Friday, December 10, 2010

JOD 01-04

For the next installment of our series on the Journal of Discourses, we'll be looking at the fourth discourse in the first volume. This was preached by Brigham Young (1801-1877), the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The discourse in question was delivered in the Territorial House in Salt Lake City, Utah, during a legislative festival on 4 March 1852. The text as we have it was reported by George Darling Watt (1812-1881). The main theme of President Young's discourse that day was recreation.

1. One of the first things said by President Young that caught my interest is:

We are now enjoying our pastimes. We often meet together and worship the Lord by singing, praying, and preaching, fasting, and communing with each other in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Now we are met in the capacity of a social community - for what? That our minds may rest, and our bodies receive that recreation which is proper and necessary to keep up an equilibrium, to promote healthy action to the whole system. Let our minds sing for joy, and let life diffuse itself into every avenue of the body; for the object of our meeting is for its exercise, for it is good. (JD 1:29)

Right here, Brigham Young offers a defense of the importance of recreation, which is here a social activity. The function of this is to rest the mind and to keep up the health of the body through exercise. (I imagine, then, that the sort of recreation Young has in mind is not a stimulating game of chess!)

2. Another quote that stuck out at me was when President Young said:

I am in the best place I ever was during my life, and with the best society. I never saw a community that enjoyed the tranquility and peace that are enjoyed by this people in the valleys of the mountains. Is this not so? Judge for yourselves, ye are my witnesses. (JD 1:29)

A question for my Latter-day Saint friends: could you say this about your wards? And I wonder whether my Evangelical friends could say it about their congregations either. Or, for any of us, about our communities? The closest I could come to saying it would be about my seminary community.

3. The next bit:

It is good to look upon each other, because the faces of our friends, and the gladness of their countenances, cheer our hearts, furnishing food for future reflection. Under all circumstances, in every transaction of business and of social enjoyment, remember it is good to reflect and consider upon it now in the days of peace and prosperity, while we have the privilege. (JD 1:30)

These strike me as wise words that anyone - LDS, Evangelical, or otherwise - ought to be able to agree with. Loving community is one of the many great gifts that God has given us. As an introvert with a bit of an anti-social streak, I don't always cherish it in the way that I ought to. But in the good times of life, while we still get to enjoy these good gifts, we ought to savor them and reflect on them and be grateful for them, because the difficult times may come where that isn't so simple to do.

4. Brigham Young goes on to say that overindulgence in recreation without reflection can be a bad mistake because it leads to a sense of spiritual complacence as well; he goes on to state:

When we have had sufficient recreation for our good, let that suffice. It is alright; then let our minds labor instead of our bodies; and in all our exercises of body and mind, it is good to remember the Lord. If it cannot be so, but otherwise, I do not wish to see another party while I live. If I could not enjoy the Spirit of the Lord in this capacity with you this evening, and feel the power of God to rest upon me, I should cease from all such indulgence. From this time, never let us permit ourselves to go one step beyond that which the Lord will own and bless. (JD 1:30)

What I get out of this is, first, all things in moderation: don't be all work and no play, but don't overdo the play more than you need to, either. And that seems fair. The second point is that the underlying principle is to remember God in all things, to do them for his glory: to paraphrase, 'whether we play, we play unto the Lord; and whether we work, we work unto the Lord: whether we play, therefore, or work, we are the Lord's' (cf. Romans 14:8).

5. Brigham Young further explains that most people labor with their bodies but seldom with their minds; however:

But when men are brought to labor entirely in the field of intelligence, there are few minds to be found possessing strength enough to bear all things; the mind becomes overcharged, and when this is the case, it begins to wear upon the body, which will sink for want of the proper exercises. This is the reason why I believe in and practice what I do. (JD 1:31)

There's a lot of truth here. Most of my labor is in the field of intelligence, and thus I do try to make sure that I at least relax and socialize from time to time, which generally suffices to keep me balanced, along with a bit of activity here and there (though not as much as I probably ought).

6. Because this discourse doesn't interest me all that strongly, there's only one other passage I'd like to highlight:

Suppose every heart should say, if my neighbor does wrong to me, I will not complain, the Lord will take care of him. Let every heart be firm, and everyone say, I will never contend any more with a man for property, I will not be cruel to my fellow creature, but I will do all the good I can, and as little evil as possible. Now, where would be the wrong of taking this course? This is the way to approximate toward a celestial state. (JD 1:32)

This seems to me wholly true - and yet, how difficult it can yet be! Can we not all agree - whether LDS, Evangelical, or otherwise - to seek to cultivate this mindset in ourselves and to try to display it towards one another also?

On that note, I conclude this survey of the fourth discourse in the Journal of Discourses, and so I echo Brigham Young's own closing words:

May heaven bless you, brethren and sisters. Amen. (JD 1:34)

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