As She Tried Out All of Her Sounds

Conference napping, starting young.

Every six months, Mormons listen to what we call General Conference, which means, theoretically, all 14 million of us gather and listen to talks by church leadership. There's a physical meeting in Salt Lake, and the rest of us watch it in our chapels and, increasingly, over the Internet on our various devices. It's four 2-hour sessions (with a bonus session for men), and it fills up the weekend.

Six months ago, I was literally two days away from having a baby, and let's face it, I slept through most of it, despite my efforts to stay awake. I'd sit down for a moment, pull it up on my iPad, and immediately zonk out. I got some really solid sleep in during those conference sessions, and I don't begrudge my former self a bit of it.

Today, with my baby on the outside, I didn't nap, though she got a pretty solid one in (see above). During the first part, I deep-cleaned my bathroom (party!) while she played with her baby doll and practiced getting up on all fours and rocking, attempting to crawl (which will happen any day now, I'm sure of it). I had intended to do more cleaning, since it keeps me awake quite nicely, but I decided I just wanted to hang out with Henrietta instead. We sat on my bed, and I tickled her and she giggled, as is her job.

At the end of the first session, a woman said the closing prayer. It was a short, simple prayer, but it made history. It's the first time, in 183 years of General Conference, that a woman has offered a public prayer, the first time a woman has publicly prayed on behalf of the church as a whole. There isn't an official rule against women praying; they just haven't.

It seems so small, right? Praying, not praying. But 183 years is a long time.

This change means something to a lot of people. In January, a group of women, including some friends of mine, undertook a campaign called Let Women Pray, meant to urge the faithful to write letters to church leadership, asking them to let women pray in General Conference. Three hundred participants wrote 1,600 letters. I confess I hadn't noticed the lack before hearing about the campaign, but I agreed that it was time. It was beyond time. No skin off anyone's nose to allow it.

I haven't known quite what to say about it all, what to make of it, but I've been thinking about it today, about my friends and their campaign, about a church that I don't think means to overlook women's voices, but does at times. All day I've loved those women for caring about something, for organizing themselves and praying for change and writing letters on behalf of something that mattered to them. And I've loved the church for listening. It's made me proud to be a part of a church that's living and breathing and full of real people with real hearts that long for things and respond to the longing of others.

There's this detail of the story I linked to in the Salt Lake Tribune that I'm even more in love with now: according to a church spokesperson, the prayer assignments were issued before the letter-writing campaign began. What does this mean? To me it means there's something even bigger than our good and living hearts, than our good and living church. It means God began whispering to those women to ask for these prayers at the same time he began whispering to those in charge to give them what they longed for. It could have taken years for the two sides to be ready for each other. Instead, it was almost simultaneous. What benevolent timing.

I was moved as I listened to the prayer. I could only close my eyes briefly, on and off, since I was holding the baby. And whenever I opened them, I looked at her, at her long eyelashes, delicate hands, the scratches she's given herself on her cheeks and the top of her head, at the perfect arcs of her small ears. I was glad of our moment, that the two of us were listening together when Jean A. Stevens prayed for us. Henrietta babbled away as we listened. "Eeeeeeyaa!" she said. And I loved her voice, loved how loud it was, how confident and sure as she tried out all of her sounds.


belann said…
What a lovely piece. I felt very close to you and Henrietta listening to conference at the same time I was. Oh that our family could all live close together.
Terry said…
Those were moving prayers by the two dear sisters who prayed at this conference. I feel blessed by a Church which does all it can to reach out.

I thought that it could have been 2 brethren who offered to give up their opportunity to pray to make this happen.

I also thought of that when listening to the powerful message about belief, doubt and hope from Elder Holland, as I frantically took notes.

He mentioned that we and the Church are "divine works in progress", and that we all need to be patient with one another.

Thanks for your comments, and continuing the proud Earley tradition of getting kids to sleep during Conference.
Amara said…
I didn't even notice! How lame am I? I did notice the opening prayer of the last session, and how dang long it was. Both men and women make the same classic errors if you want to call it that.

My childish sniping aside, I'm so grateful you wrote about this. I read most of it aloud to Jeff and he was amazed too. Wonderfully worded commentary on a historical event!
Anonymous said…
Wow, awesome. God is whispering. (And pictures of sleeping babies never cease to make me all gooey!!!)
Meeshab said…
I was clueless too. You and Henrietta are some powerful babes! I loved Elder Holland's talk. Even my boys couldn't help but listen! I am always so sleepy during conference.

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