It has been a few event filled weeks since I last wrote. They have included a couple trips out to a local Wadi and the dedication of the first purpose built LDS chapel in the Middle East. I want to begin my post with a few words about that dedication and the visit of Elder Jeffery R. Holland. To do that I need to start with a little background.
Twice a year the LDS church has a worldwide conference broadcast from Salt Lake City. The first weekend in April and the first weekend in October are the dates for these conferences. Strangely, they are some of my favourite weekends every year. The LDS people have, in part because of these conferences which have been happening for just shy of 200 years, developed an interesting love of the spoken word and beautiful music. As I write this I am listening to a long running LDS program called, well… “Music and The Spoken Word.” This program features the iconic Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square. Check out their youtube channel. This is what I’m listening to right now:
So, at each of these conferences we generally hear from each of the members of the quorum of the twelve apostles and the first presidency of the church, among others. Members of the quorum of the twelve apostles and the first presidency serve from the time they are called until their death. The longest serving member of the quorum becomes the president of the church. It is actually a fascinating form of ecclesiastical government. What I am getting at here is that we hear from these men quite a bit. Some of them have been serving as apostles longer than I have been alive! I’ve heard them all speak many times. My favourite among them is Jeffrey R. Holland. The content of his speeches and his delivery consistently combine to inspire me and to draw me in.
I was more than elated to find out that Elder Holland would come to dedicate the chapel in Abu Dahbi. Not only did we get to hear from him during the dedication but that evening he was the main speaker at a small devotional in Dubai. A rare opportunity to hear from him twice in one day and in such an informal setting. He did not disappoint. More than any words he could have uttered though was the sermon of his actions. Elder Holland is one of the younger members of the quorum at 72 but I expect he only arrived in Dubai the night before (that is a long flight). He not only spoke at length in the morning he returned to speak at length in our intimate devotional. We packed as many as we could into that little villa in Dubai. He spoke and then hung around to shake the hands of every member.
I debated whether to get in line to shake his hand. You could tell he was tired. Personally I’d have blown off that meeting and gone to the hotel for a nap if I was him. Eventually I decided I’d better go shake his hand. I may never have the opportunity to stand face to face with an apostle again. I was shocked at the power in his grip. He was still shaking hands when we left around 10pm. His schedule for the next two weeks will take him to a different country in Europe every day. I’m sure he will stick around to greet the humblest of members at every meeting. I’m struck by the love he has for the saviour. I think of Peter when Christ asked “Peter, lovest thou me?” and then counselled him to feed His sheep. I could not help but think that Elder Holland is doing what the saviour would have him do.
I should pause here to say that every one that spoke that day did an incredible job. The dedication of the Abu Dhabi chapel will rest in my memory as one of the most spiritually poignant experiences of my life thus far. This chapel represents answers to many prayers. I could not help but feel that God was pleased and smiling upon these people. May it ever remain so.
So what was it that Elder Holland said in the two sermons he gave? A good deal. I’ve mulled over his words these last couple weeks. In the devotional he recalled a conversation he’d had with Hugh Nibley at Brigham Young University many years ago. Brother Nibley suggested that all we really need to do in life is repent and forgive (slightly different than pay taxes and die). Elder Holland expanded on that sentiment, his first reactions to it and his growing understanding of it over time. I thought it a fitting message in an Islamic country – though I’m not sure that he planned it that way. The word Islam means submission to the will of God. From dictionary.com we learn that Islam comes from the “…root of aslama “he resigned, he surrendered, he submitted,” causative conjunction of salima “he was safe,” and related to salam ‘peace.'” So with our Islamic friends we wish to utterly submit to the will of God or repent and forgive. There is simplicity and power in this approach to life.
Elder Holland expounded on many beautiful doctrines that day. In the end I came away with the message to repent, forgive and enjoy. Though he did not say those words exactly, much of his message, I think, is summed up in that phrase. Should we endeavour to live the first principles we should have the privilege of enjoying all of life. This does not mean that life will be without upset, difficulty or long stretches of darkness. Yet, through submission there is at least peace.
So on to the joy of life. I played a game with the kids the other day and now they beg me to play it every night. Indeed we’ve played it nearly every night for the last few weeks. We call it Mission Impossible. Before bed the kids arrange the furniture in the dinning room and living room and then shut out all the lights. I take my place with a flashlight on the back of the couch at one end of the room and the kids begin after the count of 3 on the other end of the room. They try to sneak through the room to a pillow resting at my feet. If they can touch the pillow they win the game but if they are caught in my flashlight’s inner beam they are out. When I shine the flashlight I can’t move it around the room and the kids have to freeze while it is on. When I turn it off again I have to count to 3 slowly and out loud before I can turn it on again. The kids let me know if I’m counting too fast. Of course, the idea is to move from hiding place to hiding place during those 3 seconds. Then when you are in reach make a dash for the pillow.
The kids love this game and like to argue over who gets to deign the “course.” If you play this with your kids be warned that they are moving about in the dark rather quickly. We’ve had our fair share of banged heads and stubbed toes. Lilli got a bloody nose yesterday. They insist on playing despite the injuries. We’ve also found that it is no fun to be caught out too quick. The kids get at least a couple chances. If I catch them they have to spell a word properly before they get a do over. Well, the spelling test has actually given way to singing and dancing… they love that! Indeed, Lilli would probably be bored with this game by now if the singing and dancing in the flashlight’s glow hadn’t begun. She is probably the least successful at reaching the pillow.
We spent the night out at Wadi Shawka last weekend. It was spectacular. A great fire with good friends. Joe brought his Ukelele and we sung late into the night around the camp fire. We had a big group out again for this camping trip. Watching a near full moon break over the horizon to dim the view of a starry sky was as usual breathtaking. The next day we hiked into the Wadi and spent hours swimming in the biggest pool and bouldering the rock faces around it. Jaron and I went exploring a ways up the river bed and then made the brave or possibly foolish move of taking an alternate route back to the pools. Jaron insisted that we climb up the mountain and follow the thin goat track along the cliff face inches from sudden death. I naturally can’t refuse my children anything. That little experience has demonstrated that Jaron is as reckless as his old man. He has the same “whats on the other side of that hill” fascination. I couldn’t help but think “is this what my friends have put up with all these years?” How many times have I led people into difficult situations because of my insistence that that mountain could be climbed, or that ravine ought to be explored…? I can only hope that it works out as well for my son as it has for me. Geez it is kind of annoying though – sorry guys.
Lisa took all the pictures and she is in Abu Dhabi tonight as a leader at the church youth conference. Hopefully, she’ll write a little more about the wadi and post the pictures and videos she took. We wish we could share all the great times we are having with friends and family at home. You are all missed.