Guest Post by Louise Hammel. Louise Hammel is a septuagenarian who lives by the sea. She keeps a journal of questions that no one can answer in this life. Still, she wants to know.
When I returned to church activity in the 1990s, I made it a goal to “feast on the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3). One aspect of that was to feast on the words spoken in General Conference since “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38) I bought a journal and sat, ready, in front of my TV to record all I received each broadcast session.
This journal read like transcriptions of conference proceedings. If every copy of the Ensign conference issue on earth disappeared, I would have a record! It also served as a testament of the new faithful me. I used little discernment in my entries. I acted like I was taking a religion class and needed comprehensive notes to prepare for the final exam. If Elder So-and-So said there were 5 steps of whatever principle (aren’t they fond of numbered lists?) I made sure I got them all, as though I would need to know this to get back to Heaven or if quizzed by a Stake President passing by.
My second journal covered a greater span of conference years. I stopped chronicling everything. I continued to watch all sessions in real time, because I wanted to be there if or when a big announcement or revelation was given. I didn’t want to be left behind now that I had found my way back. I still looked forward to conference weekends as a time to focus on the words given by the apostles and prophets. Through the years I captured a fair number of good quotes and a few numbered lists that fostered my spiritual growth and served well for future talks and lessons.
By the time I purchased a third conference journal, my enthusiasm for General Conference had waned. I did look forward to conference Sundays since I could do church at home (a harbinger for my delight having home church the past two years). Fewer talks satisfied my soul. It felt that too many speakers spoke from their heads, not their hearts. Too many discourses were fear-based or a checklist approach to living the gospel. It dawned on me that I had been holding out for direct quotes from the Lord. That was understandable based on the rhetoric I’d heard over the pulpit. I now understood direct statements were not going to come. I realized that the remarks, although inspired, reflected the speaker’s perspective and experiences. And these were almost exclusively male perspectives and experiences. I grew to understand my perspective and experiences were of equal worth for my journey.
Then I was introduced to the tenet “expectations are planned disappointments”. The April 2020 Restoration Bicentennial Conference was my nadir. Oh, how I needed balm for my soul during that horrible spring of pandemic and political upheaval. I found none. I did find myself creating mindless doodles and writing in shout-y caps. I finally began to question the wisdom of investing 8-10 hours in engaged listening for one or two possible insights. I started recording the sessions so I could fast-forward through talks that sedated me. Part of me felt guilty. I had voted to sustain these speakers. Part of me still feared I might miss something critical. Yet the healthy part of me gave permission to focus on what was personally inspiring and let the rest go. What didn’t speak to me might speak to someone else on their stretch of their path.
I don’t know what the next development will be. I may be on my last conference journal, though there are many, many blank pages to fill. I still desire to feast on the words of Christ, spoken or written. I’ve learned to stop looking for quotation marks bracketing them. And I have learned to seek them wherever I can find them.