Thursday, October 27, 2005

Scripture reading and listening to the prophet

My wife and I have been listening to the prophet and actually reading the Book of Mormon, with the intent of finishing before the year is out. This has been an interesting experience before. I have read the book over a dozen times and had somewhat burned out on those pages. I even recently (last Christmas, I think) retired my old scriptures, given to me by my parents at age 8. The verses were heavily overlaid by multiple colors and accompanied by scribbled notes in the margins. There have been times when, while reading that set, I was actually impressed at my spiritual insight from previous readings. But alas, I needed a new set. That doesn't mean I got rid of the old set of scriptures. They are still sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust.

The new set is a quad, containing all four major works that Latter-day Saints consider scripture in one binding: the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. I have used them somewhat, but never really broken in the new pages. Most of my Sunday school lesson preparation takes place on my laptop using the online scriptures and GospeLink 2001. I don't even use a lesson manual, instead opting to get the material from the website. I tried once to start going through the Book of Mormon using my new set, but didn't get past early 2nd Nephi.

Kari, on the other hand, has never read the Book of Mormon all the way through. It's not as if she has never read the book, though. She has read various passages, attended seminary while in high school and religion classes at BYU. She tells me she just never got as much out of personal scripture study.

So, my wife and I actually started reading the Book of Mormon together. We take turns reading five verses at a time, out loud. Sometimes, one of us will have comments. Not all comments are spiritual. Sometimes, we chuckle at strange word-choice of Mormon or bizarre behavior from one of the people described in the scriptures. Sometimes, an odd thought only vaguely inspired by what we read will get us on a random path of discussion. Often, I will point out things I have read that support the Book of Mormon's authenticity. Still other times, I will point out things I have read from critics that supposedly disprove the book, and my understanding of those kinds of statements. It has been a good learning experience for both of us. Kari is learning how all those stories fit together. I get a chance to talk out some of the issues, good and bad, that I've seen with the Book of Mormon.

An added bonus has been spending time with my wife. We do not always have time together, considering work (for both of us, depending on the time of year), school, children and church callings, we do not always get enough time with one another. This schedule of reading every day means at least a portion of the day is spent focusing on accomplishing a task together. It's nice. We have both observed that days we forget to read are less smooth. Just like the old seminary answers (i.e. life will be much better if you just read and pray).

One additional benefit of reading the scriptures together is that I notice things I never noticed before, gained insights I had never before supposed could be gained, at least not with as great clarity. For example, over and over, I see evidence that the Lehites (anyone descending from Lehi, whether those in Nephi's or Laman's camp) are not alone in the land. I can't tell if it is a cultural arrogance that they don't overtly talk about the other groups (with the exception of the people of Zarahemla and the Jaradites), or if it is just assumed that the reader will understand. While I'm not prepared to make a detailed list (because I am reading out loud and not taking time to mark or take note or anything), I recall time and again where a person or people are discussed that have no connection with the Nephites or Lamanites, but still someone who belongs in the land.

My working theory is that both the Nephites and Lamanites absorbed into other cultures, perhaps as the ruling classes (as the Nephites did with the people of Zarahemla). Their religions got blended into the local traditions, but the racial/cultural separateness never disappeared completely. I don't have any real evidence supporting this, but I can't help but feel there are more people than we are being explicitly shown.

At any rate, reading the Book of Mormon at a brisk pace means I am able to make connections I wouldn't make at a slower (and more solitary pace). It is definitely a different kind of experience. I'm not sure exactly what the prophet had in mind by wanting all the members of the church to read the Book of Mormon by the end of the year, or why it was so important for this year, but I suppose it doesn't matter. We are doing it and are reaping certain benefits, and that is what following the prophet (as a principle) is all about. Just doing it.

I, however, still like to probe, poke and prod at things until they bleed in an effort to understand. So I haven't just done this out of blind faith. But that's just me.

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