One day a celebrity actress boarded my subway car as I was commuting from Brooklyn into Manhattan. She was in sunglasses and sandals, alone with her little daughter strapped on in a baby carrier. She sat down across from me, and the woman next to her immediately complimented her baby without showing any awareness that she was talking to a famous person. What followed was a normal conversation about Halloween costumes, sibling rivalry, and pregnant friends suffering through bed rest. Any young mother might have had similar things to say.
Now, celebrity sightings are one of the potential perks of living in New York City, but when it comes right down to it, they usually leave me feeling dissatisfied at best. So what if I’ve spotted Adrian Brody on the sidewalk or Salmon Rushdie in the bookstore? It’s not as if these chance encounters constitute any real quality time — it’s not as if I’ve made a new friend. But as I sat across from this actress, trying not to look too interested, I thought about how conversation made everything different, and how the neighborliness of the exchange made me feel a kind of ironic excitement. That is, I realized that if the thrill of meeting a celebrity was seeing her act like a normal person with normally interesting things to say, why shouldn’t I be just as excited to have similar interactions with the people around me in my everyday life? I walked off the train a few minutes later with the thought that conversations themselves are the real thrill. Connecting with another person is the miraculous thing.
I think about conversation a lot when I read the writings of Moroni. I love Moroni. He talks right to his readers, telling us that he has seen our day in vision. He’s separated from us by centuries of time; even so, his voice is confiding and close. His conversation is insistent, begging us to listen and then take our turn—- not to reply to himself, but to speak to God, asking for whatever wisdom or blessing we lack.
Ether 12 models this kind of divine conversation for us. In this chapter, Moroni gives us a long list of miraculous results of faith, a parallel to the list of Hebrews 11 and a summary of some of the more astonishing events of the Book of Mormon. Faith is declared to be our anchor; it propels God’s work forward. But after listing off these miracles, Moroni comes to the sticking point of his own hoped-for miracle. What is this miracle? It is the record itself, carefully compiled and edited, later to be hidden and preserved for people not yet born, people who wouldn’t even speak Moroni’s language. Could there be anything more requisite of miraculous power?
Moroni doesn’t doubt the Lord, but he does doubt his own abilities to fulfill his personal role in this miracle. His response to his own fears is to express himself simply and plainly to the Lord.
I remember a missionary contact who, describing her first attempt at prayer, laughed at herself for feeling like she had to introduce herself to God. That’s the paradox, right? On the one hand, God is powerful, unseen, and omniscient. He knows everything, and it seems silly that we would need to explain ourselves to him. But he invites us to do just that: to speak to him in order to express our hopes and fears, to ask for gifts, to reason, even to argue with him.
Moroni does this in Ether 12. His prayer gives voice to fear; he argues with the Lord when he’s not sure whether things will turn out as he hopes, when he fears that the people will reject what he has written. And the Lord responds with wise comfort.
“Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness” (Ether 12:26-28).
With these words, the Lord reminds Moroni that everyone is accountable for their own conversation with God, but that this divine communion is nothing to fear. In a 19th century novel by Dinah Maria Craik, the narrator describes the best kind of friendship:
“Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
Couldn’t this also describe the kind of friendship the Lord offers us? When Moroni asserts the truth of what he has written and the reality of his relationship with Christ, he says, “he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things” (Ether 12:39). When we come to God in conversation, we meet each other as friends. Instead of formal ceremony, the Lord expects plain humility in our imperfect expression of faith. Then, with “the breath of kindness,” or what Moroni calls grace, he turns it into a miracle of strength and connection. Our conversations with the Lord become our salvation.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
A Boundless Conversation, Stephanie Soper
“I’m not really sure that I had a relationship with God growing up as a Catholic. I believed in Him, but he was this faraway, mysterious person who had no connection to me at all. In Catholicism, I was accustomed to the very rote prayers, and I didn’t realize we could actually talk to God until—in my late twenties—I overhead a boyfriend praying to God as if he were having a conversation.
“About a year later, I was having a crisis; all of the elements of my life seemed okay, but there was a profound emptiness in me and I had no idea how to fill it. One night, I was getting ready to go to a work party, and I began talking to God as I had seen my former boyfriend do. I poured out my feelings. I didn’t realize it then, but I went about it much the same way that Mormons are taught to do: I thanked Him for my blessings and asked Him for what I needed. As I drove to the party, I continued the prayer in my mind. When I was arriving at the location of the party, I knew I needed to wrap up the prayer, but I only had the habits of Catholic prayer, and didn’t know the appropriate words to end a non-standard prayer. I simply said, ‘Thy will be done.’ When I said those words, I realized that I really meant them. It was so clear to me that my own decisions about my life weren’t making me happy, and I was really willing to do whatever God told me to do. In that moment of realization, I thought, ‘If I am going to do God’s will, I need to know what it is.’ And so I asked, ‘What should I do?’ I heard a very clear voice say in my mind, ‘Join the Mormon Church.'”
A Savior to Her Family, Susan Anneveldt
“Stress can sometimes make it hard to make that divine connection through prayer, so you have to work extra hard on it. The best way I can describe it is, if you had a very, very good friend who was very helpful who told you, ‘Anytime you are in need, please call me,’ and then someone cut the telephone wires between you and him but said, ‘Go ahead and call anyway.’ It becomes hard to feel that someone’s listening to you or even to get the feeling, ‘It has been heard.'”
Other Related Women’s Voices
Yielding Our Hearts to God, Neill F. Marriot
“True worship begins when our hearts are right before the Father and the Son. What is our heart condition today? Paradoxically, in order to have a healed and faithful heart, we must first allow it to break before the Lord. ‘Ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit,’ the Lord declares. The result of sacrificing our heart, or our will, to the Lord is that we receive the spiritual guidance we need.”
A Woman of Faith, Margaret D. Nadauld
“A woman of faith trusts God and faces adversity with hope…In prayer she seeks the kind, unfaltering guidance and help of a listening Heavenly Father. As she prays, she listens—allowing the communication to be two-way. She trusts that in His still and quiet way, He will lead her by the hand and give her answer to her prayers.”