And They Were Not Ashamed

[ 14 ] Comments

by Bonnie

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris“I hid myself, because I was naked.”

Adam and Eve have been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been wandering through the garden, imagining. In Moses’ rich allegory, they were created in a state of nakedness but “they were not ashamed.” Nakedness is a lovely symbol, layered and sweet long before it is embarrassing and vulgar. Baby skin, touchable, innocent, free, natural, wholesome, pure, unadulterated: with no perfumes or coverings it is holy in and of itself. There is nothing shaming in that kind of nakedness.

But it is also not fully developed. Knowledge of good and evil was a profoundly worthwhile gift, but with it came the ability to perceive nakedness and imperfection. We dance with shame all throughout our lives as we test this ability to perceive, learning to pare away shame and find imperfection, then work toward perfection. We see, alright, and we want to hide. Every imperfection glares and seems the most crucial detail about us. Every mistake sends us searching for fig leaves.

Today I am fascinated with God’s first gift: coats of skins. He understood that as we partook of this ability to see good and evil, our first awareness would be of our own inadequacy. He knew it would make us want to hide from him and lose the blessing of his fatherly companionship. He knew we would feel intimidated to come into his presence, even after enjoying it so long. He knew this would be the first tendency of mortality – to hide from God.

So he fashioned coats of skins (or as some early writers have translated, garments of light). Of more enduring substance he created something that makes us feel more comfortable in his presence, something that covers our nakedness while we’re figuring out who we are, something that allows us to shift our attention to other opportunities provided by the ability to discern between good and evil. His first gift was to make us comfortable in his presence, to allow us to shift our attention to working and serving each other, to living.

We are told that the covenants we are allowed to make with God are represented by those coats of skins, and I have been thinking today how my covenants make me more comfortable in the presence of God, how they throw a cloak of mercy over my inadequacies, which are many and thorough. I am overwhelmed by the perceptiveness of that gift. Sometimes I cling to my fig leaves and stay in the thicket instead of embracing the opportunity my covenants provide to come out and talk to God.

Today I am not ashamed, thankful for a coat of skins.

Image: detail of the entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.

About Bonnie

Living life determined to skid sideways into the grave and say, "MAN, what a ride!"

14 Responses to And They Were Not Ashamed

  1. Kelsey says:

    Hi Bonnie,
    I’m curious, how exactly do your covenants make you more comfortable with God? It seems to me like covenants actually highlight our weaknesses- we essentially make promises we are bound to fail at. Which ideally, compels us then to apply the atonement in our life. But I have trouble understanding how promises that highlight our woeful inadequacy make you feel more “comfortable in his presence.”
    Thanks.

  2. Tiffany W says:

    I have always thought of covenants as bridging the gap between our inadequacies and weaknesses with our perfect Heavenly Father. I don’t think our covenants highlight out weaknesses as much as they offer hope and a way to move forward through the Atonement.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Kelsey, it’s a good question. I think the first reaction to any contract is to look at the edges, that place where it is broken. We, from the time we are children, are very interested in boundaries. We want to know the edges of our promises with one another (when will you not love me, mommy?) so that we know where we stand. It’s why the ten commandments are so perfect. They are boundaries. They give us a very clear understanding of where we stand with God, at least on the edges where we cease to stand with God.

    But the Atonement is a different level, and the reason for all those millennia of preparation. It’s about a relationship instead of merely a contract. The Atonement is an agreement to keep talking, no matter what. It’s God’s promise to us that we can never stray out of his loving embrace as long as we will return to him, and it’s our promise that we will always remember him. The door, always open. It’s his promise to extend mercy while we figure out how to live our lives in this necessary space between action and justice that Alma talked about.

    Because of that, our covenants are a promise that, like the prodigal son, we can always come back. The separation is all our choice, not God’s. We are clothed with mercy, he remembers our inadequacies no more, and all he sees are our honest efforts at understanding, to use the gift of perception and experience that this life is.

    Satan’s efforts, from the very beginning, are focused on damaging that relationship. “See, you are naked.” They hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out. The spirit helps us see where we are imperfect (that’s the gift of this life); Satan makes us feel inadequate about it. The Atonement, long misunderstood as our childish foolishness creating pain for our Savior, is a garment of light laid over our imperfection, mercy extended merely on the grounds that we repent, a promise that our nakedness is not sufficient to make us unsuitable to converse with him, even while we are in process of perfection.

  4. Brenna says:

    I love this. I remember my mission president teaching us, “Adam offset personal weakness by covenanting with the Lord.” He then went on to teach that by virtue of our making covenants that God was then bound to help us keep them and would give us power to do so. I have spent a decade pondering those words and what they mean. I have tested it, myself, and found that when I promised the Lord I would stop delaying in changing some area that needed to be changed, I have almost instantly felt an outpouring of extra strength and have been given “eyes to see” why I needed to change and what would come from making the change. Also, a sister recently gave a talk in our ward where she discussed the relationship between grace and works. She said that grace is what makes us feel comfortable with God on our turf, but works are what make us feel comfortable on His turf. As we do good works, we become more like him, and as we are more like him we’re more comfortable being “on his turf”. I think that same thing is true of covenants. It’s a sense of security that we can practice and move around in these skins of ours without the fear of complete and utter failure beyond repair. And just as literal skin can heal, our covenants, our coats of skin, remind us that our spirits can heal, too. I love it!

  5. Michelle says:

    I havr been thinking a lot about these kinds of concepts as well, Bonnie. Some of it feels beyond words for me but you have captured some sentiments here in a way that is meaningful to me. It resonates with the feelings I have about what I,m coming to experience about the Atonement. It is awe-inspiring to taste of glimmers of grace. So different from the shame I have known for so long and my pitiful efforts to try to save myself.

  6. Kelsey says:

    Bonnie, thank you for the thoughtful response. I really, really love what you wrote about the atonement. I was really touched.

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around how covenants fit in though- which is a reflection of my own broader, current effort to understand the purpose of covenants. I see the beautiful role of the atonement in the picture you’ve drawn, and I love how you’ve described it as a conversation. My question is, why complicate that open, honest conversation with covenants? It seems kind of simple and beautiful without introducing boundaries, as you said. It seems like the atonement “conversation” already includes the promise that we can come back.

    That said, of the covenants we make, I think baptism fits in pretty well with applying the atonement- it’s a broad promise to keep the commandments and remember the Savior (atonement). So the rest of our covenants seem kind of superfluous after that. If we’ve already covenanted to keep all the commandments, why the specificity of the endowment? What does it profit us, when our first covenant already covers all the commandments we specifically covenant about in the temple? Why is anything needed beyond the baptism covenant?

    I know I’m straying a bit from your initial theme, but this is something I’ve been think a lot about, and I appreciate your perspective. And I think it ties in generally to the theme you’ve presented here about how covenants bring us to God. I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me again.

    • templegoer says:

      Thanks for that Kelsey as it normalises my thinking right from the first time I attended the temple-‘didn’t I already promise to do that stuff?’
      I’m still not able to rationalise it, other than that this is what God requires me to do, and actually for me, that covers it. I always thought that I was good with symbolic thinking, that I was happier with it than with literalism, but as it turns out , not so much. So, I either get myself a big headache very time I go-migraine, or I just walk on through. I struggle with obedience so I struggle with ritual.

  7. Bonnie says:

    I can completely understand your quandary, Kelsey. I came from a Protestant background where faith is sufficient to keep one in a true and growing relationship with the Savior that is … sufficient. And it is, which is why it’s so confusing. I don’t know that I have my mind completely wrapped around The Truth, and even if I did I don’t know if I could articulate it, but I’ll share what I believe as best I can.

    My journey to understand covenants began when I had an epiphany while reading Jacob’s recitation of Zenos’ allegory of the olive vineyard. I had always read it as an allegory of the history of the plan of salvation as acted out on Earth, with geographical markers and definitive race references. Then one day I realized that it was the story of a servant’s personal journey, the journey of Everyman. Initially he was trained and then he was given a stewardship, and then he became like the Master. It has changed the way I view my relationship with God. He’s not just interested in bringing us back to his presence; he is interested in this time of our lives best preparing us to do what he does.

    In light of that, we first approach him through his mercy, through baptism and the simple covenant to always remember him, but it’s very easy for that to be about living our lives halfway, going about our business and paying homage to him here and there. Wearing a cloak of mercy, having that door remain open, allows us to do that with a measure of confidence, not worrying about each error we make, truly making this laboratory experience useful. I think of Miss Frizzle’s admonition: Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy! We can do that better if we’re not so worried about being naked.

    At some point however, like the servant, we grow confident with that relationship and we want to do more. The Lord asks us our opinions instead of telling us what to do, and eventually he even grows dramatic and vows to burn down the vineyard, at just the point when we are so invested that we would stand up for the vineyard with a love of the place that parallels his. That doesn’t come through simply “remembering him.” That comes when we make additional, more invested covenants.

    If you consider carefully the covenants we make in the temple (there are 5), they circumscribe increasing depth of commitment and are far deeper and more profound than they at first seem. The practical keeping of them builds within us a perspective that is like God’s and they serve as the perfect training to do what he does. Without them we would arrive at the judgment docile and obedient and childlike.

    What is an even greater wonderment to me is that the cloak of mercy, that open door inviting us to both seek further light and knowledge and to continue to feel confident in his presence, is needed throughout the increasing understanding and experimentation that we gain, because the stakes grow higher when we increase our discipleship and the risks of erring can seem even more overwhelming. Consider how much more damage you can potentially do when you have an audience of millions, or when your priesthood responsibility grows to include more people? The threat of being exposed as naked is exponentially greater, and those garments of light grow exponentially more valuable.

    Thus these covenants provide a structure or framework of growth, much like a degree program should if higher education actually prepared anyone to do a specific job. Without them, we are pretty much on our own to learn something that is beyond our ken to even understand.

  8. templegoer says:

    Great post Bonnie, this stuff is deeply personal.
    I do get that the temple is the graduate program. It may be that I am no longer as invested as was in the past and am not willing to sacrifice relationships in my family as I once was in order to build the kingdom. I think I would make other decisions now.
    Since my family have made choices that would indicate they are not at present ready to invest in temple ordinances, I hesitate to separate myself any further from them and choose to serve them in preference to serving at church. I made the mistake I now realise in the past of choosing church service over serving my elderly non member in laws, I really regret that I was so busy looking elsewhere that I really did not notice their needs, and they would not ask.
    I don’t mean to threadjack, just that I became a little bedazzled by what I thought I was supposed to be doing, and failed to notice the most essential service that was there for me to do. I was apparently obedient to those covenants, and may appear less so now, but I feel that unless my family have a conviction of my loyalty to them, than I really have nothing to work with in drawing them closer to God.
    I very much value my covenants, but maybe I apply them in a more inclusive arena than I may have in the past. I hope to live and learn.

    • Bonnie says:

      As you say, very personal. I have made some decisions in my life (some very recently) which I’m sure caused others to scratch their heads, and probably a few to make “she’s way off track” observations. If we are searching for our place in life, the place to which we were called, it may look quite different from someone else’s. I am sure that your journey, when God is invited to go with you, is as valuable as mine or anyone else’s who has so issued that invitation to God. I am awfully fond of Abraham’s words, “I, Abraham, saw that it was needful that I obtain another place of residence.” I’m sure his life choices looked pretty weird to his Chaldean friends.

  9. ji says:

    There is a connection between covenants and ordinances, and we learn in D&C 84 that the power of Godliness is made manifest to man in the flesh only through the ordinances of the priesthood.

    “His first gift was to make us comfortable in his presence” There is so much power in the covenants we make. I appreciate your sharing of your insights.

  10. Sandy Trotter says:

    I so appreciate you helping me to see deeper and clearer. You constantly inspire me. It is a treasured gift having known you and being able to call you my Friend and Sister.

  11. To me, ther being naked wasn’t necessarily actual nudity, but the state of not being covered by the Atonement. before eating the fruit, they had no need for the Atonement, as they had done nothing that would seperate them from God. Once they had, they tried to cover themselves, but they were later “covered” by Christ, being the atonement. The garments we are given are a representation of the ones given them, reminding us all of our need to be “covered” by Christ. The later story of Noah being drunken and naked leans toward a different meaning, where something he did caused him to no longer be covered, and the different reactions of his sons to it.

    But I do like this way of thinking of it as well. Thanks for the post.

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