Spirit Wrestling

At the last General Conference for our church we were asked to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year.  I did the math and in order to finish with a bit of a buffer we’d have to read three chapters as a family a day.  So we got started.

Our format for how we accomplish this has changed a bit to fit our family’s particular needs.  The kids have shown how tired they are when they are asked to read in the morning.  There’s a lot of misreadings that occur when eyes are still closed.  One example of the misreading that has emerged was with our 13-year-old son who has recently found himself quite enjoying sports.

Just over a year ago he went from being pretty sedentary to playing football.  Then he tried baseball.  Football season showed up again.  Then it was wrestling.  He was actively wrestling when we started reading the Book of Mormon and the season was still going strong when we got to Alma chapter 8.  His portion of reading landed on verse 10 which says:

10 Nevertheless Alma alabored much in the spirit, bwrestling with God in cmighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.

The teenager missed the comma between spirit and wrestling.  He literally read it as spirit-wrestling then didn’t finish the sentence.  He exclaimed, “Spirit wrestling!  Sounds cool!”

IMG_20181210_124322474I’m not sure what he was thinking spirit wrestling was.  Maybe it was when he was sore from practice the night before and he figured he’d be less sore if his body wasn’t required for wrestling.  We’ll never know for sure.  His siblings and mother pointed out the error, he got embarrassed and now it’s a subject he’s not willing to revisit.

The word wrestling in the scriptures is significant here.  I hope that when adults read it they not only remember the all important comma, but that they also consider the nature of the verb.  Any good wrestling match is tiring.  It’s usually a match that in order to win one must have prepared to be stronger and capable of out maneuvering his opponent.  Opponents are intentionally evenly matched and in many cases they are decided by one person’s will overcoming the other.

You’ll notice here that the word spirit isn’t capitalized.  Alma wasn’t wrestling with the Spirit of God.  That would be spirit with a capital S.  He’s wrestling with his own spirit.  He’s wrestling with his personal feelings and goals to bring them to a level of humility that he might approach our Father in Heaven asking for things that are His will.

We can take a great lesson from this verse, look at our own lives and see if there is anything that might require us to wrestle with our spirits in order to be the person we need to be in order to feel comfortable when we see our Heavenly Parents once again.

We Already Fail Often

Failing in professional settings is now seen as opportunities to improve.  There’s a good professional discussion on the mantra Fail Forward.  There’s also more than one article parsing through the rhetoric to expose that a simple phraseology is not the cure for everything. While the phrase and concept have had some success in professional settings there is something to be noted about the concept in spiritual settings as well.  We are here to learn from failure. 540px-falcon_heavy_croppedPaul said in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”  Failure is a part of our human existence.  If the fail fast, fail often can work (even with the mantra’s flaws) to get Space-X to new heights applying the mantra spiritually should enable us to get to new heights. This doesn’t mean we should go out and find new ways to fail.  I think it means that we should take the time to find new opportunities for us to improve.  While we have Paul’s words on our failure in the New Testament, we have these words in the Book of Mormon (emphasis added):
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27
In this section not only do we have an explanation of the purpose of our weaknesses that often lead us to fall short, but we also have a description of the pathway to improve and the promise that our weaknesses will be turned into strengths if we are humble enough to involve God’s help. Fail forward is a great phrase in many, but not all, settings professionally.  It also has some application in our lives from a spiritual stand point.  If we exercise humility and allow ourselves to rely upon the mercies and merits of Jesus Christ, we can become strong in the thing where we are weak.

Utterly Wasted

Both the Jewish faith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a strong relationship to a prophecy at the end of the Old Testament concerning the return of the prophet Elijah.  Elijah is famously known for his showdown with the Priests of Baal in 1 Kings 18.  His return was prophesied hundreds of years later in Malachi 4 (KJV):

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

NIV Translates it thusly:

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Both verses list the consequence for Elijah not coming and the hearts not turning as a type of a curse with the NIV version being more aggressive listing what the KJV translators had termed a curse to total destruction, but what if it wasn’t about destruction?  What if the root was something closer to wasted and was understood as ‘being laid to waste’ or cursed in the Old Testament translations?

The historical word used here Early in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is the record of an angel visiting Joseph Smith and recounting the prophecy in Malachi:

And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.

The change from curse (KJV) and total destruction (NIV) in this quoting is listed as the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.  In combination with the other translations it appears to just be another word for the destruction that is prophesied as part of the second coming.  But I like this version, because it works beautifully when cross referenced.

To be clear Elijah has returned, and with him the Priesthood authority to bind families on earth and throughout the eternities.  The ordinance is considered to be just as important as baptism.  Hence there is an ordinance done in temples known as sealing. The work in temples is done for the living and on behalf of those who have died.  This work is the highest ordinance that we can obtain here on the earth and so The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints considers it a part of their mission to have the work performed for all those who have ever lived on the earth (those who have died still have to accept the work on their behalf).  These sealings bind one generation to another turning the hearts of the children to their fathers and enabling the eternal life with our families.

sky earth galaxy universe

So, what should we cross reference Malachi’s prophesy with?  How about a verse in the Book of Moses? In chapter 1, Moses is shown all of God’s creations and marvels.  In the revelation the Lord not only shows his works, but also their purpose.  In verse 39 we read:

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Moses speaks of the purpose of earth and all of God’s creations as bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  The immortality and eternal life that come from receiving all the ordinances (baptism and sealings being among them) that are necessary for salvation.  Malachi speaks of the importance of combining the human family together.  The two scriptures are in wonderfully perfect harmony.  If the entire human family isn’t brought together then literally the earth would be wasted–not wasted in the sense of a curse–but wasted as in the sense of rubbish–unable to serve a purpose and tossed aside.

Now, isn’t that cool?

Corrupting the Language

As the language evolves it evolves in different direction. The Urban Dictionary does a great job showing the evolution of the language, but you can see how crude it is.

In contrast there are these verses in the Book of Moses 6

5 And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;

6 And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.

Defile means to make unclean or impure. A language that was pure must be a language that contained only the ability to express things that were pure. After all, this was the language that God used with Adam in the Garden of Eden.

The origin of the root defile includes the from Anglo-French defoiller, defuler meaning to trample. This refers to the process of filling which required stomping on the wool (sometimes soaked in urine) over and over again until the wool was softened enough to make it comfortable. It is not an accident. It is intentional.

We see the word trample elsewhere in the scriptures. In Matthew 7 we hear the Savior prompt

6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

The imagery of something as precious as a pearl being trampled is powerful. This use of trample in conjunction with defile shows us that the corrupting of the language is an intentional process taking something that is most beautiful (the language we use to communicate with God) and reducing it only to it’s baser elements crushing what is precious and staining that which is pure.

Guarding our tongues and thoughts will determine how comfortable we are when we meet our Savior again. But as that day is some time off we have lots of time to practice and learn to appreciate the robust versatility and beauty that is our language.

The Allegory of the Olive Tree


The longest chapter in the Book of Mormon happens to be one of my favorites.  It’s a beautiful telling of the Olive Tree Allegory which is hinted at several times in the Bible, but missing from that text.  The Book of Mormon quoting this story helps to offer context not only for this life, but also of the story of the Children of Israel that’s so well documented in the Bible.

When I was in High School The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints produced videos to help explain this allegory.  One of these got published online.  It’s dated, but the message is still good.

Also, if one cares this one chapter has over 600 pages of commentary in a wonderful book titled, The Olive Tree Allegory.

Book of Mormon Lexicon

This talk was written to be given in the Oak Creek Ward, Meridian ID on 12 March.  Due to a fire alarm getting pulled, it wasn’t presented and I don’t want the thoughts to be unshared and so I’m posting it here.

While Chrissy has introduced our family as part of her talk I get to introduce myself.  I grew up a kid with a lot of energy and as I’ve aged I’ve learned to put that energy into different subjects over the years.  I rarely lose myself in a novel, because I just tend not to read novels.  I’m more comfortable going through a text book on a subject I’m curious about or thumbing through etymology in a dictionary.  On my commute to work I’ve usually got a podcast or an audio book playing.

We all have places we've said fond goodbyes to over the years.
We all have places we’ve said fond goodbyes to over the years.

I’ve become a bit eccentric about certain things I’ve studied over the years.  A friend of mine at work and I are putting together a list of things people shouldn’t ask me if they want short answers to questions.  We’ve titled the list “Don’t ask the following if you want a short answer.”  The list includes my opinion on the merits of the Oxford Comma.  Which I imagine others have strong opinions about as well.  It also includes things like asking me which font to use.  My farewell talk in Germany included fonts.  The #1 thing on the list is asking me what my favorite dictionary is.  Yes there is a difference, and if you’d like to talk about it, let’s do it when there’s some good food.  I’m sure this subject will make me the most popular person at the Ward Christmas party.  Set a reminder on your phone to sit with the Roeckers!

Usually in my talks I try to throw in some odd insight and tie it back to the gospel.  Today I’d like to share two words with you in my talk about the Book of Mormon.  Today’s words are gongoozle and adieu.  The first word is wonderfully specific and I doubt you realize that you’ve been guilty of gongoozling in your life.  The word has truly British origins and means to stare at the behavior in a canal.  It’s oddly specific right?  It doesn’t mean to look at a stream, or a river, but only the behavior in a canal.  While you probably didn’t ever believe you needed that word in your life, enough people did that some lexicographer added it to the dictionary and there we have one of the most oddly specific words in the English lexicon.  So, if the weather’s good and you see a canal, go ahead and do a bit of gongoozling.  I personally find it very relaxing.

I was asked to talk about the Book of Mormon and in particular reference the conference talks from the October’s General Conference.  The talk I’ve chosen to reference today is by Elder Gary E. Stevenson.  In his talk he has four sections.  First he starts with a personal story about a twelve year old girl being touched by the spirit to read the Book of Mormon while others had concluded she was too young to grasp its meaning and importance.

The second part of his talk explains the keystone of an archway and how the Book of Mormon is often compared to a keystone.  Joseph Smith is the most pronounced individual to declare that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion.  Elder Stevenson challenged his audience in this section to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimony.

His final two sections involve his personal witness of the book and encouraging others to seek within its pages to obtain their own personal witness.  In his call to receiving your own personal witness he quotes the specific challenge and promise at the end of the Book of Mormon where Moroni challenges his audience to read, remember, and ask if the book is true.

Rainey and I were talking this morning about how some gospel rules come with specific blessings while others are more general.  We covered why tithing is sometimes referred to as fire insurance.  We discussed the word of wisdom in D&C 89, and then talked about the ten commandments.  The challenge to honor thy father and thy mother comes with the promise that thy days may be long on the land the Lord thy God shall give thee.  After just having talked about daylight savings time, Rainey believed–just for a moment–that this meant there’d be more sunlight during the day to give you time to play with friends.

When you have a detailed promise in the scriptures it’s ok to be detail oriented in your study of the scriptures.  I loved the details I’ve discovered in the Book of Mormon.  1 Nephi 13:12 has Christopher Columbus.  One verse later you read that all of our ancestors who crossed the ocean to come to this land were each led by the Spirit.  3 Nephi 11 is rich with the simplicity and beauty of the instructions the Savior personally gave to the Nephites, but for my father this section was an answer to prayers he said as a non member.  He told a friend once that if Jesus Christ really was who he said he was, then more ought to be written about him than just what’s in the Bible.  One of the friends he shared that with was LDS, and my dad’s life has never been the same since.

Nephi’s writing style is like a delicious meal.  He’s very careful in the way he talks about his brothers.  Laman and Lemuel may have made poor choices, but have you ever noticed how Nephi never uses aggressive or demeaning language when writing about them?  He goes out of his way to narrate their role in his family’s story without any excess negativity.  I do hope that we can adopt this tone in our own families.

The second word I wanted to share with you is the word Adieu.  It appears one time in all of the standard works at the end of the book of Jacob.  We teach our children that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon into English.  But Adieu is a French word.  I struggle often with words that have a French etymology.  French words have been known to invade the English language before.  Most of our meat words are from French.  For example beef has a French origin but comes from a cow.  This has to do with the fact that the French nobility in England could afford to eat their animals and used words for the meat that were different than the words the peasantry used for the animals themselves.

So Joseph Smith is commanded to translate the book into English and chooses a French word.  While to most of us Adieu is nothing more than an elegant way to say goodbye and certainly when it’s used in Jacob 7:27 it is when Jacob is saying goodbye to his readers, but why didn’t Joseph just use goodbye?  The answer is in the specifics of the word.  No word in English is specific enough to share what Jacob is trying to say.  He’s not simply saying farewell. The dieu in adieu refers to deity and adieu means not only farewell, but a parting that calls upon the listener to remember their God.  He’s saying in our parting I commit you to God.  The farewell is familiar and contains a tone of finality fitting of an eloquent man.

While we may have specific words like gongoozle in our lexicon, we had nothing better to express this thought.

Elder Stevenson’s challenge to make the Book of Mormon the keystone of our testimonies is a challenge with great promised blessings.  His testimony included the belief that these blessings are available to all regardless of age.  The process for doing this is to follow Moroni’s advice to read, remember, and ask.  My testimony to you this day is that the Book of Mormon is true and that as you return to Moroni’s formula you can have a greater appreciation for what the keystone of our religion can do in your life.  Sometime it’ll inspire a dramatic instantaneous life change.  Other time it may just be enough to teach an amateur etymology enthusiast like myself that words with French origins aren’t that bad.