As the Mormon pioneers began their westward trek, they already saw themselves on an exodus similar to that of ancient Israel leaving Egypt for the promised land. And they faced some of the same difficulties that Israel faced—such as those outlined in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 15: complaints, backbiting, uncertain knowledge of the land they were going to, and even a promised land populated by another people. The poem below, written near the beginning of the Mormon trek, urges the Saints in England to promptly take part in the trek, despite its dangers and the misgivings of many Church members.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is found in the material covered in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, lesson 8, is one of the more bleak stories in the bible. Its depressing to think that a city cannot be saved from its own wickedness, and that there was not one person there who was innocent enough to merit its salvation. Regardless of what their sins were (lets not go into that), the destruction of an entire city is heartbreaking. I think the following poem captures some of the pathos and the meaning that can be found in the Sodom and Gomorrah story, and many other, similar stories in the bible.
Perhaps the most difficult issue in discussing the idea of Zion is defining exactly what we mean. Even though D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson #46 is titled “Zion—The Pure in Heart,” its first section is titled “The word Zion has several meanings” and lists no less than six. Of these, I’ve seen evidence in Mormon poetry for two or three definitions. First, the early Mormon poets used Zion in a millennial sense, to mean “The New Jerusalem.” They also used ion to mean “The dwelling place of those who are exalted,” or perhaps even simply “Those who are exalted.” And, from the poetry I’ve read, it seems that Zion was also used to mean “The Church and its stakes” and “The members of the Church.” In the following poem John Lyon seems to use all three.
The sacred and eternal nature of families is regularly taught and believed among Mormons today. But it wasn’t seen as quite as obvious to Church members in the middle of the 19th century. The teaching that our family relationships extend past this life and are modeled on the family relationship we had before this life developed throughout the life of Joseph Smith, culminating with the King Follett discourse (given just before his death) and with the temple ordinances. The teachings of Lorenzo Snow on this subject (seen in the Lorenzo Snow manual chapter 9) thus represent a very developed understanding of how these relationships fit in the plan of salvation. For many earlier Church members, however, it seems to me that these teachings were mostly comfort on the loss of loved ones, especially children. And it is in comforting those who have lost children that the eternal nature of families can be seen. An example is the poem selected for this lesson.
Its hard to find poetry about tithing! I suppose since tithing wasn’t emphasized as much by the Church before the beginning of the 20th century, Mormon poets didn’t focus on the concept. Or, it might simply be that the subject matter doesn’t work well in poetry; certainly the word “tithing” isn’t very poetic, leaving me with visions of bad poetry in which every line ends with a present participle. Its enough to set my ears ringing! But, I suspect that tithing is such a basic concept that my chronological review of poetry, still mired in the late 1840s, just hasn’t come across the poetic reactions to the principle. But I did finally come across the following poem, which gets close, mentioning “the outlay of your money for the Church.”
The culmination of King Benjamin’s address to his people was the “mighty change” they experienced which led them to repent and covenant to keep the commandments and to seek to do good continually. While the scripture says that they “had no more disposition to do evil,” given the later history of this people, we might surmise that the disposition didn’t last. Nor did Benjamin expect that his people would remain sinless, but instead they would likely need a disposition to seek and obtain forgiveness. I suspect that one aspect of the “mighty change” described in the Book of Mormon is exactly that, seeking forgiveness for errors and sin.