This year (2020) I was invited to share my thoughts in Sunstone's "Why I Stay" plenary session for their co...
I like Lehi’s dream. It’s an allegory of the journey of the soul as it searches for a way to the Tree of Life which is the love of God. Leading to it is a Rod of Iron described as the word of God. The Iron Rod gives us hope that we can make it to the Tree. But the horror of Lehi’s dream is that there is no easy path.
A major character in Lehi’s dream is the “mists of darkness”. Lehi describes his own experience with those mists or fog:
I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies.
Lehi experienced this horror of being lost in the fog. Even he felt the disorienting terror of being lost. He grappled with that. And it caused him to cry out to God for mercy.
And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field. And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.
I think sometimes we may downplay the horror Lehi felt. Indeed, Lehi seems to not have an appreciation for the fog and mists he emerged out of until he was able to look back on it:
And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit. And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.
… And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
The hope of Lehi’s dream is that we can attain the fruit, but we should take pause here to realize that this dream gave Lehi both a “reason to rejoice in the Lord” but also caused him to “fear exceedingly”. Key to understanding this “fear” or horror is that the Rod of Iron goes straight into the fog: not around it, not through an area where there is no fog, not in a safe, protected trail of peace. No. It goes straight into the horror of the fog of doubt and despair Lehi both experienced and witnessed in others.
Lehi observed some being unwilling to press into the fog. Some went in but lost their way — including some of his own family and even himself before he cried to the Lord. And he observed how some make it through to the other side and accessed the fruit of the Tree which is the love of God.
I personally think there’s another category: those who entered into the fog and are stuck, unwilling to let go of their current place on the Rod to move ahead any more. Paralyzed by the horror of the fog that now completely envelopes them, they’ve made the Rod of Iron their desperate, final state and object of worship. This is the danger of hyper-orthodoxy: it worships the word (the Iron Rod) and not what the word points to (the Tree, or “love of God”). Breaking this grip to move forward while not letting go of the Rod entirely and becoming lost is key.
I think, in life, we all must pass through the fog and grapple with this horror. There is no way around, no shortcut, no path that stays above the fog, no tunnel where the fog has been removed for us, no one who can make the journey for us (Lehi couldn’t make the journey for his own family), etc. The Rod goes straight into this dark, disorientating, and overwhelming fog and we each have to grapple with the horror of this fog just as Lehi did. But we can have hope that the rod does pass through it as we realize how it places love and charity first. And if we can make it through to the other side, the love of God awaits us.
This gives me empathy towards hyper-orthodoxy which I believe is a crippling overcompensation for doubt. I see hyper-orthodoxy as perhaps frightened and desperately grappling to the Iron Rod stuck in the midst of the fog unable to move forward. The danger is that the Iron Rod itself is not sustainable as an end state, it’s merely a pointer. We can lose our way when we’re in the fog clinging onto the Rod of Iron then realize it doesn’t taste very good when we try to eat it. We have to face the horrors of our doubts if we’re going to keep moving. We mustn’t let go of the Rod, but just realize that it’s a tool to get through the fog and to the Fruit which tastes much better.
Maybe that’s only a fiction. But it’s a useful fiction that gives me empathy as I try to help others keep moving to come to the Tree which we both originally set out to attain. I find it’s a way to reach out to people who may be in this place of fear and who might lash out to movement. Lehi saw his family lost and called out to them:
And it came to pass that I beckoned unto them; and I also did say unto them with a loud voice that they should come unto me, and partake of the fruit, which was desirable above all other fruit.
This gives me courage and hope to extend that same charity to others and call out to them saying:
It’s okay. I’ve been up the path. It gets better. Yes, this fog is horrifying. But the fruit is so good. Keep moving. Face the fog. I’ll walk with you.