Spending a week in the Pacific Northwest on vacation, surrounded by boats and the vastness of the sea, when I read this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery on my way home, I couldn’t get it out of my head:
If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Today’s post is from guest poster Melodrama. As I thought about the ramifications of the ideas in different realms of my life and particularly in my worship, I was struck, because the point of the quote actually seems so opposite of my experience with the corporate nature of the church. Most lessons or talks focus on checklists or commandments or assignments: the ABC’s of revelation, the 4 steps to repentance, lists on chalkboards of how to keep x commandment better.
Is it because they are afraid that if they teach us the longing for what Joseph Smith claimed to have had, a very personal relationship with God, that they can’t deliver? Or are the checklists and assignments necessary for the institution of the church to survive and thrive?
I thought of K, a little girl I taught in Primary. At her baptism, her excitement got the best of her as she literally ran from the chapel to the font when it was her turn. Or a woman I watched baptized in the inner-city ward I used to attend. She could not contain her joy as she was raised out of the water, and it was manifest in a boisterous shriek of happiness. Her active participation in our church was short-lived, typical for the baptisms in that ward. I used to complain that the people the missionaries brought forth were not ready to fully commit to the church and its teachings, but who can deny the joy in her heart that day and who can tell the power it had in her life?
Others express their joy in a more subdued and quiet way, but these examples of those whose emotions were oblivious to procedure and protocol made me reminisce of my own baptism. While I don’t remember the details, and I’m certain I was not a runner or a screamer, I do not recall being assigned to baptism. I like to think I am pretty typical, that I chose baptism, not because I was commanded to do so, but because even as a little girl, I sensed the love of God and had a longing for the divine.
And nearly 30 years later, as I sat in church one Sunday in my ward in December, I was notified we would unexpectedly end one hour early due to problems with the facilities. When the bishop came in to announce it, one woman physically clapped at her excitement. As everyone went to find their children and leave, one man said, “I’ve never seen a happier bunch of Mormons”. It sort of begs the question, why build a boat if you have no desire to set sail to sea? If church is supposed to answer those longings for us, why are we happiest when we are freed from our obligation of attending? Must we have herdings and assignments because our longings are not enough to sustain us in the work of building a ship?
I wonder, are we efficiently building boats only to turn around and build another one and never recognize the endless immensity of the sea?