Monday, November 28, 2011

Fire of the Covenant.

Back here I mentioned I had almost finished a book, a book that was so good that I didn't want it to end .. so I stopped reading it.  I do that sometimes, with books.  And with my favourite tv show.

Please tell me you've done that too.

Well, today I finished the book.  I decided I was being silly, and that it was okay to cry in public.

Fire of the Covenant, by Gerald N. Lund, was captivating, moving, and inspiring.  It gave me a renewed appreciation for the early members of my church.  And I felt so grateful, so in awe of the sacrifices given by these humble converts.

The novel tells the story of several families, some fictional some not, who travelled from various places in England and Europe in a great exodus to the great Salt Lake Valley in the 1850s as part of two particular companies of handcarts.  One led by James G. Willie; the other by Edward Martin. 

Their leader and prophet commanded it, and so they went.

In 1856, before their story begins, three handcart companies were outfitted and sent west from Iowa to the valley.  Their trip went well, and all supply wagons stationed along the way were ordered back home to the valley. 
The Willie and Martin handcart companies, however, left much later in the season, and without the knowledge of church leaders in Utah.  No one was prepared for another migration that season.  By the time these handcart companies left Florence, Nebraska - the last main town on the frontier with adequate supplies - it was almost September.  Winter was coming.  A bad winter.  And they had over one thousand miles to walk (1,300 miles to walk in total).

And yet, they walked.  And walked.  And walked.

What a title!  FIRE of the covenant.  Because faith was their driving force.  "It was not only a strong belief that propelled them forward, but a burning within that taught them the importance of "gathering to Zion", to be with the Saints and build a "House of the Lord".  [here]

Earlier, on September 25 1846, the prophet Brigham Young (while camped at Winter Quarters) received word about the situation of teh poverty-stricken saints in Nauvoo.  In spite of the dire straits they had just gone through themselves, crossing Iowa and the Missouri River, Brigham Young gather the priesthood brethren together and said:

The poor brethren and sisters, the widows and orphans, sick and destitute, are now lying on the west bank of the Mississippi, waiting for teams and wagons and means to remove them.  Now is the time for labor.  Let the fire of the covenant, which you made in the house of the Lord burn in your hearts like flame unquenchable.
The prophet then asked for those who had wagons and were able to cross Iowa to assist the destitute in joining the main body of the Saints.  Within a few days, almost a hundred wagons were moving east to rescue the poor.

The fire of the covenant spoken of by President Young is not an imaginary but a real force in the lives of all faithful Saints.  The rescuers as well as the last remnants on the banks of the Mississippi were strengthened by it.  Most, if not all of us, have felt the burning as well.  A personal witness received at baptism lights the fire.  The intensity of the flame increases as we face adversity and the furnace of affliction tempers our soul.  The flame bursts into a full-fledged fire as we enter into and live temple covenants.  [here]

This is the same author who penned the brilliant 9-book series The Work and the Glory.  Employing the same writing style here, Lund blends fictional characters with actual historial events and people, filling the story with all aspects of a great dramatic read, as well as all the historial accounts available to help us appreciate and never forget.  Every chapter is followed with comprehensive chapter notes, clarifying actual dates and historical detail, sourcing people's journals and speeches given.

Read this:
it is an except from Ephraim Banks' personal account (included in chapter #'s notes)

The night after meeting Leaders Young and Garr, I camped in the snow in the mountains.  As I was preparing to make a bed in the snow with the few articles that my pack animal carried for me, I thought how comfortable a buffalo robe would be on such an occasion, and also how I could relish a little buffalo meat for supper, and before lying down for the night I was instinctively led to ask the Lord to send me a buffalo.  Now, I am a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer, for I have on many occasions asked the Lord for blessings, which He in His mercy has bestowed upon me.  But when I, after praying as I did on that lonely night in the South Pass, looked around me and spied a buffalo bull within fifty yeards of my camp, my surprise was complete;  I had certainly not expected so immediate an answer to my prayer. 
The sight that met my gaze as I enetered their [the Martin Company's] camp can never be erased from my memory.  The starved forms and haggard countenances of the poor sufferers, as they moved about slowly, shivering with cold, to prepare their scanty evening meal, was enough to touch the stoutest heart.  When they saw me coming, they hailed me with joy inexpressible, and when they further beheld the supply of fresh meat I brought into their camp, their gratitude knew no bounds.  Flocking around me, one would say, "Oh, please, give me a small piece of meat;" another would exclaim, "My poor children are starving, do give me a litte;" and children with tears in their eyes would call out, "Give me some, give me some."
What I most took from this reading was appreciation.

This story was not new for me.  I had grown up hearing about the Willie and Martin handcart companies.  In fact, I had grown tired of hearing about them - or any pioneer story, frankly.  I wasn't a descentant of these early pioneers.  I didn't have any personal interest or tie to them, no journal inherited or family story to pass down.  I remember feeling sigh when hearing yet another pioneer story at general conference.

But honestly,  I didn't realise the effort that went into the planning and executing of the migration.  Most of travellers were from industrial cities, who needed to be physically conditioned for the trip and learn completely new skills on the frontier.  I didn't know about the trail itself (regardless of driving it on a family trip, years ago) and its harsh terrain, and just how many times these faithful people had to leave belongings on the side of the trail, or compensate for the lack of food.  Cooking soup with shoe leather? 

The endurance through physical struggles was astounding.

I recommend this book.
Whether you like reading church history.
Or you're about to embark on your own pioneer trek with the youth.
Or perhaps you need a good kick in the pants, like me.

It's a fascinating read, and a great motivator.
I have so much more appreciation for their journey and struggles. 


  1. I'm sure I posted this comment before, but it doesn't seem to have worked... So.... are you in the habit of lending your books!? It sounds like a good read!

  2. Ha! That really makes me laugh that you actually stopped reading. I've thought about doing that sometimes with books I love but haven't ever done it! How funny! I haven't read this book but I will def. check it out.

  3. Freja, I think you and I must be related! I loved Fire of The Covenant and ... The West Wing is a favourite too. I was sad to come to its end - Mike had actually watched it through twice on his own before he could persuade me to watch. I became hooked! but I have never held off finishing a book so as to savour its joy for longer. I just re-read and re-read. Have you read Lund's The Kingdom and The Crown series? really hard to put down. Caroline Mc :>


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