Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Ok, so you didn't ask for a post on the semantics of reception. But, I've written one, and now you get to decide whether or not to receive--read? internalize? act on?--it.

During his post-resurrection minister Jesus Christ appeared to his apostles behind closed doors, "where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews" (John 20:19). After giving them verbal instructions, "he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22).  This injunction to receive is one that Jesus Christ adapted to multiple occasions. When Pharisees asked him whether it was "lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause" (Matt. 19:3) Jesus responded with the admonition that marriage is be a permanent institution, not a coupling of convenience:

"Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matt. 19:4-6).

Jesus rejected divorce and remarriage "except it be for fornication" (19:9), and his disciples--not the Pharisees!--observed that "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry" (19:10). The Savior responded by teaching that "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (19:11-12). The object or ideal we are to receive in this last sentence is not wholly clear, but I like to think that "it" refers to the doctrine of marriage he's just explained--or, indeed, to a spouse "received" in the spirit of that doctrine.

Certainly Orson Pratt used that language to describe his own marriage; in 1835, he "baptized Sarah Marinda Bates, near Sacketts Harbor, whom I received in marriage upwards of one year after." Christ's biblical commandment to "receive" is preserved in the saving and exalting ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in directives to receive the Holy Ghost or to receive a spouse. But what does such a directive entail?

English language speakers generally use the verb "receive" in a passive sense that involves little or no action on the recipient's part. Students receive grades from teachers (whether they like it or not); murder victims might receive a blow to the head; and family members might receive news of a loved one's passing. To receive, in these instances, requires no action on the part of the recipient. But receiving the Holy Ghost--or receiving a spouse in marriage--requires action, not inert passivity. When, in the game of football, a wide receiver stretches out his hands to catch a pass from the quarterback, he must act aggressively in order to receive:


So too with individuals who wish to receive the Holy Ghost or a spouse; reception requires action. Elder Bednar made this point with reference to promptings from the Holy Ghost, exhorting us to open a pathway into our heart. Quoting from Nephi, Elder Bednar taught that " 'When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth [the message] unto the hearts of the children of men' (2 Ne. 33:1). Please notice how the power of the Spirit carries the message unto but not necessarily into the heart. A teacher can explain, demonstrate, persuade, and testify, and do so with great spiritual power and effectiveness. Ultimately, however, the content of a message and the witness of the Holy Ghost penetrate into the heart only if a receiver allows them to enter."

Receiving the witness of the Holy Ghost is a matter of (actively) preparing a pathway into our hearts and a place within our hearts where he can dwell. If we wish to obey Jesus' injunction to "Receive the Holy Ghost," we would do well to imitate the example of a Shunammite woman described in the Bible. This woman of faith, having seen the prophet Elisha pass by her house regularly said to her husband, "I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither" (2 Kgs. 4:9-10). This faithful woman was not content with allowing Elisha to visit when he knocked on her door; desiring his uplifting and edifying presence in her house on a regular basis, she made her home into a place that was ready to receive the prophet at any moment, a space whose comforts might entice this man of God into visiting her more regularly.

If we want the Holy Ghost to dwell with us, we can't wait for Him to knock on the door, then sweep our dirt under the rug and run around the house searching for a place where He could sit comfortably; rather, we must make our hearts into homes where He always will feel welcome. Only when the Holy Ghost is able to touch our hearts at every hour of the day, as Elisha was able to visit the Shunammite couple whenever he pleased, will we be in full compliance with Christ's commandment to "Receive the Holy Ghost."

The same logic, of course, applies to the work of receiving a spouse. After many wedding ceremonies today, the newly married couple will gather to greet their friends and family for the first time as husband and wife at a wedding reception. This idea of a wedding reception is actually derived from the practice of astrology; according to the Oxford English Dictionary [GATED], the word reception was first used to describe "two planets being received into the other's house, exaltation, or other dignity." A nineteenth-century astrology text cited in the OED explains that "Reception is when two planets are mutually posited in each other's essential dignities." I love this definition, which applies beautifully to the need for a husband and wife to actively receive one another in marriage.

To be posited in the essential dignities of another is to comprehend the worth of that individual and to position those dignities or worthy attributes at the center of your relationship, to privilege the dignity and worthiness of that spouse above all else. In other words, to "receive" a spouse or be "in reception" of a spouse is to center your relationship on the divine (Remember the word's origins in the stars!) worth of your spouse, to recognize him or her as a child of God and to base your relationship on that fact.

Other scriptures provide additional insight as to what it might mean to appropriately receive a spouse. I personally treasure the counsel given to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants as they worked together in a close partnership to advance the kingdom: "Admonish [Joseph Smith] in his faults, and also receive admonition of him" (6:19). Surely this counsel should also apply to husbands and wives who have covenanted to receive a spouse in marriage. After all, a wife who has centered her marriage around the essential dignities of her husband will likely find little to admonish him for, and a husband who recognizes the essential dignities of his wife would be willing to receive her admonitions in a spirit of meekness.

Every member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has covenanted to receive the Holy Ghost, and every couple who has been sealed by the priesthood in a temple of God ought to receive his or her spouse in the manner of Oliver Pratt. To receive is not merely to passively accept but to actively prepare a place for, to entice and welcome, to dwell on the dignity and worth of the individual being received, and to welcome admonition from that companion. I find it significant that we have been commanded to enter into the same type of relationship with our spouse that we engage in with a member of the godhead; keep that in mind when next you head to a wedding "reception."

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