I received an email some months ago from the church about a soon-to-be released book about the history of the church. I rolled my eyes – not out loud, of course, because that would be inappropriate – because I really did think there was nothing I could learn from some fluffy, glossed-over, white-washed narrative “history.”
I was wrong.
One day, slightly bored at work and sorting through emails, I reopened the email and clicked on the link which led me to a sample of the first four chapters of Saints. Initially, I thought my first reaction was right. Upstate New York, religious unrest, first vision….nothing new to see here.
Then I hit Chapter Two, and I started to see the value of this account. You don’t need to hear the blow-by-blow of my thought process, but if my mind can be changed, then I imagine any truth-seeker can find value in this book.
At the end of Chapter Four, I hoped my delay in following the invitation to read the first four chapters meant the rest had been released, so eager was I to keep reading. It was good. The narrative style – the exact thing I thought would be so awful – is actually the saving grace.
Weaving scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants with accounts from journals and other personal accounts, the story flows seamlessly. And it’s that combination that makes this style work. I’ve read the Doctrine and Covenants, but other than a book of scripture, it doesn’t make sense to me as a historical document, simply because it’s not in chronological order, and there’s no real context given other than little section header snippets. And I’ve sat through I-don’t-know-how-many Sunday school lessons and prepared seminary lessons about church history, so I’ve heard the stories.
But I haven’t heard the stories in a way that makes me feel the people. The style allows for a completely immersed experience, and I’m starting to see these historical players, these Saints, as people who breathed, who walked, who fought, and who lived their lives in great faith. It’s far too easy to look back on 190 years of history with modern, judgmental eyes, and gloss over the details simply because we know how the story ends.
Or at least, we think we do. But I propose that we don’t know how the story ends, because we are still writing the story. And in many ways, we are still writing their story. The more I see these people as real, the more I understand what their experiences mean on a spiritual level, which means my own SQ is increasing.
Oliver and Me
For example, the passage in D&C 9:7-9 has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Is was used in seminary as a scripture mastery to illustrate how we’re supposed to seek revelation. As a teenager, I was always confused about the “burning bosom.” I never felt that as a youth, so couldn’t make that scripture work for me. (It would have been better to use something out of D&C 8 about the spirit speaking to the heart and the mind, but they never asked me to be on the CES board of scripture mastery things.)
But the other morning, listening (I’m using the Deseret Book app to listen to it) to “Saints,” I heard the emphasis or cadence of that sentence, “You took no thought save it was to ask me…” in a different way. I heard it how it was meant in the context to Oliver about translating and using spiritual gifts. “Oliver, you thought it would be as easy as just asking me. But you have work to do. Keep knocking. Keep asking.”
And I thought, “What are things I ask for and then get up from my knees and give no further thought to, let alone work towards?”
Ask. Seek. Knock.
Ask. Seek. Knock. DO. Rinse and repeat. “Laura, it’s not enough to just ask me for help to (insert endeavor here). You’ll receive answers as you do,” is also what I heard whispered to me. “One small step at a time at doing. It’s a process, and the answers will be revealed line upon line, step upon step, action upon action. Ask. Seek. Knock. Do. Rinse and repeat.”
This book is a gift. As we read it and ponder on our ancestors’ experiences, we will also learn about ourselves, and how their revelations are also ours.