Category: Mormon Arts

Arts – Music – Poetry – Cinema – Television

Why Mormon Literature is Vital

Last night poet and author James Goldberg, current president of the Association for Mormon Letters (AML), gave a short but masterful Presidential address as part of the AML’s annual conference. His poetic style and urgent message is quite powerful, despite being just 12 minutes long. Please watch this and let me know what you think! I hope to post some thoughts during the week.

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 58-59: Timing of Blessings, Sabbath Day

The end is always a new beginning. The arrival of the first Latter-day Saints in Independence, Missouri was both an end and a beginning. They accomplished the goal of gathering to Zion, but then realized that now they had to actually build Zion—a process that has, in a variety of ways, continued ever since. For the Saints at that time, the revelations contained in D&C 58 and 59 show the process of realizing that the new beginning of Zion contained a new set of struggles, and struggles that were very different from what they expected. For us today, these sections point out, symbolically, at least, that we are also facing struggles in our process of building Zion. And in these sections we find two different messages about the blessings we often expect. First, we learn that blessings don’t come automatically—God is not a vending machine. Instead, blessings come according to God’s timing. And second, we learn that by keeping the Sabbath, we will receive both temporal and spiritual blessings.   The Timing of Blessings The Saints who lived when the bulk of the Doctrine and Covenants were written faced a lot of struggle and suffering. These trials were often seen as necessary to their salvation, and the blessings they would receive were expected only in the future, if not in the next life. Eliza R. Snow captured this view in the following poem, written in late 1843 during her stay…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 51-57 — Temporal Zion

By going in order through the Doctrine and Covenants, the Come Follow Me lessons sometimes show the concerns of the Church at a particular point in time. The seven sections included in this lesson are quite varied, but all demonstrate temporal concerns — where to put all the immigrants arriving in Kirtland, how members should share what they have, how should church members fulfill the command to gather to Missouri and who should be doing the printing of Church publications. But despite these temporal concerns, in these sections there are clearly spiritual lessons which are germane to the temporal needs and directives. These include learning to become a faithful, just and wise steward, and learning to be pure in heart.   Being a Faithful Steward Eliza R. Snow is likely considered to be a faithful steward by most Church members. But like most of us, she had to make the decision to follow the gospel. She wrote about that decision in the following poem, and of the stewardship responsibilities that came with that decision. When I espous’d the cause of truth by Eliza R. Snow (1841) Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”-Matt. 7:14 When I espous’d the cause of truth, The holy spirit, from on high, Promply instructed me, forsooth, To lay my youthful prospects by. I saw along the “narrow way” An ordeal, which the saints…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 30-36 — Missions and Family Relationships

The seven sections of the Doctrine and Covenants covered by this week’s Come Follow Me lesson discuss, in general, missionary work and the subsequent benefits of membership in the Kingdom. The first five of these sections include missionary calls to David Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., John Whitmer, Thomas B. Marsh, Parley P. Pratt  and Ziba Petersen and advice on how to preach is given to Ezra Thayre, Northrop Sweet and Orson Pratt. The final two sections are Sidney Rigdon’s call to act as scribe for Joseph Smith in translating the Bible, and a blessing given to Edward Partridge.   L. O. Littlefield’s Farewell Missionaries and missionary work is a frequent subject of LDS poetry, and the parting at the beginning of missionary service is probably the most commonly treated part of missionary service. Of course, historically many poets have found inspiration in parting—so this focus among LDS poets is hardly surprising. In this case, the missionary poet is Lyman O. Littlefield, who was then the typesetter for the Times and Seasons. Born in 1819, Littlefield joined the Church in 1834 before joining Zion’s Camp. He married in 1840 and was called on his first mission in 1843, leading to the following poem. Later, Littlefield went on a second mission to Great Britain in 1847, then immigrated to Council Bluffs before moving to Utah in 1859. He died in Smithfield, Utah in 1893. L. O. Littlefield’s Farewell By Lyman O. Littlefield…

Counterpoint: A Feeling of Loss–On Murals and Temples

I lived a significant portion of my life in Logan, Utah and frequently attended the temple during the time that I lived there.  I had a lot of beautiful and sacred experiences while doing so, but I also rarely attended that temple without experiencing some feelings of loss.  In the late 1970s, in order to introduce the use of filmed endowments to that temple, the building was gutted and almost all of the paintings, stained glass, chandeliers, furniture, and other furnishings were stowed away in archives in Salt Lake City or Provo, sent to other temple and Church office buildings for use, or given away.  The murals and the ornate “gold room” sealing room decorations couldn’t be removed intact and the parts that weren’t cut out as souvenirs were destroyed.  The temple they built inside the shell of the original was far more efficient, more structurally sound, and had better air conditioning, but lost most of what the pioneer Saints had lovingly contributed to the house of the Lord.  President Spencer W. Kimball reportedly expressed regret at the loss of the pioneer craftsmanship, which is the same reason I felt some feelings of loss when I visited.  To see the furnishings from the older iteration of the temple, I had to visit the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City rather than the temple itself (until that, too, was renovated and the section about historic Utah temples removed).[1]  While the…

Art and Latter-day Saint History with Anthony Sweat

Some years ago, an institute teacher in a Church history class I attended said with some levity that: “I bear my testimony that Church media is not true.”  He said this hyperbolic statement in the context of a class where we talked about Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon, and he went on to discuss how there seem to be many different approaches that Smith took during over the course of the translation process.  The class took place around the time that the Gospel Topics Essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon had been published, in which the Church openly acknowledged that Joseph Smith spent at least some of the time looking at a seer stone in a hat.  Many of class members had felt that it was a bit jarring to learn that their perceptions about the translation process were not completely accurate, and as part of the discussion in class, they had realized that a lot of those perceptions had been adopted through viewing artwork depicting the translation process, and the teacher was trying to address that issue.  He added his comment in jest as a way to drive home the point that while artistic representations of Church history can be beautiful and useful, they aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be understood as sources that define doctrine and history in the Church. In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Anthony Sweat—an Associate Professor of Church History…

Redux: Responding to bigoted but famous texts—by Seuss and Doyle

The recent controversy over the decision of the literary estate of Theodore Seuss Geisel to stop selling six of his Dr. Seuss books because of their bigoted depictions of minorities reminded me of a somewhat similar situation. Nearly 10 years ago, I wrote the post Responding to Bigoted but Famous Texts about a Virginia school district and a controversy over a book featuring the beloved literary character Sherlock Holmes. The book was the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, and the villains of the story were, of course, Mormons. Like some news stories over the Dr. Seuss books, the few news stories over the Virigina school district and A Study in Scarlet misunderstood the situation. In the latter situation, one resident of Albemarle County, Virginia, suggested that if A Study in Scarlet is used in the school curriculum, it needs to be done with appropriate context and a thoughtful lesson, so that the bigotry against Mormons in the text is blunted. In response to my post 10 years ago, Jim Stern, one of the residents involved in the discussions, explained the situation in detail, and made it clear that there hadn’t been any attempt to censor A Study in Scarlet. In retrospect, Jim’s statements helped me see some of the middle ground in these discussions. It’s very easy to make charges of censorship any time the availability of a literary work changes. But there are, I think, many issues that…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 27-28 — Sacrament and Supremacy

A function of revelation is clarifying confusion and what isn’t clear. And this function is displayed in the two sections of the Doctrine and Covenant’s covered in this coming week’s Come Follow Me lesson. In Section 27, we learn that it isn’t necessary to use wine in the sacrament (and, in fact, “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink”), and in Section 28, we are told that who receives revelation matters—that revelation binding on the whole church comes to the Prophet, whose revelations are supreme. As I have for each lesson so far this year (and for many years in the past1), the poems below are suitable for enhancing and embellishing the Come Follow Me lessons.   Sacrament Gems There are, of course, many poems about the sacrament in the universe of Latter-day Saint poetry, and many are as accessible as the nearest hymnal. Those are likely quite familiar, and teachers might want to use a sacrament hymn for this lesson. But I can’t provide something that easy. Instead, let me give 3 examples of a common short poem that our parents and grandparents would have been familiar with: “sacrament gems.” These short poems were meant to be recited as preparation for the sacrament in “Junior Sunday School” — the primary-age Sunday meeting for children when primary was a separate weekday activity, instead of what we have today. As I understand it, gems were recited…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 23-26

One often forgotten feature of the Doctrine and Covenants is the very personal nature of many of its revelations. This week’s Come Follow Me lesson includes several sections of these revelations, including the unusual compilation of revelations found in section 23, which was given serially to Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith, Joseph Smith, Sr., and Joseph Knight, Sr. Two other sections of this group are given to Oliver Cowdery: the first along with Joseph Smith, Jr. and the second in conjunction with John Whitmer. And the final section was given to Emma Smith and is best known as her call to select the hymns for the Church’s first hymnal.   Looking on the Bright Side Let’s start with section 24, given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in response to some of the earliest persecution any church members experienced. It was far from the last. And persecution is a frequent subject of poetry during this time. The following poem is one of the most optimistic responses. Published in England in the Millennial Star, it wasn’t attributed to anyone in the publication. It may have been written by the Star’s editor at the time, Thomas Ward, who wrote many other poems that found their way into the pages of the Star.  Ward was replaced as the editor of the Star in 1846, in the midst of the controversy over a failed company formed to help members immigrate. He passed…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 20-22

Administrative acts don’t always get the same attention that ordinances and more dramatic events. And in comparison to the First Vision, the Martyrdom and a number of other events, the organization of the Church doesn’t get as much attention. This is also true in poetry. But even so, there are poems that mention the organization of the Church. This week’s Come Follow Me lesson discusses sections 20 and 21, both of which refer directly to the organization of the Church. And the third section covered in the lesson, section 22, makes plain the need for baptism by proper authority, something directly connected to the Church’s organization.   Whitney’s Two Pictures While the Church’s organization hasn’t received as much attention as the First Vision, poet Orson F. Whitney saw an important connection between them. Whitney was not the first of our poets to eventually become Apostles, but he may be the best, and perhaps even the most ambitious poetically (although Parley P. Pratt can also make these claims). Here’s Whitney’s take on these two early events in Church history: Two Pictures by Orson F. Whitney (1886) The foremost is a scene where forests grow, Where flowers bloom and springtime breezes blow, Where sweet-toned birds send up their matin lay And revel in the golden beams of day. Deep in the bosom of a woodland shade, Where solitude her secret home hath made, A rustic lad, his sunburned temples bare, Pours forth…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 18-19

The sections of the D&C covered in this week’s Come Follow Me lesson are apparently about the calling of the twelve apostles and paying for the Book of Mormon. But they also include themes that don’t directly bear on these purposes. Perhaps the most important theme is the call for repentance, and the subsequent forgiveness. Both sections talk about repentance: section 18 discussing the role of missionaries and members in calling the world to repentance, and section 19 including the oft-cited imploring of the Lord to repent in verse 16:  “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that that they might not suffer if they would repent.”   A Call to Sinners If we ask what language outside of English first received a sustained call to repentance, I think most Church members today would be surprised to learn that the answer is Welsh.  While Orson Hyde published a missionary tract in German earlier, it didn’t represent a sustained missionary effort. Instead, that happened first in Wales, which benefitted from the country’s integration in the United Kingdom. Missionaries first began preaching there in 1840, and saw significant success by 1845, when the well-known missionary Dan Jones began preaching in his native language. In 1846, the first non-English Latter-day Saint periodical Prophwyd y Jubili (Prophet of the Jubilee) began publication, and included the following anonymous poem: Galwad ar Bechaduriaid (1846) O, bechaduriaid, trowch mewn pryd–– Ar bechu mwy na roweh…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 14-17

This week’s Come Follow Me lesson includes several similar sections of the Doctrine and Covenants: three revelations to David Whitmer, John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, Jr., who have asked the Lord where they should focus their efforts. The fourth section in this lesson is essentially the call to David Whitmer, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery to be the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. But while these sections have similar purposes and focus on the Whitmer family, they are far from the same. Even the most similar, the revelations to John and to Peter Whitmer, Jr., have some differences. And those differences lead to the discussion of several different principles.   John Jaques and Measuring Arms with God In section 14, a revelation given to David Whitmer, the revelation again uses the “marvelous work and a wonder” phrase that is so common in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often this phrase comes with a bit of a paradox, since it is clear that we are supposed to participate, but that regardless of what we do, God will accomplish His purposes. I like how poet John Jaques catches some of this in the following poem. Born in England in 1827, Jaques joined the Church in 1848, and in addition to serving a mission, he wrote poetry, including several hymns in our current hymnal. He is perhaps best known for “Oh Say, What is Truth?” He immigrated to Utah in 1856, and…

Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 12-13

The two sections of the D&C for the next Come Follow Me lesson are both quite short, but the second covers one of the most significant events in Church history—the visit of John the Baptist restoring the Aaronic Priesthood and the ordinance of Baptism, found in section 13. But before that, in section 12, we find a blessing on Joseph Knight, Sr., who sought to know what he should do to build up the kingdom. Surprisingly, the answer to that is not often found in the earliest Mormon poetry—when this poetry speaks of Zion or of the kingdom, the message is often simply the millennial message that the Lord will bring Zion, regardless of what we do. Fortunately, there are some poems that do suggest that we should work to build up Zion.   Jane Mason On Zion On Zion is the earliest poem I found that mentions that we should be part of building up Zion. Its author, Jane Horby Mason, was born in Louth, Lincolnshire in 1807 and married Thomas Mason in 1840. They had a child, James, in 1841, and several years later Jane joined the Church and wrote a poem titled “Truth” in 1847 and the following poem in 1848. Early the following year, Jane and her son James immigrated to Utah, leaving Thomas behind. In Utah Jane married Levi Savage, Sr. in 1856, and lived in Utah until her death in 1888. I hope to…

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…

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…

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…

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…