Year: 2021

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 10-11

The two sections in this week’s Come Follow Me lesson seem very different. The first, section 10, concerns the aftermath of the loss of the 116 manuscript pages containing the initial translation of the Book of Mormon. In contrast, section 11 is a revelation of advice to Hyrum Smith. But in both of them is a message of seeking the Lord and relying on Him—the first proclaiming that God foresaw everything from the beginning, so we should rely on Him, and the second urging reliance on Him by accepting revelation and prophecy.   Seek Ye The Lord by Maria Berry Let’s start with a poem by Maria Berry, apparently the Maria Berry who lived in the then mining boomtown of Mammoth, some 45 miles west southwest of Provo (near Eureka). If this is correct, then Maria was born in Denmark as Hansine Marie Bluhm, and immigrated with her family to the United States in 1881, when she was just over a year old. She married John Ernst Berry (born Behre in Germany, also immigrated as a child) in 1900, and raised her family first in Sanpete county and then in Mammoth, before the family settled in Salt Lake. She passed away in 1969. This poem shares its first line with the hymn “Count Your Many Blessings”, which may cause some confusion or dissonance when reading it. But its message is much closer to the message of the lesson: Seek Ye…

“You have another gift”

In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom[1] rests on the shoulders of a young man.  His name … Joseph. If you couldn’t tell from the text above, my wife and I have been watching the TV series Merlin lately.  We’ve rather enjoyed their take on the Arthurian legends.  To me, there is something fascinating about stories that are told and retold time and time again for hundreds of years.  Now, I inserted Joseph’s name into the opening sequence of that TV series for this post because while the United States isn’t a land lost in myth and legend like Camelot, the early days of our religion were, for many adherents, a time of magic. To be fair to them, they didn’t necessarily see what they were doing as magic—more often they viewed it in religious terms.  For example, in this week’s readings for “Come, Follow Me,” we come across an interesting portion of Section 8 that discusses Oliver Cowdery having “the gift of Aaron.”[2]  While the nature of this gift is obscured in the text of the Doctrine and Covenants, the earliest extant version of the revelation states that Oliver had “the gift of working with the sprout,” which was a “thing of Nature” and that it was “the work of God.”[3]  A subsequent version of the text rendered this as “the gift of working with the rod.”[4]  The Joseph Smith…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 6-9

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:   The Revelation by Hannah Deady Tomsik (1921)  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…

“Let God Prevail”

I share here a sacrament meeting talk I delivered recently in my St Louis congregation. I suspect there have been many other such sermons on the same topic delivered in wards around the globe over the past three months. President Nelson’s October address seems to have made a powerful impression on our people in this time of spiritual hunger. I endorse President Nelson’s message and am grateful to have reflected on it at length here.  In one of the most enigmatic scenes in the Old Testament, a man stands alone on the bank of the Jordan river at midnight. The man is Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, a hard-driving trader in a hurry from the moment he was born grasping his twin brother’s heel as if to drag him back into the womb. Jacob has been on the move for many years, first leaving home to escape the wrath of his twin Esau, from whom, after the failed heel-grab, he eventually did manage to take the coveted birthright blessing. Now Jacob has fled from his father-in-law Laban, from whom he has won two daughters and much property. The Lord is calling him back to Canaan, the land of his father, and Jacob is on his way home.  At the threshold of return, the Jordan river, Jacob finds himself at an impasse. His family has crossed, but Jacob himself stays behind. At his back is Laban, before him is Esau; in…

Louis Midgley on Hugh Nibley, the Maori, and More

In an interview ranging from discussing Hugh Nibley to missionary work in New Zealand to systematic theologies to the dedication of the Swiss Temple, Kurt Manwaring recently sat down with Latter-day Saint apologist (and retired professor of political science) Louis C. Midgley.  What follows here is a co-post to one at Kurt Manwaring’s site, where I’ll focus in on a couple points of particular interest, but for those interested in reading more, hop on over to the full interview here. Louis Midgley was a friend and colleague of Hugh Nibley and has worked hard to defend Nibley’s career and to share his writings with the world.  At a few points throughout the interview, he shared stories about Hugh Nibley.  One humorous one from Nibley’s mission was that: When Hugh Nibley was a missionary in Germany before WW II, a local branch took up a collection for someone who really needed a suit. Hugh chipped in with some money. He did not realize that he was the one for whom they were raising money—it was his suit that was in rags. A more poignant story was about Nibley at the end of his lifetime: Phyllis called me and urged me to visit her husband. I did. And we talked. Hugh was in a hospital bed. He could hardly speak. He’d mumble and we’d talk back and forth. We talked a bit about New Zealand and the Maori. Since he had heard…

“A man may have many revelations”

We’re four weeks into the year, and we’ve finally reached the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants.  I know we started the book weeks ago, but what I mean to say is that this week we’re now working with the earliest material in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Section 3 is the first revelation from Joseph Smith for which a text has survived (even pre-dating the text of the Book of Mormon), while for Section 5 is the revelation for which we have the earliest extant copy of any of Joseph Smith’s revelations (a copy created by Oliver Cowdery after his arrival, around April 1829).[1]  The prior two sections that we’ve studied are placed before Section 3 because Section 1 was written as a preface for the Doctrine and Covenants and Section 2 is recalling events that occurred in 1823.  Section 2, however, was written in 1838-1839 as part of an official history and added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 (by comparison, our Section 3 is Section 2 in the Community of Christ’s version of the Doctrine and Covenants), while Section 1 was written in 1831.  All three of the revelations we are studying this week were received in the period before the Church itself was founded or the bulk of the Book of Mormon as we have it was dictated, spanning the period of July 1828-March 1829.  As the earliest existing documents of the Latter Day Saint movement,…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 3-5

In the three sections covered in this week’s Come Follow Me lesson we go with Martin Harris from the 116 pages to being a witness, with a detour to Joseph Smith Sr. and what it means to serve God. While I haven’t found poems that mention the events associated with these sections, there are a number that examine the principles in them. For example, the lesson discusses Martin Harris’ worries about his standing in the community and with his wife as one of the contributing factors behind him seeking the 116 manuscript pages, and draws from Section 3 the principle “Trust God not man.” And that teaching is the subject of the following poem by Thomas Ward.     A Fragment by Thomas Ward Thomas Ward served as editor of the Millennial Star, the Church’s long-running England-based periodical, following Parley P. Pratt’s return to the US in October 1842 until Orson Hyde took over in October 1846, as Ward was apparently leaving England temporarily.  By the next year, Ward was in England, and had become ill with dropsy. He died on March 4th. A Fragment is one of several poems that Ward published in the Millennial Star. A Fragment By Thomas Ward (1843) I mark’d him as he stood with downcast eye, Whence, ever and anon, a tear would start; While with convulsive throb his bosom heav’d; ‘Twas nature’s final struggle to o’ercome The high resolve, the purpose of the…

“A messenger sent from the presence of God”

I’ve always been interested in knowing what all Moroni said to Joseph Smith during their first conversation.  We have several accounts, both from Joseph Smith himself and from close associates like Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt, and Lucy Mack Smith of that visit, but all of them pick and choose what they discuss and all of them were written somewhere between 7 to 22 years after the event occurred.  Cowdery claimed that the visions began around “eleven or twelve, and perhaps later”,[1] and in Joseph Smith’s official account, he recalls that after three visions with the angel, “the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night.”[2]  If we assume that the visions of Moroni began at midnight, that sunrise on 22 September 1823 occurred around 5:45 a.m.,[3] and that an insignificant amount of time passed between each visit, then that makes for an average of slightly less than 2 hours per vision.  Admittedly, the records indicate that each vision was longer than the last, but that still gives a lot of time for talking on Moroni’s part compared to the number of words we have in the Joseph Smith—History.  What all did he cover in that time?  The accounts we do have of what Moroni told Joseph Smith can give us some insights, even if they aren’t likely to be perfect in their presentation of the details. The…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 2

This coming week’s Come Follow Me lesson discusses the events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, including the visits of Moroni to Joseph Smith and the scripture’s translation and publication. Like other early events in the restoration, these events have been portrayed artistically many times, and will undoubtedly be portrayed many more times. Clinton F. Larson’s Sonnet on the Book of Mormon I’ll start my selected poems for this week with a sonnet by Clinton F. Larson (no relation — our last names are spelled differently). Larson was a BYU professor who became the University’s first poet-in-residence. He is also known as the playwright of several well-regarded and very Mormon plays, including Coriantumer and Moroni (1962) and of The Mantle of the Prophet (1966). His poetry also appeared in the seminal anthology of Mormon literature, A Believing People.   Sonnet on the Book of Mormon By Clinton F. Larson (1940)   The ruins murmur on unceasingly To testify there was another day … This western hemisphere has known a glory That we know little of, except to say:   ‘I felt their grandeur in the backward look …’ They had a scripture from Omnipotence: So from the dust, from them to us, the book Came down, spanning timeless decadence   To tell us of the nations and the forms That have gone down beneath consuming time; What temporal monument, against the storms, Can hold steadfastly in artistic rhyme?…

Ein Ruf aus der Wüste: Foreword

The fierce desire harbored by the author of this booklet to fulfill an obligation that, he feels, a more than human power has imposed on him, as well as the heartfelt diligence with which  he hopes to gladden his fellow men through the proclamation of those truths that fill his own heart with inexpressible joy – these things have impelled him to commend the following little volume to the German people so that it might be received with an interest appropriate to the importance of the subject being treated. When in the course of human events it is made incumbent on us through the injunction of Divine Providence to record those unusual events that are suitable to comprise a new era and lay the foundation for renewal of a spiritual world and the destruction of tyranny and oppression to help promote the glorious kingdom of the Prince of Peace – then minds are filled with wonder and astonishment. The millennial church of Christ has been founded in the United States of America through the direct action of Divine Providence by His sending of His holy angel to show the nations the true fundamental teachings of his church, which was to be restored in the last times to prepare for the second coming of Christ to this world. The author of this little work is an American by birth and has been a priest of this church for eleven years, almost…

Ein Ruf aus der Wüste: title page

The first non-English Latter-day Saint work, Orson Hyde’s Ein Ruf aus der Wüste, was published in 1842 in Frankfurt. The section recounting the life of Joseph Smith and the translation of the Book of Mormon has been translated multiple times and is available at the Joseph Smith Papers Project, in Dean Jessee’s 1989 The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings vol. 1, and in Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents vol. 1. That leaves around 100 of the 115 total pages still untranslated. As a first step toward making this source more widely available, a translation of the title page and a few notes follow. To accompany this year’s “Come Follow Me” focus on the Doctrine and Covenants and church history, I’m planning to post additional sections in English translation as a way to look at how an early church member understood the restored gospel and presented it to others. * * * A Cry in the Wilderness, a Voice from the Bowels of the Earth. A short overview of the origin and doctrine of the church of “Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” in America, known to many by the designation: “The Mormons.” By Orson Hyde, a priest of this church. Read, reflect, pray and act! Frankfurt, 1842. Self published by the author. * * * One thing that immediately sticks out is that Ein Ruf aus der Wüste provides an early example of using the First Vision…

Keith Erekson and the Scholars of Pajamalot

In a recent interview with Keith Erekson (the director of the Church History Library and a member of the editorial board of the Church Historian’s Press), Kurt Manwaring discussed a variety of topics, including the forthcoming publication of the William Clayton journals, the impact of Mark Hofmann on the Church History Library, and a moniker for the current era for the Church History Library.  It’s an interesting interview, so I recommend reading the full text here, but what follows below is a co-post, covering the highlights with some quotes and discussion. First things first, the item that will probably be of most interest to many of our readers is information about the William Clayton journals.  There have been several holy grails from the Church archives that historians have wanted to get their hands on but have been unable to do so until recently—the Council of 50 minutes, the George Q. Cannon journals, and the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book being a few examples to go alongside the William Clayton journals.  About three years ago, Matthew Grow caused a stir by announcing that William Clayton’s Diaries were going to be published.  As J Stuart explained at the time: “The Clayton Diaries … [are] one of the best sources to understanding Joseph Smith’s personal life, thoughts, and activities in Nauvoo.”[1]  Erekson also explained in his recent interview that: “The journals are significant because they contain contemporary information about plural marriage in Nauvoo…

“Or, are they all wrong together?”

In this week’s chapter in the Come, Follow Me manual, one of the core areas of discussion is “why are there various accounts of the First Vision?”  It’s an opportunity to explore the other accounts of the First Vision in a way that is potentially helpful to members of the Church.[1]   The section mentions that: “Although these accounts differ in some details, depending on the audience and setting, they are otherwise consistent.  And each account adds details that help us better understand Joseph Smith’s experience.”  The manual offers a link to the Gospel Topics Essay, which in turn links to the different accounts, and then asks: “What do you learn from reading all of these accounts?”  While I’ve offered my thoughts on what the messages of the First Vision were according to what’s actually in the accounts (more or less my response to that final question), I want to take some time to look at a relatively minor example of how “each account adds details that help us better understand Joseph Smith’s experience.” Within the canonized account of the First Vision, there is an inconsistency that has often stood out to me.  In discussing his confusion caused by several Protestant sects proselyting and contending with each other, Joseph Smith states that: “I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?”[2]  Later, when he is talking about…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C —Joseph Smith History 1

In the second lesson for this year, the Come Follow Me curriculum turns to Joseph Smith-History in order to include a brief look (over two lessons) at the origins of the restoration. For most Church members, the story is very familiar, and the principles taught are well-covered material. And, as you might imagine, the events of the First Vision have been told many times in poetry. But, that was not always true—Mormon poets didn’t cover the First Vision until the saints arrived in Utah. Below I’ve included three poems that treat the First Vision. Two of them are from some of the best known of Mormon poets. But, don’t stop there. The final poem, a sonnet, is the best, and one of my favorites of all Mormon poetry. Eliza R. Snow’s Historical sketch of the Life of President Joseph Smith The earliest poem I found is from 1856 — found in Eliza R. Snow’s first collection of poetry. Snow started writing a poetic epic poem to tell the life story of Joseph Smith in the early 1840s, completing an introductory poem that was published in 1843. She later wrote two “chapters” of the poem covering Smith’s life until the organization of the Church, and then apparently abandoned the project. The whole poem was published in her 1856 collection. The following is a portion of the second chapter that covers the events of the current Come Follow Me lesson: Historical sketch…