Friday, April 5, 2013

Re-examining the Liahona





I was looking at the Sunday School lesson manual for the Book of Mormon to see if I could find something thought-provoking for the chapters I’ve been studying, and I was really intrigued by the question, “What were the purposes of the Liahona?”

Simple question, right?  We’ve probably heard the answers over and over, right?

The reference given was 1 Nephi 16:10,29 and somehow I saw it differently with that question.

10 And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, 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….
28 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.
 29 And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and 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.

Asking about the purpose of the Liahona seems to be different than asking what the Liahona did.  The Liahona pointed the way and gave little messages from the Lord, but what was the purpose behind it?
File:Liahona.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liahona.jpg
Up to that point, revelation about what to do and where to go had been received through Lehi (and to a lesser extent Nephi).  So why was this revelation externalized in a thing all of a sudden?  Wouldn’t there be a tendency for Lehi and Nephi to stop relying on spiritual things and depend more on this thing?

I suspect that maybe the Liahona was less for Lehi and Nephi; they were pretty good at receiving and following revelation.  I suspect that the Liahona was actually meant for Laman and Lemuel and any other less faithful members of the group because it seemed to separate revelation from any one person.  (It seemed to, but didn’t because faithful individuals could still obtain their own revelation.) With the Liahona, they could not say directions from the Lord were “all in your head” or call them “foolish imaginations of [your] heart.”  It was something everyone could see—pointers going in a certain direction, writing changed from time to time, giving incremental bits of understanding about the ways of the Lord.  Only faith could work it, so Laman and Lemuel probably would not have done well with it on their own, but they would see that there were no foolish imaginations involved.  (Unfortunately, later they seem to start to suspect that Nephi tampers with the Liahona, so even evidence of the eyes requires a certain faith..)

I think this shows how much the Lord understood Laman and Lemuel and tried to provide means even for them to try to build their faith as well.  It shows how much the Lord loved them, difficult and rebellious, and murmuring as they were.

David A. Bednar said of the Liahona that it “was a physical instrument that served as an outward indicator of their inner spiritual standing before God. It worked according to the principles of faith and diligence.”  (David A. Bednar, “The Liahona-A Type and Shadow of the Gift of the Holy Ghost)

Liahona as Neurofeedback/Biofeedback device

I have always wondered deep down how the Liahona could sense the faith of Lehi and his family and work according to their faith.  I ran across something from a book called ChangeYour Brain, Change Your Life that talked about biofeedback, and I found it very interesting in relation to this.  Beta brain waves are speedy waves that are only achieved during periods of concentration and mental work.  Biofeedback therapy for ADD patients involves teaching them to focus and control their own brainwaves.  When their brainwaves become beta waves, they can play a video game.  When the beta waves transform into slower waves, the game stops.  Biofeedback therapy is used over years.

This suggested to me that perhaps the Liahona was a sophisticated biofeedback/neurofeedback device that sensed beta waves from Lehi and his whole family, and only gave directions when the group were engaging in focused concentration of faith and work.  Just like biofeedback therapy is used over years, the Liahona was used over years.  It is possible that the Liahona was intended to teach the Lehites to exercise their faith by helping them recognize when they didn’t have it and by rewarding them with progress when they did have it.

We can use this principle today if we can learn to recognize what kind of thought mode we are in.  If we are in complaining mode or I-don’t-want-to-do-this mode or the it’s-too-hard mode, that is not the mode of work or exerting faith.  I know the difference between these different brain modes and I suspect you may too.  The story of Nephi with the Liahona challenges us to notice when we are not exerting faith and then to start exerting faith.  (I also have to say that for me, the challenge is also staying in the faith-work mode on an extended basis and deciding what to focus on next.)

The Liahona as compass

The way the Liahona worked was pretty extraordinary, when you think about it carefully.  We are told that it pointed the way Lehi and his family should go.  What would this look like?  It means if you picked up the Liahona, no matter which way you turned it, the pointer would always point in the same direction—the way to go.  We are familiar with how a compass, under influence of the earth’s magnetic field, always points north, but the Liahona didn’t point in that way; it always pointed the way to go.  Somehow the destination exerted a long distance pull on the Liahona pointer.

And yet another consideration comes to mind.  Did the Liahona point to the ultimate destination?  Probably not, since the Lord kept them in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which would not necessarily follow each other in a straight line to the ultimate destination.  This means the Liahona would have to point to individual, sequential waypoints, one by one as they moved along the route mapped out for them by the Lord.   So the Liahona was reset with a new waypoint each time they reached one, or perhaps it had the whole route “pre-loaded” into it.

This view of the Liahona may help us today because while the fundamentals of the gospel don’t change and our ultimate destination of eternal life doesn’t change, there may be other aspects of our lives that require a change in course from time to time.  We may need to transition to another part of our life mission.  We may need to change how we do things to adapt to changing circumstances, we may need to change focus a bit.  There may be big changes we need to make—a change in career or a move somewhere else.  Sometimes waypoints are obvious, sometimes we try to deny that they exist.  We need personal revelation to discern when these changes are needed, and we need faith to act on them.