As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said before he dedicated The Light of the World Garden Sept. 24, “The best thing about these gardens and statuary is that they will add significantly to the faith of all those who come to these grounds. We need religious faith as much or more now than at any time in the history of the world.”
“As we wander by the statues” said Karen Ashton, “we realize, I, I am the one. I am the disciple who wants to jump from the boat and go to meet the Savior. I am the woman at the tomb whose heart is broken because someone she loved is gone. But I am also Lazarus. I am the young person who calls out to God, tell me something. That is the majesty of these moments because they facilitate revelation about the single most magnificent individual ever.”
“I watched something very dreadful happening in the world, through media, through television, through entertainment, through music. It was a widespread blitz of negating good with the tool of humor, it began to level every moral standard and I was shocked. I was horrified as I was seeing what was happening to our world and to our society,” said Angela Johnson.
“I believe people will come by the thousands, I believe they will come by the tens of thousands, grateful for a setting in which they can reflect and contemplate, a place to meditate and yes, a place to pray. We don’t have a lot of those kinds of places publically in our busy, noisy, 21st century lives.”
Karen Ashton said: “We are standing here today in front of fragments of the Lord’s majestic life frozen in time forever. They are great works of art, but it is not what they are now. It is what they can be. They may facilitate revelation, fire from heaven that comes down upon the hearts and minds of those who stand and wander around, who are the seekers of truth.” Here she stands with her husband, Alan, and dear friend and benefactor to the garden, Marilyn Victor.
Angela Johnson had a dream to be a Prima Donna at the Metropolitan Opera. She said, “I had bought into the philosophy of the world that said you could accomplish anything you want to as long as you put your mind to it. You put every effort to it, because it made me feel all powerful. It made me feel autonomous, and I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but I was going to forge ahead because I knew what was best for me.”
But, she said, “The greatest compliment in my life is the knowledge my Heavenly Father has had of me.” One day in her late thirties when she was practicing her music, giving another four hours to vocal exercise, an energy impacted her body with the message that said, “You are never going to accomplish your vocal goals.” She said, “There was no room for negotiation. What I knew, I knew was true and the scaffolding that I had built inside of me started to fall and I didn’t have the emotional strength to prop it up. At that moment she, who had not sculpted before, went to the store, bought some clay and within four hours had created a little statue.
Elder Holland said, “The introductory statuary of the garden. ‘It is I, be not afraid,’ with the Savior walking on the water. When I first saw the sketch and knew how this was going to be portrayed, my first question was where’s Peter? It is to Peter and the disciples he is saying, ‘It is I, be not afraid.’ And it’s Peter who is going to make his effort to walk on the water. It was not until I got there with the piece in place that I realized, I’m Peter and you’re Peter and we’re the disciples and we’re the other half of the statuary.”
Each setting in the garden is positioned in such a way so that the visitor can walk around and look from every possible angle. Here is the scene from the woman at the well with Jesus.
“Faith comes from small beginnings. Great mustard trees grow out of mustard seeds. The great faith of a mature Peter comes from the halting faith of a new and very fearful disciple,” said Elder Holland.
“None of us has a complete grand faith we ought to have, but we can cherish the faith we do have and that others have.”
From Elder Holland: “One of Sister Holland’s favorite scriptures is from the 10th chapter of the book of Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing,” the writer says, “to fall into the hands of the living God.” If we practice our faith, perhaps when we think we’re falling we will be more prepared and less surprised to find ourselves safely in those arms that are always extended to catch us.”
“We need to celebrate faith and encourage faith whenever and wherever we find it, not be critical of it, even if it’s partial, even if it’s piecemeal, even if it’s inadequate and sometimes that’s how we feel about our children and our children’s children. None of us has a complete grand faith we ought to have, but we can cherish the faith we do have and that others have. “
The healing of a leper could be the healing of each one of us with whatever weaknesses and infirmities we carry.
Elder Glenn L. Pace, Emeritus Seventy, enjoys the park with his wife and part of his family.
We find ourselves inside the scenes of the garden. We are Mary. We are Martha. We want the Lord to talk to us.
Elder Holland said, “The fact is wondrous events come upon us unexpectedly and sometimes we initially fear them. When such moments come we need to take a deep breath, maybe pinch ourselves once or twice, wait for things to settle a little and then rejoice at our good fortune.”
The scenes are large and lifelike, as in this one of the woman taken in adultery from John Chapter 8.
You can actually walk up and around each figure and get a feeling for what it might have felt like for the woman taken in adultery.
Elder Holland said, “Someone Hath Touched Me celebrating the otherwise unknown woman who strained to touch even the hem of Jesus’s robe in an effort to heal the issue of blood that had plagued her for more than a decade. This woman is a heroine to me and always has been. She’s nameless and faceless and anonymous in this story, but we love her dearly for her faith.”
From Elder Holland: “Perhaps only if we lived in her day would be understand her desperation. She’s had this affliction for twelve years and depending on the exact nature of the malady has probably been considered unclean by her leaders, banned from any temple experience, and ostracized in society generally. We are told that she had spent all that she has seeking a cure from physicians. To say she is desperate would be a gross understatement.”
“What were the chances realistically that she could get a blessing from him amidst this throng and all this clamor, even if she could actually get his attention? Surely, she’d not be able to speak with him. She’d have no way or time to tell her story or even to describe her ailment. Her situation was hopeless. Or was it?”
“She perhaps unknowingly obeyed the most basic commandment Jesus ever uttered, ‘Come unto me.’ He said it repeatedly and she had believed him. The rest of that crowd had just come to observe or cheer or jeer or just have a great day in the street but this woman came with a purpose. She came to make contact, spiritual and physical contact with the Savior of the World.”
Elder Holland said, “Too many of us run from experience that we think will be difficult or disastrous, when if we give God a chance, we may learn it was intended for a blessing to us all along.”
Never will you picture the scene of raising Lazarus from the dead the same again. It is immense. It is heartstopping. You can study the scene from the perspective of Lazarus himself, or you can look into the tomb from the point of view of the Savior.
Are we not all Lazarus? We are completely stopped by the cares of this world. We are unable to move forward. We cannot see a way out. We cannot move without his voice calling for us.
“Other faiths have holy men. Other faiths have miracles and visions and spiritual manifestations. Other faiths have devout believers in defense of religious conviction, but no other religion and no other individual ever in the history of the world is there one who so voluntarily laid down his life and three days later took it back up again, never to experience death again.”
“The deep meaning and peace of this experience can still be vivid to us today 2,000 years later particularly if we remember how devastated and despairing these disciples were following that loss of their Savior. For most of them, if not all their hopes and dreams died when the Savior died. Notwithstanding his efforts to tell them He would rise again, even His chief apostles seemed not to have accepted, or at least not to have understood that statement was something that would be realized literally.”
Angela said, “‘Heavenly Father, I know this gift is from you. What do you want me to do with it?’ I was given the concept of a sculpture garden, depicting the teachings and miracles of Christ and what rushed into my heart was the love I have also held for my Savior and with it came the knowledge that I can speak. I can speak my witness of Jesus Christ in a way that the world is going to be hard pressed to criticize because it’s the time-honored, neutral ground of art.”
Angela Johnson forged ahead with her dream, “This is my perspective. This is an endeavor of love. How are you going to challenge that? But nevertheless, there will be those that are offended, but that is not my motivation. My motivation is to create facilitators where revelation can happen, to bring people to contemplate Jesus Christ “
“The resurrection is the great, triumphant, central symbol of Christianity, the symbol of Christian distinctiveness. It is Christ’s singular message to the world, ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall be made alive.’ Angela’s portrayal of this greatest of all victories shows the reality of this miracle as witnessed by Christ’s most intimate associates,” said Elder Holland.
Elder Holland continued, “Jesus appeared again and again and again, resurrected, victorious, body and spirit united never to be separated again. His promises had been kept. His Messianic mission was being fulfilled. The final and absolute seal of majesty and Godhood had been put on all He said and all that He had done. This was the message His believers would take to the world and that would change the world.”
“The final and absolute seal of majesty and Godhood had been put on all He said and all that He had done. This was the message His believers would take to the world and that would change the world. This was the reality that turned fisherman into apostles and tentmakers into missionaries.”
The end of the walk through the garden culminates in this scene of the First Vision. These deciduous trees ‘happened to be’ already planted on this property 15 years before. The feeling changes from a Middle East feeling to a feeling of a grove of trees in Western New York.
Moving the angle of the camera you can capture a burst of light from the sun as you gaze upon this wonderful scene of the First Vision.
“I have regretted that we’re so quick to criticize Peter,” said Elder Holland, “for being a little fearful, of losing some faith or faltering in his critical moment. I’m apologetic that I fear or falter. It seems to me that we owe Peter and maybe each other, and our children and our children’s children, greater admiration and commendation for wanting to walk on the water, for daring to do as the Master did, for in fact, actually succeeding and doing it. Granted he took only a few steps successfully, but he did. That makes Peter the only person in history besides the Savior of the World who actually performed such a miraculous feat.”
Angela Johnson melts into a hug with her mother at the Light of the World Garden.