Writing My Life

Now and Then

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… Sunday reflection: “Read until you learn something” …

If you know me or have followed this blog for a while, you understand that I am an avid reader of young adult fiction, historical fiction, fiction fiction. I also like to read “trade books” about my profession – teaching and literacy. As a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons), I am admonished to read the scriptures daily. For a variety of reasons, this isn’t always easy to do.

While I won’t go into ALL the excuses I’ve used over the years to rationalize why my Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price gather dust as they sit on the book shelf or bed table, I will say that it often boils down to “mood.” These books of wisdom are NOT easy-reads! The verses, stories, and lessons require engaged thinking, reflection, and questioning. That means work, work, work.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading is because of the escape, and the idea of “getting away” is often more appealing than “getting into.” But I also LOVE learning, and that is what draws me back to these texts that teach me lessons that go beyond this worldly existence.

Because I know that readers glean more from reading if they set a purpose, I find I cannot study the scriptures just because I am supposed to. The first time I read the Book of Mormon, for example, was to learn for myself what was in it. I belong to a church that claims the book is a record of ancient peoples, and that its pages testify of Christ. So, back in 1962, I attended a seminary class in 9th grade where the teacher assigned us to read every verse, page, and chapter.

Since that time, I’ve read the Book of Mormon a few more times for several different purposes. Once I underlined every reference about Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Another time, I studied what the Book of Mormon taught about a variety of topics: adversity, relationships, life after death, repentance, the nature of God, and the role of evil, etc.

Sometimes I study for hours – usually when preparing a church talk or lesson; sometimes I read for a few minutes and many times I don’t study at all. Because I felt guilty during those times of omission, I asked myself why I didn’t feel like diving into the body of scriptures. Realizing it was more than being too tired or busy to study for a few minutes that kept me from my reading, I experienced the aforementioned epiphany of needing a purpose. But then I struggled with finding a motivating purpose!

While mulling over all this personal struggle, I picked up my dusty Book of Mormon and pulled out a card tucked between the pages. On one side I had written these words:

Read until you learn something.

“Light bulb!” I decided that would be my purpose –  until I found something better. So far there has been nothing better than that noted advice from Andy Barlow, a near-by acquaintance. With that thought in mind, I told myself I could stop if I learned something after 5 minutes of reading.

While this happens once in a while, I find that when I learn a little here or a bit more there, I don’t WANT to stop. Interesting, isn’t it? And paradoxical. Because I give myself permission to close the book and snuggle under the covers after ingesting just one thought-provoking morsel, I feel free to continue. I’ve also found that I take greater delight in what I am learning.

... read until you learn something ...

To track these illuminations, I scrawl the “big ideas” gleaned from one or more verses in bright red ink over those printed lines of inspiration. The act of “writing to read or learn” cements thoughts more solidly in my mind and heart. And a quick look back over the pages helps me remember or review my lessons learned.

I love it, look forward to it, and grow from it.


… virtuous OR conniving naomi? …

We’re studying the Old Testament in Sunday School. And I have to say there are as many BAD role models in that body of scripture as there are GOOD ones. Sunday night G.E., Mom, and I were talking about O.T. adulterers – like David and Bathsheba. Then our conversation turned to incestuous relationships found in the scriptures – not exactly a great spiritual conversation for the Sabbath, but there it is.       

We also talked about our families, and that’s when I thought about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, as being a collection of family stories. Like all family stories, patriarchs and matriarchs may not have wanted all of their issues made public, but those ancient prophets had their own social networks that recorded and shared TMI. (Note to Mom: “TMI” means “too much information.” It’s texting shorthand.)        

As with today’s families, some ancient mothers, fathers, and children served as great examples at times, but failed upon other occasions. (Think of Abraham trying to pawn off his wife Sarah as his sister –  or what about Sarah’s ill-timed laugh when angels predicted her forthcoming pregnancy? And those are just mild examples.)       

Even when Biblical figures are doing their best, modern readers and critics can find fault. For example, I have long admired Naomi – mother-in-law extraordinaire. So good to her daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpah that they did not want to leave her after their young husbands died. As a widow beyond child-bearing years, Naomi had NO rights and thus NOTHING to offer the two loyal women.       

Ruth and Naomi


Although Orpah finally gave into Naomi’s advice and returned home to start a multi-million dollar media industry – oh, wait. Wrong story. That was OPRAH. Nevertheless, ORPAH tearfully left her mother-in-law and went her way. But Ruth not only chose to be with Naomi, she traveled with her to Judah, converted to Judaism, served Naomi and listened to her when she advised Ruth to propose to Boaz!       

Most hail Ruth for her loving loyalty and Naomi for her resourcefulness in procuring a future for her daughter-in-law and herself, along with ensuring the continuation of the royal line of David through which the Savior would be born. However, there are scholars and critics alike that view Naomi differently. While not all feminist assessments of her found in the Jewish Women’s Archive, are negative, I found these views of Naomi quite interesting. They demonstrate that everything and everybody is open to interpretation – even those with the best of intentions … or the worst.       

  • Naomi is a cipher – having no weight, worth, or influence – for male values that find fulfillment for women in marriage and children. (Grrrr. I won’t even comment on this denigrating opinion.)
  • Naomi is an overbearing, interfering, and domineering mother-in-law. (So, did she “guilt” Ruth into sticking with her?)
  • Naomi and Ruth are rivals, with Naomi eventually achieving the greater prestige. (Are feminists inferring that Naomi wanted Boaz for herself OR just access to his wealth and prestige?)
  • Naomi schemes, connives, and manipulates. (Hmmm? Is that a bad thing?)
  • Naomi is an embittered old woman who denounces God for her troubles but fails to thank the deity when she recovers. (Well, she did want to be called Mara, which means “Bitter” instead of Naomi that means “Pleasant.”)

While extolling her virtues and listing possible weaknesses, the usual consensus is that “Naomi is a profound figure of faith who experiences God as enemy but then wrestles blessing from adversity.” As such, Naomi, like many Biblical heroes and heroines, function as spiritual beings struggling through the mortal experience. Like them, each of us battle our weaknesses, sometimes winning; occasionally losing, but ultimately hoping to win the war against whatever plagues us.       

I LOVE the Old Testament stories and the New Testament hope of forgiveness, atonement, and charity as told through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I hope I can only be as good as the weakest of those ancient peoples, especially the noble women whose stories are few.