Many Mansions

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In the plan for her funeral, Grandma requested that a certain town friend sing: “In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions.”  Following that plan in 1964 , Brother Lister stood in front of the choir seats at the side of the Huntington 2nd Ward chapel. I sat opposite, listening with my parents, siblings (except Mark who had left on his mission four and a half months earlier, right before our mother began losing her mother).
It was the first time in my twelve years that someone close had died. The shock forced me to wrestle with life–or how to make sense when life ends. In the way my emotional development allowed, I must have been searching. Sad news had come on the phone: Mother’s voice from five hours away by car. The day of the funeral, we loaded before dawn, wearing our Sunday clothes, to meet Mother there. Grandma’s casket stood open in the front room of her home where I heard each of three aunts express her grief quite differently (I don’t remember what the three uncles were doing).  Mother must have satisfied any questions I asked because I don’t remember them now. On our way to the church, Mother shed tears freely for a minute or two, explaining, “I’m not crying because she died–I know she’s happy.” (Mother’s father had died more than twenty years before.) “I’m crying because we’re going to miss her.”
Then, in the middle of the funeral, Grandma seemed to speak directly–suspended on the music of a clear, light tenor voice: “If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” I absorbed these as her ideas of Heaven. She had untangled some of the mystery for herself. I was untangling something about her.
I loved the song. So, later, when Mother bought the sheet music for us, my sister Susan and I went to work. I probably don’t remember every performance, but ten years after hearing “Many Mansions” in Grandma’s funeral, my sister played the accompaniment while I sang the piece at Hall Mortuary as part of the University’s memorial service for Dr. Hale, the husband of my brother-in-law’s associate and my accounting teacher Larzette Hale. President Taggart had lured the Drs. Hale to Logan after they had all been friends at another institution. The university president’s tribute was especially personal. There at the service, Dad and Mom–listening to us, their fourth and fifth offspring to attend Utah State–enjoyed what happens when the death of one of its members unites a community (what my niece described, for them, the “fun in funeral”). Dad was effusive. He said he’d never heard piano and voice meld quite so beautifully. The Taggarts and Dr. Hale were also grateful.
When I had stood up to sing amidst all the speeches, I remember being very scared. Perhaps the leap required to open one’s mouth is the gateway to expressing the faith of those gathered, echoing the faith of those who have influenced beliefs about the next life–including Grandma.

One year later, Bob and Ginny called to request Dad speak at his cousin Nell’s funeral in Ogden. The funeral would be conducted by the Presbyterian Church but, by bringing Dad into the picture (who brought along the musical number Susan and I would perform) and  the Sign Language interpreter (a local Relief Society sister), the minister found himself sharing a program with those who spoke a slightly different religious language. As carefully as she had attended to affairs in the event of her death, Nell’s plan needed to be augmented a little with what her only heir, a Mormon convert, and her daughter-in-law wanted to hear–including, perhaps, that she had gone ahead to “prepare a place” for them.

Speaking of those of us who speak Mormon–we resonate to the word “mansions.” It goes with our ideas of reward and a notion of distinct levels–earned by achievement–as we inherit the Celestial Kingdom. How do we imagine this reward? Perhaps we envision our post-mortal home as luxurious, where every comfort is the concern of a perfectly-attentive staff. Perhaps that’s why “mansion” was chosen as the Bible became translated into English. Back then, faithful peasants must have been especially drawn to this hope of Heavenly privilege enjoyed by only the highest caste in their society.

The word used in the original Greek is mone, “dwelling; the act of staying or residing.” (I see a parallel in Spanish with the word hacienda. It could be translated into English as “farm” or even “dude ranch” but the term literally derived from the present participle of the verb “to do” which is  “doing.”) In the same sentence we can apply the biblical meaning of a father’s “house” which is “family.” 

Combining these two definitions, can we understand that we belong to a family where acts of living together are accommodated?

A personal word about “house.” A decade ago, I was desperately trying to save my house, a pursuit I deemed worthy of my prayers. I knew those prayers were heard (just assumed the answer was “no”). But now I see how Heaven graciously interpreted the more important meaning of the word I was using. I have been blessed with the most luxurious house apart from any physical structure. My children sustain acts of dwelling, being present, which I now see as infinitely more valuable than the art on my walls or my relative station in the ‘hood.

More shades in the scripture’s meaning: “I will come again and receive you unto myself.” This Savior doesn’t just show us once. He comes again. If we pattern our behavior after his, we receive him also. Dwelling is the act of being present with the Divine.

Find what’s yours . . . truly, danscir52

copyright 2014 Dan Christensen all rights reserved

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About danscir52

Create! Join in the passion of found art and eclecticism. See the potential in free stuff, thrift store finds, spoils from family treasure and your own evolution. Self-style, design your environment as you reuse, recombine, refurbish, reinvent. Here's a key to sources I might mention: gift from Heaven=the item presents itself when you know to ask for it or when the universe clearing house knows you are about to need it (everything below is a subset of the above); dumpster or curbside=somewhat informal community exchange; DI=Deseret Industries, a church-run, all-items-donated thrift store and sheltered workshop; NPS=National Product Sales aka Market Square, a store whose merchandise comes from trucking and other companies dealing in odd lots and undeliverables; ReStore (Habitat for Humanity)=a thrift store offering donated salvaged and unused materials from remodelings or new construction projects; all the other thrift, discount, and consignment shops waiting for you to find what's yours--and add the love!

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