The Lost Walker
The tender mercies in Lehi’s dream begin when “I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness.” (4) Lehi is already in the vision, and sees the condition of the world. He attributes two adjectives to it. Dark as to its light and gloomy as to the impression it produced. Dreary is a deeply sad place. Lehi sees the state of a fallen world.
This dark and gloomy desert condition is that of Jerusalem in Zedekiah’s time. Lehi is a citizen of his time. Nephi tells us of his father…“as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.” (1Ne1:5).
His father was aware of the troubling situation in his country. Even with his own problems, he recognized the panorama of the moment and his future path. In a way, Lehi reminds me of Amulek, “I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have many kindreds and friends, and I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry.” (Alma 10:4)
Lehi’s prosperity shows us a man of his time. Informed and aware of the public, he senses the tragedy and prays intensely about it. The same scene of the wanderer absorbed in the stormy landscape of his present is repeated at the beginning of his vision, “…I saw in my dream, a dark and dreary wilderness.” (4) The crossroads of Jerusalem, is translated into the vision.
The dark and dreary life of Jerusalem
Life in Jerusalem was dark, threatened from the north by Syria and from the south by Egypt. Dreary because they were persecuting and killing the prophets. They warned that an alliance with Egypt, their former owners, would be dire. ” … thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him.” (Isaiah 36:6)
Like Lehi, we now seem to see a similar situation. Perhaps not with the same geography, but with situations that make us walk in absorption. Too many walk like this, without recognizing that they are going in the direction of a high building from which no details are clearly visible. Our civilization has risen too high to recognize the orography of a dark and gloomy desert.
Confidence in the height of Jerusalem’s walls hid reality. It kept many from seeing the picture Lehi prophesied.
Lehi listens to the envoys of the Lord, not to the exalted. The latter did not heed the prophets or recognize the danger of being destroyed by the enemies of the North. The apparent strength of the walls reassured them.
It is already an achievement for anyone to treasure a correct picture of their condition in the present. But many of us in this desert end up admitting to their peculiar environment. To accept nothing but the environment.
The man in the white coat
Many talk about his life and his condition as a walker. With that tone in keeping with the dark desert, they blend in with the look of the world. But few conclusions go beyond a description of the landscape and its implicit acceptance. They don’t follow the advice “…thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.” (D&C 25:10)
At first, Lehi still didn’t have a clear idea of his situation. He only seemed to see, because perhaps, even in that darkness, he would find familiar aspects. But something happens that changes everything.
“I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.” (7)
Standing before him, suggests that Lehi was motionless, not like at the vigil where he was going on his way. Now, his confused situation prevents him from moving in one direction. The man with the white robe, told him to follow him and that made Lehi change his state.
As he walks, he learns something of that place:
Conditions don’t change!
“I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.” (7) In reality, this messenger has no intention of leading him to a particular place. He walks without giving him any instructions. His purpose is to lead Lehi to a conclusion. Not only did it seem to be, but actually that whole place was dark and gloomy. And to a state of soul “…I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness” (8), that of a broken heart.
Then the mission of the man in the white robe ends. Lehi is prepared to achieve knowledge.
The broken walker
“…I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. (8)
The man in the white coat is gone, but he has shown you two things. The nature of the world and the sad human condition. And he does so after walking in the dark for many hours.
That same scene occurred in the life of Lehi in Jerusalem “…many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.” (1 Nephi 1:4). The situation is basically the same.
In her vigil, her prosperity and the security that Jerusalem provides are broken by her meditations. Lehi follows the prophets and prays with all his heart for his people. His people include himself and his family.
In his vision he follows the man in the mantle, a mantle that symbolizes a divine calling. He walks for a while, and prays for God’s mercy. He seeks the tender mercies in Lehi’s dream.
The crucial point
The turning point in Lehi’s dream and in our life is to come to an understanding of reality and our situation.
This seems simple, but it is extremely difficult. Some must come to “in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.” (Alma 36:18) to recognize their state. Then they must cry out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me,”
Others need to fall off a horse and lose their sight. Or be swallowed by a whale and from within understand that “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy…. “ (Jonah 2:8-9)
Crowds in that dark and dreary desert try to settle in as best they can. Thus, without hope, they create their own law in that environment: “in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.” (Alma 30:17)
I have heard similar words from people who, after walking all their lives, sadly conclude with a declaration of defeat.
Yet, there are countless contests of honorable and righteous people. They all rush to the path that leads to the tree. But they do not invoke … compassion [for themselves], according to the multitude of their tender mercies. They consider that desert to be all there is and are overcome by the surroundings.
They consider the man in the white robe an intruder in their plans.
As for this matter of perceiving our situation in this world, I remember a scene from the film Gladiator directed by Ridley Scott.
In this one the Germanic army begins to prepare for battle. The Roman messenger sent to parley comes back on his horse, beheaded. The answer is clear, General Maximus declares: they have said no.
The troops of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, commanded by General Maximus, prepare for the attack.
Fifth, an experienced officer looks at his enemies and tells Maximus.
– You have to know when you are conquered
Maximo answers you
– Would you know? Would I?
General Maximo knew the difficulty in perceiving our own situation, when we feel strong and blood flows with energy. When we believe our arm can change the course of events. When we believe we don’t need the tender mercies like in Lehi’s dream.
Benjamin or the broken walker
In the reign of Benjamin, we find this trembling king. The days of his energy are over, but he has the words of a wise man. Someone with a perfect knowledge of our situation.
He summoned his people to hear what were to be his last words as their king and director. His people were a righteous people “And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them;” (Mosiah 2:6)
Do we identify with them, we can see ourselves parking in the center of the stake, or attending the temple, with our suits and ties, together as a family. A faithful people who will listen to the general conference.
But the theme of Benjamin’s lecture is an important one. He is going to show them what their status is before God and their justice. It will show them that as far as their mortal nature is concerned, they are lost walkers in a dark desert. They are a conquered people like those Germans, ignorant of their destiny “…if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (Mosiah 2:21).
Benjamin, the man in the white robe
Perhaps some of them, good citizens of Zarahemla, did not understand at first such a black diagnosis, but they were not offended.
I know that in more than one place, where an idea like this was put forward, there would be complaints. Some of us still believe in our own righteousness, that the work goes forward by the power of our arm. Believe me, I say this from my own experience. Our trembling king leaves no room for doubt. “Can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth;” (Mosiah 2:25).
Benjamin is the man in the white robe and does not sweeten the reality for his people. He makes them walk by his words, as if they were the description of a desert. His people, like Lehi, are not offended, they do not ask for explanations. His people follow him in his words and through them, he achieves the same as that messenger in Lehi’s vision.
“…he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them. And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins” (Mosiah 4:1-2)
Yes, Benjamin is a man with a white mantle for his people.
The Wayfarer’s Prayer
That is the unanimous prayer of the people for mercy, to the one who can deliver them from a lost battle beforehand. They were led into a dark desert that until then they only thought they saw. They understood the situation and did not take long to make a deal with that mediator. That intercessor who, just like in the film, was killed by his enemies.
Unlike future occasions, the Nephites, this time, did not need to be swallowed by a big fish in order to see from the darkness of their belly.
Another king, David, also learned to see clearly our scenario: “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” (Psalm 103:14-16).
But David also tasted the fruit of the tree… “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children” (Psalm 103:17)
The first knowledge
The Happy Walker
“And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field” (9)
The spacious countryside is different from the gloomy desert. It’s fertile and it’s not narrow, it’s big. That answer to his prayer is not the solution, but the vision, the knowledge of his reality. The first thing Lehi sees is a tree, “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.” (10)
Even though there are many other things, Nephi explains that his father is one of those people who “…his mind swallowed up in other things that he beheld not …” others. (1 Nephi 15:27). Nephi sees the tree sitting and reflecting. Lehi after walking for hours in the dark. He is a thirsty walker who finds the water of the oasis and then, once he drinks, notices that there are palm trees and dates.
All of us converts have been like Lehi. At first we are absorbed by the impression of finding that tree and do not see other details, such as the administration of the church or the path of his ministry. There is always an impression first in our minds, in our souls.
That vision makes a man sell all he has to buy a piece of land, which is not worth the price paid (Matthew 13:44). Perhaps acting out of some crazy imagination of his heart. Yes, such an unreasonable person, like those who hoped in ancient times “it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come” (Helaman 16:18)
The initiatory journey
Even though he’s a walker of dreary places, Lehi doesn’t adapt to that desert. He’s a seeker of desirable places like Abraham was.
“In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence;, And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers” (Abraham 1:1-2).
Abraham walks around seeking a dwelling place and his right to the priesthood, “I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers…” (4). He considers the world of the Chaldeans, his father’s, to be dark and gloomy.
In his heart he preexists that tree and seeks its fruit, so he declares, “having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” (2)
These journeys lead us to knowledge, the greatest of all, of his tender mercies. In all the dispensations there have been them. In ours, we sought Zion, a place like Abraham’s. Lehi traveled to receive his land of promise, so did Amulek and Jared.
Seeking that fruit always proposes leaving our dwelling place or dark condition to obtain the land of promise. But first, we must cross over, the dark places of our soul.
The tender mercies in Lehi’s dream
To accept the gospel and its fullness one must first have the condition of a broken-down walker. That where we dwell, there is not that bread, that land, that right or that fruit.
Learning from the scriptures requires composing the scene and recreating the emotions of its actors. It is in that re-living that we scrutinize the feelings and our heart gets involved. To take what we read seriously is to live it and trust that in that process, we will receive more.
Entering into Lehi’s dream and reading the moving words of Abraham cannot leave a searching spirit indifferent.
Lehi, without the invaluable help of the man in the white robe, would not have acquired the condition of a contrite walker, would never have found the tree, would never have seen it. Because he would not have broken his vision of the world for a better one.