D&C section 29 covers two broad topics: it introduces the idea of gathering, and then goes on to discuss the events of the last days, putting those events in context of the plan of salvation. Echoing biblical terminology, it talks of gathering as a hen gathering her chicks, and places the responsibility for gathering on the Quorum of the Twelve.
Since this revelation follows the naming of a location for Zion in the previous section, it isn’t surprising that gathering at first meant that all members of the church should physically immigrate to the gathering place established by the church, which moved from Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo and then to Utah. Only in the last decade of the 19th century did the church begin to suggest to members that they build up the church where they were living — and even then it took decades for most (but not all, even today) church members to drop the idea of moving to Utah. Today, of course, we see the idea of gathering as a spiritual gathering of members to the gospel, rather than moving to a physical location.
Rooch’s Come, Gather to Zion
Of course, while these are the basic concepts in section 29, the lesson focuses on how these sections are interpreted today, rather than how they were understood in the past. But early Mormon poetry, of course, discussed gathering to a physical location. One poem that might be also be interpreted as a spiritual gathering is the following. I don’t know anything about its author, Eugene A. Rooch—my quick look turns up nothing about him. He doesn’t even seem to have written any other poetry—at least not anything under that name that is available online. What is particularly notable is the date of its publication in the Improvement Era, 1910, about a decade after the Church started encouraging members to stay and build up Zion where they were. It seems clear that changing what was once taught takes a while.
Come, Gather to Zion
by Eugene A. Rooch (1910)
- Out on life’s sea where the tempest is raging,
- A wand’rer is drifting so sad and alone,
- And over the billows the Savior is calling
- And earnestly bidding the wand’rer come home.
- Come, gather to Zion, ye humble and lowly,
- No longer in darkness ye wander alone,
- The elders of Israel are the gospel proclaiming,
- And bringing God’s children to Zion, their home.
- Come, ye that are weary and burdened with sorrow;
- Come, ye young and ye old, ye feeble and blind;
- Yes, come unto Zion, your home in the mountains,
- And partake of the blessings of Jesus so kind.
- Come, ye honest in heart, and receive the glad message:
- The Savior has spoken from heaven once more,
- Restored the true gospel in his tender mercy,
- Come, gather to Zion, and rejoice evermore!
Townsend Finds the Plan of Salvation in the Past
For the rest of D&C 29, Joseph L. Townsend’s poem Among the Ancient Indian Mounds provides an interesting understanding of the plan of salvation in the past—paralleling the role of the Book of Mormon’s voice from the dust. Townsend is best remembered for multiple LDS hymns, including Choose the Right, Hope of Israel, Let us Oft Speak Kind Words and Reverently and Meekly Now. The number of his hymns rivals better-known hymnwriters like William W. Phelps, Parley P. Pratt and Eliza R. Snow. His story is also quite unusual. Born in Pennsylvania, Townsend moved to Utah in 1872 to improve his health and ended up joining the Church, despite the widespread negative perceptions of Mormonism nationally. He settled in Payson where he ran a drugstore before teaching at Brigham Young Academy and at the Salt Lake High School. His poetry appeared in LDS periodicals throughout the 1880s and 1890s.
Among the Ancient Indian Mounds
by Joseph L. Townsend (1882)
- O Earth, thou grave of the races of men,
- That come and depart as the grass of the plains,
- Where now is the life, that again and again
- Has come but to go, leaving here its remains?
- O, where will the thousands departing each hour,
- Of races at present existing on thee,
- Transported from view, in eternity’s power,
- Throughout all the coming eternities be?
- Reveal if thou canst, from the moulds of thy crust,
- Where now are the spirits whose bodies are dust?
- O Earth, thou grave, where with hatred accursed,
- The races of men meet in battle array,
- All eager in jealousies passion immersed,
- To shorten the few fleeting moments they stay:
- Why now should the races continue their war?
- With fury and terror they meet but to die;
- To crumble as races have crumbled before,
- And over Thy surface forever to lie!
- Reveal if thou canst, why the races of Man,
- No wisdom have learned, since their races began?
- O Earth, thou grave of the humble and proud;
- The wealthy and poor, with the bond and the free,
- All, all of their bodies must finally crowd
- Together as dust, ‘neath the races to be!
- Will those who depart ever think of the trust,
- They leave to Thy care, in their youth or their prime ?
- Couldst thou give the spirit its portion of dust,
- Amid all the tumult and ravage of Time?
- Reveal if thou canst, how the dust of a king
- Is known from the slaves, that beside it may cling?
- O Earth, the sage who may delve in thy mould,
- Thy purpose and history seeketh in vain.
- He finds in the ruins a story untold,
- And tries from thy strata the past to regain.
- But silently, swiftly, thou still movest on,
- No answer thou givest to sophist or sage,
- Who frames his hypothesis, dies, and is gone,
- To mingle his dust with the dust of the age.
- Reveal if thou canst, where the sage may behold
- The truth of the past, and the future untold?
- O Earth, thou grave! When the sepulchre speaks,
- All dead as the dust it encloses to-day,
- Then mayst thou relate, to the student who seeks,
- The story of races that lived to decay.
- The ruins of cities and mounds may impart
- A knowledge that man and a nation has been;
- But, old in its lore, antiquarian art
- Ne’er tells where a nation may end or begin.
- Reveal if thou canst from this mound where I tread,
- What nation was this, now the dust of the dead?
- O Earth, thy silence more wisdom doth show
- Than many whose theories widely are known;
- I turn from the dust that is lying below,
- To realms far away, where the spirits have flown.
- Let angels declare what their records contain,
- Their story of races acceptable be,
- And then will thy ruins forever remain
- An evidence all may approvingly see.
- Thou canst not reveal, but thy sons may return
- To teach us the truth, if the truth we will learn!
- O Earth, from Heaven again come to thee,
- An angel appointed thy truths to restore;
- He calls and commissions a prophet, to free
- Thy races from bondage of error and war.
- He brings us the truth of the future and past,
- And fills all the present with knowledge most bright,
- He opens to knowledge eternities vast,
- And error now yields to effulgence of light.
- Thou canst not reveal, but our God can reveal,
- And now He has opened eternity’s seal!
- O Earth, the knowledge revealed from on high,
- Regarding the races who crumble to dust,
- Assures that the spirits of men cannot die,
- But go to the homes of the evil or just.
- The evil to prisons; or schools to acquire
- The Gospel, which here they refused to attain;
- The Saints to the heaven to which they aspire.
- Where Christ and His Priesthood eternally reign.
- Whence, many as ministers go from the Lord,
- The Gospel to preach to the spirits in ward!
- O Earth, thou grave! While the just and unjust
- Are teachers and pupils in the realms near to thee,
- Thou minglest together their bodies of dust,
- Awaiting the great resurrection to be.
- Prepared by obedience to laws that refine,
- The just with their bodies in triumph attain,
- To reign, and to teach the Creator’s design,
- To all who on earth for a season remain.
- Till all, through the Priesthood, their bodies resume,
- Made holy and pure, from the dust of the tomb.
- O Earth, thou shalt be, by thy maker’s own hand;
- Made perfect and pure, a celestial abode;
- Thy children obeying the Savior’s command,
- On thee have their heritage nearest to God!
- The races inferior to those who obey
- The higher and holier laws we revere,
- Will then each attain their reward in the day
- When Just1ce announces the merited sphere.
- A Urim and Thummim, forever to last,
- Then thou canst reveal all thy wonderful past!