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M. Catherine Thomas
Friday, June 17 2011

Light in the Wilderness: Explorations in the Spiritual Life
Chapter One

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Editor’s Note: Today we continue the serialization of  Light in the Wilderness by scripture scholar and former BYU professor M. Catherine Thomas.  When I read this book (and then re-read it for the pure joy of it), I wanted to share it with everyone I knew, for its delicious and illuminating ideas were like a gift, stirring my ancient spirit.  Meridian is so pleased to share this serialization on this and upcoming Fridays.  Maurine Proctor

Read the Introduction

 And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. 1 Nephi 17:13

What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? … What will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? Ether 2:23, 25

Our scene opens in the premortal world as the waiting spirits face the sobering prospect before them: the descent into the darkened world; the journey in the wilderness of mortality; the embarking upon the great waters of the telestial world in untried “vessels.” This venture would take courage and faith.

And pondering the journey, we must have asked something like, “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2:22). And we must have heard in reply, “Ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth” (Ether 2:25). We undertook extensive preparations. Covenants were entered into, light and knowledge promised, and the vessels fitted with light receptors for the journey.

Instructions came to us about the nature of the world we would descend to and the way in which the Lord would be with us. We learned that He would be in the sun and the light of the sun, in the moonlight, and in the starlight. Nevertheless, as we looked upon the furious winds, the turbulent depths of the sea with its mountain waves, and saw ourselves buried in the deep, we said, “But, the winds and the waters. …” We were reassured, “I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and floods have I sent forth” (Ether 2:24). He would be embedded in every part of our natural world, in the seen and the unseen, His reality always nearer than we would know at first.

All would be under His sole control, and He would be our vigilant Ally in our journey through the fallen world. He told us, “I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee” (Abraham 2:8). “Thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me” (Moses 6:34). We would learn to cry unto Him and to walk with Him.

However, the perils in the journey were not imaginary. There would have to be waves, winds, rains, tempests, and darkness, as well as whales and monsters of the deep. Nevertheless, trusting in the promises, we left our premortal glories and set “ forth into the sea, commending [ourselves] unto the Lord [our] God” (Ether 6:4).

And now, the great temporal adventure undertaken, we commence our search for the promised Light in the Wilderness and the Heavenly Forces upon the Great Waters.

The Book of Mormon is the manual provided for their unveiling, with its types and shadows of our own personal journey. The Jaredite mariners, for example, sailed before a great wind that drove them toward their destination: “The Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind” (Ether 6:5). The Nephites also “put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:8).

What is the nature of this Wind upon the Great Waters? The scriptural use of wind reveals the meaning. In the biblical text, the word for wind (Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma) can also mean “spirit” or “breath” 1 and often refers to the presence and activity of the Spirit. We read, for example, of the “rushing mighty wind” of the Lord’s spirit and glory filling places of worship (d&c 109:37; Acts 2:2). As the Jaredites felt the force of their great wind, they knew it came forth by the power of the Heavenly Spirit pressing them toward their divine destination.

When that force became more than they could handle alone, they remembered to enlist help from the One who drives the winds: “They were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind” (Ether 6:6). But the Lord fulfilled His promise to them, for “when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters” (Ether 6:7).

This Wind, these Waves, and all that they stand for, can be fearsome as the Mighty Being ceaselessly tends to His eternal work: “And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind” (Ether 6:8). Tempestuous forces, rolling upon us by day and by night, drive us toward our high destiny and do not relent in their commission to deliver us back into the divine presence.

However, their force is neither lesser nor greater than it must be to accomplish the

Work. Elder Richard G. Scott explains:

Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more (see Proverbs 3:11–12). He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting  benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain. … Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you perfectly. They would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love.2

Even those trials that we create with our disobedience, whatever the consequences the Lord may permit to come upon us, have a benevolent purpose behind them and with repentance can be turned to our eternal benefit.

As to the necessity of the ordeals of winds and tempests during the mortal probation, we learn from Brigham Young:

All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation.


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