The Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University has been releasing books in what is called The Living Faith series since 2013. This series has become so integral to my spiritual growth over the past couple of years that I have returned to the pages of the books that sit on my shelves time and time again, amazed at the peace and hope I find in their pages. They have helped me to live my faith more fully, especially on the days when faith hasn’t come easy. Some of the books in the series have been such a light to my dark times, that when a review copy of their latest book came in the mail, I was overjoyed and honored, but also overwhelmed by the opportunity.
That was over a month ago and yet, here I am, on the eve of the release of Ashley Mae Hoiland’s One Hundred Birds Taught Me To Fly: The Art of Seeking God, still trying to find the courage to share some of my thoughts on this newest addition to the series.
I’m so happy to report that Hoiland’s One Hundred Birds easily stands with the likes of Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon and Patrick Mason’s Planted as some of the most beautiful work on Mormonism I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
That’s how far into One Hundred Birds it took to find myself weeping at the connection and power I felt as Hoiland related her stories. The magic in her writing is how she so effortlessly weaves those simple life stories in with the essential, eternal truths we seek to find on a daily basis. Like Hoiland, more often than not, I tend to find God in those tiny moments: dancing with my children, the kind gesture of a stranger, the grace of creation. She reminds me that church should extend passed Sunday and continue throughout the week in our connection with nature and with others traversing this life’s journey.
While Hoiland certainly challenges some ideas and mindsets that have grown out of Mormon culture, rather than focus on the deficits, she lovingly encourages us all to do better. As one who is often frustrated by our culture, I found such strength in her ability to see the goodness and value even in those events in our church experience that we look back on and shudder, knowing they could’ve been handled better. Hoiland patiently chooses to see humor, grace and God through all the little imperfections.
Even with the recent gospel topics essays becoming more integrated into church curriculum and “Heavenly Parents” becoming a more common term in General Conference, the doctrine of Heavenly Mother, in my experience, still only seems to be whispered about, somewhat cautiously, amongst church members. As a child, without being socialized to do so, I would ask Heavenly Father to say hello to Heavenly Mother and to tell her that I loved Her in my prayers. But somewhere along the way, I’m ashamed to say, my awareness of Her, and my longing to reach Her, faded over time. Hoiland is refreshingly candid in relaying her yearning to understand Heavenly Mother and unabashedly testifies that She too is so lovingly in the details of our lives. The greatest strength in Hoiland’s writing may be her understanding of the grace that accompanies this divine parenting. Her stories and artwork reflect the idea of Heavenly Parents at work, reaching out to us in kindness, patience, grace and ultimate charity. Without ever feeling forced or preachy, Hoiland invites us to join in the work by reaching out to connect with and lift others. One Hundred Birds Taught Me To Fly is a reminder that, in the end, charity will not fail.
One Hundred Birds Taught Me To Fly: The Art of Seeking God by Ashley Mae Hoiland is available November 1st.