Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Review - Warning it's LONG! (Not the book - but my post about it)

I just want to share some thoughts about the book I just finished reading. It is called

      I cannot recall the last book that I read that touched me so much. I underlined and took notes all over it. After taking a step back and looking at it with some perspective, I think I decided that the reason that I really loved this book so much is that it felt like a validation to me. Like it was someone almost 'proving' in words that are more eloquent that I could ever put it, what I already know to be true.

        We are told that everyone is given different talents and different gifts in this life. I often wish that I had some of the more 'visible' gifts. I have never been particularly good at any sports (like my sister Jennie), or at piano or music (like my sisters Liz and Marilyn), or at sewing or crafting (like my sisters Nancy and Jane), or at teaching (like my sister Sue) or at computers (like my brother Tom) or at business and leadership (like my brother John) or be a natural beauty (like my sister Gayle) or be completely, unreservedly giving (like my sister Emily).

 I know that it is easy for all of us to compare ourselves to others, especially when we focus on the things that we maybe are not so 'blessed' with, but I have always felt inside of me that I was blessed with a 'gift' of sorts. I feel like I am blessed with the gift of believing. I really do. The gospel has always just plain made sense to me. And the more that I study and learn about it, the more it just 'fits'. It is hard to explain - but no matter what stuff people say against the Church or even against believing in Deity in general, that stuff doesn't penetrate my soul at all. I honestly have not really ever had to struggle with trying to believe in a God. I am not trying to sound cocky here, or that I have a stronger testimony than anyone else - not that at all - I am just trying to explain that for me, it has always been easy to believe. So when I was reading through this book - it was a sense of validation or maybe a soothing confirmation to my soul about the perfect sense that the gospel, and LIFE in general makes!

OK - enough of me trying to explain my feelings...on to the book review.

Here are a few of the things that spoke to me - all of them in italics are direct quotes from the authors (Terryl and Fiona Givens) unless otherwise noted, with my own thoughts in smaller font after the quote/quotes.

"Astrophysics may give a credible account of the origin of the stars, and Darwin might explain the development of the human eye, but neither can tell us why the night sky strikes us with soul-piercing quietude, or why our mind aches to understand what is so remote from bodily need."

I loved this section about our internal longings for something more - something we can't explain by science or 'proof'.

On infant baptism/salvation: French philosopher Pascal thought nothing could me "more contrary to the rules of our wretched justice than to damn eternally an infant, incapable of volition, for an offense...which was committed six thousand years before he was born".

True Story: One time on my mission there was a family that we were working with who had a friend who's baby had died. They were catholic, like so many were, and invited us to the wake.  The priest had been talking about how sad that she hadn't been baptized, but when we walked in the room, his story totally changed to one of 'Oh, but God will be merciful in the end to the innocence of this child, etc." I was thinking to myself...Wow - how confusing for your congregants to get such mixed messages.

"Belief in a God who is more rather than less generous and forgiving, who will extend the maximum mercy He can, and impose the minimum justice He must, is not a fanciful hope. It is a logical and reasonable inference."

"Though we may be in the infancy of moral development, as individuals and as a species, surely we are striving toward a perfect model that God already embodies. And while personal and collective progress may be shaky and uneven, some moral imperatives have only grown more sharply defined across time: we reject inhumanity, cruelty, caprice, and callousness. We prize kindness, we value tenderness, and we esteem compassion. Who can doubt the most transcendent instance of human love is a testament to a more perfect source, a love without limit?"

"A loving heart, like an exposed nerve, is by definition susceptible to pain."

I could not agree more with this statement.

"We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love." (Freud)

I mean, seriously - who knew that Freud actually made some GOOD points? lol

"God chooses to love us. And if love means responsibility, sacrifice, vulnerability, then God's decision to love us is the most stupendously sublime moment in the history of time. He chooses to love even at, necessarily at, the price of vulnerability."

 I have been intrigues lately with the idea of vulnerability. If you haven't already - go and watch this TED talk about it for some more enlightenment on the subject.

"God's pain is as infinite as His love. He weeps because He feels compassion."

It is good for me to remember this - God doesn't just HAVE compassion, He FEELS compassion.

"It is not their wickedness, but their 'misery', not their disobedience, but their 'suffering' that elicits the God of Heaven's tears."

"In the vision of Enoch, we find ourselves drawn to a God who prevents all the pain He can, assumes all the suffering He can, and weeps over the misery He can neither prevent nor assume."

This passage has brought me so much peace and understanding about life in general. My sweet hubby and I have had so many debates over the years about HOW involved God really is in our lives vs. how much he just lets stuff happen and then is there for us, etc. These paragraphs and pages about his mercy love and compassion really touched me, really spoke to me.

"For a being as god and pure as God to enter into this realm of darkness and depravity must be exquisitely painful on every level. His love impels Him to visit His people in their distress, and the temple is His shield and refuge from the full onslaught of worldly pain and evil."

"If vulnerability and pain are the price of love, then joy is it's reward."

Amen and Amen.

"God does not instigate pain or suffering, but He can weave it into His purposes. 'God's power rests not on totalizing omnipotence, but on His ability to alchemize suffering, tragedy, and loss into wisdom, understanding, and joy."

Again - the description in that statement is so perfect. Some people say "God doesn't let anything happen by chance" or "There are no coincidences", etc. Well - I have never truly bought that at all. I think some things do happen by chance, coincidence, genetics, timing, or just stupid luck...but it is AFTER the fact that he can help us weave that into something beautiful.  

On pre-existence: "There is an almost intolerable lack of sober reflection, foresight, and design behind most human conception. Life begins by chance, by accident, by violence or by carelessness. The young, the frivolous, the unworthy, and the thoughtless can engender a child. And yet the product engendered is one we recognize as something majestic, touched with divinity, and endowed with immortality. 'It certainly seems questionable to expect such a powerful effect from such inconsequential causes,' mused the great philosopher Immanuel Kant. There must be a true beginning rooted in a time and place of greater dignity and moment. How much more reasonable, it would seem, to posit an origin commensurate with our future, to place our soul's true birth, like it's potential destiny, in divine realms."

The whole concept of a pre-existence seems to be so foreign to some people. Whereas, it truly is the only thing that makes sense to me at all. I didn't even know anything about Immanuel Kant - except for the fact that he was a famous philosopher - but I love some of the excerpts from him that are in the book.

"Legitimate guilt is to the spirit what the sharp protest of a twisted ankle is to the foot: its purpose is to hurt enough to stop you from crippling yourself further. Its function is to prevent more pain. not expand it."

This section in the book about guilt also rang so true with me. I have heard arguments from people saying that we shouldn't feel guilt - that it is something that will not help us to grow, etc. But the description of how it is basically a warning sign to ourselves to prevent more pain ahead makes total sense to me. And makes me so grateful for repentance in my life.

"Our lives are more like a canvas on which we paint, than a script we need to learn - though the illusion of the latter appeals to us by its lower risk. It is easier to learn a part than to create a work of art."

I have seen this time and again in people's lives. Some people really just want things all mapped out for them. They just want to be told what to do, or to have an exact pattern to follow. The crazy thing to me is that we already do! We have been told what to do (live the commandments) and we have an exact pattern to follow (Jesus Christ). But it is in HOW we chose to live and to follow HIM that we are painting our our stories.

"Life is pain but it is not punishment, and it begins in a season of hope."

"The enormity of evil may still appall and confound us. God's failure to intervene may distress and alienate us. But the suspicion that we were party to the terms of our own predicament may give heart when no other solace is to be found."

"Our perennial longing for Home affirms a relationship rooted in the love of a child for a tender parent, not in the obsequiousness of a vassal toward his lord, or of a courtier toward his king, though He is both our Lord and King."

I have always believed that I was blessed to be born into the family that I was born into, but I hadn't thought about it exactly like that - of me being a party to the terms of my own mortal estate.

"The most tragic predicaments in which we find ourselves are those that require a choice between competing Goods, not Good and Evil."

This is so true. Sometimes it isn't the 'lesser of two evils' but rather 'the better of two goods'.

"Life's purpose is educative not punitive."

"The ancient philosopher Plato thought life was most likely a choice - even the circumstances of our birth and our lot in life. We have no way of knowing, of course, why some are born in health and affluence, while others enter broken bodies or broken homes, or emerge into a realm of war and hunger. So we cannot give definite meaning to our place in the world, or to our neighbor's. But Plato's reflections should give us pause and invite both humility and hope. Humility, because if we chose our lot in life, there is every reason to suspect merit, and not disfavor, is behind disadvantaged birth. A blighted life may have been the more courageous choice - at least it was for Plato. Though the first act of the play was obscure, its hidden details make any judgments in this second act so much foolish speculation. So how can we feel pride in our own blessedness, or condescension at another's misfortune? Plato's reflections should give us hope...that pain is not punishment, and that the path to virtue is fraught with opposition."

This really helped me to have more peace and calmness in my heart about the poor sick orphans in other countries who have a seemingly horrible existence. I have always felt a sense of pity for them, it just tugs on my heartstrings so badly. But my perspective has been changing to one of deep respect and admiration for them. 

"We might reasonably hypothesize that Christ saw His own incarnation as progression, rather than regression. Some early church fathers saw His incarnation as ennobling the body, rather than degrading the Divine. Gregory Nazianzen wrote of a day in Christ's mortal life, "Perhaps He goes to sleep, in order that He may bless sleep...; perhaps He is tired that He may hallow weariness also; perhaps He weeps that He may make tears blessed."

How beautiful is that? I love the description of WHY he came and suffered through mortality - not JUST to show us that He could do it - not JUST to gain a mortal body and quickly move on - but rather to actually FEEL our physical ailments so that he could indeed SUCCOR us in our need.

"The secret of happiness is this: let you interests be as wide as possible. The more things that a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has." (Bertrand Russell)

This passage also helps me feel better about my wandering mind and my plethora of interests in life - sometimes I think that maybe I am just flighty or something - but looking at this, I think that maybe it is one of the reasons for my happiness.

"The sheer exuberance children express as they engage the world, their reveling in the simple delights of childhood, their openness to their world, is the envy of every adult. Our task, it would seem, is to retain or recapture the innocence with which we began this life, while passing through the crucible we call mortality."

I think that there is a lot to be said in this passage. Sometimes the very thing that annoys me on a daily basis with my own toddlers is the same thing that I need to be better at myself!

"Our task is to school our appetites, not suppress them, to make them work in concert with a will that disciplines the spirit as much as the flesh. For desire has both spiritual and bodily expression, and our life is a journey to purify both."

I think that 'moderation' is a word that is oft used and seldom lived - at least in my own case. I need to frame that somewhere and work more diligently on finding that balance.

"As children we welcome presents and affection with the same ready heart and hand, but we tend to lose the knack as we grow older and more self-sufficient."

Why is that? Why it is so hard for us as adults to accept, receive, partake, etc.?

"Sympathy and sorrow, not anger and vengeance, are the emotions we must look to in order to plumb the nature of the divine response to sin. Sin is pain, and the intensity of His response to sin is commensurate with the intensity of that pain He knows sin will entail, and in which He has already chosen to share. For He is the God who weeps."


"The degree of guilt we experience is proportional to the deliberateness with which we cause hurt."

This passage has also helped me to in a sense 'let go' of some things in my life that I maybe chose to feel guilt over. I need to remind myself sometimes that I had no malicious intent at all and therefor it was not deliberate and therefor I need to forgive myself. This would be so helpful for all of us if we turned this outward as well and before choosing to take offense at something, thought of the other party in these terms as well....since we do not ever truly know their intent. Hmmmm.

Referring to Corrie Ten Boom in a concentration camp as she witnessed a prison guard mercilessly beating a female prisoner: "What can we do for these people?" Corrie whispered. "Show them that love is greater," Betsie replied. Betsie considered the actions of greatest moral gravity to be the ones we originate, not the ones we suffer.

"What is always at stake in any decision we make is what that choice turns us into. We may suffer the unfortunate consequences of other peoples' choices. People may honor or abuse us, harm or nourish us. But for the most part, it is our own choices that shape our identity."

I LOVED the book "The Hiding Place" -  (I think that is the one that she wrote.) I also love the idea of thinking of the actions that we originate not the ones we suffer. Soooo deep and soooo true.

"Genuine moral agency entails necessary consequences. Choice is always choice of something. Consequences are chosen at the time actions are freely committed. To choose to indulge a desire is to choose its fruit - bitter or sweet- assuming, and this is a crucial caveat - that 'men are instructed sufficiently' to understand what they are choosing."

It can be a tool of Satan's, imho, to get us to judge others for things that they say or do or maybe even things that we are assuming about them - but I need to remind myself often, even with my own children, that maybe they don't have enough instruction or understanding on a matter. It's like that LDS add that ran years ago where the mom yelled at the little boy for going to the corner and he didn't even know what a corner was. 

"How much more meaningful is a life designed for spiritual formation, rather than spiritual evaluation. All tests evaluate, and life is no exception. But the most meaningful and productive tests are those that assess with an eye to improvement, that measure in order to remedy, and that improve and prepare us for the next stage in an upward process of advancement. For these reasons, all talk of heaven that operates in terms of earning rather than becoming is misguided."

I don't know why but whenever anyone uses a phrase like 'constructive criticism' it always rubs me wrong - but I think that with God he doesn't 'criticize' at all - but only 'constructs' us up to be better!

"The atonement of Christ, His agony in Gethsemane and His death on the cross, is the only action by which the wounds of sin and hurt that rend the world can be repaired."

It is true. That is THE ONLY WAY to heal all wounds. My own wounds, my spouses wounds, my family's wounds, even the wounds of the whole world.  No more needs to be said on the matter. 

"Life may well give us, in a concentrated dose, the soul-stretching most necessary to our long-range spiritual development."

No matter how much 'soul-stretching' I feel like I have had in my 37 years of mortality - I am sure that there is much more for me to come. 

"For redemption to be permanently beyond reach, however, one would have to choose to put oneself beyond reach. If we fall short of salvation, it will be because our cumulative choices, our freely made decision to reject His rescue, have put us beyond His reach, not because His patience has expired."

This part of the book gave me so much happiness and hope. Because I so strongly desire to be permanently IN his reach, so knowing that his patience will NEVER expire gives much hope indeed.

"We live on an uneven playing field....Poor instruction, crushing environment, chemical imbalances, deafening white noise, all cloud and impair our judgment. Hardly ever, then, is a choice made with perfect, uncompromised freedom of will. That, we saw, is why repentance is possible in the first place. We repent when upon reflection with a stronger will, clearer insight, or deeper desire, we wish to choose differently."

Again - the beauty of the repentance process - looking at our decisions and asking ourselves if we really would choose differently if we had that deeper insight - and then following through with it, too.

"As a mighty God, He has the capacity to save us all. As a fond father, He has the desire to do so."

The comparison here of capacity versus desire is so powerful and tender to me. And runs on a deeper personal level to myself as well. I know that I have the capacity to serve and love others in my life - but on self-examination, do I truly have that desire?

"As long as it is God's nature and character we are striving to emulate, and not His power and glory, we are on safe ground."

We should not ever think of wanting to become like God to have power or glory - but rather to continue to bless others by copying his character.

the Lord says to Enoch, "thou and all thy city shall meet them there as we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other; And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion."  God, it would appear, is first and foremost a relational Being, and the heaven toward which we aspire consists of loving relationships that are eternal."

I love the story of the Prodigal son and his father seeing him and falling upon his neck. I can sometimes feel the tears and the pressure of that embrace. I often long for that. This passage is so beautiful - as a premonition of what we will all one day experience.

"We are, fundamentally and inescapably, relational beings. The most terrifying specter that haunts the modern psyche is not death or disease or nuclear annihilation. It is loneliness."

It is so true. Even people who claim that they are just not very 'social' or who say that they like to be alone - I just don't believe it. Not for one second. This part of the book talks about the power of loneliness and how that is used as punishment (solitary confinement). Fascinating stuff.

"However rapturous or imperfect, fulsome or shattered, our knowledge of love has been, we sense it is the very basis and purpose of our existence. It is a belonging that we crave because it is one we have always knows."

"We humans have a lamentable tendency to spend more time theorizing the reasons behind human suffering, than working to alleviate human suffering, and in imagining a heaven above, than creating a heaven in our homes and communities."

"Holiness is found in how we treat others, not in how we contemplate the cosmos."

This part is so true - it reminds me of the people who say "I don't need religion - I can find God in the mountains while I am fishing, etc." Or some who would preach and preach and preach, 'yet their hearts are far from me'. It truly does all boil down to how we treat each other.

"The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and will smile at the other's welcome, and say Sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was yourself." (Derek Wolcott)

"Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us."

I love these quotes and ever since reading the book - I have looked at myself in the mirror a little differently. Honestly.

So - there is the world's longest book review - but PLEASE don't just stop here - if you have made it to the end of my crazy long post - then you can make it through the book. It is only 123 pages.

123 pages that have changed my life for the better.

Thank you, Terryl and Fiona Givens. Thank you very much.

If you are interested here is an interview on the authors.

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