Yesterday's talk 'But We Heeded Them Not' by Elder Bednar brought these concepts to mind that I've been contemplating for a few years. I thought I'd share!
In Lehi's vision (1 Nephi 8), he describes four distinct groups.
Numberless concourses seeking the path leading to the tree of life who lost their way because of the mist of darkness (verses 21-23);
Others who press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron (verses 24-28);
Other multitudes who pressed their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron (verses 30 and 33); and
Other multitudes feeling their way toward the great and spacious building (verses 31-33).
I'd like to look at the middle groups who found their way to the tree. I'll focus on how they got there and what might have been the difference in why they decided to stay or not stay once they made it.
Let's look at the pattern to highlight just how similar their journey to the tree of life was, and I'll underline what appear to be important distinctions.
The second group (verses 24 and 28):
others pressing forward
caught hold of the end of the rod of iron
did press forward through the mist of darkness
clinging to the rod of iron
they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree
after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them [in the great and spacious building]
they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost
The third group (verses 30 and 33):
other multitudes pressing forward
caught hold of the end of the rod of iron
they did press their way forward
[the mist of darkness is NOT mentioned for this group]
continually holding fast to the rod of iron
they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree
kept partaking of the fruit
heeded not those that were scoffing at them [from the great and spacious building]
Now let's unpack the underlined/distinguished differences in their otherwise similar journey.
Others vs Multitudes
Other: Not the same; different
Multitude: A collective number
A gathering crowd
It seems to be a popular idea to be "other," so as to not be "basic." To be a rebel, a loner, alternative, trend-setting. I've noticed myself going through phases of trying to be different because of an idea that sameness is lame. And, sure, there's a time and a place to decide to do things different. There's also a time and a place to gain strength and peace in belonging.
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ encourages us to be authentic to who we REALLY are, from an eternal perspective... to discover and return to our true, divine nature while developing and becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. The gospel has built within it a place for EVERYONE to belong by covenant. And though we are to become one, in unity, we are also to recognize that we each have different gifts and roles in the body of Christ, and each part is needed, not in spite of differences, but because we are different! (The talks Covenant Belonging by Elder Gong and Songs Sung and Unsung by Elder Holland explain this excellently!)
It's from those differing perspectives of "otherness" rather than "belonging" that I'm coming from when I point out these differences:
2nd group (verse 24): "I beheld others pressing forward... and they caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they [in all their otherness and, likely, aloneness] did press forward."
3rd group (verse 30): "He saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron."
I'm not promoting sameness. Trust me. That's not anything I've ever wanted or desired and, most importantly, it's not God's plan. What I am suggesting is that we avoid Satan's trap/idea that we must stand out and stand alone, that we must separate ourselves from the main group because we're too good for them or just don't fit in. God's truth is that we can be unique and still come together as one in Christ's covenant family relying alone on Christ and pure doctrine. Safely gathered in to the house of Israel while also having a personal experience and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Mist of Darkness
I think this is one of the most important distinctions between the 2nd and 3rd groups.
2nd group (verse 24): they did press forward through the mist of darkness.
3rd group (verse 30): they did press their way forward
[mist of darkness NOT mentioned!]
Because the mist of darkness has such a powerful effect on many of those mentioned in this vision, don't you think it's fascinating and important that the mist is not mentioned for the third group?! Was there no mist for them? Or did it have such little effect that it wasn't even noticeable or noteworthy? Or when all was said and done, it was just irrelevant and not part of what they remembered? Perhaps the mist of darkness is not part of the narrative of their journey because the light they found by holding fast to the iron rod dispelled the darkness.
What is the light they might have found? A better question is: Who?
"I will be your light in the wilderness." -1 Nephi 17:3
"I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words." -2 Nephi 10:14
You see what this means, right? This profound dark influence is not part of their story. Darkness gave way to light. What does that mean for us? How can we avoid the mist of darkness or ascend its overall effect on our journey and our outcome? How can we let Jesus be a light on our journey?
The answer to all of those questions seems to come from the next distinction between these groups: clinging versus holding fast to the rod of iron.
Let's just use our imagination with this word first.
What does the word cling make you think of? Socks stuck to a skirt? Okay, maybe that's distracting.
How about clingy? That word makes me think of a codependent, needy person who is filled with anxiety and insecurity.
The word clinging also brings to mind what a professional called "clinging vines" I had to deal with at the first house I owned. The invasive vines were wrapped so tightly around other plants that they were cutting off the plants I wanted to thrive from receiving moisture and nutrients from the ground and in many cases from receiving sunlight.
I also think of the one and only time I hiked Angels Landing in Zion National Park. I'm terrified of heights and when there was a part on the trail that was so narrow AND so close to a steep, high drop off that safety chains were available... you better believe I was CLINGING to those things for dear life! (Did I mention I'm terrified of heights?!!!)
I think most would agree that the feeling of the word clinging is unwanted and fear-based. With that feeling and a few visuals in mind, let's also look at the actual definition:
Cling: to adhere AND to wither
With all of that in mind, here are a few ideas I've discovered as layers of meaning when it comes to clinging to the rod of iron:
using the rod as a crutch rather than a guide and support
having a sense of incapacity in yourself and fear of taking another step
having a sense of not trusting that the rod will actually keep you safe or get you where you're hoping to go
possibly tightly manipulating the rod in order to control it or get it to suit your purposes
keeping it in such a tight grasp, that you keep it to yourself... not sharing what you've found in the glorious word of God
taking tiny steps and stopping because of fear/worry (withering in your progression and not being healthy and vibrant because of lack of movement)
like a clinging vine, sucking the life/truth/joy/fruit out of what it is being offered
This group does make it to the tree of life. BUT they have just a taste, not really consuming the fruit. Tasting is not enough to keep them from feeling ashamed when the world starts making fun. They eventually 'fall away.'
What is the Spirit telling you about clinging?
Continually Holding Fast
This is not a phrase we typically use, so let's look at some definitions and synonyms for each of the words to understand this a little better.
Continually: without pause/unceasingly
Hold: receive, retain, defend, celebrate, use/exercise, wield like a sword, exhibit (put forward to show others!)
Fast urgent, swift, pressed close, immovable
There is something about every single one of those definitions/synonyms that touches me deeply. When I think of continually holding fast to the rod of iron with these things in mind, I am filled with a powerful desire to give it my ALL!
Here are a few layers of meaning I believe this phrase has, after considering and pondering the definitions and synonyms above:
receiving the scriptures, words of prophets, and personal revelation as a gift, with joy and excitement
having an unshakable testimony and correct understanding of the word of God
holding it close to your heart
keeping the doctrine pure, not trying to manipulate it or reframe it to fit popular ideas of the culture/time
always putting this as a priority
defending God's word when it is being attacked
protecting my personal relationship with God's word like I would hold tight to a baby
using God's word like a sword in battle to fight against the adversarial influences, or the trials, struggles, and questions that come up
celebrating God's word in normal and natural ways, with joy and excitement in conversation and online.. in all my sphere of influence
putting God's word out there.. exhibiting it.. in my home, on my social media, wearing it 'on my sleeve,' so to speak.. just part of who I am, so I display its influence in every thing I do
(If clinging is defined as fear of men, continually holding fast might be described as fear of God).
When this group arrives, instead of falling away, they fall down! This can be about worship, humility, and gratitude. I would point out that as they experienced the light chasing the darkness during their journey, they came to admire and love and feel deep thankfulness for the light. I would imagine that even when they weren't physically bowing or kneeling, their hearts were in a humble posture as they depended fully on Christ to lead them to their desired destination.
(This is kind of a side note, but I thought I'd share that I once read an incredible article about what’s called proskynesis and its frequency and importance in the Book of Mormon. Click the links if you're interested in knowing more, it’s very fascinating! Essentially proskynesis is bowing, praising, laying prostrate, and worshiping divinity).
After this act of humble worship, then they feasted on the fruit! Not just a nibble, but truly consuming what was offered! And because they were filled with the love of God, they didn’t even pay attention to the mockers.
What stands out to you? What is the Spirit highlighting for you or communicating that this phrase 'continually holding fast' might mean in your life?
I do not want to insinuate that there is some absolute correct, perfect way to journey toward the tree of life. I don't want this to be seen as some sort of 'tribe' culture I'm attempting to create where we want to be part of the 3rd group and the 2nd group is BAD.
What I have found for myself and I hope anyone who happens to read this post might take away is that there are patterns here and specific wording used to point out varying ways of having a positive or negative experience and/or outcome as we strive to journey toward the tree of life.
I can bear my personal testimony that the Spirit will tutor us as we look at these differences and prompt us as to things we might stop, start, or keep doing because of the patterns highlighted in Lehi's vision and brought forth through many miraculous events for US to read in the Book of Mormon TODAY.
My assumption would be that we all cling a little and hold fast a little. Ideally, we'll continually hold fast. Ideally, we'll do so in unity with the body of Christ. But Christ works with us whether we're doing things ideally or not, if we'll come unto Him and work with Him. HTe'll show us the way. He IS the way. hat's what matters most.