On the Wrong Road

Dear Will:

I recently began reading the autobiographical Beat classic On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  Jack and his book are so often referenced in other things I read that I finally decided to see what all of the references mean.

If you’ve never read it, I’m not sure I would recommend it—I’ve yet to find a single, endearing person with any redeeming value in the book. If you have read it, you know that it is sort of an out-of-control treatise on self-indulgence.  The characters in the book are unprincipled hedonists seeking to maximize the buzz of any given moment.  It is an amoral tale of drifters and con artists, careening through life without concern for tomorrow.

In other words, it has nothing to do with the things I believe in.

As I read this tale, it’s not hard to look into the hearts of its characters and see a deep, abiding sadness.  Without the benefit of eternal perspective, their lives are reduced to a futile quest for fun and excitement.  Unfortunately, the thrill of the moment, as we know, is transitory at best.  It is as if they search without knowing they are searching, and thus they find precisely what they are searching for.

Of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is precisely what these spiritual nomads need.  It provides purpose and meaning along with a moral compass.  It points to a Source for comfort, inspiration, and direction.  It provides perspective and hope even in times (such as these) when evil is all around us.

What Jack and his friends really needed, in my opinion, is a copy of the Book of Mormon.  I know that sounds funny, but the thought keeps coming back to me as I read his narrative.  “If they had simply read the Book of Mormon they could have begun to understand that there is more to life than cheap thrills and selfishness.  And if they had lived the principles it teaches, they could have avoided both imposing and suffering an awful lot of heartache.”

Like it does any good to mentally evangelize dead authors, right?

Still, if I had had the chance, I might have pointed them to the great discourse of King Benjamin (see Mosiah, chapters 1 through 5).  For in that section there is wonderful explanation of the Atonement and a real life example of the change of heart which makes eternal joy possible.  One passage, in particular, illustrates so much of what was missing in the lives of those depicted in On the Road:

“And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.  For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.”  (Mosiah 2:41)

Of course, unless you’re a big Jack Kerouac fan, I’m not sure what any of that necessarily has to do with you, but it was on my mind and I thought I’d share.  If nothing else, should you have a Book of Mormon handy, you might take it out and read those few pages in Mosiah.  I guarantee that you will be moved by the account.

Hope all is well for you and yours.


In Search of Peace and Solace

Dear Will:

I recently found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers as we gathered on the National Day of Prayer in search of comfort.  The awful events of September 11 left the world and its inhabitants changed forever, and I felt within myself the need to be near familiar things.  Maybe it’s ironic, then, that I found a seat near the back of someone else’s chapel (mine for the day, I suppose), but it was close by my office and served my purpose.  Hymns, prayers, a distant bell, a collective silence all gave me strength and perspective.  It helped.

Although I knew just one person in that congregation of 400 or so, I found strength in numbers.  I wondered as I sat there in silence if you felt a similar need to be a part of a community gathering, and I hoped, if you did, that you had a place to go.  I regretted that time did not allow me to invite you to a local service if you were interested.

In the face of these tragic events, I don’t have any great pearls of wisdom to offer.  Much has been said already more eloquently than I could ever say it.  I pray that you were not touched directly . . . but I misspeak.  We all were touched directly—this I know.  Perhaps I should simply say that my hope is that you knew no one personally who died that day, and that you had the good fortune of being near those you love as you watched the events unfold.

As I have contemplated the deaths of so many innocent people, my mind has returned again and again to a wonderful hymn which has comforted me and helped me draw upon reservoirs of faith.  I pray that these words may provide you some comfort too as we all search for peace and solace in the face of tragedy:

Where can I turn for peace? Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart, searching my soul?

Where, when my aching grows, where when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand? He, only one.

He answers privately, reaches my reaching
In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind, Love without end.

“Where Can I Turn for Peace?,” by Emma Lou Thayne


Footprints All Around Us

Dear Will:

I recently took my kids to the San Diego Zoo.  What a crazy collection of creatures that place has!  Once you stop gawking at the lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), there are all these other critters running around that you never heard of or imagined.  I keep expecting them to erect a Dr. Seuss wing one of these times.  There was even this one thing that seemed to have come straight out of the bar scene in Star Wars.  Goofy little body.  Ugly, throw-away-the-mold face.  A name you couldn’t pronounce.  From a place you never heard of.  Unbelievable.  Fascinating.  Marvelous.

Some can wander through a place like that and see Charles Darwin all around them.  Not me.  Everywhere I turn I see the handiwork of God.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have the faintest notion how to make an Okapi or a Lemur.  For all I know you’ve got to go through millions of years of modifications to get it just so.  But if you try to tell me that a gazelle or a Macaw or even a warthog happened by chance, I say “No way.”  (Well, maybe the warthog.)

Likewise, I am fascinated by how the human body is able to repair itself.  If I cut my finger today, within moments the body goes to work on repairs; within hours there is visible evidence that healing is underway; and within days it is as if nothing even happened.  Amazing.  Wonderful.  Miraculous.  And definitely not happenstance.

One does not have to go very far or work very hard to see evidence of a loving God: in the leaf of a tree, in a billowy cloud, or in a snow-capped mountain peak; in a bug that skitters or a hawk that soars; in the shape of the human ear, the back of your own hand, the ripple of muscle, a giggle, a sigh, a smile.  Everything we see or touch or hear or taste allows us to feel God’s presence if we will attune ourselves to Him.  If the world is, indeed, His footstool (Isaiah 66:1), is it really all that surprising that we should see his footprints all around us?

That great Book of Mormon prophet Alma (son of Alma) put it this way: “. . . [All] things denote there is a God;  yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

He didn’t specifically mention the Okapi, mind you, but I’m pretty sure that, had he  seen one, he would have agreed with me and cast a grateful eye toward heaven.

I close with the words of the poet:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—  
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;  
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;  
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange;  
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)  
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                  Praise him.  

“Pied Beauty,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins