As a new expat in the United Kingdom, I found I could regard people like postcards, idly turning them over in my mind with mild interest: three-dimensional-me did not expect to be included in a world that felt like a guidebook. At church though, I assumed I would be find instant and comfy assimilation.
Cue the proverbial-culture-shock: we stood on, what to me, felt like an island called the Staines Ward: the most ethnically diverse group of Saints in all of London. Sunday after Sunday, I buzzed round the middle like a flustered bee hitting glass until at last we cross-pollinated: a magic moment that dissolved the window between us.
When I walked into the chapel that morning, I felt drawn to the woman on the other side of the room. She watched me with a shy smile, perfect teeth and wide eyes glistening against a chocolate face. After Relief Society, she inched her way to me, ready to make contact, her beauty even more breathtaking at close range.
"I love your hair," she said.
What? It took me a split second to process her Nigerian spin on English. My hair? My hair is a mass of coarse curls, once brown, now streaked with unruly silver. I dislike it very much most days.
"I love your eyes and face and make-up," she continued passionately.
Blue eyes, white face, Bare Minerals.
"I love the way you talk -- and I loooove," (emphasis on love), "the way you dress."
Without taking my eyes off hers, I mentally compared a blue blazer and black skirt with her flowing...Flamboyant... FLORESCENT --
Oh my! She thinks I'm EXOTIC!
Sound of break glass.
A week later I was called as Relief Society President of two hundred women from twenty different nations: a village with too many windows to look like 'Mormonville' to me, but nevertheless, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets; one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4 & Mosiah 18). My sole journal entry for 11 July 2010 reads: "God help me.God
He did. He showed me that you cannot pack a box with scrapbooks, funeral potatoes, and snicker-doodle props, stamp it "Mormon Women" and ship it overseas. He taught me about the real Zion, a phenomenon that will not be defined or contained that way: it is organic. It breathes and grows and if necessary, shatters silly notions in order to expand (D&C 82:14). The tiny pane from which I used to view the world has, after a year amongst my sisters, morphed into a great glass conservatory and I contentedly dangle like a prism there, spinning in the sunlight.
Muse with me: What does Zion mean to you? What experiences have you had in the church that relate to the ideal of Zion?