First off, who on earth would get get in those little pitch dark, suffocating, "tight like unto a dish" barges, with no steering, no air, and only hope they would get blown across the ocean to the right spot in a new land thousands of miles away, and manage to crawl out alive?
And yet here we. As spirits we willingly boarded our frail, darkened, suffocating, mortal vessels, and came to earth to receive a body and be tested. We somehow had enough faith that the Lord would steer us home to the promised land, across the overwhelming ocean of a fallen world, and back to God. It's a trope that shows up more than a few times in the scriptures. I can picture and identify well with the Brother of Jared staring hard at those little barges on the beach, gazing out at the endless ocean horizon, seeing the crashing waves, and probably feeling a fair bit of panic:
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me. And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.In other words, "Um, Lord? These barges you designed? There is no light, no way to steer, and no air. We are all going to die."
Of course, the Lord provided the answer for the steering and for the air. First, I'll blow you where I want you to go. Second, go cut a breathing hole in the top and bottom of your "tight like a dish" barges, and just seal it up if the ocean pours in on your head, quick, before it sinks you. (Not all that comforting, but sure.)
Then comes the Brother of Jared's piercing question that has resonated with me so much this week.
"O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?"There are many times when I feel like I am sailing in the dark. The Lord's response brought me great comfort, and then a challenge:
What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
And behold I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?Whatever "mountain waves shall dash upon [me] and whatever depths of the sea swallow me up, the Lord has "prepared me against these things." Because of the Lord, I can be "as a whale in the midst of the sea." I can make it through hard times. Because of the atonement and resurrection, we all can pass through the gulf of death and sin and arrive on the shores of the promised land, eternal life. Because of Christ, I am "prepared against theses things."
But when it comes to lighting, there is this challenge: "What do you want me to do?" He puts some of that responsibility on us.
We know the story. The Brother of Jared gets to work making clear white stones out of molten rock. This must have involved no small effort to melt down and refine rock until it was clear glass. Incredible heat, pressure, and time to make these sixteen little stones. Then he took these stones that still did not give off any light by themselves, made the trip to climb the mountain, and asked:
O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.
Behold, O Lord, thou hast smitten us because of our iniquity, and hast driven us forth, and for these many years we have been in the wilderness; nevertheless, thou hast been merciful unto us. O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.
And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.And then the Lord puts forth his finger, touches those lackluster rocks, and makes them shine.
I love that dialogue and the faith to ask the Lord to touch his lackluster rocks and make them shine. As I consider my little stones of effort as a Dad, as a husband, as a missionary, as a friend, as a brother, in my church callings; as I think about all the things I try to do on my own and the many ways things don't work out, all my good intentions that sit there like rocks in the dark, I am reminded how important it is that we to go back to the Savior and ask him in faith to put forth his finger and bless our attempts. In the words of the sacrament hymn, "Bless our efforts day by day." (Hymn 170 God Our Father, Hear Us Pray)
And like the Brother of Jared said, I also have found that more often than not, the miracles and light of Christ shines in great power in ways that "look small unto the understanding of men." It is by small and simple things, not grand manifestations, that God does his work.
Christ is the light of the world. He is the only one who can help us cross the deep not in darkness, but in light. There is significant temple imagery in this story that is worth pointing out. As we make the effort to attend the temple, ascending the mountain so to speak, in our own way we can present to God our little stones of discipleship and ask the Lord to make them shine. He is willing to put forth his hand to accept our offering, and like Moses we can descend back to the world with our countenances illuminated, and our daily work ready to shine with his light. As we serve each other and keep our covenants, our daily efforts that may be dull and lackluster can shine if we remember to rely on Christ. His light, through us, can illuminate the way for those that we share space with on our voyage in our terrifying little barges of mortality.
I was reminded studying this profound little story this weekend how much I need to stop making my stones shine on my own. I was reminded how I need to increase my faith in the Savior, turn to him with my efforts, and let him stretch forth his hand, letting him shine his light and do his work through me.