Only That Day Dawns to Which We Are Awake

Dear Will:

I woke up this morning to a wet patio. Some time near dawn, it had rained.

There are few things as refreshing to body and soul as a summer rain (around here anyway). It cleans our smoggy air, washes dust from the street and sidewalks, brings welcome nourishment to our parched earth. I suppose in some way it does the same thing for each of us, providing clarity and renewal of spirit.

Happy though I was to see that some rain had fallen, I stood with a degree of disappointment as I looked out on my soggy backyard. It had rained and I had missed it—and who knows when it might rain again around here. I looked up, saw blue skies, and knew that the “shower” had already come and gone. If only I had gotten up a little earlier, I thought. If only.

Near the end of Walden (one of my all-time favorites), Henry David Thoreau says: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” If you want to benefit from new ideas, new thinking, altered perspectives, you have to be open and watching for the possibility, in other words. I think we’ve seen evidence of that in “the Arab Spring,” haven’t we? Thousands of people throughout the Arab world have witnessed and participated in a shift in thinking—the dawning of democracy—because when the moment arrived they were, as it were, awake.

It has caused me to ask myself how I would respond given a similar opportunity. Am I truly open to fresh perspective? If it’s true, as Thoreau says, that “there is more day to dawn,” that the sun is truly “a Morningstar,” am I sufficiently awake to perceive the light? You might even ask it this way: If God wanted to talk to me, would I hear or sleep right through it?

As I ponder all of this, I can’t help but think of something said in our last General Conference by Elder David A. Bednar. He was talking about the way that God communicates directly to his children—the patterns of personal revelation:

A light turned on in a dark room is like receiving a message from God quickly, completely, and all at once. Many of us have experienced this pattern of revelation as we have been given answers to sincere prayers or been provided with needed direction or protection, according to God’s will and timing. Descriptions of such immediate and intense manifestations are found in the scriptures, recounted in Church history, and evidenced in our own lives. Indeed, these mighty miracles do occur. However, this pattern of revelation tends to be more rare than common.

The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare.*

Like a sudden summer shower, light from God can come upon us unawares, and if we are not truly awake we’ll miss it altogether.

As I finish this note, I look outside to see that the clouds have gathered once again and drops have begun to fall. I’m heading outside to see and feel and celebrate the summer rain.

PW

* You can watch or read the entire talk here. I highly recommend it.

To See Farther and Better and More Clearly

Dear Will:

A couple of years ago there was a movie out called The Other Side of Heaven. The film stars mostly people you and I have never heard of (I think the only recognizable name might be Anne Hathaway, who has made a name for herself playing princesses in The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted). The movie tells the true story of John Groberg’s experiences as a missionary in the South Pacific (Tonga? I can’t remember for sure.) It’s an amazing tale, full of drama and miracles. And while a cynic like me would guess that a movie about a Mormon missionary would be a low-budget disappointment, I thought this film was pretty well done. Although it didn’t enjoy huge box-office success, you can still rent it at your local Blockbuster. I would recommend it—it’s worth the three bucks for the rental in any case.

The reason I bring this up is because I wanted to share with you one of Groberg’s stories, here now in his own words:

I was assigned as a district president to administer the affairs of the Church and preach the gospel in a group of fifteen small, scattered islands. We traveled almost exclusively by sailboat. . . .

On one occasion, we received word that a missionary was very ill on a somewhat distant island. The weather was threatening. . . . Extra heavy seas slowed our progress, and it was late afternoon before we arrived. The missionary was indeed very ill. Fervent prayer was followed by administration, during which the impression came very strongly to get him back to the hospital on the main island, and to do it now! . . .

There was much . . . talk about the darkness, the storm, the formidable reef with its extremely narrow opening to the harbor . . . but soon eight persons, including an ill missionary, a very experienced captain, and a somewhat concerned district president, boarded the boat. . . .

No sooner had we made our commitment to the open seas than the intensity of the storm seemed to increase sevenfold. . . . The thick clouds and driving rain increased the blackness of our already dark universe—no stars, no moon, no rest—only turmoil. . . .

As we rolled and tossed closer and closer to the reef, all eyes searched for the light that marked the opening—the only entry to our home. Where was it? . . . The rain slashed at our faces and tore at our eyes—eyes vainly searching for that life-giving light.

Then I heard the chilling sound of the waves crashing and chewing against the reef! It was close—too close. Where was that light? Unless we hit the opening exactly, we would be smashed against the reef and ripped and torn by that thousand-toothed monster. . . .

Some began to whimper, others to moan and cry, and one or two even to scream in hysteria. At the height of this panic when many were pleading to turn to the left or to the right, . . . I looked at the captain—and there I saw the face of calmness, the ageless face of wisdom and experience, as his eyes penetrated the darkness ahead. Quietly his weather-roughened lips parted, and without moving his fixed gaze and just perceptibly shifting the wheel, he breathed those life-giving words, . . . “There is the light!” . . .

I could not see the light, but the captain could see it. And I knew that he could see it. . . . And so with one last great swell we were hurtled through the opening and into calmer waters. . . .

We were in the protected harbor. We were home. . . .

And so the great lesson: There are those who, through years of experience and training, and by virtue of special divine callings, can see farther and better and more clearly—and can and will save us in those situations where serious injury or death—both spiritual and physical—would be upon us before we ourselves could see (in Ensign, Nov. 1976, pp. 44–45).

I bring this up because General Conference will be on this coming weekend. The Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, will be speaking. Hope you get a chance to tune in.

PW