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Cover image: “Tree of Life” by Kazuta Uota.

The guidebook claimed that the Pu’u O Kila lookout would provide not only one of the best views on the island of Kauai, but in the whole Pacific. I highlighted that sentence in neon yellow, so my husband and I would remember to check it out. Weeks later, on our anniversary trip to Hawaii, we headed up highway 550 to see what all the fuss was about. On the way, I consulted the guidebook once again, noticing the warning that heavy mists often arose from the ocean, obscuring the beautiful view. We pulled into the parking area of the overlook, discovering that the author of the guidebook wasn’t kidding. Walking over to the railing, we found that the mists completely hid everything more than a foot beyond the fence. Though we were disappointed, there was really nothing to do but laugh. We couldn’t resist documenting the moment and the mist that so thoroughly hid the promised beautiful vista:

Mist at Pu’u O Kila overlook, Kauai.

Driving back down the highway, I marveled at how completely the heavy mist had obscured our view. Not surprisingly, my mind filled with images from the scriptures: the mists of darkness that hid the path leading to the glorious tree of life which the prophet Lehi saw in a vision. I think it is no accident that the vision of the tree of life, with all its symbolism, appears just fourteen pages into The Book of Mormon. The vision could have been given to any of the prophets–and maybe it was shown to others–but it is Lehi who records it. Thus, even though many readers of The Book of Mormon struggle to make it past the “Isaiah chapters” of 2nd Nephi, they have already found something of great value by encountering Lehi’s extraordinary vision.

Before the vision can have any real meaning for us, it is essential to identify what the tree symbolizes. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland “taught that the tree of life is a symbol of Jesus Christ. He said: “The images of Christ and the tree [are] inextricably linked…Christ is portrayed as the source of eternal life and joy, the living evidence of divine love…” (1) Next, we must identify the symbol which leads to the tree, referred to as the rod of iron. “What meaneth the rod of iron…that led to the tree? …it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish…” (1 Nephi 15:24) What does Lehi’s vision mean for us? It shows that we must maintain a firm grip on the iron rod while keeping a laser-focus on Jesus Christ.

“Pondering the value of having a single-minded focus on a goal brings to my mind an incident which occurred decades ago. My oldest brother, Steve, and I were touring several Asian countries with a group of university students. First stop: Japan. On a Sunday morning, as the group boarded a crowded subway, Steve found a seat a bit away from his friends. The motion of the train, combined with jet lag, lulled him into a sound sleep. In fact, he slept so deeply that he was completely oblivious when his group reached its destination and exited the subway.

Blissfully unaware of their departure, my snoozing brother continued his journey out of Tokyo–way out of Tokyo. He finally awoke when a subway janitor brushed a broom against Steve’s shoe.  Looking around, he found that he was sitting on a deserted subway car, having reached the end of the line. Instead of a bustling city around him, there were only empty fields. Back in downtown Tokyo the subway signs had romanizations under the Japanese kanjis (symbols) so even those who didn’t speak Japanese could read and understand, but Steve was now so far out of the city that the signs had only kanjis, which he could not read. He had no way of even knowing the name of the place he had reached. An attempt to use a pay phone only brought frustration since the Japanese operator spoke no English. What does one do in such a pre-cell phone predicament? How does someone so lost reach their destination?

While a dozen thoughts and prayers rushed through his mind, Steve spotted a blonde head among the few dark-haired people on the subway platform, and he approached its owner, hoping she could speak English and help him. Bingo. The blonde woman was an American, working in Japan as an English teacher. She kindly identified the symbols for Tokyo for Steve and even copied them onto his hand in ink.  After steering him in the right direction, she encouraged him to keep looking for the same kanjis on the subway signs and follow them till he arrived back in Tokyo. Telling him that one symbol stood for to and the other for kyo, she cautioned him against switching the order or he would end up in Kyoto, hundreds of miles from where he wanted to be.

Fortunately, Steve was carrying enough money in his wallet to purchase tickets for the ride back to Tokyo. There was no napping on this journey, no casual approach to finding his way. The first order of business, he discovered, was to preserve the two ink symbols on the palm of his hand since the combination of heat humidity, and nervous perspiration were threatening to melt them away. Palm up and flat, he studied the symbols closely, looking for corresponding kanjis on subway signs. Occasionally, he had to get the attention of a Japanese traveler, point to his hand, and say, “Tokyo,” so people could help him find the correct symbols. Many hours later, Steve arrived in downtown Tokyo, taking a cab for the final leg of the journey to the Miyako Hotel, where his university group–especially his sister–was greatly relieved to see him again.

By identifying the symbols to follow and keeping a single-minded focus on his intended goal, Steve made it safely back to Tokyo. In order to reach the tree of life and partake of its fruit, we must be focused on our goal with the same intensity.” (2)

President Boyd K. Packer spoke powerfully about the meaning of Lehi’s dream: “One word in this dream or vision should have special meaning to…Latter-day Saints. The word is after. It was after the people had found the tree that they became ashamed, and because of the mockery of the world they fell away.

“And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost…

“And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also.” That was the test; then Lehi said, “But we heeded them not” (1 Nephi 8:28, 33; emphasis added). And that was the answer.” (3)

Heed Them Not (1 Nephi 8:34)
“Heed Them Not” by Sarah Merkley

Wherever we find ourselves along the path which leads to the Savior, I recommend four ways to lessen the effects of the mists of darkness and the impact of the pointing fingers:

  1. We must be clear in our understanding of what constitutes the rod of iron: it is the word of God as taught in the scriptures and by modern day prophets and apostles. The internet has flooded us with information, some of which is useful, none of which should replace God’s word. When we place too much confidence in the creators of the endless blogs, podcasts, social media posts, and articles at our disposal–we are on shaky ground. Everyone has an opinion, and many people are articulate, passionate and persuasive in expressing their views. While we may find some elements of truth or discover sound advice among the many available voices, the moment we begin to replace daily feasting on the word of God with any other voice, our hands slip from the iron rod and we are at great risk spiritually.
  2. A powerful antidote for the influence of the great and spacious building lies in a very different building–the holy temple. The more we become acquainted with the Plan of Salvation, as taught in the temple, the more we will understand “…things as they really are…” (Jacob 4:13) We will begin to more easily recognize the influence of the pointing fingers and immunize ourselves against its effects. “The more time we spend in the peaceful, uncluttered atmosphere of the temple, where modesty and simplicity prevail, the more we become aware of the contrast between the Lord’s ways and the ways of the world.” (4)  Elder Neil L. Andersen shared this significant blessing of temple and family history work: “As you contribute to this sacred work, your knowledge and faith in the Savior will increase and…you will receive protection against the temptations that surround you.” (5)
  3. Take charge of technology. Recently, as I have pondered the symbolism of Lehi’s vision, an interesting picture has formed in my mind. I see myself with cellphone in hand, scrolling endlessly through social media, cooking blogs, or Amazon–just killing time–and suddenly become aware that a heavy mist is emanating from one end of the phone, like a fog machine. The longer I keep scrolling, the thicker the mist that surrounds me. Even though nothing I’m viewing on the device is inherently evil, it can still blur my focus, and take the edge off my desire to give attention to more meaningful activities. Of course, it’s fine to have downtime between school, work, church, and family responsibilities. I’m speaking of times we let our technology take over, endlessly entertaining ourselves, or even allowing worldly philosophies and evil influences into our homes and minds. Make no mistake: our technology gives us easy access to the great and spacious building which Lehi saw. We cannot afford to allow our phone or laptop to become a fog machine, obscuring our view of the Savior.
  4. Lehi speaks of several groups of people who partook of the fruit, yet only one group did not fall away after partaking. One difference I can detect from the scriptural account is that the last group “…did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (1 Nephi 8:30; emphasis added) Falling down at the feet of Jesus Christ implies true humility. It takes great humility and faith to continue partaking of the fruit when you sense pointing fingers all around you, some of which may belong to coworkers, close friends, or family members. Those pointing fingers are especially troubling when they come from those who belong, or once belonged, to the church. In order to keep a firm grip on the iron rod we must not give in to the temptation to point our own fingers back at the people who mock us for our beliefs. We need every finger on the rod–a two hand hold.

The account of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life is a gift, pure and simple. Frequent, careful study of this vision can open our eyes to our spiritual situation, our current location on the path that leads to the Savior, and whether or not we are firmly grasping the rod of iron that leads to the tree.

Lead Me to The Tree

Music, lyrics, and piano by Lynne Perry Christofferson
Vocal by Tammy Simister Robinson

I see a river, a large and spacious field,
and a straight and narrow pathway
at the side.
And in the distance a most inviting tree,
and a rod of iron meant to be my guide.

(chorus)

Lead me to the tree of life.
Lead me to the fruit, sweet and white.
I long to taste the joy prepared for me.
The rod will lead me to the tree.

I see a building standing in the air,
all the worldly and the proud within its walls.
They’re pointing fingers at people on the path,
distracting them until they start to fall.

(chorus)
Lead me to the tree of life.
Lead me to the fruit, sweet and white.
I long to taste the joy prepared for me.
The rod will lead me to the tree.

Though others mock me as I make my way,
I will not heed no matter what they say.

(chorus)
Lead me to the tree of life.
Lead me to the fruit, sweet and white.
I long to taste the joy prepared for me.
The rod will lead me to the tree.

The rod will lead me to the tree.

To request free downloadable sheet music for “Lead Me to the Tree,” email Lynne Christofferson at [email protected]

Notes:

  1. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, lds.org/gospeldoctrineteachersmanual/lesson3
  2. This story is an excerpt from the author’s book Sisters, Arise! available at deseretbook.com, primerecordings.com, amazon.com.
  3. President Boyd K. Packer, Finding Ourselves in Lehi’s Dream, a devotional address delivered on January 16, 2007, at Brigham Young University. http://speeches.byu.edu.
  4. Lynne Perry Christofferson, Sisters, Arise! Covenant Communications Inc., American Fork, Utah, p. 15.
  5. Elder Neil L. Andersen, from the address “Find Our Cousins!” RootsTech 2014.