Note: I want to change the subject briefly, from books and middle school and plays to sometin
The post below is from two years ago. I have posted it each year since. The first year, I posted it in a flurry of excitement and happiness. The second year, things were a bit more difficult in my life in some personal areas. This year, as I post it, things are good. But last year was a difficult time. And, for all I know, next year—or even tomorrow may be as well. Life has ups and downs for all of us.
But that is the miracle of Easter, the miracle of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. His Atonement gives hope in the darker times, while grounding and magnify our joy in the good times. Life changes, and fortunes ebb and flow but Christ and His promises to give us beauty out of ashes remain constant And that is worth celebrating.
Happy Good Friday! I’ve always loved Good Friday, especially in Tennessee. It’s a peaceful, gentle sort of day. Flowers are blooming, the trees are flowering, birds are singing, and the weather is mild and comfortable. It’s really quite a good holiday.
The great irony, and I am supremely unoriginal in passing this along, is that Good Friday is only good for us because it was so very, very bad for the Savior. His suffering the night before in the Garden of Gethsemane when he confronted every evil, ugly, and troubling aspect of mortality left him physically and spiritually weakened. I can’t comprehend the pain that would have killed any of us. Eventually it left, but it would have also left Him terribly, horribly, painfully exhausted. I think of busy days when I am tired, how hard it is to get through them, and then I think of him. Facing his greatest suffering at the time of his weakest physical and spiritual state. Fatigue makes everything seem so much worse.
And then, to be mocked and beaten and scorned by the very people you were trying to save….
I have a small tradition I do on Good Friday. I note the time at nine-o-clock and then think of Him being nailed to the cross. I try to watch the clock and notice just how long six hours is and I try to understand the love that drove Him to allow Himself to suffer like this—and the love that drove his Father to allow it as well.
The first Good Friday must have seemed like a living, never-ending hell.
Had it ended there, it would have been tragic and awful. But Good Friday was merely the prologue. It set the stage for the astounding miracle of the Resurrection.
The immense suffering and pain were necessary to generate the power behind the tremendous miracle.
But here’s what I’ve been thinking about. To me, Easter Sunday is the promise of healing and life. Easter Sunday was the culmination—the Resurrection broke the hold of death and pain and sealed Jesus’s ability to heal us, now and forever. But, I have to wonder if perhaps His profound suffering on Good Friday produced the empathy and the compassion that motivate Him to heal us. His triumph on Easter gave Him power, but perhaps His suffering on Good Friday gave Him the motivation to do all He does—and taught him how to nurture and nourish us in our own suffering.
I believe in the miracle of Easter. It’s not just a myth or a fable. It is a living reality, a true story—and so is the hero of the story. My hero. Jesus Christ. I know He’s real. And I know that because in so many ways, inside and out, physically and spiritually, He has healed me.
I wrote the lyrics to a song in my first book. I don’t post them thinking I am a great lyricist. These are simply my personal expression of faith and gratitude—my witness of the reality of Jesus’ love and healing power—even today. It’s my personal celebration of the miracle of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
“He Healeth Me”
In life He healed the blind man,
His mercy touched the lame.
The leprous and the halt,
The deaf man and the dumb,
He healed all who came.
In pages of the scriptures,
Their stories testify
Of the Master’s love and power,
And sound this joyful cry
He healeth me.
“He healed and blessed so many,
But that was long ago,
Today, I too have sorrow, sicknesses, and sin,
And wonder where to go.
Why doesn’t He still heal?
Why can I not be whole?
Will he not calm the tempest
That rages in my soul?
In my despair I waver,
My faith begins to shrink
Until from living water,
I humbly start to drink,
And then I see
He healeth me.
Across the years and miles,
I’ll find Him if I seek,
He’ll take away my burdens,
Give strength where I am weak.
He’ll comfort me in sorrow,
Heal sickness, cleanse my sin.
Now I can testify,
With all my grateful heart,
He healed me.
He truly healed me.
(copyright, Braden Bell 2010)
I hope you had a warm and wonderful holiday. We here at bradenbell.com had a delightful and truly blessed holiday--filled with all the joys of the season: faith, family, friends, and fun. It occurs to me that we can perhaps learn much about the nature of God from Christmas. Only a truly loving, deeply good, and abundantly generous God could inspire so many people to be so happy for his birthday--and that happiness is available to everyone, whether they believe or not. It is striking--and instructive--to me that during this time more people follow more closely the example and teachings the Babe of Bethlehem would grow to give, and that they do this without necessarily trying to. It seems to flow much more naturally.
I'm sobered by the tragedies in other parts of the world, where Christians were not able to safely go to church to worship the birth of their Lord, or, where they did go and gave their lives for it.
In times past (and currently, in some places and traditions) the Western world observed twelve days of Christmas. These twelve days came after, not leading up to, Christmas day, culminating with Twelfth Night--which was the traditional time that the Wise Men were believed to have come to see the Baby Jesus. In this paradigm, Christmas Day is the beginning, not the culmination of the celebration of Christ's birth. This is the day of the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the revelation or manifestation of Jesus to the world.
I find this a congenial pattern for my own internal observance of Christmas. I love the music and lights, the parties and presents, Santa, Rudolph, and all the merriment that comes with a hearty celebration of Christmas. But I also value quiet introspection and devotion. Thus, I try to celebrate the birth of my Lord while also worshipping him.
Perhaps this is trying to have my cake while eating it, too--but I enjoy the fun and excitement, the recreational aspects of the holiday up until Christmas Day. Then, I shift and in those wonderful quiet, still days between Christmas and New Year, I become introspective and worshipful. For this reason, I've never felt a conflict between the secular and sacred aspects of the holiday.
During this time, I take a long inventory of myself from the previous year. I try to identify the areas, large and small, where my actions have fallen short of the Man from Galilee. I examine the gap between what he taught and what I have done, between his perfect example and my very flawed execution. This is a solemn time for me--introspection is not easy, and it is certainly not pleasant to look at one's shortcomings.
But once I am focused on my failings, the sins of omission and commission, then comes the sweet gift of Divine Grace! And I savor the healing, empowering, redeeming love that took human form in that manger. In other words, I experience my own Epiphany.
Having gone through this process, I am excited to start the New Year, focused on what I can do to be a better man, to be a better father and husband, a better teacher, a better friend, and a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
As part of my personal celebration each year, I usually read George Eliot's Silas Marner. Short and easy to read, it's the tale of a miserly weaver who changes. Life experience, love, and God's grace combine to turn him into a new creature. To me, this is the practical meaning of Christmas, and it is the way I feel closest to my Savior.
The other day I posted some thoughts about what Mormons believe. (My initial thoughts, and my rationale for posting them are here
When I was young, there was a particular Broadway star I idolized. I had pictures of this star. I had every recording of every performance I could get my hands on (no small thing living in Farmington, UT in pre-iTunes, pre-cd days). I tried to sound like this star when I sang. Everything I did was based on my admiration for and desire to be like this star.
Had someone told me that I wasn't a true fan, I would have laughed. Imagine that the official fan club had called me and told me I wasn't a fan because I did my own thing and wasn't in their organization. It would have been ridiculous to me, and to anyone who knew me. Given the fact that much of my life at the time was informed by my admiration for and my desire to emulate this star, it would have been ludicrous to say I wasn't a true fan.
Several years ago, I was at a social function for work. Being in the South, the committee in charge of the event decided they'd like to begin with a prayer. Knowing I was leader of my congregation (Mormons have a lay leadership--another post, perhaps), they asked me. Keep in mind this was a brief blessing on the food--short and non-denominational.
A colleague heard this and literally hyperventilated. She had to be helped to take slow, deep breaths. "He's...he's...he's...a Mormon!" she finally managed to spit out. "They're not Christian." She insisted on standing next to me to "help" me pray. I'm not sure what she thought my prayer might do to the food or her soul, but I said something like, "Dear God, thank you for this food and for a wonderful place to work. Help us to have fun together and let the food do our bodies good. Amen."
She literally stood next to me the whole time and I could feel her tension. I guess she was ready to jump in if I sacrificed a goat or something. Anyway, at the end she told me I did a great job. The level of relief and surprise she obviously felt surprised me.
This was someone I worked fairly closely with, someone I knew well, and thought she knew me. Yet, she didn't consider me a Christian. Mormons hear this a lot and it's true we are different in our practices and beliefs than other Christian churches--evangelical, mainline Protestant, or Catholic. So, in that sense, I understand the point and perhaps I'll address this in another post.
On a more recent occasion, I happened to be in a church service with a large number of colleagues from work. As part of the service, the pastor administered the Lord's Supper and invited those present to come and partake. I chose not to, simply because I hadn't prepared for it and didn't feel spiritually ready to do so. Mormons take the Lord's Supper very seriously and consider it the most sacred moment of our week when we take it at our services, so it's not something I wanted to do lightly. But I found out later that some people assumed it was because I was a Mormon. I've regretted that ever since because it played into the stereotype that we're not Christians.
One of the most fundamental, integral, and essential aspects of Mormon belief is in Jesus Christ. In terms of what informs my day-to-day life, my thoughts and feelings, my comings and goings, a belief in the living reality of Jesus Christ is paramount.
Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he lived on the earth as recorded in the New Testament. We believe that he suffered for the sins of humanity, died, and was resurrected. We believe he lives today, a glorified being of flesh and bone and that he has infinite love for and intimate, personal interest in each member of the human family.
Belief and faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of everything Mormons do. Everything. My interactions with others--my family, my employer, my neighbors, the people I run into on the street, even the person who cuts me off in traffic--are governed by my desire to act according to how Jesus taught--to love, forgive, to be patient, kind, and caring. Yes, I fall short all the time, more often than not, but I'm always evaluating and assessing my actions based on my understanding of his example and expectations.
Mormons do not simply believe that Jesus is a real personage somewhere. Our belief in him compels us to try to be like him, to follow and emulate him. For a Mormon, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ--in word, in thought, and in action--is the main task of life.
Jesus is a living reality in my life. He is the source of inspiration and motivation. He is my refuge and comfort in times of illness, despair, or difficulty. He is my anchor and rock in times of joy and success. He is the unchanging North Star by which I try to navigate and he is a real and personal presence in my life. I know he lives as I know what the sun's warmth feels like, what a bird's song sounds like, and the way I know the scent of a rose.
So telling me I'm not a Christian because the Council of Nicea said x
and I believe y
will always amuse, intrigue, baffle and occasionally annoy me. I may not be a traditional Christian, and I may not be certain type of Christian. And, goodness knows, there are times when I haven't been very good at practicing what Christ taught, moments where I fall far short of his standard. So, I will own to not always being a good Christian.
But I continue to try. I believe in Christ. I've built my life on the foundation of his teaching and living reality. I've hitched my wagon to his star and staked my life and soul on the belief that what he said was true. I continue to try to shape my actions and character into compatibility with his.
If that doesn't count, then I suppose I'm not allowed in the official club. But that doesn't negate the fact that I'm a big fan.