I’m usually a little uncomfortable when we discuss the evils of the world, as happens in Teachings of Lorenzo Snow lesson #21. Its not that I don’t see evil in the world, but its that I also see good there. And the optimist in me even sees some progress—the world getting better than it was.
The following poem makes me wonder if the whole dichotomy of the world v. the kingdom of God should be seen in another way. Is the problem not, in part, that the world doesn’t see life from an eternal perspective? Is the world focusing on the here and now, on real circumstances and in the process forgetting and frustrating the better ideals that the gospel promotes? Or is it vice versa in some way? Can we even draw a neat line between the world and the kingdom of God, putting all the world on the side of evil?
The following poem is from long-time Relief Society President Emmeline B. Wells. Like her better known predecessor, Eliza R. Snow, Wells was an accomplished poet and author. She was also tremendously active in Mormon Utah, serving as the second editor of the Woman’s Exponent, taking over soon after it was founded and running it until it was replaced by the Relief Society Magazine. She also ran the Relief Society’s grain storage program (a predecessor of today’s Welfare program) from 1875, and served as a voice for the woman’s suffrage movement in Utah. She began her service as president of the Relief Society in 1910, at age 82. She died three weeks after she was released in 1921 at age 93.
Real and Ideal
by Emmeline B. Wells
- At times sweet visions float across my mind,
- And glimpses of the unknown bright and fair,
- Where all the objects seem so well-defined—
- Tasteful in color, and in beauty rare,
- That I must pause, and think if they be real,.
- Or only what the poets call ideal.
- I well remember when a little child,
- I had these same strange, wand’ring fancies;
- And I was told my thoughts were running wild,
- That I must not indulge in such romances,
- Wasting in idle dreams the precious hours,
- Building air-castles and gazing from the towers.
- E’en then I seemed to familiar things,
- Pertaining to a dim, uncertain past;
- And to my recollection faintly clings,
- A sense of something, which the shadows cast,
- That showed me what my future life would be,
- A prophecy, as ’twere, of destiny.
- There was an intuition in my heart,
- An innate consciousness of right and wrong,
- That bade me choose a wiser, better part,
- Which, in rough places, helped to make me strong;
- And though my path was oft bereft of beauty,
- Still urged me on to fulfil ev’ry duty.
- O, happy childhood, bright with faith and hope,
- Enchantment dwells within thy rosy bowers,
- And rainbow tints gild all within thy scope,
- And youth sits lightly on a bed of flowers,
- His cup of happiness just brimming o’er,
- Unconscious of what life has yet in store.
- What glowing aspirations fill the mind—
- Of noble work designed for man to do!
- What purity of purpose here we find—
- What longings for the beautiful and true;
- Ere know we of the toil, the grief and woe;
- Or dream that men and women suffer so.
- Though all along life’s weary, toilsome way,
- We meet with disappointments hard to bear,
- Yet strength is given equal to our day,
- And joy is of’nest mixed with pain and care;
- But let us not grow weary in well-doing,
- Still persevere the upward path pursuing.
- Thus ever struggle on, ‘mid doubts and fears,
- While changing scenes before our gaze unfold,
- Till, through the vista of long, weary years,
- We see heav’n's sunshine,thro’ its gates of gold;
- And feel assured it is an answering token,
- Aye! though our earthly idols have been broken.
- Tho’ those we’ve cherish’d most have been untrue,
- And fond and faithful ones have gone before,
- Still let us keep the promises in view,
- Of those who’re pleading on “the other shore,”
- Whose tender messages are with us yet,
- The words of love, we never can forget.
- And while we muse and ponder, shadows fall,
- And a sweet spirit whispers, “Peace, be still;”
- What of the past—’tis now beyond recall;
- The future, we with usefulness may fill.
- Yet sometime, we shall find in regions real
- Those dreams fulfilled we only term ideal.
The Contributor, July 1881, p. 313.
Some readers may see connecting this poem with the idea of loving God more than the world as a stretch. I don’t think so. In discussing the real and the ideal Wells runs into some of the same problems that we, in our quest to return to our Heavenly Father do. We too must not waste “in idle dreams the precious hours / Building air-castles and gazing from the towers” but we also need those things that “showed me what my future life would be, / A prophecy, as ’twere, of destiny.” Doesn’t the world also sometimes have us wasting time, but somehow missing our potential? Isn’t a large part of what we mean by “the world” the fact that it simply distracts us from eternal things?
When Wells talks of “An innate consciousness of right and wrong, / That bade me choose a wiser, better part” can she mean anything but the influence of the Spirit in our lives, as it helps us deal with the “disappointments hard to bear” of the world?
I don’t know that we can easily put either the ‘real’ or the ‘ideal’ into the boxes of ‘evil’ or ‘good,’ just like it is hard to claim that the ‘world’ is all one or the other. It is more complex than that. It seems to me that loving God more than the world is not about simply rejecting everything in the world as evil, but instead it is about using, as Wells suggests, our “innate consciousness of right and wrong,” to “choose a wiser, better part”—that part that leads us back to our Heavenly Father.