The Inquirer After Truth and The Sacred Grove
I was a mischievous boy disturbing Primary classes for conscientious teachers in Southern California when something happened that changed me at a profound level. The Junior Primary chorister came into the class one day and told us she was going to teach us a new song. She would sing it for us and then we would sing it with her. I listened while she sang, “The golden plates lay hidden deep in a mountain side until God found one worthy in whom he could confide.” She had a high soprano voice and it carried me to Palmyra. I could clearly see in my imagination the young Joseph Smith and though I did not comprehend at the time the testimonial endearment that was being instilled in my heart I loved him; believed that what he told people had happened to him really did happen and what’s more I too wanted to be a boy in whom God could confide.
That was the first time I had been to Palmyra, a spiritual journey not a physical one, but a journey nonetheless. Years later the dream, born on that Primary morning, of actually walking among the trees where Joseph prayed and of climbing the hill that revealed the golden glow of ancient Nephite records was fulfilled. It was here, in this frontier community of farms and fields that Joseph taught us the great encompassing and over-arching lesson of his entire life. Perhaps he was given to us by God to teach us one grand truth alone, for the theme of his life was introduced in a Palmyra wood and on a hillside.
I pondered that theme as I walked one spring morning alone through the Sacred Grove. I think it instructive that there is only one place in our religious literature that we grace with the title “Sacred” and that is among the trees where Joseph prayed. I opened Joseph’s account recorded in the Pearl of Great Price and read again the old familiar phrases which have become such a part of my soul’s furniture and which constitute in such perfect fashion his life’s instructive message.
“I was an obscure boy…a boy of no consequence in the world.” Can we not all relate to that self-description and the humility behind it? Is it not true of us all and yet God speaks to the “obscure” of the earth! “I have been induced to write this history to… put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts…” It is the inquirers after truth that the Restoration is addressed to, and I wondered as I walked beneath the newly budding leaves if I was such a one. Certainly Joseph was and he showed us the grand potential of one for whom truth was as necessary as the air he breathed. His whole life was a continual search for truth.
“My mind was called up to serious reflection…my feelings were deep.” He hungered for “certain conclusions,” “wisdom from God,” and “confidence in settling the question.” He would not merely “file off” in the direction of one voice “in the “midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions.” Opinions were not what he desired and he remained “aloof” from the “strife of words…the stir and division amongst the people.” Truth is a uniting, communal bond. Here is a definition of an inquirer after truth we can emulate, and such was Joseph.
“How to act I did not know…” he wrote. And he intended to act upon whatever God chose to give him even if that answer consisted of truth or responsibility that previous to his prayer “had never entered into my heart.” I think God intends for us to act upon the truths he bestows upon us. “If I respond to your inquiries,” he seems to ask us, “will you believe me and place into motion the counsels I offer?” Joseph would and did!
But this brought into his life “notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution.” Yet in spite of unrelenting opposition “all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise.” Joseph, like Paul, “would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him.” This is often the price one is required to pay to answer the two thousand-year-old question Pilate once asked of Jesus just before his death. “What is truth?” Joseph had received answers “and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.”
In light of my own childhood antics of disturbing Primary classes and annoying the other children, I have always loved another of Joseph’s self-descriptions. “I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his [the adversary] kingdom.” I suppose we are to a greater or lesser extent all born with disturber and annoyer genes. I just needed to learn which kingdom to disturb and in time I did learn and have tried to follow Joseph’s example in this area as I have in so many other areas of his life. God called this young man because though he was obscure and of little consequence in his own mind he was a true inquirer after truth, one who wanted certain conclusions and settled questions and would act on the answers when he received them in spite of all the opposition earth and hell could array against him.
I always end a visit to the Smith Farm by lingering in the log home where Joseph conversed with his mother after his morning in the grove. She asked him what the matter was and he replied in the eight words I most love from the mind of Joseph Smith. “All is well…” he responded. Then—“I have learned for myself…” This is the theme of his life! This is a phrase to build our own lives upon. Because a fourteen-year-old boy went into a grove of trees to pray, all is well in my life regardless of its circumstances, and one day all will be well in the world. Joseph invites us all to learn for ourselves the great lifting, edifying, and ennobling truths that can turn men into beings like God himself. The strength of the Restoration lies in that possibility. God is a revealing God and He would talk with his children.
I never leave Palmyra without thanking my Father in Heaven for the boy prophet, who though human and needing to struggle against the frailties and follies we are all so prone to exhibit, accomplished so very, very much. He, himself, “often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections.” Yet, he was a truth seeker and he sought all his life. The Doctrine and Covenants is a book filled with his inquiries and resulting answers and we have all been blessed by his seeking, asking, and knocking mind. In time would follow all the other blessings of Restoration, the Book of Mormon, the law of consecration, the Word of Wisdom, the three degrees of glory, apostles, temples, endowment, work for the dead, and the crown of the Restoration—eternal marriage and family, but it all started here in Palmyra, on a nineteenth-century farm, in a grove of trees we still call “Sacred.”