The central character in this week’s D&C sections is Oliver Cowdery, the primary scribe and assistant to Joseph Smith in the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon. In our mythology1, we frequently recount the story, told in two of these sections2, of Oliver’s attempt and failure at translating the Book of Mormon, often to teach the idea (among others) that receiving revelation is work, something that we need to put effort into. A third of these section also seeks to help Oliver understand revelation, while the fourth is, if nothing else, an example of revelation. So we don’t need to search hard to find a theme for this week.
The Revelation by Hannah Deady Tomsik
And the theme of revelation appears regularly in LDS poetry. Let’s start with a very personal poem, and one that I think will resonate with many of us today. It was written in 1921, not long after the influenza pandemic, by Hannah Tomsik of Washington City, Utah. At this point she was a mother of three small children, and her immediate family had escaped the pandemic. But her poem suggests that she saw many others suffer:
- We look upon our neighbor in his grief,
- And wonder how he bears the bitter pain.
- In our weak way, we try to give relief;
- We try to help and comfort, but in vain.
- We see him lay the dear ones in the dust,
- And bravely struggle on along life’s way;
- We marvel at his loyalty and trust,
- And that he still can toil and pray.
- We pray with throbbing hearts and bated breath: –
- “Oh! spare me Lord such sacrifice, such pain!
- To see my loved ones lying cold in death,
- I could not bear — though they shall live again!”
- Yet, bowed beneath the Cross and left alone —
- When death takes all that makes life’s living sweet,
- We feel God’s hand clasped close within our own,
- And love and understanding is complete.
I how much this suggests the process of revelation—from a triggering life event to struggle with understanding to prayer and eventually revelation. And, in the end, Christ’s atonement is involved in the answer. (H/T to Ardis at Keepapitchinin for this one).
Thinking of Christ in wartime
One of the counsels given to Oliver in section 6, is that he should “look unto [Christ] in every thought3,” something that strikes me as very difficult to do. The following poem is an example of thinking of Christ in difficult circumstances, if not in every thought itself. The poet, Dott Jensen Sartori, was born in Idaho and lived most of her life in Salt Lake City. She regularly wrote poetry for Church magazines and in 1942 won the Eliza R. Snow memorial prize for her poem Your Heritage. I don’t know for sure who might be the soldier in the foxhole in this poem, but it may have been her third husband, who was registered in the draft and who she married in 1945, a year after this poem was written.
Christmas Card from a Foxhole
- I send no midnight scene of Bethlehem
- Illumined in the distance by the star,
- No tinted picture of the peaceful hills
- Where sleeping lambs and watchful shepherds are.
- No sapphire arc of sky with amber glow
- Suffuses color over this white plain,
- Yet here is Christ light bright within my thought
- To strike the holy note of joy again.
- Here He has passed the years of innocence,
- Here lies the pathway of His ministry,
- Here holds His word the sure, the just reply
- To questioning and all adversity.
- Here is the written testament of one
- Who learned at last the surety that He,
- If called upon, will fill the limpest stocking
- Which hangs beneath the smallest Christmas tree.
(H/T to Ardis at Keepapitchinin)
Mabel Jones Gabbott’s The Prophet Speaks
An aspect of revelation that we often emphasize is the role of leadership—the deference accorded to leaders in receiving revelation for the group. While I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in the context of Oliver’s attempt to translate, I suspect we often assume that an element of Oliver’s failure was that it wasn’t his calling to translate. And I think for many of us who are democratically inclined, this can be hard to understand—often, but not always, in the selfish vein of “why not me?4”
Mabel Jones Gabbott is one of my favorite LDS poets, best known for her three hymns in the current LDS hymnal and others in the Primary Children’s Songbook. But her poetry is much more extensive than that, gracing the pages of church periodicals from the 1940s through the 1960s.The Prophet Speaks shows not only the prophet’s every-day inspiration, but also the reverence that Church members have for how this priesthood office is embodied in an individual.
The Prophet Speaks
- So tall he stood there, noble, fine and proud,
- Sustained by power greater than his own.
- He said, “I shall not talk so very loud,”
- But in his eyes a glorious message shone.
- He read the excerpts that he had prepared
- And then forgetting self and doctors too,
- He poured his heart out to the Saints and shared
- With us, his testimony strong and true.
- His words came freely, ringing rich and clear:
- “God lives, have faith in Him, and keep His word.”
- It seemed to me the Lord was very near
- And prompting him to say the things we heard.
- The Prophet spoke today, so kind, so dear,
- And my heart prayed, “Bless President Grant, dear Lord.”
For what it’s worth, Heber J. Grant was 89 when this poem was published. He passed away four years later. (And again H/T to Ardis at Keepapitchinin).