For a brief time this morning, Handbook 1 was available in full at the church’s website. I don’t know how it got there. It wasn’t there to stay. But it was there just long enough for me to read several sections.
This is one of the most important books the LDS church has, the invisible, omnipresent member of the standard works, its arms wrapped around the covers of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price.
This book is at the core of some of my most painful experiences with the church.
This book is why my civil ceremony, years ago, was held in a crowded, cheerless Young Women’s room. We were told at the last minute that we would not be allowed to be married in the chapel, and that there would be no march down any aisle, and that we would need to pick some hymns.
I stood there in my wedding dress, fighting back tears, trying to find a hymn that a volunteer pianist could play, as my confused nonmember wedding guests filed into the Young Women’s room and helped set up their own metal folding chairs.
The bishop followed the handbook to the letter with the ceremony, being sure to take the opportunity to preach to my husband and me that this ceremony was until death only, and publicly challenged us to achieve worthiness for a later temple sealing. Being spiritually reprimanded in public as part of one’s wedding ceremony is probably not on any bride’s list of hopes and dreams.
It was the handbook to which my leaders continually referred, to explain why they moved the records from ward to ward, how they asked my husband and me about tithing, how we were called to callings. This was the book that explained why and how they did all they did, and was the final, divine word on each subject. If we did not accept The Handbook, we did not accept the Lord.
It was the handbook that my leader obeyed when a bishop subjected me to the repentance process after finding I’d been molested as a young child. It was the handbook that another leader obeyed when he disfellowshipped me for defying him after he’d told me to surrender the baby I was pregnant with to the church adoptive services.
It was the handbook to which my leaders turned when they found that one of my babies had died soon after birth.
“The handbook doesn’t say much,” they said. “We don’t know a lot about the afterlife. But we’re pretty sure that if you strive to be worthy, then you’ll be reunited with your child.”
After all that had happened in my life—after all the times leaders justified control, and imposed suffering, in the name of the holy handbook, written by the finger of God—we had reached a time in my life where I really needed God’s word. All my life I had submitted to the harsh requirements of God’s word. Now I waited for the succor that I had been promised waited for the obedient who mourn…and found that the handbook had nothing to say to me.
The holy handbook from the church–the handbook of forever families, the handbook that has so much knowledge and control over the afterlife that whatever it forbids or binds on earth is bound or sundered in heaven–looked at the one situation for which we needed revelation, and said it had nothing to give. It wasn’t there. It didn’t know how to comfort the living. It only knew how to wound and control.
My whole life I have been judged out of this book that I was not permitted to read, because I am a woman.
Reading the handbook today was like reading the story of my life, in photo negative. I can read between the lines and see myself in the margins, crushed, pushed away by the black and white words that drained my most celebratory, vulnerable, and tragic moments of color and spirit.
Reading this sealed book sacred to our leadership, I see so little of God. But I see so much of me.
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