Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mortality - Keep Building in Faith

I have lived long enough to know something about the ironies of life. We recently celebrated my father's 93rd birthday with a quiet homemade dinner of Dad's favorites. Then he engaged with us in a light-hearted banter about what he should say to people when they ask, "How are you doing?" Does he give them a blow by blow account of all his ailments? Or is it best to answer with the usual, "Fine," which in his case is a bald-faced lie. It's a dilemma for an old man who hesitates to buy green bananas these days because he may not live long enough to enjoy them. I hasten to assure my readers there is no imminent threat to him that we know about, but at age 93 anything can happen as he searches for the exit door to mortality.

Four generations removed from old age is our newest addition to our family, little Vivienne, who was admitted today to Primary Children's Hospital for closer observation. She was born prematurely at the U of U Medical Center last week at 26 weeks, and is now valiantly clinging to life in her fragile little frame and fighting an intestinal infection. We are united in our fasting and prayers on her behalf again today as a family. In her case, unlike Dad's, we pray she may stay with us on this side of the veil and not be shown the exit door quite yet. We long for a miraculous outcome, that she may rid her body of this infection and prosper so she may grow to adulthood. We believe in miracles.

Whatever the outcome in either Dad's or Vivienne's case, mortality comes in long and short versions. I have been pondering today just how imperative the constancy and consistency of our faith in God must become regardless of the details of our individual lives. We really have very little control over the outcomes in mortality. Just when it appears we have taken control of our lives and things are rolling along smoothly, it seems conditions change abruptly and sometimes unexpectedly for the worse, and our dependency on God becomes paramount. In those times when we say to ourselves, "I've got this one, God," we are brought up short and our faith in Him is put to a test not of man's devising that buckles our knees under the weight of the burden. It is all part of our mortal existence.

For some reason this morning, I was drawn to the historical record of the early pioneers who settled the Salt Lake Valley for an example of perseverance and diligence in the face of almost insurmountable opposition and long odds for a successful and happy outcome. Despite all their hardships, stout pioneers were able to sing in unison, "All is well, all is well."

President Brigham Young
On July 28, 1847, four days after his arrival in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, President Brigham Young stood upon the exact spot now occupied by the iconic Salt Lake Temple and boldly declared to his companions who had barely managed to survive the long prairie and steep mountain trek, "Here [we will build] the Temple of our God!" (James H. Anderson, "The Salt Lake Temple," Contributor 6 [April 1893]: 243).

The southeast corner of the temple grounds in Salt Lake City forms the baseline and meridian on the original plats as designed by Brigham Young. All addresses radiate outward from that point in all four directions, and Temple Square as it later came to be known covers an eighth of a square mile. At the time the pioneers were destitute, but the first thing Brigham Young said they would do is build a temple that would stand through the Millennium and beyond into eternity. There was no thought about the money they didn't have, the timbers that hadn't been located, or where the granite would come from. No thought was given just yet to how they would house themselves during the upcoming winter. They had no way of knowing crickets would descend and devour their first crops. Nor could they have known the United States Army would be dispatched to assure their destruction. Instead, they broke ground, unaware that the vision of Brigham Young would take 40 years to materialize.

So it is with us. Dad's life today stands as a testament to moving ahead in faith without knowing the end result. The ravages of World War II disrupted many millions of lives. Uncertainty about the future was rampant. Predictions of the Second Coming being imminent were pervasive. Things haven't changed much, it seems, as Vivienne's uncertain future in 2015 also hangs in the balance today. I wonder, will we shrink in fear of the unknown, or will we persist in faith and triumph over mortality's demands despite the opposition?

The work on the Salt Lake Temple seems so analogous to the work we put into our own lives. The excavation for the basement required hand digging trenches that were twenty feet wide and sixteen feet deep. The rock beneath the desert hard pan soil seemed immovable. It is estimated the digging for the foundation required nine thousand man days of labor. When they saw the magnitude of what Brother Brigham was envisioning, some must have faltered wondering why it had to be so big and if his vision of futurity were somehow faulty and over-reaching.

Salt Lake Temple
But Brigham Young had a vision. He expressed it to our rugged pioneer ancestors in these words: "I do not like to prophesy much, . . . but I will venture to guess that this day, and the work we have performed on it, will long be remembered by this people, and be sounded as with a trumpet's voice throughout the world. . . . Five years ago last July I was here, and saw in the spirit the Temple. [I stood] not ten feet from where we have laid the chief corner stone. I have not inquired what kind of a temple we should build. Why? Because it was [fully] represented before me." (Anderson, Contributor, 257-58).

As we set about to live our faithful lives in mortality, I am also reminded we come in for our share of adversity and opposition, just as Brigham Young observed, "We never began to build [any] temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring." (Discourses of Brigham Young, Deseret Book, 1973, 410). That principle is true of temples like our physical bodies of flesh, blood and bone, and temples made of granite.

When the foundation work was done, Johnston's Army set out for the Salt Lake Valley to go to war with "the Mormons." Despite all the hard work they had done to date, President Young made provisions to evacuate and, if necessary, to destroy the entire city behind them to avoid armed conflict. The hole and the footings and foundation were buried again so the temple site looked like an open field. How disheartening to make such a diligent and faith-filled beginning, only to suffer the setback because of the imposition of others. How much like that is our own lives? We chart a course, we take control, we move ahead, only to be pushed back to the starting line again and again.

Once the threat of war subsided and the Army left, the pioneers returned to their homes and then painstakingly began uncovering the foundation and removing all the material from the excavated basement structure. To their dismay they discovered the sandstone had cracked and also had to be removed. Granite was offered as the preferred building blocks, but the materials were twenty miles away in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Imagine the degree of difficulty! Precise design and dimensions of every one of the thousands of granite stones to be used had to be meticulously measured in the architect's office and then shaped individually by skilled stone cutters. Progress was excruciatingly slow and tedious. The first layer of six hundred stones took three years to complete. It seemed no one could discern any progress being made at all. Have you ever felt progress in your own life was seemingly impossible? I have likened progress in my life to watching my toenails grow. It's imperceptible. You seem to take one step forward and two steps back. Discouragement can often become our constant companion. The opposition we face tends to wilt our faith and the temptation to curse God and quit trying so hard becomes overwhelming at times.

But the persistent Saints of those early days never stopped trying and coming up with new and ingenious ideas. A canal on which to convey the massive granite blocks was begun and a great deal of labor and money expended on it, but it was finally aborted. Other ideas were tried and abandoned, but eventually using teams of oxen and reinforced wagons proved to be the preferred method. Throughout two decades, teams of oxen could be seen almost every day of the year toiling to haul one massive granite block to the temple site.

Then came the arrival of the railroad during that time. Workers abandoned the temple for three years to work for the more lucrative wages offered by the railroad companies. Twice during those years, grasshopper invasions sent the workers into full-time summer combat with the insects.

By mid-1871, fully two decades and untold misery after it had been begun, the walls of the temple were barely visible above ground. Through all those years, President Young seemed to be in no hurry. "The Temple will be built as soon as we are prepared to use it," he often said. His faith was so unwavering, and his vision of futurity so fixed in his mind that amid all the hardships they were suffering he announced plans to build temples in St. George, Manti and Logan. Who of us is left with an excuse for faltering under the weight of our burdens in the face of such faith, diligence and commitment to a dream like that?

"Can you accomplish the work, you Latter-day Saints of these several counties?" he asked. And then, not waiting for their reply, he affirmed, "Yes; that is a question I can answer readily. You are perfectly able to do it. The question is, have you the necessary faith? Have you sufficient of the Spirit of God in your hearts to say, yes, by the help of God our Father we will erect these buildings to his name? . . . Go to now, with your might and with your means and finish this Temple." (Anderson, Contributor, 267). When I look for examples of inspired leadership, I seldom have to look beyond Brigham Young. Our pioneer ancestors never flinched nor doubted. They went forward in faith with their might and put to rest their doubts and fears. And so must we.

When President Brigham Young died in 1877, the temple was not yet twenty feet above the ground. Ten years later, his successor, President John Taylor, and the temple's original architect, Truman O. Angell, were dead as well. The side walls were finally up to the square, ready for construction of the roof.

Complicating progress in the final stages of completion was the imposition by Congress of the infamous Edmunds-Tucker Act. It had the effect of disincorporating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and putting the Church into receivership. The U.S. Marshal, under a court order, seized the temple. The object of their blood, sweat and tears was wrested away from them and put into the hands of their enemies, the very group who had often boasted that the Latter-day Saints would never be permitted to finish the building.

But in this latter-day extremity, God was also with these modern children of Israel, as He always has been and always will be. They did all they could do and left the rest in His hands. Then the Red Sea parted before them, and they walked through on firm, dry ground.

On April 6, 1893, the Saints as a body were filled with joy. After 40 long years they had cut out of the mountain a granite temple that would become their offering, a mountain of the Lord, where He could reside. The streets that day were jammed with upwards of 50,000 people.

Inside the Tabernacle President Wilford Woodruff, visibly moved by the significance of the moment, said: "If there is any scene on the face of this earth that will attract the attention of the God of heaven and the heavenly host, it is the one before us today — the assembling of this people, the shout of 'Hosanna!' the laying of the topstone of this Temple in honor to our God." (Anderson, Contributor, 270). Then, moving outside, he laid the capstone in place exactly at high noon.

In the writing of one who was there, "The scene that followed is beyond the power of language to describe." Lorenzo Snow, beloved president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, came forward to lead the Saints in the Hosanna Shout. Every hand held a handkerchief and every eye was filled with tears. One said the very "ground seemed to tremble with the volume of the sound" which echoed off the tops of the mountains. "A grander or more imposing spectacle than this ceremony of laying the Temple capstone is not recorded in history." (Anderson, Contributor, 273). It was finally and forever finished.

The prestigious Scientific American referred to this majestic new edifice as a "monument to Mormon perseverance." And so it was. Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

The best things in life are always worth finishing. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). You are worth finishing. As long and laborious as our efforts to build our lives may seem in mortality, may God grant us the courage of our pioneer ancestors to keep shaping and setting our stones in place to make of our faith and our diligence "a grand and imposing spectacle."

Whether we are at the end of our mortal path or the very beginning, there is life on the other side of the veil in both directions for as far as our minds can imagine. I pray we may take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow, dream our dreams, see visions of futurity to bless our families, work toward their realization, wait patiently when we have no other choice, lean on our sword and rest a while when we must, but get up and fight again.

It is not unimaginable that like Brigham Young, we may not live in morality long enough to see the completion of all our dreams in our lifetime. But if we live well, work in faith and build something lasting, our children will, or our children's children will, until finally we, with all of them, can stand by and see the salvation of our God. He will surely crown our efforts with eternal life as he did Father Abraham who expended the last ounce of his faith after waiting 90 long years for posterity. . .

But today we wait upon God with our faith in tact for a miracle if it be His will. And we submit to yet another Abrahamic test.

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