About Me

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Five years into widowhood, after one year of incredible happiness and nearly 14 years of single blessedness. Have given up perfect manicures and pretty hands in order to resume playing the soprano recorder and to see if I can figure out how to play bluegrass banjo. Singing in the shower. Still really, *really* love to knit!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sariah and Nephi and the Cranky Brothers

In our church, we are encouraged to liken the scriptures unto ourselves; in other words, we are to apply the stories and principles to our own lives.

I was listening to my Book of Mormon on CD in the car yesterday morning. It’s early days in First Nephi. Lehi has been listening to the Lord, and he sends his boys back to Jerusalem to get a record which is part family history and part scripture. The head of the family is a man named Laban, who appears to have both ecclesiastical power and political power. He certainly has servants and others to do his bidding. The sons draw straws, and Laman [the oldest brother, and rather full of himself] either wins or loses, depending upon your point of view. At any rate, he’s the one who gets to ask Laban if they can pretty-please have the records. And Laban basically tells them “not only no...” and calls them robbers and chases them out of his house on pain of death.

They regroup in the wilderness outside of town. Laman is mad. And a bully. And a coward. He wants to go back to their father and make excuses. Nephi says, “Hey, we left all of our nice stuff at home. Maybe we can trade it to Laban for the records. He can’t call us robbers if we offer him something valuable in return.”

They go back to the house and get the family treasures and take it all to Laban. He tells them, “No, I am not giving you the records, but I am keeping this nice stuff.” And he sends his servants after them to kill them.

Laman and the second son, Lemuel, are royally peeved at this treatment. And once they catch their breath, they take their anger out on Nephi and the other brother, Sam. Nephi tells them that they are *not* going back to Dad and Mom in the wilderness without the records. And he’s going to go get them. Which he does. In the course of which he is told by the Lord to take Laban’s life. This might be the only record we have of Nephi having a [brief and respectful] difference of opinion with the Lord.

I was thinking how ironic it was that the man required to take Laban’s life is the one least likely to enjoy doing so. Laman and Lemuel seem to dote on threats, intimidation, and physical violence. They seem to have entirely missed the point that while they are forevermore breathing out strife and threatenings, their younger brother is the only one among them who has actually killed another human being. They mistake his humility and meekness for weakness. And it probably doesn’t occur to either of them that if he had to, he could take them out as quickly and efficiently as he disposed of Laban.

Now, shortly after Nephi and his brothers return to Lehi and Sariah in the wilderness outside Jerusalem, Lehi sends the boys back to get wives. [I love how God makes them eat their spinach first, before they get dessert.] There is remarkably little bickering on that trip until they are nearly back to camp.

I also wonder if God sent Nephi to dispatch Laban in order to maximize the time available for Laman to get his mind and heart right. Maybe it saved Laman and Lemuel from an even more rapid descent into apostasy.

Our Sunday School teacher commented on something that Nephi’s brother Jacob said near the end of his own record, that they were a solemn people. Yes, I think you would be solemn if a major portion of your life story was taken up by a family rift where the oldest brothers were determined to become the only brothers, and where you not only had to keep yourself and your dependents out of harm’s way but keep your heart free from bitterness. Not to mention teaching your children to hate the sin and love the sinner [from a safe distance].

We’ve had a bit of that in this tribe, and the healing is slow.

I also thought about the mother, Sariah, complaining to her husband that their sons have been lost. She accuses him of being a visionary man. He replies that if he had not seen a vision of the coming destruction of Jerusalem [the Babylonian captivity], they would all perish like their friends and neighbors are going to do. What I would think or say if the Almighty sent my five precious daughters on an errand that put their lives in danger? I definitely think that He would be hearing about it from me! Nephi records not only her doubts and fears, but her later testimony that Lehi is indeed inspired, and a prophet.

I’ve also thought about Emma Smith and all that she was required to pass through. She was an educated woman, a school teacher, married to a man who at one point could barely construct a coherent written sentence but in a few short years learned Hebrew and other Biblical languages. [I know from my own experience what Heaven can do with a willing heart and mind. The talents I have, which are considerable, are not something I dug up on my own. They are gifts of the Spirit, and meant to help me serve others. I love the Parable of theTalents; it makes me grin, instead of squirm like so many of the others do.]

I think of these two good women and their difficult lives, and I compare my own experiences to theirs. Sariah’s family split into two camps, and eventually the descendents of two of her sons killed off the descendants of her other four sons. Emma struggled with poverty and heartache for much of her adult life. How do children raised in the same home come out so differently? And why is there such a natural tendency for them to pick on one another, if not to the point of bloodshed? How is it that two men [Joseph Smith and my children’s father] can both have such difficulty supporting their families, but one leaves a legacy of hard work and inspiration that, like Daniel’s vision of the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, is filling the earth with one small act of goodness after another. Whereas the other exemplifies a phrase found so often in the Book of Mormon: he is dwindling in unbelief. His shining contributions to life are our daughters and his early involvement as their father. For that, I forgive him much of the frustration and futility of the past twenty years.

His side of the family is infected by a predisposition toward get-rich-quick schemes [and I have distilled self-righteousness to a potency that any homeopath would envy, and passed it on to some of our children]. One of the great puzzles of my life is how a man so intelligent and educated can have such great difficulty supporting himself and his family. There is something going on here that I am missing. So I have had many opportunities to ponder the difference between a visionary man and a dreamer. And I definitely want to have a nice sit-down with Sariah and Emma when I get on the other side.

I watched August Rush last night. Lovely movie! We had a storm that knocked out the power about 20 minutes from the end of it, and just when I was wondering if I’d have to sleep sitting up all night, the lights went back on. I finished the movie, had a nice little happy weep, plugged in my CPAP, and slept better than I have in a week or two. I’m planning to watch it again tonight. And I need to bake brownies for tomorrow’s game night.

Lots of knitting yesterday. I’m hoping for more today.

[Postscript to the child who commented on a previous post: you’re not mentally unstable; you’re tender-hearted. If weeping when moved by the Spirit is a sign of instability, then you girls had better take up a collection for your mother. I want my strait-jacket to be red, if you please.]


Tola said...

loved today's Sunday School lesson. thank you.

Rorek said...

First Nephi is my favorite of the Book of Mormon stories/legacy to follow. I actually am planning to name a future doll Nephi, because I love the name, and I have many fond memories attached to it.

I've never been good at applying the stories to my own life. I just enjoy them for their historical and entertaining value.