When we summarize the story of Alma at the Waters of Mormon we think of the community of Saints who were desirous to bear one another’s burdens, willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. They desired to be called the people of God.
This was a radically supportive community considering the political atmosphere that surrounded them during the time of Alma.
This band of souls who gathered at the Waters of Mormon lived in an enclave nation surrounded by a people who desired to harm and enslave them. They lived in continual tension with their neighbors. Their King, King Noah, had pillaged the poor to fund the government’s laziness, idolatry, and whoredoms. Additionally, King Noah’s example “did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord.” Mosiah 11:2
These were refugees, and considering the tensions and fears of their homeland, it is no wonder that they “clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts” upon being invited to join this new supportive community at the Waters of Mormon.
Of all the commentary available to describe this community, the spirit of what is happening here is best encapsulated in the poem “Waters of Mormon” by my friend, LDS poet Heidi Rodeback:
Here beside the waters of Mormon,
Here we come to witness our God.
Here is love in fountains o’erflowing,
Waters as pure as the love of God.
Come, desiring, who thirst for repentance.
Come, be filled, believe on His word.
Come, be gathered into His haven.
Come, be redeemed, be redeemed of the Lord.
We who labor, weary with burdens,
We are gathered here in His sight.
We will bear our burdens together,
Lifting as one that our labors be light.
Here we comfort the lowly in spirit.
Here we mourn with loved ones who mourn.
Here we enter into His covenant,
Here in the waters, the waters reborn.
Here beside the waters of Mormon,
Here we come to walk in His ways.
Here we see the beauties of heaven,
Seeing as one, we are filled with His grace.
One in spirit, our hearts knit together,
One in love, united in faith,
One beside the waters of Mormon,
Singing together forever His praise.
Certain events may occur in your lifetime, in which you have no control over, that may make you feel like a refugee. Sometimes circles are drawn in your community that exclude you from full participation. Sometimes definitions change and you find yourself an “other” among your people. Other times you become self-aware that your very presence in the community you reside is somehow threatening to others.
As you practice self-care, you may begin to look for your Waters of Mormon: a radically supportive community that will see you for who you are and in empathy mourn with you, comfort you, and help bear your burdens.
For some this means leaving an old community entirely. For others who feel relative safety in their current communities, they may seek additional support currently not available in an existing community. There is no rule that you cannot fellowship with more than one community. If you feel love in multiple places that’s OK. You can never have too much love.
Regardless of your search for community, you have the human right of self-determination. You have the self-evident right of equality among your fellow humans. You are endowed with the right to pursue happiness right now and be the best that you can be right now, not at some distant point in the future. Your supportive communities can be a group of friends, an organized support community, your civic community, a religious community, or even you alone on a mountain top… anywhere where you feel love.
What does love look like for you?
As you read the poem above by Heidi Rodeback, what stood out for you in her descriptions of the supportive community at the Waters of Mormon? What do you desire in a supportive community that will cause you to clap your hands with joy and heal your heart?
What do your Waters of Mormon look like?
As you think about this, may I suggest a few points that I look for in a supportive and loving community.
- Can you safely name your hurts and wounds?
How can we bear one another’s burdens or mourn with those who mourn if we cannot understand the hurting and the wounds? A community can become so fixated on fixing a person that they forget that first we must understand the burden. We must listen to the mourning. We must sit in the discomfort. It is incredibly tone deaf to tell someone “I know exactly what you need’ when we will not listen to what the person is telling us that they need. Beware of a community that feels threatened by naming your hurts and wounds. This can mean that they either fear that such things will stain them or they feel that such empathy may condone a behavior they do not agree with. In a 2015 address, Fiona Givens said those who wish “to help bear another’s burden must first touch that person’s cross to understand the nature and depth of the pain being carried.”
- Can you express where you stand at the present moment in your faith, your beliefs or non-beliefs?
Spirituality is grounding and fulfilling. Science recognizes that while people are engaged in spiritual practices important to them, the lobes of their brain can be seen working together to create a powerful emotional experience. We are hardwired for such experiences.
Spirituality is an integral part of you. Does your community allow you to express this human experience? If you have a belief in your church, do your other communities support your personal expression of this? If you have doubts does your community allow you to share your feelings and work out your spiritual journey? We often experience spirituality in a community. Excommunication from your community can be a deeply injurious and violent event; and the fear or threat of shunning can be a powerful controlling measure.
Do we feel comfortable to exclaim “Help me in my unbelief?”
- Does my community practice civility not only with one another but with others outside the community?
Civility with one another has become more and more important the past few years as we see fundamental shifts in society. Lack of civility in discourse creates an undertow of contention. An attitude of contention keeps a society in a continual state of unease. Instead of working together, a lack of civility puts everyone on the defensive. It inflames tensions and calcifies anger into bitterness.
A lack of civility turns the letters of the queer alphabet against each other with exclusionary rhetoric. It puts a country on edge when their president tweets. It shuts down governments as different sides lay blame. It calls a new president of the church unfit for the office. It calls legally married couples apostates. It casts the new civil rights movement as religious war.
In today’s society you may feel like an enclave nation surrounded by those who wish to harm you. The last thing you need in your Waters of Mormon community is one that continually raises your blood pressure.
Being civil with each other does not necessarily mean that you agree with each other. Civility can happen during conflict. Civility affords respect to the other person. It allows for active listening. It avoids inflammatory language or name calling while expressing a heartfelt position. It means applying the most respectful interpretation to other’s written words until you can get clarification. It means processing before reacting.
Civil dialogue is the lifeblood between nations, churches, support communities, and friends. Civility is practicing charity in our interactions with others. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
A good example of civility is the official response that Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families, and Friends released the day that the new First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was announced. Both the new President of the Church and his new first counselor are seen by many as the most exclusionary of the Brethren in thought and language towards the LGBTQIA+. In the hierarchical power structure that is church government, their voice sets a consensus agenda for every church leader to follow.
It is no secret that tension exists between the church and their LGBTQIA+ members and allies. The church was a major player in California’s Prop 8. It caused worldwide attention in 2015 when it released an exclusion policy barring children of legally married same sex couples baptism and officially branded same sex married couples apostates of the faith. A great deal of harm has occurred and still occurs when Mormonism intersects with the LGBTQIA+ community.
Affirmation could have issued an inflammatory response to the reorganization of the First Presidency. Affirmation could have rolled over and taken upon themselves the role of the victim. They did neither and instead modeled an example of civility so lacking in the world today. I include the statement in its entirety here because it exemplifies what civility looks like in a community.
Affirmation LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends exists to extend outreach and support to LGBTQ people in their unique individual journeys all over the world. Today, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints undergoes changes in leadership, we recognize the significance that this holds for many, including those within our community. As the newly elected President of Affirmation, I wish President Nelson and his counselors an increase in wisdom and strength, and we in Affirmation extend a hand of collaboration to help meet the diverse needs of the members of the LDS church, including people of color, women and LGBTQ people.
Since the November 2015 LDS Handbook policy change that labels individuals in same-sex marriages as apostate and denies church membership to children of same-sex couples, our community has experienced a particularly acute increase in trauma, loss, and grief. Due to these actions and statements, many of our members are experiencing this transition of leadership with great apprehension and even fear.
For the last five years, Affirmation has been engaged in dialogue with members of LDS church public affairs, and we seek to continue to foster that open dialogue with them and with those in leadership who will meet us in fellowship. We are appreciative of the dialogue and friendships we have had in the past and look forward to those conversations continuing to move into the immediate future.
We are grateful to the new First Presidency for extending their love to all of God’s children in response to a reporter’s question about the place of LGBT people in the church. We wish to express that as LGBTQ individuals, we experience love most fully when our agency is honored, when our stories are heard and believed, and when the language we use to identify ourselves is used and respected. We also experience love when our happiness and wellbeing, as we define it, is regarded equally as sacred and valuable within our associated communities.
To the members of Affirmation, we love you and are ever with you during this change of leadership and all that lies ahead. We are inspired by your strength and have seen your remarkable resilience in the face of overwhelming barriers and hardship. We are on this journey together and invite you to seek and offer support in our online groups, face-to-face meetings, and conferences coming up around the world this year.
Carson J. Tueller, President
Affirmation Board of Directors
- Does my community allow for my health and happiness right now and not just at some distant point in the future?
The Book of Mormon states “Men are, that they may have joy.” A more modern inclusive way to say the same thing is to say “YOU are, that YOU may have joy.”
You exist to have joy. What a wonderful concept. Often Christianity is credited to the belief that this life is suffering cast in a lone and dreary world. Laying rewards up in heaven may be prescriptive, but that does not stop you one bit to find happiness, fulfillment, and joy right now. Your Waters of Mormon community will support joy right now. It will bear your burdens right now. It will mourn with you right now. It acknowledges how you feel love and then supports you in your desire to make the best decisions for your health and happiness.
If you find yourself having to make sacrifices that your peers are not having to make, or are in a community that withholds privileges because of your identity, your voice, or your existence then your soul is starving. Go and find your Waters of Mormon community in the way that feels safe and nourishing for you. Many supportive communities exist that allow you to either begin fresh or coexist with your existing communities where you still feel comfortable. Again, there is no limit on love. The more loving relationships and communities you can connect with, the more nourished your soul.
Upon appearing to the Shepherds the night of the Savior’s birth, the first thing the angel said was “Fear not!” The second thing said was “I bring you good tidings of great joy!”
Fear robs us of our joy. Find your angels who not only admonish you to fear not, but to also have joy!
Your spiritual path is sacred to you. Have your eye on the Tree of Life? Press forward in faith and joy. Sometimes the great and spacious building is not full of wicked people mocking you in your journey. It can also be populated by well-meaning individuals who judge you and call out to you to leave your spiritual path for destinations important only to them.
Do the best you can. Be the best you can be. In the tradition of Christianity realize that the offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit is your personal gift. It is your heart and your spirit and not in the purview of others to give on your behalf.
Also remember that part of community is to help build it and make it better for those who join you. Service in your community and helping others is a great way to heal and maintain spiritual, mental, and physical health.
I encourage you to consider the ideas given here for supportive communities and identify for yourself what your Waters of Mormon community looks like. What do you need to feel love? Make a list. Ask your family, friends, and acquaintances about their communities.
Ask yourself if your current communities are sufficient to support you during times of trouble. Do your current communities allow you to serve and help others as your authentic self?
We all need our own Waters of Mormon communities. As you travel through life, these communities understand that they cannot control the wind, but they can support you as you adjust your sails.