Monday, December 5, 2016

Are You Terrible or Blessed?

In Moscow, Russia, at the far end of Red Square, stands the iconic and beautiful St. Basil's Cathedral. There is a tragic, thought-provoking story behind this building. Have you heard it?

Once a church, this unrivaled structure was not built by a saint—nor was it originally made to memorialize any Christian virtues. It’s construction was ordered by the Tsar, Ivan Grasni, a man history knows as Ivan the Terrible. This building was to commemorate his victories in war.

Ivan the Terrible was an iron-fisted ruler whose brutal legacy has haunted Russian history and politics. Given to paranoia and fits of rage, Ivan conquered nations and killed thousands and even murdered his own son. But just outside the Kremlin walls there was one man whom Ivan feared—a peasant by the name of Basil.

Those who knew Basil considered him a prophet. He saw things which others could not and did things which others would not. In heat of the summer and in the cold winter, Basil would walk the streets with little clothing, giving whatever he had to those in need. In sharp contrast to the murderous, opulent tsar behind the Kremlin wall, Basil lived humbly and nurtured life in others. On numerous occasions, Basil openly rebuked the Tsar, calling him to repentance.

Racked with guilt—Ivan would often send gifts to the prophetic peasant, hoping to appease him. But Basil would simply give the gifts away.

Time passed, and Ivan continued to wage costly wars while Basil gave what little he had to a precious few. Ivan became more hated and infamous, while Basil became more loved and venerated. When Basil died, Ivan was overcome with grief and did something that no one expected. He left the Kremlin walls and carried the peasant’s coffin to the Cathedral where they buried him.

The humble heart of a peasant had melted the heart of a tyrant.  From then on, the building was known as St. Basil’s Cathedral—in honor of the peasant prophet.

This story prompts me to ask: Am I symbolically more like Ivan the Terrible or St. Basil the Blessed? Do I live for myself, as Ivan did? Or do I give of myself, as Basil did? For the way we live our lives has an impact—not only on ourselves, but on those around us, and on the generations that will follow us.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sacred Writings | A Map for Your Journey

It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home. And I believe that scriptures, great literature, and inspiring words are the maps we are to use on our journey.

For me, reading and writing have been life-changing agents; scriptures and stories are powerful tools to help me move forward. Time and time again, I have learned that, while medicines can heal the body, inspirational words can heal the soul. Inspired words are like guideposts, markers, or constellations that show us the way home.

There is an ancient legend that tells of a people who built their community at the base of a sacred mountain. It was believed that this mountain was the gateway to heaven and, as such, members of the community would carry their dying loved ones up the mountain and remain with them until they passed on. It was their way of giving their loved ones to the gods.

One day, a young man was carrying his elderly father to the top of the mountain. His father was very sick and frail. Yet, as they climbed, the old man would reach out and grab handfuls of branches and leaves from the nearby trees, and drop them on the ground.

About halfway up the mountain, the young man stopped and asked his father why he was dropping branches and leaves on the ground. Tears streamed down the old man’s face as he replied, “Son, when I die, I want you to find your way home.”

I think great stories and literature are like branches on our path. Our wise ancestors (and those who have gone before us) have left these stories for us so that we could find our way home—so that we could move forward.

Friday, December 2, 2016

See Your Life With Two Sets of Eyes

The Journey Home - by Jon McNaughton
It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home.

If we are to progress on our journey, I think we need to approach each new day with "two sets of eyes." With our physical eyes, we need to see our life for what it is—the tangible reality of every day life: the physical, financial, mechanical struggles of every day life.

But I also think we need to see our life with spiritual eyes. That is to say, we need to interpret our physical struggles as spiritual struggles. This idea is one of the main themes of my novel, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern. Nathaniel, a talking raven, states it rather simply by saying "Everything you see is merely a symbol for things you do not see."

The physical mountain we are climbing could be comparable to our battle with addiction. Every morning is the chance to have a new beginning. Our physical hunger and fatigue should remind us of our need to be fed spiritually.

In the video below, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a leader in the LDS Church, shares the powerful story of his family's escape from East Germany into West Germany. He then compares this journey (and other "journeys") to our spiritual sojourn on this earth.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pilgrims on the Earth

I think that for the past ten years I have been an Alaska Pilgrim, a man seeking the Northern Lights o life. Almost thirty-one years ago, I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. My family lived there for another eight years before we moved to the western United States.  I loved growing up in the lower 48, but I have always missed Alaska. I missed looking up at night and seeing the Northern Lights.

In January of 2007, I was feeling lost and I made a brief "pilgrimage" back to Anchorage. I needed to get my bearings. I needed to see the Northern Lights and remember that there truly is light in the darkness.

I saw the Northern Lights.

And since then, I have traveled all over the world seeking the Northern Lights of Life—inspiration sent from Heaven, to guide us back home.

For truly, are we not all pilgrims on the earth? Are we not all trying to find our way home? In the book of Hebrews, Paul referred to the followers of God as "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" who "desire a better country, that is, an heavenly" country. (Hebrews 11:13)

There is a common thread that runs through many popular books and movies. It is this idea that the protagonist, or the main character, is "out-of-place," that he/she isn't liked, isn't normal, doesn't fit in, or feels like something is missing. Bilbo Baggins doesn't fit in with his company of dwarves; Harry Potter is a stranger to the Wizarding World; Lucy and her family were living in the country, away from family, when she entered the wardrobe and discovered Narnia.

Why do you think that is? Why is it that so many of the most popular books and novels rely on this idea, or theme, of being an outcast?

Because that's how we all feel.

Strangely enough, the feeling of being alone, of being an outcast, of feeling out-of-place, is the universal feeling of mankind. Why? I think it's because we are all pilgrims. This isn't our real home—not really. There is a "better country" beyond this, and our life on this world is but a pilgrimage, a journey to that better country.

So keep your spiritual eyes open, Pilgrim. For there are celestial lights all around us, urging us forward—toward that better country.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gold in the Superstition Mountains

There is a range of mountains in Arizona known as the Superstition Mountains. Long ago, a Dutchman claimed to find a secret cache of gold there, but he died before he could reveal the location of the treasure.

Conversely, the Native Americans have long believed the Superstitions Mountains to be a sacred place. According to legend, the mountains are home to the Thunder God.

Over the past year, I have hiked all over the Superstition Mountains. I haven't found the gold, but I have had a lot of good talks with God. While walking up and down those mountain paths, His voice has whispered to my soul, and it's caused me to make thunderous changes in my life.

And that, to me, is worth more than a fabled treasure.