The next Living Faith book takes flight this November

08.07.2016 | Blair Hodges

During the October 2015 General Conference of the LDS Church, President Russell M. Nelson delivered “A Plea to My Sisters,” calling for women in the church to raise their voices:
My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out…Married or single, you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God…Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God.”
front-draftPresident Nelson’s plea seemed serendipitous. Literally days earlier I’d first spoken with Ashley Mae Hoiland, a Latter-day Saint artist and author who seemed like a good fit for the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith book series. Her book, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly, is scheduled to come out this November, just a little over a year after we heard President Nelson’s plea. It will be the first Institute monograph ever written by a woman. Like the other books in the Living Faith series, Hoiland’s is the product of her academic background combined with her faith. Hoiland earned her master of fine arts degree at Brigham Young University, and her book is an experimental collection of stories, meditations, poetry, and original art. She’s speaking out, as President Nelson requested, and her voice will be welcome not only to women in the church, but also to men who stand to gain so much from their perspectives. His plea for women to speak up assumes there will be ears willing to listen. Practically all Latter-day Saints can recite by heart the first four principles and ordinances of the gospel. Faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost each seem neatly connected like sturdy rungs on a ladder in the fourth Article of Faith. But the article points beyond itself—these are only the first principles and ordinances. In our age of geographically precise GPS navigation we search in vain for a divine itinerary precisely outlining the safe route back to our heavenly home. In the gospel of John, Jesus employs a striking poetic device to describe a disciple’s life beyond the first principles and ordinances:
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
One Hundred Birds is closer to Jesus’s description than to the Article of Faith. Hoiland’s personal vignettes, interspersed with her original poetry and art, are loosely grouped according to familiar gospel themes like faith, redemption, and hope, in addition to often-overlooked gospel themes like creativity, laughter, mourning, and beauty. This might challenge readers who are more comfortable following a linear narrative from beginning, middle, to end, but it’s more representative of life’s messiness. The disciple’s life can be unpredictable and surprising, often escaping the linear logic of lists. It’s more like an open canvas than a paint-by-numbers worksheet. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has suggested, we bring our unique perspectives to this task to the benefit of everyone:
Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads us to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold–that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God….As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our social, cultural, and political preferences. The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow disciples.”
With the eyes of an artist, Ashley Mae Hoiland has come to see how holiness saturates everyday life. With the mind of a writer she translates that holiness onto the page so we can catch glimpses of that holiness more clearly. Not leaving the first principles and ordinances behind, she invites us to feel the wind blowing where it pleases. It is ours to spread our wings and learn to fly.

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Keep watching the Institute’s blog (subscribe to it at the bottom of the page) as well as our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds for pre-order information and updates—including a sneak preview of One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly: The Art of Seeking God in the coming weeks. Living Faith logo