These chapters and verses on gathering and Zion made me think of so many different things at once. One of these was the opening verses of Ecclesiastes 3:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… a time to break down, and a time to build up… A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together… a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
While there have previously been scattering times, and times of tearing down, ours is a time of gathering and of building.
I also think of the oft-repeated image of Christ as the mother hen, who gathered her chickens under her wings and nourished them, and who would gather her chickens under her wings and nourish them, if they would let her. Just one instance of this is found in 3 Nephi 10:5-6.
My thoughts then go to 3 Nephi 17, one of the chapters covered in the previous lesson. It seems important to me in part because it happens to fall between this week’s chapters of 16, 20, and 21 (it is tied directly to chapter 16), and because it includes Jesus modeling what gathering and building Zion actually looks like:
In chapter 16, Christ spoke of the scattering and gathering of the house of Israel, and other sheep that He needed to minister to and bring into His fold. Then at the start of chapter 17, He says that He has to go to some of those sheep, and that He knows they didn’t understand His words–the very ones about gathering and Zion!–and that it’s ok. He just wants them to go home and ponder them before He comes back the next day, and talks about gathering and Zion again. But, before He leaves, He looks at them, and knows two more things: 1) they are sad and 2) they want Him to stay. He does so for a while longer. As He does, He shows them the words they could not understand by enacting them, which is to say, He gathers and builds.
First He gathers everyone who is sick, who are “lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner,” saying “Bring them hither… Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.” Then He gathers more. “As many as could come for the multitude did kiss his feet, insomuch that they did bathe his feet with their tears.” But He is still not done gathering. He “commanded that their little children should be brought” (11). When they were, He blessed them.
Gathering and Zion then, is saying “Bring them hither” to everyone who needs healing, and then it is healing them. It is overflowing with compassion and mercy for them. It is remembering the children too, and blessing them individually and collectively.
This is why I cannot think of gathering and Zion without thinking of one more thing: Joanna Brooks’s beautiful poem, “Invocation/Benediction,” first published in the Exponent II, and again in Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings:
Father, Mother, help me piece together the contradictions of my life:
White cotton, red satin, brown polka dot; torn Sunday dress, Navajo rug, frayed baby blanket.
Make me insistent on every lonely shred, willing to sacrifice no one.
Where there is no pattern, God, give me courage to organize a fearsome beauty.
Where there is unraveling, let me draw broad blanket stitches of sturdy blue yarn.
Mother, Father, give me vision.
Give me strength to work hours past my daughters’ bedtime.
Give me an incandescent all-night garage
with a quorum of thimble-thumbed grandmothers sitting on borrowed folding chairs.
We will gather all the lost scraps and stitch them together:
A quilt big enough to warm all our generations:
all the lost, found, rich, poor, good, bad, in, out, old, new, country, city, dusty, shiny ones;
A quilt big enough to cover all the alfalfa fields in the Great Basin.
Bigger. We are piecing together a quilt with no edges.
God, make me brave enough to love my people.
How wonderful it is to have a people to love.
Some of the lost scraps and lonely shreds might be the tribes that are lost to us, but not to the Father, that He promises to “gather in, from their long dispersion…and shall establish again among them my Zion” (3 Nephi 21:1), but more might be something else. They might be anyone who is sick, or sad, or feels other (perhaps by living a reality outside of the Family proclaimed ideal). They are anyone who needs refuge or feels like they don’t quite belong. They are sitting on and off the pews, and our only job, as always, is to love them, and fill our hearts (and words and actions) with compassion and mercy for them. This is what gathering and building has always looked like. Good thing we have a blanket big enough and warm enough. Amen.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
A Worldwide Sisterhood, Judy Dushku
“I think women carry many burdens—whether they are women of privilege or impoverished. I feel I understand the hidden and the obvious challenges of most women, and I feel drawn to listen and hear what they say, and offer any encouraging feedback that I can. I don’t usually offer solutions or say things like, “I know exactly how you feel.” That is never quite true. But I can say, “Tell me more. I am hearing you and I think I can understand what you are saying and maybe we can think of ways you might do something just a bit differently and resolve the issues before you.” I find that every woman has “a story” that is in some ways unique to her. I honor that in every sister that I meet—be it in Weston, Massachusetts, USA or in Gulu, Northern Uganda. One of our projects in Uganda is helping women write their own stories, and they love the idea. It makes them feel less invisible and forgotten by the world.”
Holly on the Hill, Holly Richardson
“When I told my husband about the condition of the orphanages, I said, “If there is any way we can continue to adopt children who need families, I want to do it.” It turns out there have been 20 kids we have been able to help in that way. Most of our kids came internationally – there have been a few we’ve adopted domestically – but that was the beginning of our journey with adoption.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
Sisterhood: Oh How We Need Each Other, Bonnie Oscarson
“We have each other—sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been blessed with tender and charitable natures which enable us to render Christlike love and service to those around us. As we look beyond our differences in age, culture, and circumstance to nurture and serve one another, we will be filled with the pure love of Christ and the inspiration which leads us to know when and whom to serve.”
Welfare Principles in Relief Society, Shirley W. Thomas
“Today’s problems of families reflect the increasing complexity of our time. The welfare services of the Church include multiple systems and long-range plans, but the constant through all its development is the application of gospel principles in loving concern for another’s need.”