So, last month, my husband and I were asked by a member of our branch presidency if we could give a talk on an assigned topic in Sacrament Meeting. In LDS culture, we do not have a paid ministry. Rather, a trio of men consisting of a president and two counselors (or a bishop and two counselors, in larger congregations), are called by revelation to preside over every congregation. This trio is called a branch presidency, or in a ward, a bishopric. Our main meeting is called Sacrament Meeting. It lasts about an hour, and the centerpiece of our entire Sunday services is the quiet, reverent administration and partaking of the sacrament. Members renew their covenants by partaking of the blessed bread and water. After the completion of this ordinance, the rest of the meeting time consists of sermons, what we call talks, delivered by members to other members. Usually there are 2 to 3 talks per sacrament meeting, and it is the branch presidency or bishopric who chooses the topic and assigns the speaker.
Because of my personal history, it could be said that perhaps even as soon as a year ago, I most likely would have felt very awkward, unworthy and uncomfortable when I received the request via Facebook Messenger to speak in sacrament meeting; uncomfortable because of the topic. Knowing myself, I would probably have declined the invitation, rather than stand up there before the eyes of the world (Luke 18:10).
But I was surprised that this was NOT how I reacted. Rather, the feeling was one of great joy and rejoicing that I had a testimony to bear; the feeling was one of love for whoever would hear me in the audience, and the desire to convey, with all the feeling of my heart, a message of truth, warning, faith, hope and charity. If anyone in our branch had the real experience to speak on the topic of the 7th commandment, though I have never broken it (fornication is not adultery), I knew that I had come close enough (Alma 36:13, 15, 17, 19, 24). The Lord has given me beauty for ashes, and in turn, I could thank him by speaking honestly and sincerely to my gospel family about both (Isaiah 61:1,3). On behalf of both my husband and myself, I accepted this good brother’s invitation with gladness and thanksgiving.
Priesthood leaders try to give assignments to speak with enough notice so that those who are talking are given enough time to search, study, prepare and ponder. For me, the pondering part is probably the most important. Sometimes writing a talk comes easily, and sometimes it doesn’t. This time around, it was almost as if the talk wrote itself. The sole idea that filled my mind, from the evening of the day we were asked to speak, was the idea of CLAY. Over and over again, the core idea or central theme of this talk was to be the concept of CLAY. I was also woken up 3 nights in a row, with further ideas and corrections, as well admonitions to add the teachings back in – not to omit them- which I had earlier removed, thinking they might be too much to say or too heavy for the audience to receive. I told the congregation this as I began my talk, and prayed their assistance, in inviting the Spirit of God, to help convey the message I felt God had been guiding me to teach. So here’s my talk. I hope for that same Spirit to be with you as you read.
THE CREATION STORY
The Creation story, specifically in regard to marriage and the creation of Eve, is recounted in Genesis, Abraham and Moses and was also cited by the Apostle Paul and our Lord. I have selected the passage from Abraham, which reads:
15 And the Gods caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and they took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in the stead thereof;
16 And of the rib which the Gods had taken from man, formed they a woman, and brought her unto the man.
17 And Adam said: This was bone of my bones, and fleshof my flesh; now she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man;
18 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.
(The Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 5:15-18)
Which begs the question, “So what? What does this have to do with me? Why is this origin reason enough to lay the same expectation on John and Jane to become one flesh?”
Paul explains the reason in Ephesians, 5:28-31 and 33:
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
Therefore, we ought to respect and so view the marriage union as being so complete, so entire, that it is one great whole, one body; NOT two halves of one.
Jesus reiterated, “Wherefore they are not more twain (2) but ONE flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not men put asunder.” – Matt 19:5, Mark 10:8-9
Paul’s choice of words to describe how to care for the marriage body are also instructive. According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary,
nurture: to promote growth, to feed. Education or instruction.
cherish: to treat with tenderness and affection / to hold as dear; to embrace with affection, to foster and encourage / to give warmth, ease or comfort to / to treat in a manner as to encourage growth, by protection, aid, attendance or supplying nourishment / to harbor or encourage in the mind.
Until working on this talk, I hadn’t thought of it this way before! To cherish is not the same as to treasure! To me, the concept of treasuring something is like hiding it away in some jewelry box, or even like burying a talent in the earth, or begging, demanding or expecting sameness. Because, obviously, when I put a diamond or pearl necklace in a jewelry box, I expect to find the exact same piece of jewelry when I open the lid back up.
To cherish, then, means LOVING growth, positive growth, in your partner. Yes, change, and for the better, is what nourishing and cherishing is all about.
It make me think of raising a plant from seed. It’s almost as if marriage is a living thing, and one that has intelligence. Hold that thought, I’ll be right back to it.
Getting back to the CLAY. Let’s talk about the definition of adultery, or, adulterated. What does that mean? Webster’s 1828 says,
adulterated – corrupted, debased by a mixture with something of less value
Back from the past came my memories as a kid. I loved the homemade batches of play dough that my Mom would make us. We would all get our own color: red, yellow, blue, green, etc. Sometimes she would even scent them peppermint (green), wintergreen (blue) or cinnamon (red). And I just loved my play dough until, what happened?
- It dried and hardened because I didn’t put it away properly, or left it out.
- My sisters and I mixed up all the colors and smells of all of our dough balls, usually ending up with a gray or brown lump of no more fun, that smelled funny.
- The clay got hair in it, or got stuck to the shag carpet or landed on the linoleum floor, picking up all the dirt or debris there.
This is the KEY principle of the 7th commandment. It’s as if God says, “I have given you this beautiful, wonderful clay. Yes, I have given you YOU, male and female. How shall we care for and preserve it? And what, in the end, is the purpose and destiny for this substance of life and creation?
And so we see, as couples start out in marriage, how they try to figure out how to live as one, work as one, and become one in this united clay of “we”. It’s almost like watching one of those Claymation videos that were so popular in the 1980’s. We can:
Have a ball
Circle up, forming a protective ring around the family, like pioneer wagons in the prairie
Cradle the other, one holding the other in comfort and sustaining support
With our Heavenly Father and the eternal intelligences who come, we can multiply and replenish the earth.
We can work as a team in our divine roles
We can be a help MEET for each other, or, in other words, perfectly suited or matched or fit to the other. Flattened? Smashed? Destroyed and despairing? Like a snowball over snow, I will take you up, my love, and remind you of who you still are. Just like in the story Elder Nelson recently related about his wife Dantzel:
Fifty-eight years ago I was asked to operate upon a little girl, gravely ill from congenital heart disease. Her older brother had previously died of a similar condition. Her parents pleaded for help. I was not optimistic about the outcome but vowed to do all in my power to save her life. Despite my best efforts, the child died. Later, the same parents brought another daughter to me, then just 16 months old, also born with a malformed heart. Again, at their request, I performed an operation. This child also died. This third heartbreaking loss in one family literally undid me.
I went home grief stricken. I threw myself upon our living room floor and cried all night long. Dantzel stayed by my side, listening as I repeatedly declared that I would never perform another heart operation. Then, around 5:00 in the morning, Dantzel looked at me and lovingly asked, “Are you finished crying? Then get dressed. Go back to the lab. Go to work! You need to learn more. If you quit now, others will have to painfully learn what you already know.”
Oh, how I needed my wife’s vision, grit, and love! I went back to work and learned more. If it weren’t for Dantzel’s inspired prodding, I would not have pursued open-heart surgery and would not have been prepared to do the operation in 1972 that saved the life of President Spencer W. Kimball.
– Elder Russell M. Nelson, A Plea to My Sisters, October 2015 General Conference
I have watched many couples shape each other: my parents, grandparents, church leaders and members… Is this why old married couples look alike?
But our Father’s plan intends bigger things for the clay; more than just what can be done with human hands.
In October 2015 General Conference, Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Seventy recounted the story of his colleague, Elder Taiichi Aoba of the Seventy. Elder Aoba is a potter, and when asked to speak at a youth conference, he decided to use his vocation as a teaching tool.
- Elder Aoba demonstrated his ability, transforming the clay in his hands into plates, bowls and cups
- Youth came up to try, assuming it was simple but none were successful in all attempts to make anything. Clay splattered all over the room as they exclaimed, “I can’t do this! Why is this so hard? This is so difficult!”
- Elder Aoba asked the youth WHY
- They answered: no Experience, no Training, no Talent, to which Elder Aoba answered, Yes, based on the results, you could say this is true. However,
- Elder Aoba explained that the core reason for their failure was due to the clay not being centered on the wheel. What to the youths’ untrained eyes appeared to be the center was not the EXACT center in the perspective of the potter.
- Remember, “What God hath created and joined let not man put asunder.”
- Elder Aoba placed the clay in the exact center and started to turn the wheel, and he made a space in the middle.
- When several of the youth tried again, they all had success. Shapes weren’t perfect but the outcomes were still totally different from the first attempt.
Elder Maynes continued,
The world in which we live is similar to the potter’s spinning wheel, and the speed of that wheel is increasing. Like the clay on the potter’s wheel, we must be centered as well. Our core, the center of our lives, must be Jesus Christ and his gospel. Living a Christ-centered life means we learn about Jesus Christ and His gospel and then we follow His example and keep His commandments with exactness.
The ancient prophet Isaiah stated, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are all the work of thy hand” (Isa 64:8).
If our lives are centered in Jesus Christ, He can successfully mold us into who we need to be in order to return to His and Heavenly Father’s presence in the celestial kingdom. The joy we experience in this life will be in direct proportion to how well our lives are centered on the teachings, example and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever worked with ceramic clay? It is a little different than play dough. Being made from the dust of the earth, just like we are, it requires a lot of working over by hand to prepare it for the wheel or the ceramic project. Air bubbles MUST be pounded out. The clay MUST be kept moist and clean. If these rules are not followed, the intended finish project WILL explode in the kiln. How do I know? By hard experience, of course.
I decided to further investigate what the scriptures and prophets have to say about CLAY.
Brigham Young said,
Every kingdom will be blotted out of existence, except the one whose ruling spirit is the Holy Ghost; and whose king is the Lord. The Lord said to Jeremiah the prophet,
“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house [I thought immediately, here, of the temple], and there will I cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed too to the potter to make it” (Jer 18:1-4). The clay that was marred in the potter’s hands was thrown back into the unprepared portion, to be prepared over again (Jer 18:6).
So will it be with every wicked man and woman, and every wicked nation, kingdom and government upon earth, sooner or later; they will be thrown back to the native element from which they originated, to be worked over again, and be prepared to enjoy some sort of kingdom.
-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:124a, emphasis added
But we don’t want just any kingdom, do we?
Brigham Young taught further,
The kingdom that this people are in pertains to the celestial kingdom; it is a kingdom in which we can prepare to go into the presence of the Father and the Son. Then let us live to inherit that glory. God has promised you, Jesus has promised you, and the Apostles and Prophets of old and our day have promised you that you shall be rewarded according to all you can desire in righteousness before the Lord, if you live for that reward.
-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:197a, emphasis added
I know that this statement is true, because the patriarchal blessing of my maternal great-grandmother says the exact same phrase, and she was rewarded for her faithfulness. I would not be standing here, speaking to you, if this were not true.
We have the privilege of HONORING the stations we are in; we have the privilege, in the Lord’s hands, of preparing for exaltation. We are compared to the making of pottery upon the wheel, but the Lord never intended to show in that comparison that we were helpless beings and had no agency. Clay has so little intelligence that it is so often full of lumps that it will mar; but it is not to blame for that: but the Lord says, “You, intelligent Israel, are to blame, if you do not obey my voice; and if you are disobedient. I will serve you as the potter serves the clay that has very little intelligence. You, Israel, are capable of choosing, you are capable of hearing council from my mouth and of carrying out these principles that I will tell you; but the clay upon the hell has no such intelligence; and if you do not obey my voice, it will prove you are not worthy of intelligence any more than the clay upon the potter’s wheel; consequently, the intelligence that you are endowed with will be taken from you, and you will have to go into the mill and be ground over again.
-Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 5:336
I immediately thought of D&C 131:1-4, which reads,
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
Is the increase spoken of the increase of intelligence? In other words, increase equals that eternal parenthood which is part of the Godhood only enjoyed in the celestial kingdom? I think so. Another insight came in the thought of D&C 42:22:
Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.
To cleave is to stick, to adhere to, to hold to. However a second meaning for “cleave” is its antithesis: to open, to divide, to part naturally, to split by force, to crack, to cut, to separate. (Webster’s 1828 dictionary)
The Lord commands us to cleave and will reward us with the kind of cleaving we choose. Considering that potter’s wheel, I choose the first! I’ll stick to you, and you’ll stick to me!
The apostle, Elder Heber C. Kimball, was also a potter. He said,
Supposing I have a lump of clay which I put upon my wheel, out of which clay I want to make a jug; I have to turn it into as many as 50 or 100 shapes before I get it into a jug. How many shapes do you suppose you are put into before you become Saints, or before you become perfect and sanctified to enter into the celestial glory of God? You have got to be like that clay in the hands of the potter. –
– Elder Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses 1:160, emphasis added
(Oh! So that’s why those upside-down, inside-out haywire moments happen! Those times when I thought I was doing great, finally getting the hang of things, and then, nope! Again I know nothing and must start, once more, to walk by faith from the new beginning.)
Therefore, in that cleaving, couples must learn to be flexible, but also inflexibly inseparable from each other and the Lord.
Referring again to the command in D&C 42:22 about loving with all thy heart, and cleaving unto spouse and none else, the prophet Spencer W. Kimball taught,
And when the Lord says ALL thy heart, it allows for no sharing nor dividing nor depriving… the words NONE ELSE eliminate everyone and every thing. The spouse then becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse.
We sometimes find women who absorb and hover over the children at the expense of the husband, sometimes even estranging them from him. The Lord says unto them, “thou shalt cleave unto HIM and none else.”
Marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity. Each spouse takes the partner with the understanding that he or she gives self totally to the spouse: all the heart, strength, loyalty, honor, and affection with all dignity. Any divergence is sin – any sharing the heart is transgression. As we should have “an eye single to the glory of God” so should we have an eye, an ear, a heart single to the marriage and the spouse and family…
So long as [spouses] are married, [they are] duty bound to [protect and defend each other]…
-Spencer W. Kimball, October 1962 General Conference
Growing up, the absolute loyalty of my parents to one another was incredible. They were an outward facing, unified one. We kids could never get away with any attempt to play them against one another. This is a pattern that I have repeated in my own marriage to Jeff, which has been of special benefit in making our blended family truly one.
Here are my two-cents: Please do not disregard the inward facing, unified one. Couples should be careful to create a true equality within the marriage by respecting the role of their mate’s gender while fully living their own. Few understand that in the kingdom of the family, the throne is named Service. Father, the King, serves by presiding in righteousness; serves by protecting; serves by providing. Mother, the Queen who reigns WITH him, as co-regent, serves by nurturing all within her realm (The Family: A Proclamation To The World).
When the scales of balance are thrown, and one mate domineers over the other, destroying the united one, the child’s pity for the oppressed parent and scorn against the domineering parent plants bitter seeds in the heart of that child. The harvest?
- Either he child grows up to be a tyrant in his own union, wreaking havoc in their marriage and sorrow in the lives of their whole family. Thus he continues on and expands, instead of breaking and abolishing (Isaiah 58:12) the multi-generational splintering and the universally-felt repulsion and revulsion among family members (D&C 88:35-40, D&C 6:5-7).
- Or, remembering her parents, the child could also grow up to over-sympathize with a married friend who is disloyal enough to his spouse to confide in her. The jaws of hell gape wide, then, just as they did after David of old! (D&C 122:7, Mosiah 27:14, D&C 50:7)
So why? Why the clay? To what purpose? To what end? (“Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the Potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor?” – Romans 9:20 )
When we finally arrive at the intended shape and form, like pottery ready for the kiln, the Holy Spirit of Promise will seal up and solidify, forever finalize and weld us as one beautiful forever vessel in the Potter’s House (D&C 132:9). He can do this because the vessel, with no air bubbles or impurities left, will not explode in the kiln as adulterated vessels always do. He can do this because He is able (Phil 3:21, Heb 7:25, 2 Tim 1:12). He can do this because of the power of Almighty God, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Glimmers of this joy, this great peace of resting in the innocence and purity of covenants kept, and in the loyalty and honor of your self and your spouse to each other and to the Lord, can be felt. I know, for I feel it when I look across the room in the temple and watch my husband making covenants in God’s house that I know we are keeping in ours.