Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book of Mormon painting two.

The Book of Mormon opens with the story of Lehi, a prophet in Jerusalem, and his family.  After prophesying of the big city’s destruction around the same time the prophet Jeremiah did (600 BC), the Lord directed Lehi to uproot his family in search of a better life.  Taking with them their family records and very little of their wealth, we read of a typical family - devoted, loving parents; rebellious know-it-all kids; obedient yet tortured-by-the-rebellious-siblings kids – and their trials as they try their best to follow God.

Imagine: You’ve just left your grand home and over-flowing high-interest savings account behind.  You’re now travelling via foot or donkey through sandy deserts.  The sun beats down heavily most of the time, with the sandy wind blowing around you the rest of the time.  You miss cooked food.  You miss cool drink and fruit.  And you don’t even know if your home city really was destroyed, like your old man said it would.

It would have been such a physically and spiritually exhausting journey.  You end up living out there for years, travelling – you hope – towards somewhere nicer.  You bear children in the wilderness.  You eat raw meat and hope it will carry you on til the next meal.

And you really rely on your faith to take you in the right direction.

At one point in their travels, Lehi finds a weird looking ball outside his tent.  It could only have been put there by the hand of God.  Lehi must have then called everyone to come and look, for this is the scene depicted – when the family all gather round this unusual contraption, looking astonished, trying to figure out what it does.

Lehi in the Wilderness Discovers the Liahona
Arnold Friberg

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)

We learn from the scriptures that they call it a “liahona”, and that is served as an intricate compass showing them the direction to travel.  It worked, however, on the condition of their obedience to God:  the pointers which were in the ball … did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them. … changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.  (1 Nephi 16:28-9)

When Lehi’s boys bickered and murmured, the compass stoped working, and they could no longer travel without the Lord’s guidance or gain any better understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.  You can imagine how often that happened.

This painting would have been quite complex for Friberg to complete, as the account in the Book of Mormon contains very specific detail - the liahona is round, curious, made of fine brass, has two spindles – but leads to more questions. 
When interviewed in 1986, he said:  “How large was the Liahona? How did they see the pointers? What did they do with it when they weren’t using it? Did they let it roll around on the deck of the ship?”  So what did he do?  He responded well:  “There is no tube of paint that says “Don’t know.” I have to come to grips with it…I have to paint something. I decided on a handy little size that they could hold in their hand, and I made a little tripod stand for it to sit in. Someone will actually demand …"Then how dare you paint it, if you don’t know?" … All you can do is research the period as close as you can and picture something that makes sense. You just come up with something that somehow fulfils your idea of what it looked like.” [1]

Also note the way he presented us with the family’s appearance and in particular the male physique.  The abundance of figures that he spreads across the canvas almost creates the sense of an unknown race of people.  Friberg clearly envisioned the Nephites as heroic and “larger than life” figures, and wanted to display that vitality in his art. [2]

Later in the Book of Mormon, another prophet teaches his son about the Liahona, and how their ancestors were slow to follow the Lord at times.  He said:

And now, my son, I would that ye should understand … as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass … they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.

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.

And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.  (Alma 37:43-5)

I love how the Book of Mormon is filled with messages and events so applicable to the gospel of Jesus Christ and how we can live it today.  We all use compasses, maps, road signs and GPS to navigate ourselves and our families today.  They are invaluable tools when we travel, get lost, and need direction.

You can see where I’m going with this … because “there is such a variety and volume of media flooding our personal space, most of it intent on herding us down a path that is broad and travelled by many.” [3]  There are many roads in life to be taken.  Have you ever asked yourself, as Joseph Smith once did, “What is to be done? Who of all these [voices and roads is] right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” [4]

You totally have.  We all have.

Just like Alma reminded his son 500 years after the Liahona surfaced, the Lord is prepared to guide and direct us in our travels, just as He did with Lehi and his family.  But remember: the miraculous device worked by small means, and they were therefore ‘slothful’ and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence daily.  Sometimes we are looking for massive sign posts, flashing arrows, and easy hand-outs to help us make the right choices.  I doubt the Lord will reveal new paths for us to take if we haven’t faithfully followed Him along the paths He’s already marked.

Have you had experiences with a Liahona?  You totally have . A message from General Conference that seems mysteriously written just for you.  That voice warning you not to walk down a wrong path.

I think the key is not becoming complacent and not being used to hearing lots of messages that we miss or ignore the liahonas in our lives.  And to remember how the Liahona worked for Lehi and his family – through faithfulness, obedience, and daily diligence.

The Book of Mormon Forum

If you wish to order a free copy, let me know or click

Feel free to read or listen to it

[1] Vern Swanson, ‘The Book of Mormon Art of Arnold Friberg, “Painter of Scripture”, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol 10, 1, 26-35, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2011, citing a 1986 interview with Friberg
[2] Ibid, citing an 1981 interview with Friberg
[3] Lowell M. Snow, ‘Compass of the Lord’, Ensign, Nov. 2005
[4] Ibid, citing Joseph Smith History 1:10

[Image found at]

1 comment:

  1. Freja, your blog is lovely! Thank you so much for your sweet comments, they really mean a lot to me! It's truly nice to meet you, I've never met an Aussie I didn't like. :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...