With the beginning of what we Mormons can call the fifth gospel, the Book of Mormon begins the story of Christ’s birth, life, death and visit to the Americas, all from the perspective of the people’s there. And the initial story in 3rd Nephi is quite different from those in the New Testament. Here we see signs and wonders also, but they are more widely known and come under a threat of violence. The faith of the believers in 3rd Nephi was tried publicly and directly, while the faith of the few who knew anything about the import of the events in Bethlehem (principally Joseph and Mary) was tried mainly in private, in embarrassment or humiliation.
The poem I discovered for lesson #36 actually focuses on the experiences of those in 3rd Nephi in comparison with those in the New Testament gospels. The poet, Alice Morrey Bailey, is perhaps one of the greatest of Mormon poets, and one of the least remembered. Born in 1903 in St. Joseph, Utah, she studied sculpture at the University of Utah in the early 1920s and married Ralph DeWitt Bailey on 4 January 1925. When Ralph was injured in a mining accident in 1941, Alice became the chief breadwinner in the family while she continued to nurse him until his death in 1972. Despite this load, Alice wrote many poems for Church magazines and elsewhere, carved many fine sculptures (most easily found today in the Springville Museum of Art), sketched, and wrote plays and short stories. Perhaps most significantly, her 1995 book of poems, Rain Shadows, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She died in Salt Lake City on 20 February 1997.
Who Watched in Faith
by Alice Morrey Bailey
- The Prophets’ cryptic speech, and only faith
- Were theirs to span the vast and wordless sea
- Back to their father’s land, the time-dimmed wraith
- Of Jordan and the blue of Galilee.
- And hidden from the far Jerusalem
- Were those whose lives were doomed at sunset’s dark.
- While Joseph traced the road to Bethlehem,
- They watched in faith the day’s descending arc.
- And only signs to mark the Savior’s birth
- Were promised testaments of their belief,
- Yet angel songs above Judean earth
- Were not more sweet with joy than their relief
- When glory shone through night, and, blazing high,
- A new star hung in Zarahemla’s sky.
Relief Society Magazine, December 1950, p. 795.
[I must acknowledge Ardis Parshall’s blog, Keepapitchinin,
which first called my attention to this wonderful poem.]
This is truly a wonderful work, one of my favorites from this series. I love that the contrast with Judea emphasizes the distance and the magnitude of the faith required of the Nephites. And instead of emphasizing the drama of the threat to their lives, Bailey seems, at least to me, to emphasize more the sweetness of their relief and the joy at the Savior’s birth.
Even if you haven’t found any previous poems in this series to be helpful for this year’s Gospel Doctrine lessons, I think this one would be a great addition to the lesson. Read this in class when you get to this lesson!