There is nothing like southern Idaho for spectacular scenery. You have your rolling hills and your undulating hills and your smaller hills and your larger hills. You also have your small farms and your large farms and your intermediate-sized farms. And if that were not enough, you have your crops of hay and alfalfa and spinach and celery and potatoes. And once in every two or three hundred miles, you have a city.
I recognize here that the use of the terms “city” and “Idaho” in the same paragraph is an oxymoron of massive proportions, but my generous nature impels me to speak kindly whenever possible. Which leads me to mention one other thing you can see in southern Idaho: grasshoppers.
It was July, the year of the great grasshopper infestation, about two decades ago. I was rocketing along heading south for the safety of Utah. My wife was by my side or that journey down I-15 would have put me out like a right hook from Mike Tyson. Even so, the scintillating scenery made me groggy as a drugged Dachshund and somewhere near Malad I was obliged to pull over and do some moving around in an effort to get some portion of my blood circulating.
As I meandered through a patch of weeds I was startled by the hordes of grasshoppers hurtling from place to place. They thumped into my legs and chest as they catapulted by. Grasshoppers are great at distance but not worth a darn at direction. I happened to be watching a particular insect in his flight when he stopped in mid-air. I blinked and looked again and saw him (gender is a guess here: it might have been a her) begin to vibrate madly. It was then that I saw the restraining strands of spider silk, stretched between two clumps of brush. I bent down and my eyes widened as I saw the size of the spider furiously shaking the web to prevent the escape of dinner. The bloated body was circular, about the circumference of a quarter. The legs stretched out two inches on the sides. I love nature photography, and usually carry the necessary equipment. “Lydia,” I called. “Come here, and bring my camera with the macro lens!”
Dutifully, she left the car and walked to where I stooped, entranced. “Look at the size of that spider,” I cried, pointing. She looked and determined that she was not nearly as excited as I was. She therefore retreated a few steps. I prepared the camera and began to focus for a shot when she said, “There’s another one! And another! And another!” I stood and began to look where she was pointing. Not that it mattered where she pointed. These enormous arachnids were everywhere! Crouched, lurking on every branch and bush, stringing their webs, gorging themselves on a feast of grasshopper flesh.
Lydia was now deathly white and totally silent, her entire being preoccupied with one simple mission: to return the 20 feet to the car without coming in contact with one of those spiders.
I was very helpful. “Honey, they won’t hurt you,” I explained in the tones one uses with a pre-schooler. “They are grasshopper spiders. They don’t eat people.” Nevertheless she negotiated the weed patch with the same care and patience she might have used for a nest of rattlesnakes, and did not breathe until she was safely back in the car with the windows up and the door locked.
I shook my head at her foolishness and turned to my picture-taking. I bent and stretched and leaned in close while I shot most of a roll of Ektachrome. Then I turned and made my way back to the car. I stood on the passenger side and invited my bride to roll down the window so that I could hand her the camera. She was reaching out to take it from my hand when she paused and pointed at my chest. “Look,” she whispered.
I glanced down. Three inches from my nose, just above the pocket, a gigantic spider clung to the fabric of my shirt and gave me a baleful stare.
In one-tenth of a second my heart rate went from 67 to 250. I began to jump, twist, hyperventilate, and perspire. Then I began to scream: “Get it off! Get it off me!”
She smiled. My life was in jeopardy and she smiled! “Lydia!” I shrieked. “Ted,” she replied calmly, “it won’t hurt you. It’s a grasshopper spider. They eat grasshoppers. They don’t eat people.”
In the midst of the devastating Lamanite/Nephite wars at the end of Alma, an interesting lesson appears. The language Mormon uses and the examples he includes in his account, taken collectively, suggest that this is a message that we need. The idea seems to be this one: while we are guarding against external threats, we must be aware of the dangers that can occur in the center “in the very heart” of things, such as spiders clinging to the fabric of our lives near our homes and our hearts.
The first part of the lesson appears in Alma 50 where, under the cloud of threatening war and the probability of renewed Lamanite incursions, and while Moroni is trying desperately to fortify Nephite cities, an insurrection begins along the seashore.
It is interesting to note that Moroni’s preparations are all focused outward. In Alma 50:1 we read that in this interval of peace, “Moroni did not stop making preparations for war . . .” He had his soldiers “commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.” (50:1)
But he did not stop there. “And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.” (50:2)
Even that was not enough. “And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high.” (50:3)
And finally, “he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the Lamanites could not hurt them.” (50:4)
These levels of defense were and are critical. We cannot be satisfied with prayer or scripture study or meeting attendance alone. We need home teaching and visiting teaching and Sunday school classes and quorum meetings. We need the temple. We need all the programs of the Church. We need every level of defense.
But we learn in this very chapter that these defenses are not enough. In 50:26-35, we read the account of an insurrection among the Nephites, led by a man named Morianton. In Alma 51 we read of the king-men, who wanted to change the government (51:2) and return to a rule of kings (51:5). These men were defeated by the voice of the people (51:7), but were so angry that when the Lamanites returned, “they refused to take up arms” against them. In both of these chapters we are told that these internal problems were the cause of the external ones. Mormon tells us that
it has been [the Nephite’s] quarrelings and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions. (50:21)
With the rebellion of the King-men, Mormon observes of Captain Moroni that
it was his first care to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people; for behold, this had been hitherto a cause of all their destruction. (Alma 51:16)
And Captain Moroni wrote this:
Were it not for the wickedness which first commenced at our head, we could have withstood our enemies that they could have gained no power over us. (Alma 60:15)
There is a third incident that emphasizes the importance of protecting the center of things. In Helaman 1, the Lamanites attack yet again. This time their commander, Coriantumr, a Nephite dissenter, did what no one expected.
And it came to pass that because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government, that they had not kept sufficient guards in the land of Zarahemla; for they had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the heart of their lands to attack that great city Zarahemla. But it came to pass that Coriantumr did march forth at the head of his numerous host, and came upon the inhabitants of the city, and their march was with such exceedingly great speed that there was no time for the Nephites to gather together their armies. (Hel. 1:18,19)
It is interesting that he attacked “the heart of their lands.” In Hel.1:24-27, Mormon uses the term “the center of the land” four times to discuss this Lamanite invasion.
All of the walls of dirt, all of the timbers, all of the towers were useless against these enemies (Morianton, the King-men, and Coriantumr) that invaded the center of the land.
I read Pres. Hinckley’s article in the Jan. 2000 Ensign. He said something about this matter. Let me give you a parable. A man built a beautiful home and furnished it with the very best . . . that money could buy . . . Then, fearful of intruders who might enter and rob him, he had installed expensive deadbolt locks . . . He put bars on the windows and doors . . . He installed costly electronic surveillance devices to turn on lights and set off alarms should any unwelcome intruder enter . . . And he smugly said to himself, “Now I am safe.”
But what he did not realize is that neither lights nor sirens nor anything of the kind would have the slightest effect on intruders of another variety who could destroy his life and the lives of his family. . . .
How foolish it seems to install bars and bolts and electronic devices against thieves and molesters while more insidious intruders stealthily enter and despoil. (Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley: Ensign, Jan. 2002, 5,6)
Reading these chapters in Alma again, I found five things that we can do to protect the home, the heart, the center. Here they are:
- GET OFF YOUR THRONES AND DO SOMETHING!
“Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor . . .” (Alma 60:7)
“Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you?” (60:11)
“Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” (60:21)
In addition to these verses which speak of thrones, Captain Moroni writes these observations (I will add italics to each passage): “Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness . . .” (60:22)
“Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things?” (60:23)
“Repent of that which ye have done, and begin to be up and doing . . .” (60:24)
“Behold it is time, yea, the time is now at hand, that except ye do bestir yourselves in the defense of your country and your little ones, the sword of justice doth hang over you . . .” (60:29)
- IDENTIFY AND DESTROY THE CAUSE OF YOUR PROBLEMS
Teancum teaches this lesson. Teancum is the soldier that turned Morianton from his course of rebellion and flight (Alma 50:35). But even more significantly, Teancum is the man who destroyed Amalickiah, the Nephite dissenter who commanded the Lamanite army (51:33-34), and Ammaron, who took Amalickiah’s place (62:36). When we discover a problem at home, a problem in our own hearts and habits, we must identify it and destroy it. Is it the TV? Is it the Internet? Is it contention? Have we stopped praying effectively or given up personal scripture study? We must sharpen our javelins and go after the problem.
- MAKE USE OF THE MEANS THE LORD HAS PROVIDED
I cited this verse above, but for a different reason.
Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us? (60:21, emphasis added)
What are the means the Lord has given us to combat evil in our midst? I used to receive three copies of the conference addresses: the Ensign, a copy of the conference report sent to all bishops, and a copy sent to all CES teachers. There must be a message in this emphasis on the words of the living prophets. Certainly their words are one of the means the Lord has provided.
Other means? Prayer, scripture study, Family Home Evening, Sunday meetings . . . everything God expects us to do he has given us the tools to do.
- BE CAREFUL OF A LOVE OF THE HONORS OF MEN AND WORLDLY THINGS
The king-men were “those of high birth, and they sought to be kings . . . and sought power and authority over the people.” (50:8) But others besides the noble born were at fault. Moroni wrote “your iniquity is for the cause of your love of glory and the vain things of the world.” (60:32) Our longing for more stuff or better stuff or newer stuff may blind us to the insidious, stealthy dangers that surround us.
- CLEAN THE INWARD VESSEL
Moroni mentioned this twice in his letter to Pahoran:
Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also. (60:23)
And now, except ye do repent of that which ye have done, and begin to be up and doing, and send forth food and men unto us, and also unto Helaman, that he may support those parts of our country which he has regained, and that we may also recover the remainder of our possessions in these parts, behold it will be expedient that we contend no more with the Lamanites until we have first cleansed our inward vessel, yea, even the great head of our government. (60:24)
We must do whatever we need to do to be clean. The following note from my journal in April 2002 is a lovely illustration of this point and a fitting conclusion to this concept.
I love Sundays. There are so many rich spiritual experiences. Sacrament meeting today was powerful. We have been assigning talks related to the topics found in For the Strength of Youth. Today three of our young adults spoke. Their topics were “Music and Dancing,” Media and Entertainment,” and “Honesty.’ The young man who talked about Media and Entertainment told of an acquaintance who came home from a movie and spent an hour in the shower. When he came out he said, “I can’t get clean! I can’t get clean!.” He had been to a movie that soiled him. The movie? Jaws, the story of a beach community terrorized by a great white shark. Most of the members of my ward have seen that movie, I think. And most of them would not blink twice over the content. But our speaker said, “We have been desensitized.” I felt the spiritual confirmation of that statement as he made it. It is true, and probably a message for me as much as for anyone else.’
It was President Hugh B. Brown who said, “Keep the air pure . . . Personally I shall rebel if anyone tries to hold my head over a manhole into a sewer” (“Purity is Power,” at BYU on 30 September 1962). We must keep the air pure about us as we protect the center of things, as we protect our hearts and homes from the contamination of the world that surrounds us.