Friday, December 19, 2008

Book of Mormon Study...

To be honest, I'm really stinking at this Book of Mormon study business. I've never had such a hard time getting motivated to study. I've read the Book of Mormon countless times, but certainly at least once a year for the last 18 or so years.

So what's different this time?

Ah, well, there's the rub. I don't know.

That's not entirely true. There are some underlying currents making it difficult for me to be dedicated. And there's the little matter of my crisis of faith that has been tearing me up for the last couple of months.


and it's a big but...

I've had some beautiful, sacred, emotional experiences lately, as well as the draining, worrying, exhausting questions. And I think it's safe to say finally that I am at peace with my faith. I am at peace with the gospel. I am at peace with God. The world roils on around me. Questions may become more difficult to answer. But I have been given the gift of grace to deal with what I must, and I must assume that this gift is limitless, that God's grace can allow me to have faith in things hoped for, but not seen. It's called faith, not knowledge, after all.

So, I'll be posting more regularly. And I'll be studying even more than posting. So I'll probably just throw in little ideas or things I love as I go along.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

“There are wide areas of our society from which the spirit of prayer and reverence and worship has vanished. Men and women in many circles are clever, interesting, or brilliant, but they lack one crucial element in a complete life—They do not look up.” ~~~Howard W. Hunter

I loved President Hunter. He was prophet for such a short time, but had a true impact on my life. His gentle advice was so often about loving those around us, being gentle to those we might be harsh with. I came across this quote on Blog Segullah today and it resonated. It's important. In my small crisis of faith, I have noticed that I lack peace when I fail to figuratively look up. It helps me greatly to remember the divine.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Book of Mormon Study: 1 Nephi 16-17

I've seen myself in Laman and Lemuel much more this time through the Book of Mormon than ever before. I've had empathy for them in the past, I've felt like I understood their frustrations and anger and maybe even their descent into a willingness to commit murder. They were living through extreme times and their emotions, especially their rage, are so close to the surface.

But reading chapters 16 and 17 this time, I feel as though their arguments to Nephi could come from my mouth. This is a mirror I don't want to look into, but it's important to see myself clearly. Trials can push us away from godly things or they can bring us closer. Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael had the SAME experiences as Nephi, and yet their reactions were so different.

Some of these experiences they all went through:

1. Forced to leave their wealthy lives
2. Wandered in the wilderness for 8 years (EIGHT YEARS! That's a long time.)
3. Saw that the Liahona (a miraculous object) worked according to faith
4. Lost their means of obtaining food
5. Experienced hunger, possibly close to death (Did Ishmael die partially because of a lack of food? His daughters may suggest this in v. 35)
6. Ate raw meat. For eight years.
7. "Suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue" "We did travel and wade through much affliction"
8. Bore (or saw their wives bear) children in the wilderness, in much less than optimal circumstances

Why did Nephi become a prophet and his brothers become attempted murderers?

Is the answer all in chapter 2, v. 16? "I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers."

Once we turn our hearts from God, it is easy to be led in so many paths. Truth can feel so subjective. It is hard to move from a heart closed off to the things of God back to having a soft heart, ready and willing to believe. Fasting helps. Prayer helps. Learning to be as a child in our faith helps. Studying the scriptures helps. But so much of it depends on one simple thing: our willingness. We must be willing to listen, to hope, and to believe in the feelings we DO experience, and to accept that there are some hard things we may not understand right at this moment.

I mourn for Laman and Lemuel, for the great battle that would rage in the future, over and over again, between their children and the children of Nephi and Sam and Zoram. If only they could have been willing to turn their hearts to God. They were so close, so many times.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book of Mormon Study: 1 Nephi 12-15

Chapter 12 is sad to me. Imagine viewing the destruction of your own family, your own descendents. Nephi is forced to face some hard truths throughout the vision he describes in these chapters.

1 Nephi 14:7 says that the marvelous work and wonder of the gospel will convince us either to peace and life eternal or will deliver us to the captivity of the devil. Peace and life that really what we're offered and what we're able to achieve through living the precepts of the gospel? It's such a clear choice, when stated like that. The choice gets so muddied by life. It can seem so unclear. But like one of the children of Israel needing to simply look at the serpent Moses raised on the staff to have their lives spared, sometimes just choosing to look seems so hard. Look to God and live. It's a simple proposition, but sometimes it's hardly simple in practice.

In chapter 15, Nephi's vision has ended and he has to return to his daily life. I empathize with him. Verse 4 & 5 say, "And now I, Nephi, was grieved because of the hardness of their hearts, and also, because of the things which I had seen, and knew they must unavoidably come to pass because of the great wickedness of the children of men. And it came to pass that I was overcome because of my afflictions, for I considered that mine afflictions were great above all, because of the destruction of my people, for I had beheld their fall." He had heavy things in his heart, and then he has to go talk to the brothers that he knows will become his enemies, and their children will become his children's enemies. Heavy heart. Heavy responsibility. Did he hope that SOMETHING he might say might change the outcome of what he had just experienced? My heart aches for Nephi, and also for his brothers.

But by chapter 16 verse 5, Nephi says, "And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord; insomuch that I had joy and great hopes of them, that they would walk in the paths of righteousness." Hope springs eternal...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Book of Mormon Study: 1 Nephi 9-11

Chapter 9 is the first time we learn about the separate plates Nephi keeps. His large plates focus on the history of his people, the secular happenings. Then, the Lord commands Nephi to keep a separate set of plates to center on the spiritual life of Nephi and his people. Nephi doesn't know why, but he goes along with the Lord's request. V. 6 says, "But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words."

True? Yes. Do we always live according to this belief? No. Or at least I don't.

In Chapter 10, Nephi relates Lehi's prophecies, including prophecies about the Savior. These are among the truths about Christ that Lehi tells his family:
1. Christ would be Jewish.
2. Christ would be born 600 years after Lehi's family left Jerusalem.
3. He would be the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
4. Many prophets have testified of the Savior's coming.
5. The Messiah would be baptized by a prophet.
6. Christ would take away the sins of the world.
7. Christ would be killed by His own people.
8. He would rise from the dead.
9. He would manifest himself to the Gentiles, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
10. The Savior was the Son of God.
11. He would also be called the Redeemer of the world, the Lamb of God.

After Lehi's amazing prophecies, Nephi wants to know these things for himself. The only way to really know these kinds of things is by the power of the Holy Ghost (spiritual knowledge is different than any other kind of knowledge.) I love verse 19: "For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round."

One of the teachings of Joseph Smith that I love is that over the course of human history, many people have received truths through God as they have searched "diligently". The First Presidency taught in 1978 that "The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God's light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel. Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come."

I'm grateful for the understanding of God's inclusivity, that He loves all of His children and has prepared a way to Christ's salvation for each of us.

Monday, October 27, 2008


"We all act upon or give obedience to knowledge. Whether in science or religion, our obedience is not blind when we act upon knowledge suited to the subject of our action. A scientist receives and acts upon a trusted certification of the content or conditions of a particular experiment. In matters of religion, a believer’s source of knowledge is spiritual, but the principle is the same. In the case of Latter-day Saints, when the Holy Ghost gives our souls a witness of the truth of the restored gospel and the calling of a modern prophet, our choice to follow those teachings is not blind obedience."

This is from Dallin H. Oaks' April 2008 Conference Talk, "Testimony." I have been struggling with a certain topic, feeling pulled one way by my personal, cultural, and political views and another by the stated position of the First Presidency. After much (MUCH) thought, reading, and prayer, I finally decided that despite my worries and doubts, I would align my personal position with that of the First Presidency. This took humility: more than I realized it would. And then I found that my Relief Society lesson would be based on this talk by Elder Oaks. In many small instances as I prepared for the lesson, I found myself instructed by the Spirit, and by the end of my lesson on Sunday, I felt reassured that although I don't understand this position fully, that I would be blessed by my choice to be obedient.

I have a rebellious streak. I don't like to follow the status quo without good reason. But I truly believe in my heart that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is headed by a man of God, a prophet for today. As much as I see through a glass darkly, I'm going to do my best to trust that the Lord will lead us in the right way, and that this is a worthy battle.

So there. Today's thoughts on obedience.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 8

This chapter is Lehi's Tree of Life vision. Again, he dreams, and in v. 2, he equates this dream with having a vision. And the saddest part for him, again, is that while he sees some of his family grasping hold of light and truth and joy, he also sees Laman and Lemuel choosing their own path, away from the peace of the fruit of the tree of life. I wonder why the Lord chose to reveal their hearts so plainly to Lehi. It might have been nice for him to have hope for their eventual conversion...

Other thoughts on Chapter 8:

Lehi sees different groups of people after he sees his family. The first are people who are trying to get to the tree, but get lost in the mist of darkness. The next are those who grab the rod of iron, get all the way to the tree, and are then ashamed, and are lost in forbidden paths. There are others who hold to the rod, make it to the tree and eat the fruit, but many others who bypass the tree entirely in their efforts to get to the large and spacious building, some of whom make it there, but others are drowned.

So many ways to be lost. Only one safe path. It's hard to take in that the path to peace and joy is truly so straight and narrow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 3-7

Just some thoughts on the last few chapters I read:

1. Lehi gets a LOT of his instruction from the Lord in dreams. I don't know if I pay much attention to my dreams. Has the Lord ever spoken to me through MY dreams? Why dreams? Was it a cultural thing, and Lehi paid attention to his dreams because of that?

2. Lehi knows that Laman and Lemuel are struggling, and it sounds like he is so relieved that Nephi responds (v. 7) in a positive way. This is maybe Nephi's first test of his newfound faith, and he meets the test with grace.

3. Seeing an angel didn't soften Laman and Lemuel's hearts more than the time that they were in his presence. They began murmuring immediately after he left. I mean, yikes. This is pretty hardcore stuff, seeing an angel, and they simply don't feel its impact.

4. Nephi is young, but he speaks with great wisdom to his brothers at many different times. This is a gift of the be able to teach the words of God, despite his youth.

5. I have a rough time with Nephi killing Laban. The Lord could obviously have allowed Nephi to obtain the plates another, less bloody, way, but he didn't. So Laban had to die, and Nephi had to be the one responsible for his death? Why? I wish I knew...I need more prayer on this one. I understand that Laban tried to take Nephi's life. I know that if Nephi had simply taken the plates, Laban would have been after him and his family. But still...very interesting. A very drastic example of how following the spirit doesn't always lead us in the direction we expect.

6. Sariah's so fantastic. She's super mad at Lehi, she's angry at God, and then she learns for herself that Lehi is not leading them on a wild goose chase, but that he is a real prophet. I love that we get a view of her conflict.

7. Lehi (and the reader) learns the value of the written word. The Lord needs us to have written record of His dealings with humanity. We need to remember what He has done in the past, and what He intends and promises to do in the future. We are blessed to have so much scripture.

8. There's no record of whining when Lehi sends his sons back for Ishmael's family. The boys are ready and willing to go all the way back to Jerusalem. Interesting tidbit...Elder Erastus Snow told that Joseph Smith had mentioned that Lehi's daughters had already married Ishmael's sons, so the families were already linked by marriage, and it's likely that the boys may have already intended to marry Ishmael's daughters.

9. Laman and Lemuel are becoming progressively more, well, wicked. They start out murmuring, and then they're beating Nephi, and in chapter 7, they're ready to leave Nephi for the wild beasts of the desert. It's a sad and quick transition, but they're not so far gone that once Nephi is freed through the power of God (Again!), they repent and continue on their journey. I have to admit that over the years, I have grown to care deeply about Laman and Lemuel, and I don't consider them terrible villains, simply angry and hardhearted. It is human nature to be angry at those who we perceive stand in the way of our power or happiness, and they thought Nephi was standing in the way of both. I'm sure they considered him a suck-up, self-righteous and absolutely frustrating. This first book of Nephi is really tragic.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Book of Mormon Study, Part Two

1 Nephi, Chapter 2. The trouble already begins...

Part of me smiles a little at Lehi, trying so desperately to reach his oldest sons. It reminds me of an FHE gone bad..."Laman, I want you to be like this river, and Lemuel, like this valley. Boys, are you listening? Pay Attention! I've worked hard on this lesson."

But it's clear pretty soon that these two are not just complaining teenagers. Nephi says in v.13 that they were like the Jews at Jerusalem who sought to take away the life of Lehi. Does he say that in retrospect? Were they already so far gone at this point that murder was in their hearts? I tend to think that came little by little, as they were pulled farther and farther away from the life of luxury to which they were accustomed, but maybe they really were already pretty far gone.

I love what we learn about Nephi in this chapter. v.16 says "And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers." It sounds to me that Nephi wasn't totally convinced that this was the will of the Lord (it was a rather huge change in his life, after all), but rather than get angry and fight against his father, he went to the source to figure things out for himself. Because of this, the course of his life changed. So maybe this is a good way to figure things out when we're feeling frustrated about something the Lord has asked us to do (through a leader, a parent, a spouse, or some other way.) Rather than complain, moan, and get really angry, maybe we should talk to Heavenly Father about it...

That's a lesson I need right now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Book of Mormon Study, Take One

By a happy coincidence, I just finished my latest reading of the Book of Mormon. I've made my way through all the introductory stuff and am back at First Nephi, yet again. (How many times has the average adult Mormon read verse 1 of First Nephi? I'm sure it's in the hundreds for me :). Not that I've READ the book that many times, just that I've read the first chapter that many times.)

Since I'm just re-beginning, I thought I'd post my thoughts as I move through the book. It may help me to spend a little more time considering the chapters I read, rather than just getting through my chapters as quickly as I can.

It's nice to come back to a chapter that is so familiar. Nephi has become an old friend over the years. The very first verse makes me think he was a fairly balanced guy...he loved his family, he admits to having hard times, but he is also is pretty positive about how life has been for him. Yes, he had to leave all the money and possessions his family had, wander in the wilderness for years, escape from his brothers who wanted to kill him, but he says he's been "highly favored of the Lord in all my days."

One new thing that hit me this reading was v. 4 and 5. Prophets are telling people they must repent or Jerusalem is going to be destroyed, and that leads Lehi to pray. V.5 says "Lehi prayed with all his heart, in behalf of his people." It was after this heartfelt prayer that Lehi was shown his first vision, which eventually led to the physical salvation of his family from the destruction that hit Jerusalem in just a few years. It seems to me that praying with all our hearts, especially in behalf of others, has a power that we don't always recognize. I wonder if sometimes Lehi was a little daunted by the results of his prayers. It certainly led him into a new life, one very different than that which he expected.

The last verse of chapter 1 is another favorite, and I think an overall theme of the entire Book of Mormon. v. 20: "...I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." This deliverance, in my experience, can be physical, emotional, or spiritual, but is very real. It's not always easy to obtain, but it's possible.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Small Plates

Nephi, the Book of Mormon prophet, kept two sets of records. He kept the historical record of his people on large plates, and their spiritual record on small plates (1 Nephi 19:1-6) I thought that I would take a page from his book (ha ha) for similar reasons. I love having my other blog for all kinds of of my kids, political rantings, lists of things I love, ventings; you name it. But somehow I haven't felt like expressing much about my spiritual life. So I've chosen to create my own Small Plates.

My spiritual life is grounded in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am comfortable with my Mormonism and the tenets of the church. I love having a prophet, four books of scripture, and latter-day revelation, both personal and church-wide.

The one constant in my spiritual quest is the need to learn. I use the scriptures daily to buoy me up, to teach me, and to help make me into a better person. I also love the beauties and truths of other faiths and have gained much from other religions. I am excited to share some of the things I love and some of the things I learn on this journey.