“…as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, … what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord …?” – Mosiah 18:8-10
We Mormons make a big deal about our baptismal covenants, renewing them every week with the Sacrament and citing the scripture above – Alma the Elder speaking to his congregation upon the founding of the Church in the Book of Mormon – as an explication of our responsibilities as baptized members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
However, I wonder if we misunderstand some of the things we covenant to do upon baptism. I feel that I have been more often than not willing to negate others’ burdens, to solve their sorrows. We tend to meld Alma’s words: we help others cast aside their burdens, and we comfort those that mourn in an effort to arrest their mourning, like attending to a bawling baby in the middle of the night.
I have two points to ponder.
1. We covenant to mourn.
We like citing 2 Nephi 2:25 that “men are that they might have joy.” We live in a culture rampant with rhetoric of becoming happier, wherein sadness is seen as an anomaly to be cured. Indeed, the most recent edition of the DSM (the manual that provides a guideline for psychiatric diagnosis) has removed the “bereavement exception,” which stipulated that doctors should be loath to diagnose a patient with depression within the two months following a death of a loved one. Now, grief over death can be classified as medically-treatable depression after only two weeks. Being sad is wrong, or even dangerous.
But here we have a command to mourn, and not only that, but to mourn when others are mourning. Not only are we supposed to experience sadness, but it’s not even necessary that it be personal, individual, private sadness: this is social sadness.
Further, it’s more than just a bit of feeling “down.” What does it mean to mourn? Have we done away with our mourning rituals? What are the bounds, if any, to our obligation to mourn?
I used to (and still) find a great deal of comfort in Revelation 21:4, which always recalls to my mind the final chapter of the Chronicles of Narnia: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” But as Mormons, we know that this is not really the case. We are meant to become like God, and God feels sorrow and pain – and weeps. Weeps because of their apathy and hatred. Mourning, weeping, is a godly activity; does our cult of happiness impede our pursuit of godliness?
2. Mourning… because of what?
Another tendency I believe we have is not only to squirm around those mourning, but to mourn with or comfort only those whose mourning we find justifiable.
Perhaps we’re thinking of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10, where he states that contrary to “the sorrow of the world [which] worketh death,” “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” Wishing to be godly, we discern between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow, letting ourselves empathize with the former and admonish the latter.
Can we, however, distinguish what sorrow is godly, and what is worldly – especially in a way that does not judge ex post facto? Does Alma distinguish between the two? What does it mean if our baptismal covenants require us to mourn empathetically for non-godly things, with people who might not be, in our judgment, steering toward repentance?
Perhaps God wishes us to develop this sort of radical empathy, for it is all too easy to Otherize those we deem evil, wicked, or deluded. If instead we treat all mourning alike, we might grow to love more of our fellows more than we already do. Indeed, this might be necessary to cultivate charity. We cannot forget that Alma’s son Alma taught that Emmanuel, God-with-us, “[took] upon him the pains and the sicknesses [and the sins] of his people”(Alma 7:11, 13). Are others’ potentially ungodly mournings things that we must dare to take upon ourselves to be Christlike?
Just a few thoughts. What’re yours?