There is the light

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the October 1976 Conference.
There were a couple different talks I kind of wanted to write about this week. But in the end I just can't pass up Elder John H. Groberg. I read The Other Side of Heaven when the movie came out years ago, and I've loved him ever since. He tells the best stories!

The story he tells in this talk is not strikingly different from all the other stories he tells of the islands. (Treacherous seas, stormy waves, miraculous escape. Ha ha. They sound formulaic, but somehow every one is still so good!) Elder Groberg and some other missionaries had been helping a sick missionary, when they received a prompting from the Holy Ghost to take him to the hospital on a different island. Of course, it was dark and the weather was threatening, but trying to trust the Spirit, they set off into the open sea. To reach the other island's harbor, they had to pass through a reef with a very narrow opening. It was raining hard and as they approached the reef, the passengers were more and more terrified that they wouldn't be able to find the way through. It was supposed to be marked with a light, but no one could see anything through the storm. Elder Groberg tells what happened next:
Our eyes strained against the blackness, but we could not see the light. 
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, when the tumultuous elements all but forced us to abandon life and hope, 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, “Ko e Maama e” (“There is the light!”).
I could not see the light, but the captain could see it. And I knew he could see it. Those eyes long experienced in ocean travel were not fooled by the madness of the storm nor were they influenced by the pleadings of those of lesser experience to turn to the left or to the right. And so with one last great swell we were hurtled through the opening and into calmer waters.   
I have just been reading the parable of the watchmen on the tower in the Doctrine and Covenants, which of course has the same message: that we should trust those who can see further and more clearly than we can. But Elder Groberg's story seemed to make that point in a slightly different way. I think it's because the tower in the parable sets the watchman up higher than the rest of us. And often, that is how I think of the prophets: like they're up on towers that give them a better view than I could ever have from "down here" in the world of regular people. And I know, of course, that they're just men and they're fallible. But they do have that God-given authority and perspective and position that makes them special, too.

Anyway, so nothing in Elder Groberg's story contradicts any of that, but I liked how in the boat, there was no tower, no special position, no higher vantage point. The captain and the passengers were all in the boat and they would all drown together if it came to that. The only difference between the captain and the others was that the captain had "eyes to see." Because of his experiences, he had truly learned to see differently than the others. It reminded me of the story of Elisha seeing the chariots of fire, or the scripture about the blind that "will not see." And it made it seem like those kind of light-seeing eyes could be…developed. Even if you weren't on a tower or in some special position. Not that that diminishes the importance of prophets! Of course there are things they can see beyond our reach, that we just have to trust them about. But it did make me think that maybe, if I do keep following them and listening to their guidance for long enough, that my OWN eyes might gain some of that experience and be able to discern light through the darkness for myself, like that faithful captain could.

I liked the way Elder Groberg described the captain:
I felt at the time that he was more than himself—he was more than the sum total of all of his experience. In some marvelous way at that moment of desperate need, he drew upon a power and a strength from generations of faithful, seagoing people that only those who know Polynesians well can begin to understand. My admiration and love for him and all other faithful descendants of father Lehi knows no bounds.
And then he relates this to President Kimball, and I think it's a perfect description of President Monson as well:
In like manner, and with even deeper meaning, I thank the Lord for our great prophet-leader of today. In our moment of great need the Lord has provided one tested and molded and trained and instructed and clothed with divine authority, who in addition to the total of all his experience, which is great, draws upon the strength and power of not only generations of faithful leaders but also of angels and of gods. 
…When all about us are sinking in darkness and fear and despair, when destruction seems close and the raging fury of men and demons ensnares us in seemingly insoluble problems, listen as he calmly says, “There is the light. This is the way.” I testify that he will so guide us safely home if we will but listen and obey. 
I love the image of our prophet standing calmly at the helm of a ship, guiding us to safety. And I love the image of a light that is always standing there, real, but only visible to eyes that know how to find it. I want to be in that ship. But I also want to gain those kind of eyes, that can find the light even amid the storms, and that can take comfort from its presence and its assurance of safe harbors to come.

Other posts in this series:

1 comment

  1. Oh I loved this! And I too thought how I wanted to be that captain -- faithful and seeing and confident in the light so I don't get ruffled by all the voices shouting and insisting on courses slightly to the right or left, etc.


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