By Jeanne Turner
It wasn’t the silence of a pin drop; and it certainly wasn’t the gentle silence of one good sister handing a tissue to another. But it was silence. I should have known that Joseph Campbell and Joseph Smith don’t belong at the same Relief Society meeting.
Well, I did know it, but the Gnome of the Moral Imperative had nudged me that day.
“Tell them about myth,” the Gnome prompted.
“I can’t do that,” I hissed back. “Say the word ‘myth’ in this place, and you might as well be a yodeler in avalanche season.”
“They’re getting it wrong.”
“That’s not true. We all need a myth. Awareness of the myth only threatens our construct of reality. It works because it’s invisible.”
“Do you have a testimony or not?” the Gnome persisted.
Drat. I did have a testimony—a lumpy, misshapen, Mr.-Potatohead-without-cute-accessories testimony, but a testimony all the same. My problem was that it was a testimony about something my Relief Society sisters probably didn’t even know existed.
“Noah, Lehi, and Abinadi did not fear to speak out,” the Gnome chided.
My hand—the weak hand which had made only 1,000 loaves of bread rather than the requisite 10,000; the hand which had changed diapers for a mere two children instead of the whole host of Israel; the rationalizing hand which had spent more time typing than serving in a soup kitchen—yea, my weak and small hand rose high enough to catch the teacher’s eye. It looked pathetic, even as a light on a hill looks pathetic when surrounded by suburban glow.
Then, like Moses with his speech impediment, my stupid mouth opened—only I had no Aaron to translate my words.
I told the sisters how grateful I was for Joseph Smith, how possibly his biggest sacrifice was to give up his identity. The real Joseph had issues (some that I was not about to bring up in Relief Society no matter how many Gnomes whacked me), and he wasn’t perfect. The way I could sustain him as our first prophet was to separate the myth from the man and let him have his own life—warts and all—and not make him be the “Praise to the Man” only.
The silence, the shuffling of feet, the “yes, wells,” and then the recovery as we moved on to real testimonies. Nice save on the part of the teacher. Through the patience exercised by the sisters, and in spite of me, a good lesson was had by all.
Only later, as I sat in the foyer with a sulky Sunbeam on my lap, did someone come up to me. I didn’t even know her name. Like me, she was not part of the core ward. I was student, and she was military—in other words, we wouldn’t be there for the next four generations.
“I wanted to say thanks,” she said. “I had been feeling exactly what you said, but I didn’t know the right words. Can you tell me more?”
For half an hour we talked about myth, about stories, and how we all need the right sort of things to believe in, even if they didn’t actually happen that way. She said she felt better about continuing on in church; she had been wondering and worrying.
And that was it; we didn’t become best friends; I don’t think we even talked again. In fact, she moved soon afterward with the military.
I don’t know where the Spirit was that day, but I do know that there was a smug little Gnome poking me in the bewildered gut saying, “I told you so.”
This essay was originally published in issue 151 of Sunstone.