One of my favorite scriptural images is portrayed in various verses in 3rd Nephi, Matthew, and the Doctrine and Covenants. The analogy is that of a hen gathering her chickens under her wings. Though I have had very little experience with live poultry nor have ever watched first-hand a hen gathering her chickens under her wings, the image as expressed in D&C 10:65, “For behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings,” warms my heart and makes me feel safely enclosed, comforted, and loved. Illustrations in several children’s picture books depict a kindly mother hen clucking as she gathers her bright yellow chickens or searches for a missing chick (for example, Mama Hen and Her Baby Chicks, 1, 2, 3 by Beck Ward and Allison Morris, and The Missing Chick by Valeri Gorbachev).
Far more evocative than colored pictures, however, is the thought of how the Savior desires to gather us to him, “whose arm of mercy hath atoned for [our] sins” (D&C 29:1). In three consecutive verses in 3 Nephi10:4-6, Jesus Christ speaks directly to the people during his appearance in the New World: “How oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
“And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen, yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.
“O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings. . . .”
The Savior’s open invitation is extended to all, “O ye nations of the earth”(D&C 43:24) as well as the house of Israel, with few requirements: “Who will gather his people even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, even as many as will hearken to my voice and humble themselves before me, and call upon me in mighty prayer” and “repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart” (3 Nephi 10:6). Yet time and again, the Lord chastises those who “would not” (3 Nephi 10: 6; Matthew 23:27; D&C 43:24).
The opposite of to be gathered is to be scattered. The scriptures are replete with references (more than a hundred) to people, who because they would not be gathered, became scattered. Following the erection of the Tower of Babel, “the Lord did confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11: 9). Psalms tells us that “all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered” (Psalms 92:9).Young Nephi explains engravings on the brass plates to his brethren: “It appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations.
“And behold, there are many who are already lost from the knowledge of those who are at Jerusalem. Yea, the more part of all the tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea; and whither they are none of us knoweth, save that we know that they have been led away” (1 Nephi 22:3, 4). In Helaman 7:16, Nephi, the son of Helaman, prophesies: “And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts.” Joseph Smith, in dedicating the Kirtland Temple in 1836, said, “Thou hast a great love for the children of Jacob, who have been scattered upon the mountains for a long time, in a cloudy and dark day” (D&C 109:67).
Gathering is a central doctrine of the gospel. The tenth Article of Faith states: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” The restoration of the gospel to the Prophet Joseph Smith began the latter-day process of gathering.
As a student of Church history and as a descendant of converts during the early days of the Restoration, I have been fascinated by the myriad stories of faith, sacrifice, and endurance of those who heeded the call to gather to Zion, first to Kirtland then to Missouri and Nauvoo, and eventually to the West. Two of my favorite books about the western gathering are Homeward to Zion: The Mormon Migration from Scandinavia by William Mulder and Gathering to Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail by Wallace Stegner. My ancestors, who came from Scotland and England and settled in southern Utah, joined with more than 85,000 other 19th century converts who gathered to Utah.
By the end of the 19th century, the Church, however, asked members to stay and build up the Church in their homelands. Enlarging the borders of Zion through the growth of worldwide membership and creation of stakes is an ongoing and vital process. The net continues to gather “of every kind” (see Matthew 13:47).
Just last week we experienced a great gathering of Saints for general conference. The 100,000 people who attended sessions at the Conference Center were only a small portion of the millions of Saints who gathered via technology to hear the words of our prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, the Apostles, Seventy, and auxiliary leaders. General conference was a marvelous spiritual gathering that fortified and strengthened us. Prior to conference, my friend Marilynne Linford ably compared the protection gathering for conference affords to the huddling of Emperor penguins (see “Huddling Emperor Penguins and General Conference,” Meridianmagazine.com). Gathering together for conference lasts longer