I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about women in the Lord’s Kingdom. There are so many women who are dissatisfied with their roles or perceived roles, and I have been interested as I follow the actions of some recent feminist groups within the Church. There seems to be a lot of real pain, and I think my interest started as I tried to explain to myself why, when I live in the same culture and community as these women and encounter the same types of situations, I wasn’t concerned or in pain. After a lot of thought and some prayer, I reached/was given the conclusion: It’s a blessing. Of all of my weaknesses and the things I do struggle with, this simply isn’t one of them. And I am sure that I have weaknesses and struggles that are not shared by these women whose stories I read. I don’t think it’s necessarily because I understand the Plan of Salvation particularly well, and I certainly don’t think it’s because I’m more righteous than they are. I just have different trials. This maybe doesn’t seem very radical to anyone reading this, but embarrassingly enough, it provided a needed paradigm shift for me. I think that with this particular issue, as in most situations in life, charity and sympathy are paramount.
Anyway, I’ve spent a little time this afternoon compiling some reading and thoughts and research that I’ve been doing about service in the Kingdom and related topics, and here it is.
Our bodies are as important as our spirits
Think of Christ’s body. Those who administered to him were administering to the very body that he would lay down for our sins, and that he would later take up again, providing resurrection for all mankind. It seems to me that the care, keeping, and health of such a pivotal part of the Plan would be very important. Indeed, aren’t all of our bodies as important as our spirits? The goal of the whole Plan is for us to become like God. And God has a body and a spirit, perfectly and forever joined together in eternal life. Gaining a body was a huge part of why we came to earth, and why we are told we rejoiced when we heard of the Plan! Paul emphasized the importance of the Resurrection (and our bodies) to the Corinthians: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, …And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.”
Without bodies, nothing, not our prayers, not our efforts, not sacred ordinances, not even Christ’s Atonement for our sins, would be adequate for salvation, because we would still, without bodies, be unable to become like God. “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal
God, and became the devil, to rise no more” (2 Ne. 9:8). Without our bodies, we are left no better than those spirits who did not keep their first estate and never got to life on earth at all.
We are told today that our bodies are temples. Many of the commandments we are given are related to their care and keeping – how we are to clothe them, how much to let them rest, what to feed them (and what not to feed them), what words to let them speak, not to mention the sacred controls that are placed upon the creation or destruction of bodies. Doesn’t it seem like the Lord loves our bodies and wants us to love them, too? These are not temporary vehicles for our life on earth. These are the very imperfect seeds of the perfected souls that we are to become. Same bodies; made perfect, but same bodies nonetheless. If our bodies are perfectly half of our souls, and Christ’s Resurrection was perfectly half of the great Atonement process (mirrored by the spiritual half in the Garden of Gethsemane), then the creation, mastery, care, keeping, and service of our bodies and the bodies of others must surely be a noble endeavor indeed. It’s the same kind of work, with the same goal, as service to the spirits of others. Sometimes it can be the same thing entirely.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, If you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilites, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit…”
Eli and I had bagels and cream cheese for lunch today. As I was getting his ready, I looked down at my hands and was suddenly particularly struck by what I was doing, tearing his bagel up into little, manageable pieces for him to eat. I was breaking bread. As a member of the church, this action immediately had immense spiritual and cultural connotations. I knew I was in no way providing a priesthood ordinance for my child, but the parallel symbols were too powerful to ignore. Partaking of the Sacrament feeds and strengthens our spirits. Ordinary, physical food feeds and strengthens our bodies. It may not be for me to break the bread of the Lord’s Supper, but it certainly can be for me to break the bread for lunch for my family. It was today. “And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” (D&C 88:15). I’m not saying that eating is as important as taking the sacrament, but it certainly is important, and it certainly provides a beautiful symbol, which it is certainly an honor and a blessing to participate in. (I have similar feelings about the symbolism of labor and childbirth, but I think I’d best save those for another post).
In the first chapter of Daughters in my Kingdom (stellar resource by the way!) we read about female disciples in the New Testament. I was (and am) so struck by all the opportunities women had to physically minister to the Lord Jesus. A woman bore Him, birthed Him, and nursed Him. We read in Daughters in my Kingdom: “It is likely that [the women that travelled with Jesus and the Twelve] provided some economic support for Jesus and His Apostles, along with service such as cooking.” Martha received Him into her home and cooked for Him. Mary Magdalene anointed Him with oil. Several women were on their way to anoint His dead body when they found Him miraculously risen.
Many of the other New Testament examples of women involve physical ministry. Dorcas was well known for making clothes for the poor. Paul’s illustration of a righteous widow is a woman very involved in physical ministry: “Well reported for good works, if she have brought up children, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.”
I love the story of Martha and Mary. When the Lord explains to Martha that Mary has “chosen that good part,” that one needful thing, he is inviting her to partake of salvation as well. But I think it’s interesting that he doesn’t (at least not that we have record of) ask her to stop cooking and sit down. He had a body of flesh just like we do – he was probably hungry. Someone has got to cook. I am sure He was grateful for Martha’s sacrifice just as I am sure, lately, as I devote so much time to keeping house and caring for family, that He is grateful for mine.
Uniquely for his time, Jesus invited the women he encountered to minister spiritually in addition to physically. From Daughters in my Kingdom, “In an age when women were generally expected to provide only temporal service, the Savior taught Martha and Mary that women could also participate in salvation, ‘that good part’ that would never be taken from them.”
I am not trying to suggest that physical ministry is or should be women’s only role. I am not saying that physical ministry belongs to women as spiritual ministry belongs to men. I am capable of so much more than housework, and I know that, and I know that the Lord knows that. I know that I am unique and valuable, and that my spiritual insights and contributions to the Lord’s Church and Kingdom can be as valuable as anyone else’s, if I work hard to study and learn. I also don’t believe that Priesthood service is the only way to serve, nor do I believe that it always the best or most needed way to serve.
I simply think that, regardless of our position or power or authority or gender or whatever, we should see more value in the good work that we do on a day-to-day basis. Let’s not be so overly concerned with what we can and can’t do, what tasks are or are not assigned to us, that we fail to see and take opportunities to do what we can. Let’s not be so “careful and troubled” (note that the Greek translation in the footnote also suggests “worried”) about so many things that we fail to see the symbolism, the service, and the value inherent in the tasks that are before us – the potentially-immortal bodies that we can create and feed and clothe, or the bread we can break with those we love, or the smile we can help put on another’s face, or the arm of friendship and welcome we can extend. The soul that we can bring closer to Christ (as we have been commanded to pray for opportunities to do). There are so many ways of bringing souls (bodies and spirits) closer to Christ. As many as there are people on earth, I would imagine. I guess what I am trying to say is that all service is of value. We are taught that there are no purely temporal commandments, and I would extrapolate that to service, as well. Service in the Kingdom is service in the Kingdom. Let’s try to see and employ as many service opportunities as might fall within our spheres of influence. That’s something that we all can do.