Friday, February 3, 2012

I said this on a Sunday.

(In Vienna, early fall.)

James 1:27 states, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." The first time I remember hearing this scripture, I was in high school and was running around the local track with my father. We ran together often, and as we ran our conversations frequently turned to things of the spirit. He told me that this verse extended to everyone who was lonely, and everyone who was in need, including the poor and the destitute. Because of this, I am going to include those things as well.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about the Welfare Program of the church in this last conference. Among many important things, he said, "Sometimes we see welfare as simply another gospel topic--one of the many branches on the gospel tree. But I believe that in the Lord's plan, our commitment to welfare principles should be at the very root of our faith and devotion to Him."

There are three main points that I would like to impress upon each of you. The first is that we are all beggars. The second is that we are all responsible. The third is "why" we give. I would like you to think about these things as I talk with you.

One. We are all beggars. There are probably times when you have needed help. The help that you have needed has probably varied. At times it may have been an answer to a temporal need, at other times a spiritual one. Perhaps some combination. I hope that that help came, in whatever form you needed it.

There have been times in my life that I have needed help. One of these instances occurred last year, after I finished my Master's degree in Boston. I wanted to stay there. I looked and looked for a job. I had done well in school. I had work experience in my field. I met with professors and advisors regularly to seek help in fine tuning my resume and cover letters. All to no avail. It was a very demoralizing time for me, to work long hours every day, with nothing positive to show for it. The weeks passed. And the months. And I was still unable to secure employment. I couldn't afford to stay in Boston very much longer. Around that time, my oldest brother called me and invited me to come live with his family in California. He asked me to nanny my nephew for a few months, before his wife went on maternity leave for their second child. It rescued me. It instilled my life with new purpose. That purpose was to love a 2 year old child with curly, black hair--to read to him, play with him, and feed him. I was able to help my brother, but even more, he was able to help me, and do something that I could not do for myself at that time. He was able to give me a place to sleep and a car to drive, among many other generous temporal things. There were also many spiritual gifts given to me at that time, including love and encouragement. Because of those things, I was also able to use that time to apply to PhD programs, and ultimately got into my dream school. Then there are the kindnesses of my sister-in-law. There was one unfortunate month during that stay that I was very ill, and could barely leave the house. I was sick and she more than visited me. She bought me juice. She shared her meals with me when I was too tired to cook food for myself. I remember one particular evening when she ate sushi with me and talked with me.

I have not only been blessed by family members in times of need, but by ward members, including those in our shared ward family. Two days after our arrival in Vienna, my husband and I were still without a place to stay. We happened to meet a sister from the ward. A kind sister. She asked my husband how we were, in a very genuine way, and he told her we were fine. Probably also in a very genuine way. I however, who am not quite as adventurous as my husband, was not fine. She asked me how I was, and I started crying. She listened as I told her our story--how we were married one month before, how the day after that, we were hit by a semi-truck, did an aerial through the sky, and landed upside down in a deep ravine, how because of that we were unable to leave for Europe as early as we had planned, how despite that, we had spent the last two weeks in Europe, bicycling across Slovenia and Croatia, and how (for the time being) we had only those things we had been carrying on our bikes, how we spent our first night in Vienna at a hostel and the second night sleeping beside a campground, because the campground itself was unfortunately closed for the season (unbeknownst to us), and my knee was too hurt and too injured to ride any further.

When I finally stopped talking, this sister did what sisters do. She gave me a hug, and invited us into her home. And after bicycling many days in the wilderness, her house truly was the land of milk and honey. And even more wonderful, it was the land of herbal tea and American peanut butter--which two things I had been desperately missing.

We were strangers, and she took us in. We were hungry, and she fed us supper. I was dirty, and she let me take a shower in her bathroom. She handed me a towel. She showed me where the shampoo was. The conditioner. She let us wash our clothes. I think she did these things, because she knew, like King Benjamin, and like others, that when she did these things to us, she was doing them to Christ, and was, in a very real way, "merely in the service of her Lord."

These original kindnesses extended into deeper kindnesses. One of my first thoughts was that we would never be able to be as nice to this couple as they were to us. Then I realized that on one hand, there might come a day when we would be able to be that nice to someone else. We could as it were, "Pay it forward." But, on the other hand, I realized that that wasn't really the point. It wasn't really the point that I couldn't repay them deed for deed, because while that is still true, my current status does not make me exempt from service or from giving. I am still responsible. Right now. Regardless of my circumstances. I can still share meals with those who may need nourishment or company. I can still give of my time. Etcetera.

None of us are exempt from this pure gospel of giving. And indeed, each of us is responsible for everyone else, which is my second point, confirmed by President Uchtdorf: "Please do not think that this is someone else's responsibility. It is mine and it is yours. We are all enlisted. “All” means all—every Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood holder [and I would add every Beehive and Relief Society sister], rich and poor, in every nation. In the Lord’s plan, there is something everyone can contribute."

My third point concerns why we serve. President Uchtdorf reminded us that we visit the orphans and widows, feed those who are hungry, and clothe those who are naked because all things are spiritual to the Lord. He said, "The two great commandments--to love God and our neighbor--are a joining of the temporal and the spiritual. It is important to note that these two commandments are called "great" because every other commandment hangs upon them." He went on to lament, "Unfortunately, there are those who overlook the temporal because they consider it less important. They treasure the spiritual while minimizing the temporal. While it is important to have our thoughts inclined toward heaven, we miss the essence of our religion if our hands are not also inclined to our fellowman."

Because this is the Lord's principle, the Lord himself taught it when He was on the Earth. It explains why, time after time, He took care of people's physical needs first, whether by feeding them loaves and fishes, or by healing all manner of their infirmities. One important time, he even encourages the Nephites to go to sleep. It is in 3rd Nephi, after he visits them and teaches them. He said, "I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again." I really appreciate these verses, because I know myself when I am hungry, and I know myself when I am tired, and know that during those times I don't see reason, let alone the soft, gentle guidance of the Spirit. Christ wanted to teach the people. He wanted to nourish them spiritually, but He also knew that not even He could do that effectively until their physical needs were met, which in this case meant sleep.

I recently saw something very beautiful, and because it is not only beautiful, but relevant, I am going to share it with you. It was a short video, showing a Brahmin man who knew these same truths. In his own words:
I was working for Taj Group of Hotels Bangalore. I saw a very old man. He was eating his own waste for hunger. I thought what is the purpose of my life? What am I going to do? In a star hotel, I feed all my guests. But where in my hometown there are people who are living, even without food. I quit my job, and I started feeding all these people from 2002... We feed the homeless, mentally ill, destitute, and the old people who have been left uncared for of the society. People are suffering for food. They don't have food to eat. If you don't give them food to eat, they will die of human hunger. I cut their hair. I give them a shave, I give them bath. For them, to feel psychologically that they are also human beings, there are people to care for them, they have a hand to hold, hope to live. Food is one part. Love is another part. So, the food will give them physical nutrition. The love and affection which you show will give them mental nutrition.
Being a Brahmin community and an orthodox family there are a lot of objections. Brahmins are not supposed to touch these people, clean these people, hug these people, feed these people. Everybody has got 5.5 liters of blood. I am just a human being. For me everybody the same. There are thousands and thousands, and lots and lots of people suffering. What is the ultimate purpose of life? It's to give. Start giving. See the joy of giving.
I especially love his testimony that, "Food is one part. Love is another part." It is true. It is also that same linking of the temporal and spiritual that President Uchtdorf talked about. And while we are told that "the poor will always be with us," we must still work toward zion now. We must still work towards becoming a people of "one mind, one heart, with no poor among us" now. This is our duty. This is our call. Of this I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Bbear said...

Rachel, this is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. Thank you.

steenblikrs said...

So proud of you! Keep it up. Great things are ahead for us.

naomi said...

so great. you make my blog posts about cats look even more ridiculous.

Emily Lewis said...

Rachel, what a beautiful message and testimony. Thanks for sharing!

singer said...

This is an excellent talk. I felt the spirit strongly while reading it. You are a talented writer. We miss you in Vienna. I hope you have an excellent year.

Bonnie Gwyn said...

Very touching. Thanks Rachel. <3

Newt said...

Ah Rachel. You truly speak wisdom.

Rachel Hunt said...

Everyone, thank you.

Singer, aka: beloved Shaura. A very big thank you.

Naomi, please don't ever stop posting cat/Julien/whatever posts. They are perfect.

Lora said...

These were sweet and true words. Thank you.

Mie Inouye said...

I love this! Thank you, Rachel.