Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I never read THAT in the Book of Mormon...

As I've been involved with Suicide Survivor and Suicide Loss support groups, I've been exposed to a lot of ideas about death; what death means; what God thinks about suicide; ultimately, where people "go" after taking their own lives. And have had some very spiritual and intimate experiences of my own that have sort of changed what may have been my more traditional Mormon view. And that's what I'd like to focus on in this entry.

I am the director of Breathe: Suicide Loss Support Group at Utah Valley University ( ). It's a group I founded about 1 1/2 years ago, specifically for those who have lost someone to suicide. At the beginning of our group meetings, I always think it important to let everyone know the group is non-denominational, though they are certainly encouraged to speak of their experiences in the terms in which they're most comfortable or familiar, even if those terms are very religious. Of course, being in Utah Valley, the predominant view/religion is Mormon-based.

My heart aches, and I cringe when I hear a widow crying, confused, and asking, "What did I do wrong? My husband was a priesthood holder; we paid our tithing; we held callings; we went to the temple as regularly as we could; etc..." As if mental illness stays out of religious communities. (It certainly doesn't, as Utah is always in the top 5 for prescription drug abuse problems and accidental prescription overdose deaths among its adults;, In the Mormon Church, as in many Christian churches, there are some severe stigmas associated with suicide. And there are old phrases in Mormon literature, such as "self-murder" that really give families pause when they experience a suicide. ( The statements are usually qualified thus: "Suicide is regarded as self-murder and a grievous sin if committed by someone in full possession of his or her mental faculties. Because it is possible that a person who takes his or her own life may not be responsible for that action, only God can judge such a matter." The bad thing is, a lot of people have never read past "self-murder."

My point in all this isn't to talk about suicide, though I will cover that topic on and off in the future. But I do want to talk about that sometimes rigid correlation I talked about in my last post. In losing someone to suicide, or even death, that correlation can be so damaging; it can be a mental prison if someone allows it. Fortunately for me, I had many years of unraveling my correlation before losing my mom in 2011. I thank God and the best influences around me for helping me sort of take my faith out of the box I had once tried to keep it in. The story I'm about to relate is not one that you've heard in Sunday School, and it's not one you'll read in the Book of Mormon. But that doesn't make it any less substantial and any less healing.

On July 11, 2011, I came home in the evening and found a Raven, perched on top of the light pole next to my parking spot. There are many Ravens in Utah, and I already had a fondness for them, per some Native American mythology and religion, as well as some reading about a symbiosis they share with wolves. And so, I noticed this Raven, calling out from the light pole. And I thought, "Cool." I hadn't before noticed one in our parking lot. But after "cool," I went up to the apartment for the night and went to bed. The next morning, I was awakened by the same Raven on the light pole, calling out again. When I went out to leave for work, there it was still. And this time, I thought, "Huh. This Raven must be my friend...or something." I was working as a finish carpenter and, about 2 hours into my work day, as I was about to hang this bulky length of crown molding, my coworker (and good friend) came into the room and grabbed me--like a one-armed side-hug. And he was gripping me tightly and told me to stop. I figured he wanted to tell me that I was doing something wrong, as we sometimes disagreed on our methods of getting things done. But he had me tight, and he was breathing heavy. He said, "Stop. Your mom died." Ugh. Even now, reliving this experience, I can remember having almost an out-of-body experience. It was like I hadn't really heard that. Suddenly it was a dream. But it wasn't, and after me asking, "What?' He repeated, "Your mom died." My world was shattered. Confusion, adrenaline, and fog set in....and stayed for the next several weeks. Yuck.

One month later, again on the 11th, I was awakened by that Raven, still calling from the light pole. And then I didn't see him, until the next month on the 11th, and the next 11th after that. In Native American culture, Raven has dozens of roles, including creator, trickster, and messenger of death. (Yep--that one rings true.) And so, not only did I allow the possibility that the Raven is somehow tied to me and my mom, I was very quick to embrace that. And every time I see a Raven now--it's now more sporadic--it puts a smile on my face and kind of makes my day. This is now a part of the unique relationship I have with my mom.  And the great thing is that my mom never knew about my affinity for Ravens; I had never discussed them with her. I smile and feel good just talking about it.

As I said, you won't find a story like that in the Book of Mormon, or hear about that in Sunday School most likely. But what does that mean for truth? Nothing, really. Just as our own faith is a personal thing, death of a loved one is incredibly personal. And thank God it can be that way; thank God for allowing that. So there's really no way the church could generalize it and put that in a Sunday School manual. Those experiences are too personal and too unique to each person. And what I'd like to say about it is this: Don't put God in a box. And don't try and fit life and death and faith into that box. Correlation can be so limiting. What if I had dismissed that whole Raven thing? What if I had told myself, "You're crazy--there's nothing like that in the Book of Mormon?" I think I'd be missing out on a lot of smiles and waves from my sweet mom. I'd also be sort of arrogant or presumptuous by saying, "Nah. God couldn't do that."

So take God out of the box, if you've put him into one. Let him breathe. Let God and faith really work in your life. Believe in miracles if you can, and believe that you are a prophet for your own life, entitled and able to receive revelation and inspiration from God, regardless of what a Sunday School manual says or maybe doesn't say. I would love to have shared about the Raven at my mom's funeral. (I had already presumed the messenger of death part by then). But I was afraid it would be lost on nearly everyone. And that's OK. It's an intimate thing, and it's not something I want to share to people who might dismiss it as crazy or some devil. (What--you don't have a crazy aunt who would think it was the devil?)

My question is, can any of you relate? Do you have your own "Raven" experience? Please feel free to share and leave a comment. And, if you see a Raven, wave and smile; it might be my mom :)


  1. I really love reading this blog. Remember how I said the other day how I didn't feel like I was able to express myself how I wanted to? Well, in this and pretty much all of your writing I always feel like you are connecting with me and others and really getting your thoughts,ideas and feelings across in a way that makes me and others feel connected to you. It's awesome. Xoxo

  2. Ah. I love that you love reading it. Love you.

  3. I've shared this in the past on my own blog, but I have a similar connection to rain. And these kinds of experiences are one of the things that make me have a hard time with organized religion. Because I do think that our faith is such an individualized thing. I know some people have very helpful, spiritual experiences at church. But I think a lot of people don't. And I think of lot of people who don't get that from church, could find it someplace else, but they feel like spirituality only fits in a certain box.

    Last year a friend of mine's parents and niece were killed in a car accident. Going to a funeral for three people was incredibly overwhelming. As I was driving home, while passing the area where the accident happened I noticed a raven circling above. I glanced back at it and a second one had appeared, and then a third. I'd know your story of the raven by then and it immediately had a very calming, comforting feeling that the three people I'd just been to the funeral for where all ok.

    I've tried really hard this last year to not pass off gut feelings I have about things. I think we try to brush off a lot of stuff as coincidence, or random, but I think we are given lots of little moments that we need to pay attention to.

    1. Thanks for that response, Kari, My Friend. I love that you saw a raven, and that it comforted you after such a tragedy.

      Years ago, I may have brushed off the Raven, or anything like it. Now, I feel very strongly, never to just blow those signs off as nothings. For me, they're very real. They are teachers. And sources of peace.

  4. I really enjoyed reading about your experience with the Raven and your mom. I actually have a deep love for totem animals and the Raven has been showing up for me a lot over the last year. It's a different symbol for me, but one that I feel really connected to. (Transformation, spirituality and powerful change--it's been helping me with my fear about transitioning into my career doing healing work)--- I feel like ever since I started acknowledging the spirit that exists in nature and specific plants/animals in nature, that they started communicating to me and speaking to me. I can feel the trees or the mountains and a lot of the animals and its been a really profound experience--feeling the powerful presence that is there and how are they are so aware of us and how much they try to support us. I completely believe the Raven was showing up for you. I think it's really neat that you noticed it and payed attention and allowed that experience to support you instead of brushing it off...

    I also loved what you said about letting God breathe as well! i feel like that's exactly what i was doing when i left the church. so many people thought i left God but i felt like I was just following the God I had always followed--only this time it was into uncharted territory. into a place that just kept expanding and adding to the spirituality that was always and continues to be so important to me. Of all the things I am most sad about my exit from the church, it is that I no longer feel like there's an option for me to share what I am learning about spiritually with my family and friends who are mormon. I know that part of that is about me not sharing with them or expecting that they won't be able to hear me, but I also feel like their fear of my path would prevent them from being able to see that I'm still the same person I always was, with the love for spirituality I always had. Maybe that's completely my own issue and if i just put some more faith in them and tried I might have a different experience though...good things to think about. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Kate, I love how you think. I think we have so much in common. (Except for ASL; how I would love to learn that!)

  5. I love your story Wade, and I really like Kari's comment about presence of the trees, mountains, etc. When I took photography as a senior in high school I remember the experience of shooting the Wasatch front. I was looking through the view finder, framing the ridge and the sky, specifically noticing the way the late afternoon sun played off the rocks and trees. Everything in that moment felt more alive than I had ever experienced, and I wondered why I had never noticed it before.