Sunday, October 05, 2014

Finding Your Own Sacred Grove, Part I

These are the notes I made for the class I taught at Women's Day a few weeks ago.

I feel a little uncomfortable posting this because I don't feel like it's fully polished. It's hard to make a beautiful written document of something you want to discuss fluidly. I didn't want my class to be just me standing up and talking in front of everyone for an hour; instead I wanted the class to engage in gospel discussion and have me kind of mediate it. At the same time, I really wasn't sure if anyone would say anything or how much anyone would say and I didn't want to run out of things to say myself so I wrote down quite a bit so that I wouldn't be stuck trying to pull thoughts out of my brain on the fly. I didn't use even half the stuff here. But this is what I wrote down in preparation:

At a CES Devotional for Young Adults in May 2012, Elder Marlin K. Jensen gave an addressed entitled Stand in the Sacred Grove. He says, “There are places on this earth that have been made sacred by what happened there…. One of these places is Sinai, Horeb, or ‘the mountain of God,’ where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush. As Moses approached the bush, the Lord said to him, ‘Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place wheron thou standest is holy ground.’”

Another place Elder Jensen mentions is the “Cradle of the Restoration,” which is where “the Church was born.” He describes it as a “picturesque country, characterized by rolling, wooded hills; clear lakes and streams; and warm, colorful people. It is also,” he says, “a place made sacred by what happened there.” And what happened there? Yes, the First Vision, the restoration of the gospel, the uncovering of the Golden Plates.

This got me wondering about what other “Sacred Grove” experiences I could think of. The first that came to mind was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I hadn’t really thought of that as a parallel story until recently but in primary a couple of weeks ago we were talking about the Savior and our primary president was trying to get the kids to think of the name of the place where the atonement took place. One young man raised his hand and said, “The Sacred Grove?” And I thought to myself how wise that young man was to pair those two places up in his mind. They’re both sacred places because of what happened at them.

Are there others that you can think of?

—Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane
—Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove (JS History)
—Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodos 3)
—Brother of Jared on Mount Shelem (Ether 1 and 2)
—Hannah (praying at the temple) (1 Samuel 1)
—Samuel (Here am I) (1 Samuel 3)
—Enos (Enos 1)

This morning we’ll discuss some of the characteristics of these places: what are these places like? who uses these places? how did they (and by extension, how do we) prepare for this kind of experience?

The first one that I’d like to talk about is the Garden of Gethsemane. I really appreciated how James E. Talmage described the Savior’s experience in the garden in the book Jesus the Christ, so I’ll share that with you...

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane:

After the last supper they “passed through the city gate...crossed the ravine of the Cedron...and entered an olive orchard known as Gethsemane, on the slope of Mount Olivet.”

(That’s a pretty far walk; I made that journey myself when I was pregnant—in the third trimester—with my second baby (so maybe that made the journey seem even longer than it actually is). It’s about a half mile from the city wall to the Garden of Gethsemane, but the actual house where the last supper took place was likely not within that half mile radius—it was a little farther than that).

Then, leaving the other apostles and “accompanied by Peter, James, and John, He went farther; and was soon enveloped by deep sorrow, which appears to have been, in a measure, surprising to Himself, for we read that He ‘began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy.’ He was impelled to deny Himself the companionship of even the chosen three; and, ‘Saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’”

He didn’t get an answer the first time or the second time, but on the third time, “He went to His lonely vigil and individual struggle, and was heard to implore the Father with the same words of yearning entreaty. Luke tells us that ‘there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him’; but not even the presence of this super-earthly visitant could dispel the awful anguish of His soul.”

So, what do we learn from this? What was the location like? What was the person like? What was the experience like?

—Olive trees
—Spiritually prepared
—He was perfect
—Harder before it was easier
—Got reassurance

For the rest of these experiences, we’re going to break into pairs and discuss one of these stories of seeking and obtaining revelation to see if we can uncover any patterns to use in our own lives.
I’ll give you a piece of paper and you’ll divide it into three columns so you can jot down ideas on what the location was like, what the person was like, and what the experience was like and then we’ll share them scattergories-style.

Will five minutes be enough?

Have each group/individual share their story briefly before sharing what they learned. Circle things that are the same, rather than crossing them off. They’re still important even if they’re the same. Each story is unique, however.

Moses on Mount Horeb (or Mount Sinai):

Moses is simply out herding sheep. He’s in the middle of the hot, gross desert. It’s really not a pleasant place to be. I hiked Mt. Sinai once and it was brutal. We hiked up in the middle of the night so that we could watch the sunrise (after eating breakfast that I’m sure was poisoned) and then we hiked down a trail called “the steps of repentance,” which led us to the supposed burning bush (hint: not the actual bush) and it was brutal. It was cold until the sun came out. And then it was hot. And dry. And desert-y.

Anyway, Moses comes to Mt. Horeb and suddenly “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). Moses’ curiosity was piqued and he said, “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt” (v. 3). “And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And [Moses] said, Here am I. And [the Lord] said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place wheron thou standest is holy ground” (v. 4–5).

And what did Moses do?

In verse six we learn that he “hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.”

The Lord tells Moses that he’s seen the affliction of his people and that he’s going to use Moses to help bring about the work he aims to accomplish.

And what does Moses say? He says (in v. 11), “Who am I?”

“Who am I that I should go unto Pharoah? Who am I that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? Who am I?”

And the Lord says in verse twelve, “Certainly I will be with thee.”

So, what do we learn from this? What was the location like? What was the person like? What was the experience like?

—Burning bush; otherwise quite arid
—Moses didn’t feel ready (didn’t feel like he could relate to the children of Israel)
—The Lord reassured him
—Holy ground (remove shoes)

The Brother of Jared on Mount Shelem:

The story of the Brother of Jared (beginning in Ether 1) begins in Babylon at the time of the Tower of Babel. Jared asked his brother, “a man highly favoured of the Lord,” to pray to the Lord that their family—and later their friends—would be spared from having their language confounded. “And the Lord had compassion upon [them and] their friends and their families also, that they were not confounded” (v. 37).

Then Jared asks his brother to ask if they need to leave the land and, if so, where they should go, so the brother of Jared does that and is told to gather up their flocks and their seeds and their families and to head into the wilderness where the Lord would “meet [them], and...go before [them] into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth” (v. 42).

So, they head off into the wilderness and the Lord directs them, speaking to the Brother of Jared in what Ether describes as “a cloud” (2:4). Eventually they are led to “that great sea which divideth the lands” (v. 13) and there they pitch their tents and they sit on the shore for four long years.

Maybe four years doesn’t sound long to you, but it sounds long to me! I’ve been married for nearly nine years and we’ve lived in Durham for 2 years and 1 month and that is the longest we’ve lived anywhere in our entire married life. When I knew we were signing up for five years in Durham I about had a heart attack because it seemed like we were signing up for an eternity. I mean, five years! That’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere ever so to me five years sounds rather permanent. And here are the Jaredites, in the land of Moriancumer, “dwel[ling] in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years” (v. 13).

“And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord” (Ether 2: 14).

“And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him” (v. 15) and the Lord forgave him.

And then what? And then barges—tight like unto a dish, right? And these barges—tight like unto a dish—presented a few problems: light and air. This time Jared knew that he should be praying to the Lord about things like this, so he asked the Lord about air and the Lord spelled out the solution. Jared obeyed and made what I imagine to be a kind of a cork that they could take out to let air in when they needed to. But they still had the problem of light, so Jared took this problem before the Lord and instead of spelling out the answer, what did the Lord say?

That’s right. He said, “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (v. 23) He wanted the Brother of Jared to come up with a solution on his own. And what was that solution? Right—he went to Mount Shelem and there “did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass” (3:1), and he asked the Lord to “touch these stones...with [His] finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness” (v. 4).

But, says Henry B. Eyring in a 1978 talk, “he doesn’t simply ask as a child might ask a hurried parent or a student might ask a teacher flitting from pupil to pupil. He takes time to plead for forgiveness. He acknowledges blessings. He proclaims faith in God’s power.”

“And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched for this hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was the finger of a man...and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear” (v. 6).

Obviously, the brother of Jared had the faith necessary for this to happen but it still surprised him, and then, of course, the Lord reveals himself fully to the brother of Jared and “shows him a vision of the full panorama of the world’s history,” so sacred that “the record of it is hidden from us until we are prepared to receive it” (Eyring, 1978).

So, what do we learn from this? What was the location like? What was the person like? What was the experience like?

—Not perfect
—Humble (he repented)
—Secluded (mountain)
—Struck with fear (surprising)
—Sought counsel from God and peers (Jared)
—Problem solver
—Took a lot of time (3 hours of chastisement, plus time he spent communing later, plus four years to mess up in the first place)

Joseph in the Sacred Grove:

Is anyone willing to recount the story of Joseph Smith to us quickly?

He says, “there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion,” which helped cultivate his own reflection of the subject. He wondered “Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?”

He was seeking the truth and “while [he] was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists,” he read a passage of scripture that “seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart.” That scripture, of course, is James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

So, armed with faith, Joseph Smith decided to walk his little fourteen-year-old self down to the woods to pray.

I visited the Smith family cabin in New York when we were visiting—a replica built on the very spot the house once stood—and I can testify that it is tiny, especially considering there were eleven people living in it. It’s really no wonder to me that Joseph sought the solitude of the woods.

I’m going to read the next few verses (15–17) because I think they’re so beautiful.

“After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began” to pray. “I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy...and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction...I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”

And Joseph’s questions were answered—in quite a surprising way.

So, what do we learn from this? What was the location like? What was the person like? What was the experience like?

Moses was told to remove his shoes because the ground he was standing on was now sacred—that was a cultural thing for Moses. Joseph Smith wasn’t instructed to do this—it wasn’t part of his culture. Some places were hot, dry, and dusty. Some were beautiful forests. Some prayers were answered in the temple, other prayers were answered at home, or just while people were going about their day. Always, God knows his children—He knows their name, He knows their circumstances, and He knows how to succor us according to our needs.

In his book, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy, David Bokovy, an LDS religious scholar, notes that “in his efforts to communicate with human beings, God works within the boundaries of culture” (p. xix). He references 2 Nephi 31:3, which says, “the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” This is God’s own pattern—He will always meet us where we’re at if we first do the reaching out to him.

We had a family home evening lesson recently where we discussed a scripture so important that it has been repeated in various books of scripture at least a dozen times. Doing a quick search I found three in the Book of Mormon, nine in the Doctrine and Covenants, and two in the Bible.* Any guess about what scripture this is?

I’ll read the version of it found in 3 Nephi 27: 29:

“Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for [s]he that asketh, receiveth; and unto [her] that knocketh, it shall be opened.”

With this scripture urging us to just knock so many times we were reminded of the movie Frozen. You know that scene where Anna, Kristof, and Olaf finally make it to Elsa’s ice castle and Anna’s trying to get her courage to go inside. Olaf says to her, “Knock. Just knock. Why isn’t she knocking? Do you think she knows how to knock?”

Anna finally summons the courage to knock on the door and it swings open and that’s kind of how we were able to get our little girls to picture their relationship with their Savior. All they have to do is take that first step and knock and He’ll be there. He will meet you at the door.

I was given two talks to kind of base my lecture off of and while the suggestions they gave were fabulous, I wasn’t sure they would quite work for me. For example, Elder Kikuchi once invited his audience—BYU students—”to wake up a little early—not super early, because it won’t last, but reasonably early; maybe 20 or 25 minutes earlier than you do now. Wash your body; shave; put on washed, fresh underwear; comb your hair; and put on your clothes.
“Then find a very peaceful, secluded place that can be your own Sacred Grove and go there. Now, I am not suggesting you go to your backyard among the trees and kneel in the snow.

“Humbly, reverently, kneel before the Father…. I will not dictate how long you should stay there. You decide.”

While I think that is spectacular advice, I’m not sure it would work for me in the stage of life I’m in right now. As a mother to young children I feel like my shift is never over. I haven’t had a good night’s rest in years. Planning to get up twenty minutes earlier than I do now is impossible. I don’t get up at a set time. I’m at the mercy of my children every morning. I swear they have some sort of radar and if I planned to get up twenty minutes before them to have a morning devotional they’d conspire together to thwart my plans somehow.

The words of Sister Beck resonated more deeply with me. She says: “Revelation can come hour by hour and moment by moment as we do the right things. When women nurture as Christ nurtured, a power and peace can descend to guide when help is needed. For instance, mothers can feel help from the Spirit even when tired, noisy children are clamoring for attention…”

Did you catch that last part? “Even when tired, noisy children are clamoring for attention!” We can even feel the spirit then.

Being a busy mom of demanding children doesn’t mean that I never stop to ponder the words of the Lord, that I never seek his presence by knocking on the door. I do find the time to do it, though it may not follow Elder Kikuchi’s formula.

I found a sacred grove for myself while I was sleep training my littlest one—or, you know, trying to. He needed me to stay right beside him while he fell asleep. He’d even reach his little hand through the crib bars and rest it on my shoulder to make sure I didn’t desert him. So, while I was spending hours of my time each week lying on the floor beside his bed, I studied and I thought and I prayed and I listened. And it was a really good experience for me.

Now my baby doesn’t need me beside him to fall asleep and I’m trying to figure out my groove again, trying to locate a new sacred grove that works for my life right now.

President Monson said, “The boy prophet Joseph Smith sought heavenly help by entering a grove which then became sacred. Do we need similar strength? Does each need to seek his or her own “Sacred Grove”? A place where communication between God and man can go forth unimpeded, uninterrupted, and undisturbed is such a grove.”

Does anyone have any thoughts on a good location for a sacred grove?

(My mom once mentioned to me that she used her commute time to meditate on things of the spirit. It was some of the only alone time she got.)

How do we become the kind of person who has a sacred grove experience?

Sister Julie B. Beck said that “the ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life. Qualifying for the Lord’s Spirit begins with a desire for that Spirit and implies a certain degree of worthiness.” She then lists the obvious Sunday School answers: go to church, read your scriptures, say your prayers, attend the temple.

I like the way sister Mary Jane Wooger explained it in a 2006 Ensign article: “I have found that the Lord expects me to do my homework before I ask for His help in prayer.” She then quotes President Harold B. Lee, who said, “If you want the blessing, don’t just kneel down and pray about it. Prepare yourselves in every conceivable way you can in order to make yourselves worthy to receive the blessing you seek.”

I think the Brother of Jared is a perfect example of this. As I was studying his story I came across a 1978 Ensign article by President Eyring detailing the story of the Brother of Jared in such a beautiful way. So, after the Brother of Jared neglected to call upon the Lord for four solid years, he was rebuked and came before the Lord in prayer. But, says Eyring, “he doesn’t simply ask as a child might ask a hurried parent or a student might ask a teacher flitting from pupil to pupil. He takes time to plead for forgiveness. He acknowledges blessings. He proclaims faith in God’s power.” I imagine that took a lot of preparation on his part.

What kinds of things can we do to be prepared to come before the Lord in prayer?

I think that accountability plays a huge role in keeping me on track. I used to mark off my scripture study on a calendar but just this year my husband and I started doing something even better. We’re accountable to each other, so each night before we go to bed we have a little devotional of sorts where we talk about what we learned in our personal scripture study that day. Sometimes we have real meaty conversations. Other times we read the one daily verse or quote that was sent to us by whatever scripture app we’re using at the time and call it a night. But we do it every day. And we have to because we require each other to do it.

We’ve also been working on memorizing some scriptures together as a family and that’s been incredibly helpful. I find that I always have a verse of scripture to meditate. I know that reading is important, too, but by memorizing them we have them in our minds and hearts, always.

Other ways?
-temple (like Hannah)

Does anyone have any experiences they’d like to share?

Story of Andrew getting into a PhD program (in short, we prayed to know if we should look for a job or continue Andrew's education and felt that we should pursue more graduate school (this was as he was finishing up his first MA) so we applied to several schools, including one that invited us to apply (they hadn't been on our radar at all but we figured they'd be a good back up). It was chaotic trying to apply from overseas but we did it. Then we waited for news. Slowly letters of rejection started trickling in. Every single school we'd applied to rejected us. Even the one that invited us to apply?! It was so frustrating. And then Andrew's dad suggested we apply to BYU for the MPA program. We'd already missed the deadline but they let us apply late and the rest, as they say, is history. It was a convoluted path to get where we are now but the answer we got through much prayer was still the right answer).

Isaiah 55:8 8–9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Elder Uchtdorf talked about recieving revelation from the Lord in a talk he gave at the Mormon History Symposium this past March:

The late novelist Michael Crichton is reported to have said, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”[2] History teaches us not only about the leaves of existence. It also teaches about the twigs, branches, trunks, and roots of life. And these lessons are important.

One of the weaknesses we have as mortals is to assume that our “leaf” is all there is—that our experience encompasses everyone else’s, that our truth is complete and universal. As I considered what I wanted to speak about today, it seemed that the metaphor of the leaf needed to be at the heart. But I also ran across an old Yiddish expression that goes, “To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.” I want to emphasize that the truth embraced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extends beyond leaves and certainly beyond horseradish. It extends beyond time and space and encompasses all truth—from the mysteries of the tiniest atoms to the vast and incomprehensible secrets that the universe holds so tantalizingly before us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses not only the truth of what was and what is but the truth of what can and will be. It is the most practical of all truths. It teaches the way of the disciple—a path that can take ordinary, flawed mortals and transform them into glorious, immortal, and limitless beings whose divine potential is beyond our meager capacity to imagine.

Throughout the record of sacred history, we find that our Heavenly Father teaches His children over and again not to place their trust in the wisdom of the world—not to overvalue what the world holds in high regard. He teaches us that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”[9] And yet we have an almost irresistible desire to assume that the leaf of information we have in our possession is a representation of all there is to know. We assume that the horseradish that we see all around us is proof that the world is made of the substance.

God sees infinitely more than we do. His perspective is infinitely more complete and profound than ours…. He has more information than we do. And a little more information can make all the difference in the world.

“Our highly personal daily faith practices sometimes prompt us to feel overly protective of the way we practice. We feel an ownership and spiritual connection to the way we practice our faith, and we feel threatened when others practice differently, as if a different practice devalues what works for us individually.” —Neylan McBain in WaC (p. 11).


I want to challenge you to experiment until you find your sacred grove. Go ahead and listen to—or discard—any advice you heard here...or anywhere else...but continue experimenting until you find something that works for you because there’s nothing better than finding that “hour of peace and rest unmarred by any care.”

Don’t stop at the end of your leaf or radish. Don’t look down on others—or yourself—if you’re not tending your sacred grove they way you think it should be tended. Keep working at it. You’ll find it.


Beck, Julie B. “And Upon the Handmaids in those Days will I Pour Out My Spirit,” Ensign, April 2010. the-handmaids-in-those-days-will-i-pour-out-my-spirit?lang=eng
Bokovoy, David E. Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy. Greg Kofford Books, Inc. (March 4, 2014).
Eyring, Henry B. The Brother of Jared: An Expert At Learning. 1978.
Jensen, Marlin K. Stand in the Sacred Grove. May 6, 2012. /broadcasts/article/ces-devotionals/2012/01/stand-in-the-sacred-grove?lang=eng
Kikuchi, Yoshihiko. How Do You Open Your Heart to Heaven? Jan. 18, 2011.
Lee, Harold B. Stand Ye in Holy Places. 1974, (p. 244).  
McBaine, Neylan. Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact. Greg Kofford Books, Inc. (August 28, 2014).
Talmage, James E. Jesus the Christ, Chapter 33 (p. 566-68).
Woodger, Mary Jane. “What I have Learned About Mighty Prayer,” Ensign, December 2006. mighty-prayer?lang=eng

*2 Nephi 32:4
3 Nephi 14:7
3 Nephi 27:29
D&C 11:5
D&C 12:5
D&C 14:5
D&C 4:7
D&C 49:26
D&C 6:5
D&C 66:9
D&C 75:27
D&C 88:63
Luke 11:9
Matthew 7:7

1 comment:

  1. Oh, glad you shared this information from your talk! I can imagine how good it was that day. I enjoyed reading your notes.