I have always imagined Nephi as a restless young man who liked to play pranks in disguise. He must have practiced that ability before, perhaps imitating his brother Laman or his relative Laban. I think he did not know how useful that would be in the future.
The scriptures and Nephi
The words of his father awoke in him great desires to know and not great rejection, thus showing an inquisitive and curious spirit.
Nephi lived in a community of no more than a hundred people. However, we do not read in his words nostalgia for that great city of Jerusalem with more than one hundred thousand inhabitants. What made up for the loss of belonging to a city like Jerusalem, whose temple was famous throughout the known world? What did he receive in exchange for losing his paternal inheritance? How could he renounce a world rich in nuances through a desert full of probabilities?
Nephi presents himself as a man who seeks knowledge of the mysteries of God. He is determined to follow a route, apparently the fruit of a visionary father. ( 1 Nephi 5: 2 )
The first relationship of Nephi with the scriptures was through Lehi, we can see it in 1 Nephi 2:16 «… and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father »
At that time they did not have the brass plates at their disposal, but Nephi had his father. These were his writings. He paid attention to his gestures and his voice from the tree. He approached his words without clinging to any bar, or path, but only for his ministry.
The Jewish way
The vision of Nephi was not contaminated by the Jewish way, it was free of movements. Unlike his brothers, Nephi had a direct line of sight to his father.
And in his case this was the result «… he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father» Approaching his father in that way, they made him a candidate to approach Isaiah.
A result as personal and not very objective as being moved , is not acceptable to those who seek proof, but for Nephi it was access to a new world.
The smaller plates
The small plates, especially 1 and 2 Nephi, were written long after the events they narrate. But even so we can clearly see in the first chapters a Nephi, essentially a man of action: get the plates, bring Ismael and his family, hunt, face his older brothers, resist attacks etc.
After the recovery of the bronze plates and their reading, Nephi discovers his father as a prophet and himself as a seeker of mysteries. He refines his desires to the point that, referring to Isaiah «… my soul delighteth in his words» ( 2 Nephi 11: 2 ).
Over time it goes from being moved by the spirit to achieving «a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God» ( 1 Nephi 1: 1 )
Where does that growth take place from goodness to knowledge?
From kindness to knowledge
It is in 1 Nephi 11: 1 , where it is related in my opinion, its great leap, its takeoff … «after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto meas, as I sat pondering in mine heart … « Following these words , Nephi tells a wonderful vision.
Let’s make an effort of imagination and sit down in the same place where he was. Now imagine that in our personal verse 1, nothing happens from the words » about this …». S olo will have ellipses and sitting still mulling to get tired. Because you and I might have been some honest and excellent unbelievers of our century, but here we are, about this . Not on an extremely high mountain, but rather, in an extremely usual and common life, there in the valley away from the summits of Shelem .
Well then, this is the good news for you and me: that we have succeeded !, even before a result and we could celebrate our three dots together with Nephi and before the verse ends; leave Nephi with his vision.
And you, dear reader, will ask yourself: Where is our achievement? Since we have abandoned the verse and the scene in about this , we have gone before the vision. And this will be a correct and logical question.
The answer is very simple.
Our success is in the way we approach the issue.
The progress of Nephi
In Nephi’s first attempt to access this question, that of knowledge, he only did two things, to desire and ask for «great desires …and I did cry« (1 Ne2: 16 ). I’m not saying it’s not effective, but it’s a start that arouses your confidence. That trust allows him to believe that the challenge of obtaining the plates is a commandment from God.
When he returns with them and examines them together with his father, we read «… and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us « ( 5:21 ).
The training he acquires in that period of reading and the testimony of his father, make him think seriously and prepare him to receive more. But first, you must do things differently.
In a later attempt described in verse 1 of 1 Nephi 11 , he wishes (even there as before) but now believes that he can know them for himself and for that he feels what it takes to organize his time and move away from the camp, and reflects about matters already read and studied. In short, the seriousness and time to acquire knowledge are taken. And he uses a method, which he did not have before.
It is this effort and disposition that elevates us from simple reading to the summits of Shelem. This is what makes us relate to a subtle and invisible medium. That can sustain us and slide us into a space hitherto unthinkable.
A daily story
When I was fifteen years old I read the Book of Mormon for the first time in six days. I remember that in that summer of June 1976, I could not get rid of that book. It really touched my heart. I did not have to fight much, it was something simple and natural: I believed because I felt. It’s still not impressive for someone looking for evidence, but for me it was enough.
In those adolescent times, my relationship with the scriptures was that of an herbivore. I would eat large amounts of reading as if my growth depended on it. He grazed by the scriptures and wanted to know how far those new meadows he had found arrived. I had never dealt with feelings of that kind. The digestion of all that, took place somewhere that I was not aware of, and its effects do not say that they were supposed, but they were not completely visible.
In my worn copy of the Book of Mormon, soft and blue, with the angel Moroni occupying its cover, I wrote down a line on the first page every time I finished reading it. As I was reading, the striped collection was increasing and I was proud. I thought to fill the entire page with lines. I often showed it to others. I liked that they considered me … a kind of wise … (I was 15 years old, be understanding) In those ages one likes to impress, I thought that was a good argument to achieve it. And those lines were like feathers on my head.
Although in reality my achievement was comparable to doing a hundred push-ups with the brass plates on my back. It’s not that they made me wise but they did strengthen my reading muscle.
A strong and healthy skeleton
As the reader may suppose, at that time I could have been sitting on verse 1 of 1 Nephi 11 until the end in Cumora and getting up as I sat. However, perhaps, having all passed through this stage, that of growth, I can say in my defense, that the construction of a healthy and strong skeleton requires more of a good diet than a lot of reflection. And I was accumulating, at least, a vocabulary, stored in the neocortex of an adolescent brain overwhelmed by the questions of an era.
The decade of the 70s was difficult, I had to fight daily with a swarm of hostile philosophies with my newly acquired faith.
I lived in the outskirts of the city of Seville. In these areas the youths were surrounded by emerging social movements, all of them from the left. The environment was loaded with extremist ideas that enjoyed great prestige and acceptance. And the gospel seemed … so simple and so naive! I could perceive these ideas as compact masses of scientific evidence. At his side my thoughts seemed «… small, light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water» (Ether 2:16)
It is difficult to accept especially for someone who became little by little a convinced Westerner, live with what he did not know, without ceasing to be what he was. Actually the road is narrow and little traveled.
The challenges of Nephi
Nephi faced the common sense, logical and pragmatic of his brothers. Actually being there for the reasons that Lehi said was hard to accept for someone from Jerusalem. And being in the 70s in the restored church, it was like residing in the desert and justifying it logically to the citizens of a comfortable city.
The world does not tolerate precise contours in religious or moral issues. Because «faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things» ( Alma 32:21 ) As we have abandoned our relationship with the earth and the faith that it teaches us, we have become increasingly connected with that large and spacious building where no hinge squeaks.
We are far from the confidence in the sowing and the uncertainty of the crops. For example, when buying a vacation, a new car or a mobile phone, we pursue an exact and focused image of our desire. There is no need to sow or wait. We find out the shipping time, the moment in which each thing occurs until we receive the requested.
Live with the impossible
The language we read in the scriptures in general gives a lot of detail about the price but not so much about the prize. Which we can imagine and calculate. But not knowing it in a panoramic 360º. They do not give us perfect knowledge.
Lehi was promised a land of promise. But he could not detail anything more to his children, «… said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands …» ( 2 Nephi 1: 5 ).
Yes, Lehi, but where is that land? You only have a desert Instead we know the price we pay day to day in this desert.
Believe that the great city of Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, it is easy to say. But would we believe it when we see its walls and its temple? Nephi lived with the impossible.
Sitting on our stone reflecting
If we want to obtain something more than 1 Nephi 11: 1, we will have to learn, like Nephi, that there is a price of effort and that the reward is like «The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth … « ( John 3: 8 ) Unlike in the world, nobody would buy anything with that guarantee.
When I served in the Spain-Madrid mission, back in 1980 … DC, the scriptures were for me, above all, a refuge and a consolation. The hardness of the street, was compensated by the warmth he felt in his reading. I do not remember both the concepts learned and the comfort received in those days. I read them while I was having lunch, in the morning and at night. Those who have been in that situation, will remember the feeling of being assisted and comforted by that » company «.
In those days, memorize section 93. There is music in those verses, not only your message but dance, there is delight . In the streets of Torrejón de Ardoz. While the Phantom F-4 of the military base of Torrejón, thundering in the sky, the words «… I am the true light that illuminates every man that comes into the world» seemed to whisper giving us encouragement.
The bear hibernating
When I finished the mission, I did military service, mandatory in those years in Spain. I was in the Navy eighteen months. I met the one who is now my wife Nati. I got married, I had two children, Alma and David. My cruising speed increased in those years when the needs of the home and family demanded all my resources and my time. Little time to read. The necessary to prepare speeches and classes.
My relationship with the scriptures was academic, technical and conceptual. Let’s say that I extracted knowledge in a correct and orderly manner. They kept my level of resources acceptably.
That situation, of hibernating bear, holds us back for many for too long. It is not that we do not want, it is not that we do not believe, nor sit down. We just do not spend time reflecting. We are too busy making a bow of wood and arrows of straight sticks to hunt the sustenance that our family.
We forget like Jared’s brother that we have not reached the beaches to stay in them.
Certainly our orbit and descent into the scriptures can be long and full of weightless moments. Not so Nephi, who from the first moment refined his decisions towards the goodness and mysteries of God. However, in the trajectory of every member of the church, it is necessary to sit down to reflect and believe that we can know .
In my life there was a correction in my angle of entry, something happened in my mature age. I believe that it happens in the life of every person, whether or not a believer. An opportunity, sometimes painful, or a stop along the way that makes you think and rethink things. In my case it was an appeal in the priesthood and in my stake. After a while I was relieved. But nothing was the same.
For some reason that I do not know, I was allowed to experience for free, as a new convert, a special approach to what I had always read over and over again. I had the feeling that the scriptures had a width and depth that I had never suspected. I began to perceive the relief of his words. I experienced the impression that sentences and their meanings were signals of vast spaces of knowledge.
I knew that we had to take everything very seriously The scriptures are not only quasi-poetic expressions of simple and simple principles. They are real, in the formal sense of the word. And this is so easy to read and that it is understood. We do not fully understand it until certain moment.
The contact with the surface
The idea of taking something seriously, applied to the study of the scriptures, seems simple to understand, in fact they are three common words, but it is not, it is not easy. If we stop to reflect like Nephi, that idea enlists us in a journey in faith. We take seriously words we see that describe things we do not see. By seriously considering those words, we begin to believe them true. In this way we demonstrate, to what lies behind them, that we are prepared to receive what is not seen.
However, often our willingness to read does not include our heart, but our reason. And we use to read them, the intellectual position that accompanies us daily in our journey, be it hunting, collecting, traveling or preserving life.
It is necessary to reach a certain emptiness of the soul, to go out to hunt without stringing our bow. To go out to look for the questions of our soul.
This is what Enos did remembering the words of his deceased father.
The placement of the person before the scriptures is vital to access their interior. In the same way as to cross the Earth’s atmosphere, a correct angle is necessary. To enter inside them, a special attitude and disposition is necessary. Since those days and until now I have not been able to study them or read them without having a paper and a pencil at hand. Dedicating a lot of time to the important empty space of their lines, that is, to what they do not say. It is necessary to abandon for a time that natural disposition to deal with this world; to adopt the necessary condition and present ourselves before them.
All this reminds me of a scene from my childhood.
When I was ten years old, my friends and I went out to hunt dragonflies. We tied them with thread and threw them into the air like Roman chariots.
To hunt dragonflies, it must be done without noise. One has to be placed exactly behind, in line with the axis of his body, otherwise they see you. You stop a meter from them and you extend your hand slowly with your thumb up to catch the tail. If you are able to extend your body in the middle of space, you have done the most difficult thing.
Sometimes I imagine a verse as something extraordinary that you have to approach in its perpendicular, with extreme care, almost with reverence. As you do so, you will see nuances that you have never considered. You get to want nothing more than that. To have no ambition for anything more than to approach and observe. You do not force its meaning with preconceived ideas, but you are caught by the beautiful construction of its language. You can enjoy standing at your side, with no desire to move on, and recognize the door of a mystery. You begin to understand what Nephi meant by the word delight .
The desire to credit our ideas in what we read is a hindrance.
We need to receive the unexpected from the words we read. Leave open the door to the imagination and the inner ear and put in observation, the semantics of language that we have always known.
The condensation of the scriptures
Scrutinizing the scriptures is a construction that takes place halfway between reading and understanding. There is a subtle flow of knowledge behind them that is independent of our logic. We can look again and again at D & C 93: 1 and feel the same freshness and surprise inside. We are always welcome to that place, because behind there are many places for any time we visit.
It is, at that time, that I enjoyed and excited to read Isaiah in 2 Nephi or in the Bible. In the past, that part of the scriptures was heavy and tedious for me. Nephi took the trouble to copy them on new and special plates, now I understand why he [delighted] in his words.
He did not use the term to understand, but he delighted ; rather it speaks of a contemplative activity or a pleasure of the mind. Nephi did not go to the forest to extract wood, but to delight in the forest. I did it too. Why? Because I had stopped worrying if I was going to hunt the dragonfly, because I had stopped worrying about understanding Isaiah. I contented myself with reflecting as I approached what I was never going to comprehend in its totality, to rock myself in its language and words.
The aesthetic pleasure
There is an aesthetic pleasure in scrutinizing them. The word aesthetics is linked by the Greeks to the perception of beauty, and there really is beauty in them. Like the one we found in Alma 36 , even a chiasmus, whose central part is the conversion of Alma son. There is beauty in its forms. But that beauty is under a thin layer that often discourages us.
Scrutinizing the scriptures does not consist of looking for oil, it is not an invasive or aggressive task. It can be if we want it. But it is not about perforating with our reason and logic, that linguistic layer of paper. It is something, rather, like strolling along a beach and watching what the waves drag. As much as we walk, again and again, there will always be new things. We do not try to understand why they are there. We rather admire that they are without waiting for them. I call this a personal study, perhaps one of the most intimate things we can have, devoid of ambitions, and full of contemplative spirit.
The friendship of the scriptures
The perception of reality is not prescribed by an order, nor do its impressions come one after the other, but they do it in parallel, all at once. The brain does a great job of composing a coherent picture. The knowledge that comes from the scriptures is of the same kind. There is no place in them that speaks exclusively of something, like a mechanics manual. His knowledge flows like the life that surrounds us, without an organized scheme because it is alive. The reader is required a great capacity to perceive and discern the light that shines in them. It is because of the spirit that is found in them that wealth of knowledge.
A walk is not a shopping day at the supermarket. And often our relationship with the scriptures is commercial. We go to them to extract things that we need to do something. It can be a class, a speech or a message. And certainly that is correct.
But visiting a person for the pleasure of their company, facilitates friendship more, than getting used to visiting it only when we lack tools, flour or if you could leave us a key to fix the sink.
We can consider the scriptures as someone.