Our ward newsletter has a “Testimony Corner” where a ward member briefly shares their personal feelings about the Gospel. I was selected to share my testimony in the Easter issue. I don’t always feel comfortable responding to such requests because I rarely use the word “testimony” to name my convictions, and I don’t believe many of the things that other Mormons believe. But I do care about many of the same things that other Mormons care about, and I appreciate the challenge of identifying those common things and celebrating them. I shared this:
First, a few of my favorite passages from the life of Jesus:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin….Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 6:28,30).“And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20).“And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:2-3).
I love everything I know about Jesus. I am amazed to learn about Him and meditate on His life. I don’t understand everything He said and did, but I do feel called to the message of reconciliation and love that He revealed to the world and believe that He can save us.
Several times yesterday during the various Easter festivities, my thoughts turned to Jesus and what His life, death, and re-life were all about. It seems that His message can be interpreted in as many ways as there are people in the world multiplied by the number of moments in a lifetime. Jesus always seems to mean just what we need Him to mean.
In recent years, I have come to think of Atonement as an “absorber.” In many buildings with large open spaces, acoustics are moderated by structures on the wall that absorb rather than reflect sound waves. The problem with sound waves is that they can stick around longer than we want them to and bounce in unintended directions. When you are recording a song or speaking to a large crowd, that is a big problem.
You may have noticed that giant carpeted squares lining the walls of Mormon chapels. Those absorb stray sounds during sacrament meeting, from half-hearted laughter to uncontrolled sobbing. In recording studios, more extreme methods are sometimes used, including grids of perpendicular panels and several feet of soundproof insulation. I once visited an NPR office with a soundproof room and was a bit disturbed by the experience. The near-complete silence borders on audial suffocation. Mormon temples are built to keep out external noise, most notably in the case of the Manhattan temple.
Sound waves provide a useful analogy for the effect of sin. When we inflict pain on another person in the form of an insult, a physical attack, a word of gossip, or a thoughtless oversight, we initiate a wave of pain. It may start out floating in a single person’s general direction, but it can quickly expand to include anyone within earshot, as well as anyone they or you interact with going forward. It may help to think of this as a particular version of the “butterfly effect.” Those waves can bounce back and forth, over and over, amplifying as new sin feeds them new energy.
The beauty of believing in Atonement is that it becomes possible to stop the waves of pain from rolling forward. One way that happens (although it is unclear precisely what this means) is that grace fills the immensity of space and absorbs the pain. We might say that Jesus’ suffering lines the walls of the universe like perpendicular panels in a recording studio, and incorporates the waves of our suffering in a way that prevents them from perpetuating.
The power of this absorption is multiplied when we come aware of what is happening. Often when we are offended by another person, we feel that we must resolve the wrong. We feel that justice must be served. We have a sense that a wave of pain has been released and will only be stopped by an equal and opposite response, much like noise-cancelling headphones. It becomes our job to provide that response. But we do it all wrong. Instead of cancelling out the first wave of pain, we start a new one.
When we come to believe that the universe is capable of resolving the pain on its own, we become able to let things go. We no longer feel the need to seek revenge. We become willing to experience the pain for what it is, own it, and then leave it in the hands of grace. The awareness that it is not our responsibility to right every wrong against us gives us the space to heal, and frees up our attention to focus on reducing the pain we are inflicting on others.
Yesterday, I recommitted myself to trusting in the power of grace to resolve the wrongs that are beyond my reach. And it was a happy Easter.