as a young girl. And then also Nancy Naomi Alexander Tracy wrote of this event, quote, “When the temple was finished and dedicated, they were two of the happiest days of my life. The fitting hymn that was composed for the occasion was The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning. It was verily true that the heavenly influence rested down upon that house. I felt that it was heaven on earth.”

So from these anecdotes, we really get a sense that this was a very spiritual and moving experience for the saints who were present at the time. So that's kind of the context for these two chapters as we move forward into the themes that we want to discuss from the sections this week.

Elise: [00:03:50] Yeah. I'm really glad that you shared those passages and like yeah. Hats off to the Come Follow Me manual this week, because I think that I was initially worried about this section regarding the temple, because I have my own mixed feelings and mixed experiences and just this kind of mixed bag or baggage surrounding the temple, and I wasn't sure if I was really prepared to unpack all of that on the podcast. Because I think that we grow up thinking about the temple as The One and Only Holy House of God. I think at least for me, personally, I've come to see the temple as like this high security mansion house of God, with like these bouncers at the doorway, and like, no one can get in, except if you have these specific qualifications; as if God or The Divine live in this high security mansion house and only there, always with the shades drawn or like shut up behind closed bedroom doors and they never want to be disturbed and never want to be interrupted. And so to me, this type of mansion-house-temple-of-God, feels really disconnected from my own experience of The Divine that is everywhere and in everything.

[00:05:04] So when I read even the section heading of 109, and I learned that it says, quote, “The Kirtland temple was built as a place for the son of man to visit...”, my own emphasis on the word visit, this really suggested to me that this is one of the many places or spaces where we might encounter The Divine or where The Divine might dwell. God may visit this house, but it is not the one and only dwelling place of God or of The Divine. Said differently, the temple is not the only place I can commune with God. And I think that we both have had experiences like that; Both have had powerful experiences with something holy or sacred or divine that have nothing to do with the temple.

Channing: [00:05:45] Yeah. I remember back to one of our very first episodes that we recorded and you shared this really lovely experience of when you went to China and you visited the Golden Buddha, or was it the Golden Buddha? 

Elise: Yeah, that’s right.

Channing: Okay yeah, the Golden Buddha. And that was a really, like, transcendent and connecting experience for you. And I always loved that story because the way that you phrased it, some of the language that you used around it, was like, “God, is that you?” Like, “Are you here too?” Like, “I wasn't quite expecting it, but here you are!” And I just think that that's just, oh, it's such an innocent and lovely and really, pure picture of, yeah, definitely what you've described here, this feeling that God is everywhere and in everything and not only in the places that we expect Them to be. 

Elise: [00:06:37] Right. And what I'm thinking right now is I wonder if as young children we have that more kind of awe and wonder about God or Divinity being everywhere and in everything, but then I wonder if, as we grow up in the church or come to know the church and learn about the temple, some of that magic starts to kind of fade away. And we think that the temple is the only house of God. And so I wonder if there's like a, almost like a birth-death-rebirth of where we might experience God from everywhere to only in the temple and then trying to unlearn and relearn that no, Divinity is everywhere; The temple is simply one place that The Divine might visit.

Channing: [00:07:17] Yeah, I think you also bring up some really good discussion points as well, just this conversation about, well, what is the purpose of like a dedicated holy or sacred space and are those important? And I think that you're speaking really well to that nuance of like, yes, they're important, but also they aren't everything. And so, I don't know, maybe could we spend some time talking about that a little bit more?

Elise: [00:07:42] I think that's a really good question. And it also makes me think of kind of the context or the background that the Saints found themselves in as they felt called and inspired to create a holy sacred space. If we read in verse five, we learn just how difficult this building of the sacred space was for the Saints. It says, “For thou knowest, God that we have done this work through great tribulation. And out of our poverty, we have given of our substance to build a house to the name that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people.” And in the midst of all of this, like, painstaking tribulation and trials, it makes me think what pushes them and what pushes us to build our own sacred space, big or small, temples of glistening stone, or a small prayer, like small altars. What calls us to commune with The Divine through craft and building? And for me, It's this kind of inescapable grasp of The Divine or of something that's bigger than me of the infinite, it's this push and pull of something bigger than myself that calls me to create and set aside something sacred, something holy, where I might commune or dwell with The Divine in a particular type of environment or mood or ritual that I'm typically accustomed to, or that I typically practice in my everyday life.

[00:09:07]For me, it's this nagging of big unanswerable questions that in my human mind might be soothed by something like an evening prayer or poetry. And so I just, this section has me thinking about the kind of the vastness that, or the perceived vastness between what is finite, like hans, and the infinite, which you can call this whatever you want, like God, or love or creativity or wonder or Divine, and the lengths that we go to, to try and bridge what seems like this large vast distance. I find that especially charming and inspiring in this section. When I stop and think about the poor saints, doing the best that they can to build something that they feel is worthy of God, the literal in their minds, like God of the universe, trying to build something for the highest and holiest God, knowing that all they have are their own hands and their own hand-made tools and their finite bodies, but their desire to say, “Here's the best that I can do. Here's the best that I've got for you, God, and I hope that you'll like it. I hope that you'll join me here someday so we can be together in this new, holy way that we haven't been able to experience before.” So those are some of the things that I'm thinking about that, like, call us or might call me to create or build a sacred space and the importance of building sacred space. But for you in your experience, what pushes or calls you to build a sacred space? Or what's the importance of you having your own sacred space?

Channing: [00:10:30] I think for me, a sacred space is more for me than it is for The Divine, because I feel like same as you, like, The Divine is everywhere. It is always speaking to me. It is always calling me in, calling me to awareness and awakening and opening, and I'm not always paying attention, like in fact, very rarely I am. And so I feel like for me, sacred spaces are more of a denotion to me of, “oh, I am on holy ground. And if I am going to encounter The Divine. Then I need to prepare myself. I need to listen in, I need to settle. , I need to breathe and be present in my body and be present in my awareness.” And so, in large part for me, sacred spaces are about a preparation for meeting The Divine, because I think that The Divine transcends like our human boundaries and our human containers. But I also think that, like, if They can be anywhere then, of course, that They can also be in temples and prayer altars and in the Golden Buddha and in all of those spaces, because they can be everywhere. And I think that, yeah, just like I said earlier, sacred spaces for me are more of a denotion for the human part of me that, “oh, I'm on holy ground and I need to pay extra special attention.”

Elise: [00:12:15] Yeah, I really love that. Well, and you brought up the word container, which is something that you and I had talked about as we were prepping for the podcast. We tried to think about what was the difference between like extending an invitation to The Divine versus like trying to contain The Divine, and I found the passage that had, like, sparked the idea of container for me. It's from author Jessa Crispin, who writes, “If you want something divine, you have to build a container for it. You need a structure to hold it. So if you want the angels to come down, you had better give them a house that they'll want to live in. It is craft-as-spiritual-practice.”

[00:12:49]And I really love this passage because I think there's a dual meaning with the word container. The one that I like less, or the like the definition I'm not super excited about what the container is this, you know, something that has a really tight lid as if there were any true singular way to contain or put a lid on The Divine. Ideas here of like restraining or controlling. And in my head, I'm like, “Boo, that's not the container that I want.” But if I think about “container” as something that helps me hold or cradle The Divine- hold together with The Divine- then I think that in that way, I'm all for it. It also brings to mind that containers help me cradle a only a small portion of The Divine knowing full well that the container is overflowing and spilling and always, like you said, existing everywhere else, even outside of the container.

Channing: [00:13:38] Yeah. It makes me even, I love this concept and it makes me even think like, “Was God present at the Kirtland temple dedication? And somewhere else at the same time?” And, like, my immediate reaction in response to that is, like, “Yeah! Probably! ‘Cause God is everywhere and in everything, but also, like, showed up there too, because they asked and they invited and they wanted, and I think that, I think that God will-” I can't totally make that blanket statement, but I think that an invitation is very compelling to God. And, in my experience, and from what I can tell from a large portion of sacred texts, God usually shows up.

Elise: [00:14:22] Well, this kind of makes me think about what you were saying earlier. The building of sacred space, being more for you to kind of get you in tune with The Divine that's already there. And so I wonder if for God, yes, God always already exists everywhere, but the invitation shows a different type of desire for relationship, like God's already there, but maybe there's something a little bit more tender or sweet or loving when God knows that we're inviting Them to this space: That we consciously and full bodily want to dwell with them at this very particular time and are trying to be mindful and create meaning together with The Divine through this invitation or something like that.

Channing: [00:15:20] Yeah. And I also, I liked what you brought up too, about the concept of a container being like, uh, restraining place or like, uh, holding something in, because, I don't necessarily think in Mormonism that that is the intent, right? Like, I don't think that most people within this institution really believe that God, like, actually lives inside of the temple all of the time.

Elise: Yeah, that's right. 

Channing: [00:15:48] But one thing that I've kind of learned as my faith has, transitioned and journeyed and explored into other traditions, this concept of invitation and recognizing that The Divine is recognizing that The Divine is not always at the beck and call of people and recognizing that even if I create a sacred space, for me to meet a deity or me to meet divinity, it doesn't always mean that just because I ask them to be there, that they will be there.

[00:16:23] And that's kind of like the glory of when it actually happens. It's like, oh my gosh, it happened! And so I've appreciated knowing that even in other traditions this expectation that God will always show up whenever I call or whenever I create sacred or holy space for them, like, that's not just a Mormon thing, that's a everybody's-interaction-with-The-Divine thing. And I think, in my, like purest, most generous and, like, highest self, that recognition of, “I'm creating a space to commune with The Divine, and it's a consensual relationship on both sides.” And I understand that like God or love or the universe is going to show up in the perfect moment. That's also kind of faith, right? To trust that I'm going to continue to show up to this space that I've created for God, fully recognizing that not every time They're going to be here, but I'm going to keep showing up because at some point I know if I'm here and I've created a meeting place and They know where to find me, I am going to encounter Them.

[00:17:32] And so I love this idea of, like, faith and holy spaces and recognizing that God doesn't live there, but yeah, it's this, like, crossroads or this, like, designated meeting place that we will hopefully find one another.

Elise: [00:17:55] That's so, so lovely. I think one of the other things that I am appreciative about, about section 109, is that even though you and I have been sharing experiences that usually are like singular, like just us and The Divine, like only one singular person, section 109 takes place in a community, like, in a group of people. And I find that very striking, especially because the author that I mentioned earlier about the container, she continues to go on to say that craft as spiritual practice is often about collaboration. “You might be good with stonework, but crap at stained glass. Rather than teach yourself all the skills from scratch, why not invite some good friends to help you out? But this is also about keeping a big goal in mind, so not worrying too much about setbacks or nuances. So what if the wood delivery is a few days late? In the grand scheme of things you'll barely even notice.”

[00:18:45] And for me, this is, just like I was saying, a beautiful reminder that building sacred space often includes others and it often happens in community. I wouldn't say that it always does, but I think that there is a different type of experience that might be able to be ushered in when we include others in our sacred space, especially as we pull on others’ skills and passions and talents, so that we have this kind of rich and vibrant way of inviting The Divine to commune with us.

[00:19:14] And even in my own, like, individual endeavors to build sacred space, to commune with my own God, there is something I think that's equally important about crafting a spiritual practice in community with others. 

Channing: [00:19:35] Mmhmm, well, and the benefit of doing that too is getting to learn from other people about their experiences with The Divine and the ways that they commune with The Divine and not, not in like a selfish, like, oh, how can this inform me? But how can this inform my ever expanding definition of God? Because if I only ever encounter The Divine in one particular way then I'm kind of ignorant to all of the other ways that The Divine might also be trying to get in touch with me or whatever. So I don't know. Maybe that's kind of self-centered, but like I appreciate, that's one of my favorite things about community ritual and community worship is getting to hear all of the experiences. This is why I love Fast and Testimony Meeting so much. Like I love hearing about all of the ways that God shows up for other people. And, even though it might be a little bit selfish, like I, find a real, like power and comfort in knowing that other people have experiences that aren't like mine.

Elise: [00:20:35] As we're having this conversation about building sacred space or crafting spiritual practice, I think the other idea that comes up for us a lot, especially as you and I talk about the temple in preparation for these episodes, is the idea of rituals, because for us, rituals have always been a significant and important symbolic piece of the temple. And speaking for my own self, I do feel like ritual has a lot of potential for humans to make meaning or like, rituals help us point towards something sacred or something divine. And so I just wanted to ask, have you ever, like in your own experience, have you participated in ritual in traditional Mormon spaces that felt really holy for you or sacred?

Channing: [00:21:07] Yeah, for me, the sacrament has always been that, like, I find this, I find the whole process of like blessing the bread and the water and taking something into my body and, like, having silent moments of contemplation, like, I feel like the sacrament for me has always been like a really strong touchstone for my relationship with God. And I love that it's like our ritual that happens the most regularly. I wish that we incorporated ritual a little bit more. But I love the sacrament. And for me, that's something that's always been, for me that's always been something that's felt really important and sacred. But what about you? Have you ever found anything within the traditional space that feels, connecting or fulfilling? 

Elise: [00:21:58] Well, at least off the top of my head, I think that there's a lot of Mormon rituals that I like the idea of, but when it comes to practicing them, I still feel disconnected from the, like, potential sacredness of it. But one of the things, like, I like the idea or the ritual of baptism. I think that there is something also because I love, I love, baths. I love being in water. I love being buoyed up by water. And so I think that there's something really, really beautiful about saying, “Hey, I'm going to enter into this new promise or new commitment. And I'm going to show you that in the only way that I know how, which is kind of trying to be washed and reborn.” And so I like the idea or the ritual of baptism, but in my own experience, I don't really remember my own eight year old baptism and going to other people's baptisms… I, I don't know, maybe I overintellectualize it, but I wish that there was a little bit more oomph to it, like a little bit more soul to it, but that's my own outside-looking-in perspective. And I know that lots of people have transformative moments with baptism. Absolutely. 

Channing: [00:23:17] Yeah. And it's totally different to like, experience it for yourself versus watching somebody else go through it. So yeah, totally. 

[00:23:20] My other question that I have alongside of this one while we're talking about ritual in traditional Mormon spaces is: There are also rituals that happen outside of traditional Mormon spaces, and so I'm thinking about myself and other rituals that I've participated in that aren't necessarily part of our tradition. Like, there was one time when I was young, my friend was a member of the Lutheran church. And so she invited me to come and they offer communion at all of their services. And I was like, “oh, cool! Am I allowed to participate?” and she's like, “yeah, totally.” So I, like, went up to the front. They had like, this bench that had a bunch of different, embroidered decorations on the bench and you could choose, and they like designated spots.

[00:24:13] So you could, like, choose one that felt significant to you. And then you knelt on the bench while the pastor came by and put a cracker in your mouth. And then, I don't remember exactly; It was a while ago, but I do remember that, the priest, like, also offered a blessing to you individually each time. And it was the same blessing across the board, but I remember that experience feeling significantly different than the traditional sacrament experience I had had, in Mormon church. And I wasn't, like, neither of them felt bad and neither of them felt one over the other, like better, but I just remember feeling like, “oh, wow, that was significant. That was holy. That was sacred.” And I also found myself wishing that I could experience my own Mormon sacramental time in the same way. But we've had this conversation before, too, where like, are we, do we experience ritual in other traditions as more holy or more sacred simply because they're new or novel to us? And, if we experience them on a regular basis, would they kind of lose their excitement or their, like, connection? So I also recognize that that's an element there too, but I wanted to ask you, Elise, if you've ever participated in a ritual that happened outside of traditional Mormon space, that felt significant to you.

Elise: [00:25:46] Yeah. Well, I'm glad that you brought up the kind of, like, “grass is always greener” type... I think that's something we try and be really cautious of when we are feeling drawn to other faith traditions' rituals that might not be our own lineage or our own tradition. Right. So, yeah, I try and keep that in the back of my mind too, but yeah, there have been some other rituals that I've participated in.

[00:26:07] I'm thinking like when my grandfather passed away and we had the service at a, like, a really nice Catholic church where the priest came by and swung this really, really beautiful, honestly, like, if we had to put it in Mormon terms, it would look maybe like a Liahona on a really big gold chain or something, I don't know, but, came by and kind of swung this big jar, brass jar of incense as a way to kind of represent the prayers of the church rising towards heaven. And so that was really lovely. I know that you and I both went to a Tara practice, which was, I thought that those were really lovely where we were with a group of other women dancing and praying and singing to the God of that tradition, which would be Tara. Another that I haven't experienced, but that I think is quite beautiful and meaningful would be, like, when Muslims practice the five obligatory prayers for the five pillars in Islam. I have some students that have done that. And also when Aaron and I were traveling, lots of people would bring out their prayer rugs and when they heard the call from the mosque they would go out and pray. And so just being on, even on the outside, looking in, I found that to be very beautiful and moving and meaningful, and so I can only imagine what that might be like if that was my faith tradition and I felt so called to commune with The Divine in this particular way.

Channing: [00:27:27] Yeah, I think that's really, really lovely. The other question that I've had around temple and ritual and sacred spaces and holiness is I know speaking for myself that going to the temple is really difficult for me and I haven't been in a really long time.

[00:27:52] And I know that a lot of other women in our audience probably feel the same and maybe don't attend the temple or don't feel comfortable or welcome at the temple. And so something that I just wanted to speak to really quickly is this idea of creating your own sacred space and creating your own ritual and your own kind of self-dedication practice to The Divine. And for me, that's been a really important part of my spiritual practice as my faith has kind of transitioned and journeyed into other traditions. So for me, I really take to heart kind of that traditional Mormon aspect of, like, make your home a temple and, like, make your home a house of God. And so for me, well, I really try to do that. And I try to remember that my home is a space for the people that live in it. It's for my kids, it's for me, it's for my partner, and it's also for God. And so there are small spaces within my home that are specifically set aside for encounters with The Divine and they are spaces that are open to everyone. They can come and look or touch or experience, but they're also reverent and they are respected and known as sacred. And so this idea of creating this space within my home has been really important to me, and even as I was writing this up this week, thinking about, “oh, do I want to share this on the podcast?”

[00:29:35] One of my most transformative experiences, as I moved into more of my feminist awakening and recognizing that I do have power to connect with The Divine, was when we moved into our new home in Utah. And I don't know if other women feel this way, but for a long time, it was really important to me that every time we moved into a new apartment or a new house that we dedicated the home. Like we did the dedication prayer; they have it in the handbook. And I remember asking my spouse over and over and over again, “Hey, can we do this tonight or tomorrow? Or whenever? Like, it's really important.” And it was like a couple of months that went by and, like, just things hadn't worked out to be able to do it. And so finally, one day I was like, “fine. I am going to dedicate my own home.” And so I did. And so I wrote up my own ritual things that I was going to do to offer protection and sanctify that space. I wrote my own prayer, kind of in the format of a poem. And I performed that ritual and I know it sounds like… When I first did it, it was very, like, scary. And it was like, “oh, am I allowed to do this? Is this okay?” But after it was over, I was like, “oh my gosh, look at what I did! I created this beautiful space that now feels holy and sacred and a part of me and I am a part of it.” And so this experience of creating a ritual for myself and dedicating my own sacred space was really powerful and really impactful for me.

[00:31:20] So I just wanted to share that and offer that to any of our listeners who might be like, “Ugh! Temple! Scary, Not quite the place for me,” but also, like, interested in ritual and sacredness and all of that, that was really important for me. And if that is for you to, like, maybe that's something to consider going into in the future.

Elise: [00:31:44] Yeah, I'm really glad that you shared that, especially because I think that maybe growing up in the church or having our primary spiritual experiences be tied to the church and the temple, I think that it can feel... that creating our own rituals can feel really, I think creating our own rituals can feel really off limits as if we're not qualified or not holy enough, or we don't have the Priesthood, so we can't actually do it.

[00:32:08] But I think that there's a bit of reclamation around creating our own rituals. And I think that it can be, you can start really simple. I think we can start really simply. I think that we can think about being grateful and creating intention. Why do you feel called at this moment to do something different, a different type of ritual than maybe you're experiencing in your everyday life?

[00:32:31] You can start to gather things that are meaningful and important to you. Even small things like the human tools that we talked about with the Saints, but they could be things like bits of nature or stones or leaves or twigs or meaningful notes or little objects that you have that are meaningful to you in some way, like a lucky string or a bit of decoration or art or candles, and then think about: okay, what type of physical practice?-AKA, also a ritual- What do I want to do in this environment that I'm trying to create? Do I feel called to sing? Do I want to pray? Do I want to meditate or journal? Do I want to bring some movement or flow with my body into this space? Do I feel like I need to cry? And so for me, the most important and impactful element of ritual is recognizing that the ritual is meaningful because I give it meaning. It doesn't have to mean anything to anyone else. It doesn't have to, like, look big and grand from the outside looking in. I can create an environment that is packed with meaning and intention because of the things that I gather and the way that I commune or practice or move my body with The Divine in this space.

Channing: [00:33:44] Moving on to our final piece about prayer. I really felt like the manual had some great questions about prayer specifically for these sections, the  Come Follow Me manual asks, “what do we learn about prayer from the section? As we read it, you might think about your own prayers. What impressions do you receive that can help you improve your communication with The Divine? For example, what did the prophet pray about in this prayer?” And we find this again in section 109, where after the sacred space or the temple has been built, the saints offer up a prayer together, which invites God to dwell there and accept their offerings and then they pray for deliverance. They pray for forgiveness and mercy, like in verses 32 through 34. Those read: “Therefore we plead before thee for a full and complete deliverance from under this yoke.” In verse 33: “Break it off, O Lord, break it off from the necks of thy servants, by the power that we may rise up in the midst of this generation and do thy work.” Verse 34: “oh Jehovah, have mercy upon this people. And as all men sin, forgive the transgressions of the people and let them be blotted out forever.”

[00:34:57] Later in the prayer, we even see the Saints challenging and questioning God, which you know that Elise and I are really big fans of whenever this shows up in the text. We see this in verse 49, which reads “O Lord, how long would that suffer this people to bear this affliction and the cries of their innocent ones to ascend up in thine ears and their blood come up in testimony before thee, and not make a display of thy testimony in their behalf.” And what is really striking about this prayer is that it seems to hold nothing back as these people desperately cry to God, hear us, O hear us, O hear us Lord, what a humanly desire to be seen, to be heard and loved, and feel worthy of a divine love that is greater than we could even imagine. 

Elise: [00:36:02] And honestly, ah, I am a sucker supreme for personal heartfelt prayers that talk to God. But I do think that sometimes we can get a little bit jaded with our own personal prayer practice or even the prayers that we come across in church meetings and our own sacred text. So for as much as I love the prayer of section 109, I thought we might be able to find a few other examples of prayers to God, to offer some new language and perspectives so that maybe we'll be able to hear the cries of the Saints in a different voice than we're used to. The first prayer or poem that I wanted to read is from Rainer Maria Rilke, who was an Austrian poet and novelist, who's, like, super widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German language poets. And this comes from Rilke’s book “The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God.” If you don't have this book, please get it because you want to cry your eyes out. This poem has no title, but it says:

[00:36:46] I am praying again, Awesome One.

You hear me again, as words

from the depths of me

rush toward you in the wind.

I've been scattered in pieces,

torn by conflict,

mocked by laughter,

washed down in drink.

In alleyway I sweep myself up

out of garbage and broken glass.

With my half-mouth I stammer you,

who are eternal in your symmetry.

I lift to you my half-hands

in wordless beseeching, that I may find again

the eyes with which I once beheld you.

I am a house gutted by fire

where only the guilty sometimes sleep

before the punishment that devours them

hounds them out into the open.

I am a city by the sea

sinking into a toxic tide

I am strange to myself, as though someone unknown

had poisoned my mother as she carried me.

It's here in all the pieces of my shame

that now I find myself again.

I yearn to belong to something, to be contained

in an all-embracing mind that sees me

as a single thing.

I yearn to be held

in the great hands of your heart--

oh let them take me now.

Into them I place these fragments, my life,

and you, God -- spend them however you want.

Channing: [00:38:16] Okay. Rilke is stunning. And you all, like, one of the things that I love about our friendship is that our favorite poets are, like, friends with each other.

Elise: [00:38:20] What? Who's friends with Rilke?

Channing: Mary Oliver cites Rilke in some of her works. So like that's- this happens to Elise and I a lot, like, where we're like, this, our favorite feminist theologian quotes the other person's favorite feminist theologian. And like, it's just so wild. 

Elise: [00:38:40] Even some of our favorite artists, like you love Klimt and I love Sheila and Sheila studied with Klimt. So like all of these things kind of cosmically bind us to each other.

Channing: It's really, really wild. That is all set up to say that I am going to read a poem from Mary Oliver. This is from her book “A Thousand Mornings”: 


I don’t know where prayers go,

or what they do.

Do cats pray, while they sleep

half-asleep in the sun?

Does the opossum pray as it

crosses the street?

The sunflowers? The old black oak

growing older every year?

I know I can walk through the world,

along the shore or under the trees,

with my mind filled with things

of little importance, in full

self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really

call being alive.

Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,

or does it matter?

The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.

Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing

just outside my door, with my notebook open,

which is the way I begin every morning.

Then a wren in the privet began to sing.

He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,

I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.

I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe

or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.

But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be

if it isn’t a prayer?

So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Elise: [00:40:28] Hmm. Gosh, I think that, okay. As a side note, we don't have to include this, but. What other Come Follow Me podcast are people going to listen to where we read the Doctrine and Covenants? And then we're like, you know what, as part of our feminist interpretation, which is heavily built on creativity, we're going to read some poems as prayers from other people.

Channing: I love it so much. We're amazing. 

Elise: Oh, Mary Oliver, I knew that you would probably choose one of her poems because I feel like she is the poet that you return to time and time again. Absolutely.

Channing: [00:40:55]I have one more that I want to share. It's from someone that I follow on Instagram, their handle is Prayers from Terry ( and his name is Terry Stokes. He writes a lot of prayers for kind of, like, the everyday common experiences. And I think that this prayer links up really nicely to building or creating sacred space that's outside of the temple. This prayer is titled “For Outdoor Worship”:

[00:41:15] O God who makes the whole world your temple, just as you have consecrated our sanctuaries, make the place where we are standing holy ground. In the absence of the human adornments of the chapel, make the grass, the air, the light, the sky, and sights and sounds of town into signs of your glory and enrichments of our worship. Send forth the sights and sounds of our praise as a witness to our neighbors; a symbol of the ongoing expansion of the love, hospitality and sacred space of the Holy Spirit who reigns with you and our savior Jesus Christ, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Elise: Hm. That's so beautiful.

Channing: [00:42:13] The last poem that I wanted to share, and it feels important to me because it really sums up that conversation that we had about our limited human tools being used to worship or create a space for The Divine. And this is from an ancient poet. His name is Rumi and it's called “Moses and the Shepherd”. And it's kind of like a story. So. It's like a story in a poem, which is the best. Okay. Rumi writes:

Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying,


Where are you? I want to help you, to fix your shoes 

and comb your hair. I want to wash your clothes

and pick the lice off. I want to bring you milk

to kiss your little hands and feet when it’s time 

for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room

and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats 

are yours. All I can say, remembering you, 

is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhh.”

Moses could stand it no longer.

“Who are you talking to?”

“The one who made us,

and made the earth and made the sky.”

“Don’t talk about shoes

and socks with God! And what’s this with your little hands

and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like

you’re chatting with your uncles.

Only something that grows

needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God! 

Even if you meant God’s human representatives, 

as when God said, ‘I was sick and you did not visit me,’

even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.

Use appropriate terms. Fatima is a fine name

for a woman, but if you call a man Fatima,

it’s an insult. Body-and-birth language

are right for us on this side of the river,

but not for addressing the origin,

not for Allah.”

The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed 

and wandered into the desert.

A sudden revelation

came then to Moses. God’s voice:

You have separated

me from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,

or to sever?

I have given each being a separate and unique way 

of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge.

What seems wrong for you is right for him.

What is poisonous to one is honey to someone else.

Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,

these mean nothing to me. 

I am apart from all that.

Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better 

or worse than one another.


It’s all praise, and it’s all right.

[00:44:47] It's kind of a long poem, so I don't want to read the whole thing, but what's actually really beautiful is God continues to speak to Moses and Moses has this really beautiful repentance moment of saying of going back to the shepherd and saying, “I'm so sorry. I told you wrong. And I got in your way of worshiping God.” And the shepherd said, “no, I'm sorry. And you were right. I have done all of these things and found God here too.” And so it's a long poem, but in the end they both have, like, come together in this shared community between themselves and learned from one another a new way to approach The Divine while The Divine meets them wherever they're at at the time. And so I love this poem because I think it's just like, it's really beautiful and really demonstrates that concept that we were talking about earlier and like so many concepts that we love, right? Like God meeting us wherever we are. God being dirty and loving talking about shoes and socks and like goats and sheep and lice on your clothes, but also like creating sacred spaces and creating a dwelling place for The Divine. 

[00:45:44] I love, I love that we share poetry on the podcasts and I love hearing all of the different ways that, our love for each other and our friendship are woven together through these words that are all about meeting God and communing with God and I'm really glad that I get to share this with you. I hope that our listeners can feel that love and that admiration, and find their own ways for communing and speaking about their relationship with The Divine.

Elise: [00:46:26] I do too. I have so much love for you for the work that we do and also for our listeners. Absolutely. So, thanks so much, everyone for listening and joining in. Hopefully this episode brought to life new ideas, new ways to be creative and commune, to build sacred space and to create ritual and to pray to your very own God in your own personal poetic way. If you choose to. We love you so, so much, and we can't wait to talk to you next week. Bye.

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