Last Sunday in fast and testimony meeting, a woman who had recently moved to our ward got up and talked about how difficult her transition had been to a new city. Her depression, which she has struggled with since her brother passed away sixteen years ago, has been at its worst of late — sometimes she struggles with the will to live. But she testified of the Savior’s Atonement, and how it gives her hope, and carries her. It is a reason for living.
Another young woman stood up and called on us all never to give up. She was rejected from the college of her choice, and felt devastated. But in a surge of determination, she appealed her application, and after a great deal of work and several months of waiting, she received an acceptance letter. Tears streamed down her face as she exhorted us to be diligent and believing.
A high-school aged young man, not yet a member of the church, stood and in simple yet bold terms, bore testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon. I could almost see the fire in his bones.
Others followed, and from them flowed joy, grief, memory, yearning, testimony, enveloping us all.
In Sunday School, we had a vibrant discussion about Joseph Smith. One brother raised his hand with a comment about personal revelation that had me nodding and mm-hmm-ing. Another brother raised his hand to make a comment with which I disagreed. I listened to his perspective, considered where he might be right, and continued to disagree.
I arrived at Relief Society late, having spent some time in the mother’s room with my distracted nine-month-old nursing baby. I wish I knew what I’d missed, because when I walked in, energy was springing around the room; the instructor’s eyes were flashing with joy as she asked real and challenging questions. “Where do you derive your authority as a woman?” “When have you used your authority?” She quoted Lucy Mack Smith, from the Church Historian’s Press’s recent book At the Pulpit, about “braiding sources of authority.” Two sisters in the room shared experiences about praying over their sick children, and lying by their sides to bless them. Several sisters cited our early Mormon foremothers as sources of authority, noting how they blessed the sick, how they were proactive in preaching and farsighted in providing for the needy. The instructor quoted Sister Jutta Busche: “I have tried to be like someone else. I have failed each time…. When I tried to conform, it blocked me [from] being transformed by the Spirit’s renewing of my mind.” I never spoke a word, but Words flew fast as lightning from my heart to my head and back again, crying “true! true!”
One woman bore her testimony at the end of the Relief Society meeting, about how she is trying to find her purpose, now that her children are almost grown and she feels like she has accomplished her major life goals. She was seeking and testifying in the same breath. Another woman stood after her, with great effort, and said “I wish these meetings could be shorter because sitting so long makes me stiff and sore.” She followed with an affirmation that God is real.
During the meeting, several charts and sign-up sheets came my way. On one of them, sisters wrote their names, numbers, and in what ways they are available to offer compassionate service. “Anything!” “Meals and rides.” “Baby-sitting.” “Postpartum support.” “Anything!” “Everything!” The women behind me snatched my squirmy baby from me so I had room to write, and played with her for the remainder of the meeting. (I love every roll of her squishy body, but whenever my arms are free of her I feel like I could take flight).
When I got to the car, my husband was buckling my five-year-old into the seat. (His primary teachers had spent half the hour with his class outside, identifying and picking flowers while they talked about promises). I couldn’t restrain the exclamation, “I feel so full of love I could explode.”
This was a particularly good week at church, but I wouldn’t call it a one-off thing. I love going to church. I love witnessing people’s hearts spill out their mouths in testimony meeting and in Sunday school comments. I love seeing women and men approach unfamiliar faces and shake hands. I love knowing that half of us disagree with the other half politically and scripturally, and in ten other ways. But we sit together, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes impassioned, sometimes silent, and we return to sit together again the next week. I love those lists of names and numbers — the stream of giving never runs dry. I love gathering to hear and discuss the words of the scriptures, of church leaders, of the Spirit to our own hearts. I love the communion with God, but above all I love the communion with his children.
I yearn for us as a people to achieve a perfect Zion. I yearn for Zion in my own heart. I believe we will continue to stumble as we steer our wagon train that way — just because the rocks and ruts are there. I will continue to lift when others fall, and to lean on the strong when I am weary. I’ll continue to envision the Savior yoked to me, and to all of us, as we walk and walk and walk.
But I tell you, when I scan the room on Sunday, I see the pure in heart. I see failure and struggle, blindness and weakness. But collectively, something like purity of heart, something like Zion, is settling among us and rising to the rafters.