New Harmony: Ten magical, mystical memories

Published: Saturday, March 29 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Creations of Father Maur van Doorslaer are on display, and for sale at St. Andrews Monastery in Valyermo, Ca., Friday, Sept. 11, 2009. For five months of the year van Doorslaer designs ceramics for the Abbey.

Jerry Johnston, Deseret News archives

Top 10 lists have been the rage in the paper again this week. Lists are always attention grabbers, and because journalists are compulsive list-makers, it’s a natural way to churn up interest.

So let me add to the fray.

I’ve been thinking of the most memorable moments I’ve had writing for the Faith pages over the years. Here are my 10 highlights, in no particular order.

World Youth Day, Denver, Colo., August 1993

This was Pope John Paul II’s maiden voyage to America. And it was like the return of Elvis. Young Catholics went a little crazy chanting “JPII, we love you!” and creating a holiday/holy day atmosphere.

Billy Graham, the final crusade, Kansas City, Mo., October 2004

Amid all the music and high-tech visuals, what I recall are the warmth and naturalness of Billy Graham. The week before, I’d used an obscure story about Mark Twain in the Deseret News Faith pages. Graham used the same story in his sermon. I’ve wondered if his clipping service hadn't scissored the story out and passed it along to him.

Dedication of the LDS Conference Center, Salt Lake City, October 2000

You can’t stand with tens of thousands of fellow Saints, give the Hosanna Shout and sing “The Spirit of God” at the top of your lungs without being changed. I was.

Visit to the Shinto Temple, Nagano, Japan, March 1989

Journalists were allowed to see and feel the inner-workings of the temple, including a damp trip through an underground labyrinth that led to a door and an enormous key. The smell of incense, the chanting and the burning coals took us to another world.

Dedication of the LDS Cochabamba Bolivia Temple, March 2000

For me, returning to Bolivia after 30 years felt like returning to the pre-existence. Being asked to speak in the temple on the spur of the moment by President Gordon B. Hinckley, then president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a lifetime highlight.

Visit to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico City, June 1985

When the faithful make their way here from the surrounding cities and states, the faith on the plaza is so dense it can bear you up and keep you from sinking, like all that salt in the Great Salt Lake.

The Sistine Chapel, Rome, Italy, September 2006

This is one religious shrine that never fails to live up to its billing. It is Exhibit A of what the human spirit is capable of doing when it links hands (or fingers) with the divine.

Day spent with Father Maur at St. Andrew’s Abby in Valyermo, Calif., August 2009

When I met him, Father Maur was just a couple of years from his death. But he continued to work as an artist, creating spiritual keepsakes for generations of Christians. He added the touch of a master’s hand to his ceramic “cookies.” During my stay, we talked of war and art and the indomitable human spirit.

Groundbreaking, LDS Tijuana Mexico Temple, August 2012

The setting, the Saints and even the dusty, dry weather were all reminiscent of an Mormon groundbreaking in the 1850s. The speeches and singing were passionate. The faith unwavering. A moment to savor.

The funeral of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Salt Lake Tabernacle, July 2004

A friend once told me that a good life makes for a good funeral. Likewise, an unforgettable life makes for an unforgettable funeral. Sitting in this service with my wife has become as vital to me and my sense of self as anything I've done before or since.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com

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