Jonathan Stapley has written an interest-piquing review of a forthcoming book, The Beginning of Better Days with essays by Sheri Dew and Virginia Pearce, that has me thinking again about the democratic resurgence of personal revelation in the church. The book, which has been provided to a number of other writers (sadly, not me) who were asked not to review until after its publication, brings together the minutes from six meetings and excerpted addresses of Joseph Smith to the Female Relief Society, in addition to the essays by Dew and Pearce.
Note here Stapley’s intriguing comments:
Pearce’s essay is honest, fresh, and sincere. It recounts her recent introduction to the minutes after their inclusion in the Joseph Smith Papers Online, and her experience studying them in a way that is ultimately performative. She offers a suggested methodology for immersion into the sermon texts, and provides a pattern for others who are not familiar with them or early church history to approach what Joseph Smith was communicating. He was presenting a vision to the Relief Society. He was revealing something new and he did it with language that is different than we now use. Pearce recapitulates the experience of those women who sat in the small room above the Red Brick store. She works for and receives a vision. And on several occasions, her account stole my breath away.
It is the revelation that Joseph Smith delivers to the Relief Society that is so compelling to me. Like President Beck, I do not believe that we have lived up to our potential in our Relief Societies and quorums. Joseph Smith’s sermons rend the veil of our lived experience and demand something more expansive than we have seen or known. Pearce’s self-confessed messy pattern of prayer, reading, noting, questioning, researching, contrasting, and applying is that expansion in a modern life. Her concluding words relate this in the form of exhortation: “Read Joseph’s words. Pray about them. Study them. And expect angels and epiphanies.”
This is a consistent pattern, one that we’ve been encouraged repeatedly to create in our lives. We often resist the structure, but I grow more consistently of the opinion that it is not a regimen determined to force compliance on us but an invitation to personal, veil-rending communication with the divine.
I was feeling thoughtful today, watching desperately needed rain fall and pondering, when I ran over the verses in the epilogue of Job again. For the most part, they seem the simplistic additions of a later writer summing up Job’s poetic interaction with the divine like some kind of Horatio Alger story, and I usually skim over them quickly. Double the sheep, double the camels, double the oxen, double the asses. In many ways it almost seems to weaken the epiphanies of his interview with God to say, “and then he grew doubly rich.”
But I’m hung up on the interesting juxtaposition of his children in that duty-reward doubling. His daughters are the only children listed by name, and the record makes a point of saying that they were given an inheritance with their brethren.
What does that have to do with the restoration of his wealth and position?
Going directly to the source, which is one of the many themes of the Book of Job, invites profound epiphany, because that is the heritage of a relationship with God. “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened.” Women are seldom counted in scriptural records, much less considered a pivotal part of the inheritance of either earthly or heavenly wealth, and certainly never the final climactic truth-point of a didactic episode. This writer, however, after Job’s cathartic experience, makes sure to correct this oversight.
“And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job.” I wonder what made them fair? Were they raised with an understanding that they were equal and would inherit, children of their father’s more far-reaching vision? Were they more confident, more expecting of fair treatment, and therefore more capable and wise?
This Joseph Smith Papers Project is one of the most exciting things to come of the modern church. I wonder if women are claiming their inheritance there, poring over the records, taking them to the Lord, inviting a conversation with the divine, “expect(ing) angels and epiphanies.” I wonder if they realize that the church is proffering a relationship in recent generations often culturally reserved for holders of the priesthood.
If making very conscious strides to include women in this inheritance as equals is the mark of a person or an institution that has gone through a profound quantum leap forward, it would seem prudent to claim the inheritance.