by Bradly Baird:
On that day I prayed the Kaddish. On that day I understood its meaning - turning from death to life itself. On that day the heavens opened above and I saw twenty-nine souls connected. The eternities waited and the work waited. On that day, Heaven visited me at Mountain Meadows.
Early one bright Sunday morning, I prepared myself to attend church when I discovered that I neglected to pack a white dress shirt in my luggage - we had traveled that Memorial Day weekend to visit family in St. George; and, sadly, I did not have any other clothing that would function appropriately for Sacrament Meeting. I felt somewhat stupid for the mistake and rather forlornly sent my family off to church, preferring to be at home with the scriptures and video recordings of General Conference than to feel uncomfortable and disrespectful in Sacrament Meeting.
I grabbed my scriptures and sat down to watch the opening of the April 2014 General Conference, hoping to bring a strong measure of the Spirit into my heart since I wouldn't be able to take the Sacrament that day. President Monson gave his traditional welcome and then Elder Holland stepped to the podium to offer a wonderful sermon on the costs of discipleship. He spoke the final words of the address:
In courageously pursuing such a course, you will forge unshakable faith, you will find safety against ill winds that blow, even shafts in the whirlwind, and you will feel the rock-like strength of our Redeemer, upon whom if you build your unflagging discipleshipI felt a sudden rush of inspiration, and the currents of recent thoughts about the time of year, personal acts of commission, and a book I recently read rapidly intersected in my mind to form a complete idea.
This included images of the Mountain Meadows gravesite (it is situated about 30 miles from my Mother-In-Law's home in St. George), strong feelings about making some private act of memorial in honor of the dead, and then the Jewish prayer for the dead, the Kaddish (I recently read Anita Diamant's book on this subject). I knew, then, in that moment what my worship would include that Sunday morning.
All through the drive up to the gravesite, the same thought and feelings re-appeared in my head and in my heart: that somehow the veil would be thinner that morning and that I would be walking amongst those who had passed into the next life; even though I was not related to any of them, nor was I pursuing any work of salvation on their behalf. Yet, somehow I was compelled to complete this action.
I arrived at the gravesite and discovered that I was alone in this little valley. The day was bright and a wonderful breeze flowed across the green fields that surrounded this quiet place. I walked from the parking lot along the concrete path that led down to a wooden bridge, across a stream, and up a slight incline on the other side to the gate of the gravesite.
I entered the gravesite and wandered around the giant rock cairn that towered over the vault where 29 citizens of Arkansas rested and waited. I sat myself down upon a stone bench, and pulled out a copy of the Mourner's Kaddish, the version from the Siddur of the Congregation Beth-El of the Sudbury River Valley, and quietly began to recite the text.
The words are lovely and somehow felt appropriate in this setting; however, when I concluded the prayer, I did not feel as though I had fully completed this personal act of memorial. Something was lacking or missing in my recitation of the prayer. Quietly, I was struck by another feeling of inspiration and I wondered how the prayer might feel if I chanted it openly with full-voiced - yet reverential - singing.
I stood up, walked to the corner of the stone wall that surrounded the gravesite, situated myself on one ledge of the wall so that I was elevated over the gravesite and then began again to recite the Kaddish. This time, I vocalized the words in improvised chant being very careful to enunciate the words clearly and to intone a beautiful, gentle, moving melody.
The effect was remarkable. The prayer flowed from my mouth and I was filled with the Spirit; and in a moment I understand its meaning. It had the powerful effect of turning my thoughts away from the darkness and despair of losing loved ones toward eternal life. My mind was cast skyward and filled with a remarkable hope of the coming eternities.
I could feel the great power of our Heavenly Father filling the earth set out beneath the vast Heavens above my head, with a surety that the life to come is connected inexorably with the redemptive work currently forging connections between the generations in more than one hundred forty temples scattered across the planet.
On that day I prayed the Kaddish. On that day I understood its meaning - turning from death to life itself. On that day the heavens opened above and I saw twenty-nine souls connected. The eternities waited and the work waited. On that day, heaven visited me at Mountain Meadows.
Bradly Allen Baird is the father of two amazing children and has been married for almost twenty years. He served a mission in Finland, though he was really supposed to serve in Uruguay. His professional meanderings include everything from education to economic development, to human capital management in the IT industry (hopefully this one sticks); and spends his Saturdays hanging out with the missionaries in Provo, or racing back and forth between his children's activities in tae kwon do and elite cheerleading. Bradly also survived an MBA program; developed a somewhat limited interest in music, theater, film, urban planning, judaica, liberation theology, politics, israel, and latin american history; studies the influence of graphic imagery on public space; wrote a thesis about Leonard Bernstein, is obsessed with the American Symphonists, and reads publications like The Tablet and the Jewish Daily Forward.
Image credit: Bradly Baird (used with permission).