Consecrating Our Talents Etc.

A little over a decade ago, I had met several of my goals as a writer. I had won awards and published books. Strangely, I found that publishing wasn’t that big of a deal. Neither was winning an award. I even faced a rather embarrassing situation after I was given a medal for my fiction. I was joking around with my family and put the medal on, saying, “What if I really wore this thing?” Then, of course, I forgot that I was wearing it. Sure enough, company arrived, and there I was wearing my medal, as though it were part of my daily wardrobe. It was like answering the door wearing a tiara, swimsuit, and a queen’s robe.

I could write stories which made it into some good journals, but I wasn’t at all sure that a well-crafted sentence mattered much–certainly not nearly as much as it once had, when I was embarking on my dream to become a published writer. Now I really wanted to write something of importance, not just something that might win an award. I wanted to consecrate my talent, and I prayed for guidance to do just that.

Very soon after, I started writing about black Latter-day Saints, though I knew none. Within a month, a black woman moved into my ward, a former civil rights activist, and we became close friends. Within a few weeks, I met Darius Gray, a black man who had joined the Church in 1964. We teamed up and eventually wrote three books and made two documentaries. Both of us felt that these projects were consecrated ones. We were offering our talents to God.

Now, just because we considered that our books and films were consecrated doesn’t mean they were “unspotted.” I am currently revising the trilogy for republication, and I’ve found lots of errors and unwieldy sentences. Many times a student or a fellow ward member will announce that they were merely the conduit to an inspired poem, and that God had actually authored it. They will then recite a rather self-conscious, predictably rhymed, abstract work about some gospel principle. My judgmental self will silently mock the attempt, thinking, “God was having a bad day when he composed that one, wasn’t He.” My more generous self will acknowledge that any attempt to write a poem about faith or love or motherhood (etc.) is an act of courage, and should be honored–probably not with awards, but with kind words. I suspect the angels will be singing lyrics by Blake rather than by Edgar A. Guest, or lyrics in another language and by a poet we’ve never heard of. Still, consecration is consecration, regardless of how flawed the gift is. We have all sorts of stories and songs about that. “The Drummer Boy” and The Littlest Angel come to mind immediately.

In the Association for Mormon Letters, all of us on the board donate our time supporting something we believe in: the best art (film, plays, prose and poetry) which our artists can produce. And it’s an exciting body of work, getting bigger and better every season. We give awards to the best of it, but we’ll look at anyone’s offering.

In that spirit of consecration, we invite you to join us in supporting everything the Association for Mormon Letters stands for. Frankly, we need your help. We are on the cusp of something magnificent in Mormon art, and we invite all to partake and to give. To learn more about our efforts and how you can be a part of them, see http://www.mormonletters.org/Join.aspx

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8 Responses to Consecrating Our Talents Etc.

  1. Boyd Petersen says:

    Margaret, I love this post. I think consecration is central to being Mormon. We are told to consecrate everything to building up the Kingdom. We want to live the law by giving our all to the Lord; however, we don’t really appreciate in Mormon culture the idea that we should make that gift our very best, that consecration requires developing talents, study, sweat, and toil. Consecrate literally means "to make sacred with." I believe the best Mormon art does create the sacred, and it does so by artists actually developing their talents and then creating works that take our theology seriously and grappling honestly with the lived experience of Mormons. Too often we try to consecrate our shallow thoughts, our trivial ideas to the Lord. But I think that’s a hollow gift. Consecration demands exertion.

  2. Th. says:

    .

    I agree with all above, but I want to point out that consecration is also wholly personal — between the individual and the Lord. Someone else’s consecration might well look nothing like mine — like something it would in fact be sinful for me to perform.

    But with that caveat, I think consecrated work will check a few boxes — things like exertion that Boyd mentions.

  3. Jeffrey Needle says:

    Margaret, this, as Boyd points out, was just beautiful. Thanks to you, I can now set to writing, even if what I write is terrible, knowing you’ll cringe inside but be kind on the outside…<grin>.

    I do hope many consider what you wrote. And the news that Standing on the Promises is being re-edited for republication is good news, indeed. Is Deseret Book going to publish it again?

  4. Margaret says:

    Jeff, you are not capable of writing anything terrible, and I have actually noticed that you are always kind–often far kinder than I would be in your plethora of reviews. But yes, I would be kind to you even if you wrote something stupid. I would also defend a snowman in Hell until the last drop.

    We’re doing some interesting things with publication. I’ll talk to you about it when we have our lunch.

  5. Jeffrey Needle says:

    I shall sleep better tonight…<grin>

    I’m really looking forward to the lunch. I’m getting together a few more people, some from BYU. It should be a great time.

    See you soon! And thanks for the good words.

  6. Margaret (if I dare be so familiar),

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments about consecration. It is one of those words that holds a universe on its shoulders, isn’t it? As a writer working away in my quiet little corner, I find that I need regular reminders that the "gift" is a conditional one, and that if it is to be improved, it must be first "given back" to its original and ultimate owner. I had thoughts about this concept in a blog post I did last summer, should you care to browse:

    http://sleye1.blogspot.com/2009/07/practice-makes.html

    I want to also thank you and Mr. Gray for the wonderful work you have done and are yet doing to tell the very important stories about our African-American brothers and sisters. When I wrote my play "Free At Last" and had it produced at BYU a thousand years ago, I wish I would’ve had your work available for reference and insight. It might’ve been a much better play, or at the least I would’ve had more understanding of what it meant and means to be a black Latter-day Saint.

    All the best in your continued consecrations. I am better because of you.

  7. Margaret says:

    Scott–I read your link with great interest. It is lovely.
    Could you contact me off-list? Darius and I would love to meet you. I teach at BYU and so am easy to find. To be honest, the next few weeks are pretty packed, but we’d love to find the time to get together with you when we’re all in town.

  8. Margaret,

    I’ve used the "Contact" link to send my phone numbers and email address. If there is another way I should attempt to send my information, please let me know.

    Regards,

    Scott

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