I’ve crawled out of my sick-cave to write down a couple of points which have stuck with me since I re-started reading the Book of Mormon again this month.
Before I begin, allow me to pay homage to the divine gift which are antibiotics. Better living through chemistry, friends. I’ll drink a Diet Coke to that, and I’ll pour one out for my dad, who is nodding his silent agreement right now, I’m pretty sure.
While I’ve been sick, I’ve spent a great deal of time reading about the restoration of the Gospel and the early days of the church, which is A TRIP, people. And, because I finished reading the Book of Mormon recently, I also undertook that familiar Latter-day Saint U-turn move of immediately beginning to re-read that book of scripture which is the keystone of my religion. It was during my reading of the familiar stories of Nephi’s family that something new stood out to me.
In 1 Nephi, when Nephi and his brothers are gone, attempting to recover the ancient records they are commanded to retrieve, Sariah, their mother, snaps. Do we blame her for losing her mind? I personally don’t, but let’s let Nephi explain, “For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.”
At this point, I thought to myself, “I too would feel some righteous indignation. She has followed him into the desert for year after interminable year, and now her four sons are possibly dead. But, I forget what happens here. Is Sariah chastened for not blithely following or trusting her husband, the prophet? Because ugh. If that’s what happens next, I’m going to lose my mind a little bit and possibly throw something.”
Amazingly, that’s not what happens next.
This is what happens: Lehi speaks to Sariah about the undeniable visions from God which compelled him to lead his family into the wilderness and into the dangerous undertaking of recovering the records and sailing to the New World. “And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us, while we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem to obtain the record of the Jews. And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full, and my mother was comforted.”
This was the first time ever in my recollection that the middle-aged woman of the story, and her emotional state out there in the wilderness, stand out as a key part of this retelling. The point of these verses is Sariah’s comfort.
God could have struck her down with boils or lightning or serpents for complaining and doubting. Instead, God compelled her husband, the prophet, to empathize with her in her trauma and sorrow. He gave Lehi the words to comfort Sariah, and then he returned her four sons safely to her.
The only woman in this household of males needed comfort, and God provided it.
This little vignette, which really is ancillary to the story of her sons escaping death at the hands of Laban et al, spoke to me because it proves that our Heavenly Parents know the hearts of women. They understand women and they care about how they feel.
Here she is, the wife of a prophet and mother of another prophet, feeling bereft and helpless. And yet, Sariah’s emotional state could’ve been written off as not the point of the story, or beneath our notice because she’s a woman.
But it was important enough to make it into the modern translation of an ancient book of scripture. To me, this says, that even when cultures or traditions do not afford equality to women, our divine parentage does.
The world is rife with abuse and sexism, but those things won’t exist when Jesus reigns.
The Gospel in its purest, truest form isn’t sexist, lads. I needed to know this for myself, and I left those verses of 1 Nephi feeling God’s love for everyone who has ever felt marooned in the wilderness, sidelined by the complexity of life, and defeated by circumstance.