Thursday, December 28, 2006


Just before Christmas I was talking with an LDS friend at work. I had shared with him part of a letter I had written and he remarked on my use of the phrase, "I find great peace in the constraints of the Church."

To be completely honest, when I wrote the letter I used that phrase without really thinking about it much. Not thoughtlessly, exactly, but maybe casually. Since that conversation, I've spent some time mulling it over.

The truth of the matter is that the Church does have constraints -- on my behavior, my beliefs, even on the kinds of thoughts I'm to entertain and avoid. As a convert I've willingly submitted myself to these rules. And it is true that I find peace in m Faith. The time I spend at Mass is the most peaceful time of the week; time away from the world and its concerns, time spent with the God who made and loves me. (Aside: I know that God is with me always, but there's a special connection during the Mass.)

There's a paradox in finding peace through restraints. My oldest is reading Orwell's 1984 and the notion of "peace through submission" sounds as if it might have been dreamed up by Big Brother. However, I think that may be the wrong lens to use in viewing this.

Let me take a strange detour and I'll see if I can put this in a proper context.

I have a book called Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. I picked it up on a few years back when we were traveling in Southern Utah. It documents death and disaster in the canyon and the thing which stands out most clearly in my memory is that so many of the deaths were preventable. People died by climbing over guard rails for a "better view", or jumping down onto ledges as a joke, or by disregarding the warning signs and advice of seasoned rangers and hikers.

The obvious metaphor here is that the rules of the Church serve much the same purpose. It's not that those charged with my spiritual care think they know more than I do (although they might, indeed, think that), it is that the rules have been tested over time and shown to work. Stay on this side of the fence and you'll be safe.

In the larger context, I think this explains the reluctance of the Church to make swift changes ... even when potential changes have great popular appeal. The rules which have been in place for years (decades and centuries in many cases) will be held to because they have been shown to be safe. Change isn't impossible, but it is carefully considered.

When my wife and I talked about this, she used a much homier and more motherly analogy. She likened the constraints of the Church to the swaddling of a babe; soft but firm and warm and comforting. An image that I find entirely satisfactory and eminently comforting.