Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Liahona's Second Spindle

I just realized something about the Book of Mormon, and I'd like to share it with y'all. It's about the Liahona, that "round ball of curious workmanship" that guided Lehi's party through the wilderness to the promised land.

Here's the verse I'll try to explain my idea from:
"And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness."(1 Nephi 16:10)
For those who don't know, the Liahona was basically an ancient GPS system. Of the two spindles, one of them pointed the way they should go to get to the better parts of the wilderness on their journey to the land of promise. But reading this verse a few nights ago got me thinking: what about the other spindle? If "the one" pointed whichever way they needed to go, what was the other doing there in the first place? If it didn't move, did it have a function at all?

That's when I remembered the "type" Alma the Younger applied to the Liahona in Alma 37, where he compares the Liahona to God's word:
"For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land." (Alma 37:44)
The scriptures are like the Liahona in that we can get direction in our lives by consulting them. I've been noticing this a lot lately--by pondering how the chapter I'm reading applies to my life, I'll get a subtle influx of revelation pointing me to where I need to go. But the key is that this revelation isn't in the Book of Mormon itself; it's only what occurs to me when I read the text, what "shines through the pages."

So I thought: could this have something to do with the two spindles? And then it hit me. I realized that if "the one" spindle corresponds to the way scriptures point the way forward in our lives, the stationary one must correspond to the actual, literal text. In that way, the Liahona is a lot like my experience of scripture-reading: two meanings pointing to something else, one that always stays the same (i.e. the literal meaning), and one that changes to fit our needs (the scriptures' meaning as I liken it to my life).

And then I realized something else: if the literal meaning is what stays the same between the many directions/meanings the Book of Mormon gives us, that means that the Book of Mormon's literal meaning is the pattern or archetype for events in human life. I can successfully liken Lehi's flight into the wilderness with my dating life, with family, with my church calling, with temptation, or even with metaphysics; thus the actual story told in the Book of Mormon is what lies in common between these events, their common "form."

So I guess you could say that the Book of Mormon is a collection of archetypes for human events, representations of ways that human behavior unfolds again and again. To paraphrase a description I've heard used for the I Ching, the Book of Mormon is a periodic table of human life. All the elements for our life's story are there. You just have to look closely enough, and you'll see your life in it.

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