i’m reading terry tempest williams’ refuge again, looking for a bit of insight into finding peace within myself when external sources of peace seem lost to me. i read it the first time as an undergrad at BYU for an assignment in an english course. my group members and i drove up to the bear river migratory bird refuge to bird watch and take pictures for our presentation. it was beautiful—a brisk, early spring day with a breeze and bright sunshine. as we drove into the refuge a flock of redwing blackbirds rose into the sky. there were hundreds of beautiful tundra swans swimming. and it was clear why this magical place had been a source of refuge, not only for wild birds, but also for its human visitors.
as i re-read, i’m interested in what i found significant enough to mark on my first time through. a handful of quotes have drawn enough notice that i’ve marked them again. some leave me a bit mystified as to what i saw in them. so far i’ve only found one piece of marginalia that goes beyond underlining. williams recounts a family gathering soon after her mother tells them she has cancer. the men in the family gather around to give her a blessing. williams writes:
'kneeling next to my grandmother, mimi, i felt her strength and the generational history of belief Mormon ritual holds. we can heal ourselves, i thought, and we can heal each other.'
i underlined that last line and in the margin wrote: 'not quite—god heals us when we have faith. i wonder if she’s still active.'
when i read my little bit of marginalia, a deep wave of shame washed over me. not shame at my belief that god heals us through faith. i still believe in the healing power of faith in god. but because i read williams’ words as heretic enough that i judged her as 'not quite' right in her views and questioned her standing in the church.
looking back on my note after a decade, i see in my younger self some of the very tendencies that most upset me about mormon culture and attitudes. we are so confident in our own understanding of the world, that we forget that our knowledge is incomplete. that simply because we know—or think we know—one thing, doesn’t preclude the possibility of truth in other ideas or understandings. as my own understandings of mormon teachings have deepened and become nuanced, i have often been frustrated at the closed forum of mormon meetings. too often our sunday meetings are about reiterating prescribed understandings, rather than exploring the gospel’s possibilities. and my soul hungers for the opportunity for that exploration.
when i re-read 'we can heal ourselves, i thought, and we can heal each other,' i no longer saw misunderstanding. instead i saw revelation and i underlined the words again.