Temple Imagery in President Monson’s “Ponder the Path of thy Feet”
In October of 2014, President Thomas S. Monson gave the final address during the Sunday morning session of the two day, Semi-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is the President of the Church, and to faithful members (and even some non-members) he is regarded as a prophet of God, a literal messenger of God’s will to humankind.
Many church members — though to varying degrees familiar with the ceremonies that occur in LDS Temples — may have nevertheless missed what was a fairly sophisticated and substantial temple narrative that was sustained throughout his remarks.
Below is an outline of President Monson’s address, with the actual quotes. You can also watch it here first if you would like:
My beloved brothers and sisters, I am humbled as I stand before you this morning. I ask for your faith and prayers in…www.lds.org
Although those who have ever participated in Temple ceremonies may not have the ability to recognize and therefore appreciate the parallel themes, it nevertheless is worth studying. After all, it’s called “General” Conference for a reason: talks are for the general body of the Church, and those who present know that their words will be heard by both the recently baptized and the lifelong member alike. “Ponder the Path of thy Feet” was surely appreciated by many who never saw what I am about to point out.
Like the Savior however, President Monson’s words can be appreciated by both the novice and experienced alike, allowing spiritual refreshment for various levels of preparation.
Below is an outline of his remarks from the beginning to the end. The bold outline is a summary, using words meant to help you see the parallels that are there. After each point are the actual words he used, so you can compare for yourself. There are no breaks between each section, and there are no omitted words to try and force the pattern. In other words, the entire address is in order below, as originally presented.
President Monson arises, and stands before us as a loving brother.
My beloved brothers and sisters, I am humbled as I stand before you this morning. I ask for your faith and prayers in my behalf as I share with you my message.
We leave our pre-existent state and enter mortality.
All of us commenced a wonderful and essential journey when we left the spirit world and entered this often-challenging stage called mortality.
The purpose is to receive a body of flesh and bones. In LDS theology, “flesh and bone” is a higher state than “flesh and blood”, implying that while we have a corporeal body, we are not yet descended into mortality. We are to obey all of Father’s commandments.
The primary purposes of our existence upon the earth are to obtain a body of flesh and bones, to gain experience that could come only through separation from our heavenly parents, and to see if we would keep the commandments. In the Book of Abraham chapter 3 we read: ‘And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.’
We arrive in mortality with a gift from God: Agency. We may “choose for ourselves”, so that we may discern “between good and evil” and differentiate between “the bitter and the sweet.”
When we came to the earth, we brought with us that great gift from God — even our agency. In thousands of ways we are privileged to choose for ourselves. Here we learn from the hard taskmaster of experience. We discern between good and evil. We differentiate as to the bitter and the sweet. We learn that decisions determine destiny.
Our desires are to return to God’s presence, and with Him, partake of eternal life (exaltation). There is a path that facilitates that return, and God will provide direction and guidance. He gives us tools (items, methods, knowledge, patterns?) to assist us as we seek help.
I am certain we left our Father with an overwhelming desire to return to Him, that we might gain the exaltation He planned for us and which we ourselves so much wanted. Although we are left to find and follow that path which will lead us back to our Father in Heaven, He did not send us here without direction and guidance. Rather, He has given us the tools we need, and He will assist us as we seek His help and strive to do all in our power to endure to the end and gain eternal life.
God’s words, as contained in the “Holy Scriptures”, are one of these important guiding tools. Prophets of God are also fundamental to finding and following the path.
To help guide us we have the words of God and of His Son found in our holy scriptures. We have the counsel and teachings of God’s prophets.
A Savior is provided, as our exemplar.
Of paramount importance, we have been provided with a perfect example to follow — even the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — and we have been instructed to follow that example. Said the Savior Himself: “Come, follow me.” “The works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do.”
A reference to 3 Nephi 27:27, about Apostles being judges of the people. In other words, Apostles are to determine if we have been faithful, and true.
He posed the question, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” And then He answered, “Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”
The words of a woman (Eliza R. Snow to be exact, from LDS Hymn #195) are also helpful.
“He marked the path and led the way.”
Our Exemplar is the Son of the Living God.
As we look to Jesus as our Exemplar and as we follow in His footsteps, we can return safely to our Heavenly Father to live with Him forever. Said the prophet Nephi, “Unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.”
A woman has walked where Jesus did (as Adam and Eve also walked with God in the Garden). But this “walking” is ultimately meaningless. We need to emulate — perhaps quite literally — his actions and life.
One woman, each time she related experiences she had during a visit to the Holy Land, would exclaim, “I walked where Jesus walked!”
She had been in the vicinity where Jesus lived and taught. Perhaps she stood on a rock on which He had once stood or looked at a mountain range He had once gazed upon. The experiences, in and of themselves, were thrilling to her; but physically walking where Jesus walked is less important than walking as He walked. Emulating His actions and following His example are far more important than trying to retrace the remnants of the trails He traversed in mortality.
When Jesus extended to a certain rich man the invitation, “Come, follow me,” He did not intend merely that the rich man follow Him up and down the hills and valleys of the countryside.
We need not walk by the shores of Galilee or among the Judean hills to walk where Jesus walked. All of us can walk the path He walked when, with His words ringing in our ears, His Spirit filling our hearts, and His teachings guiding our lives, we choose to follow Him as we journey through mortality. His example lights the way. Said He, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
The “way” includes challenges and disappointments. One such disappointment comes from realizing that some will choose to not exercise agency in a manner to be “gathered” (“YE would not”).
As we examine the path Jesus walked, we will see that it took Him through many of the same challenges we ourselves will face in life.
For example, Jesus walked the path of disappointment. Although He experienced many disappointments, one of the most poignant was depicted in His lament over Jerusalem as He closed His public ministry. The children of Israel had rejected the safety of the protecting wing which He had offered them. As He looked out over the city soon to be abandoned to destruction, He was overcome by emotions of deep sorrow. In anguish He cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”
Lucifer comes to tempt and try. The scriptural account of the temptation in the wilderness has symbolic reference to several categories of temptation: control of appetite, intellectual apostasy due to incorrectly interpreted scripture, and the lure of worldly kingdoms. The adversary then is cast out, no longer retaining his original name, but instead being given the title “Satan.”
Jesus walked the path of temptation. Lucifer, that evil one, amassing his greatest strength, his most inviting sophistry, tempted Him who had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus did not succumb; rather, He resisted each temptation. His parting words: “Get thee hence, Satan.”
A reference to the Savior’s suffering at Gethsemane and crucification on the cross.
Jesus walked the path of pain. Consider Gethsemane, where He was “in an agony … and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” And none can forget His suffering on the cruel cross.
Disappointment comes from misused powers, when a loved one makes a certain choice, and when we ourselves make a choice. Reference is made to a scripture contained in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, showing the devil temps us so we might be agents.
Each of us will walk the path of disappointment, perhaps because of an opportunity lost, a power misused, a loved one’s choices, or a choice we ourselves make. The path of temptation too will be the path of each. We read in the 29th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves.”
Regarding pain, we can expect no more than the Master.
Likewise shall we walk the path of pain. We, as servants, can expect no more than the Master, who left mortality only after great pain and suffering.
But the path also has great happiness.
While we will find on our path bitter sorrow, we can also find great happiness.
An explanation of the relationship between obedience and sacrifice.
We, with Jesus, can walk the path of obedience. It will not always be easy, but let our watchword be the heritage bequeathed us by Samuel: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Let us remember that the end result of disobedience is captivity and death, while the reward for obedience is liberty and eternal life.
Serving and healing others is crucial. The importance and possibility of physical healing is also taught.
We, like Jesus, can walk the path of service. As a glowing searchlight of goodness is the life of Jesus as He ministered among men. He brought strength to the limbs of the cripple, sight to the eyes of the blind, hearing to the ears of the deaf.
A reminder is then given of the kind of prayer Jesus taught about in the Sermon on the Mountain and at the Temple in Bountiful. This is probably one of the most misunderstood verses in all of Christendom. After telling the people that in group prayer (“ye” as opposed to the singular “thou” council about entering into one’s closet) they should not use vain repetitions, Christ then councils “After this manner therefore pray ye…” And so most Christians repeat the Lord’s Prayer verbatim. The true meaning is obvious to some: “Don’t say the same thing every time, but repeat after me…
Jesus walked the path of prayer. He taught us how to pray by giving us the beautiful prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. And who can forget His prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but thine, be done”?
A second reference is made to “the Holy Scriptures” in regard to the exaltation requirements sometimes known as “The Beatitudes”. This is also the beginning of the Sermon at the Temple/on the Mount.
Other instructions given to us by the Savior are at our fingertips, found in the holy scriptures. In His Sermon on the Mount, He tells us to be merciful, to be humble, to be righteous, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. He instructs us to stand up bravely for our beliefs, even when we are ridiculed and persecuted.
Next in the Sermon at the Temple/Mount is the creation motif. Letting light shine and it being called good is only mentioned in one place outside the sermon: the creation account. The implication is that the creation teaches us actual spiritual lessons, just one of which is given.
He asks us to let our lights shine so that others may see them and may desire to glorify our Father in Heaven.
The Law of Chastity is briefly touched upon.
He teaches us to be morally clean in both our thoughts and our actions.
The Law of Consecration is briefly touched upon.
He tells us it is far more important to lay up treasures in heaven than on earth.
We’re shown a scriptural parallel of Adam’s fall and redemption through Christ (The Good Samaritan).
His parables teach with power and authority. With the account of the good Samaritan, He teaches us to love and to serve our neighbors.
We’re shown a scriptural parallel of the various levels of exaltation (The Parable of the Talents).
In His parable of the talents, He teaches us to improve ourselves and to strive for perfection.
We’re shown a scriptural parable of the importance of rescuing and doing work for others that they cannot do for themselves (the Parable of the Lost Sheep).
With the parable of the lost sheep, He instructs us to go to the rescue of those who have left the path and have lost their way.
Christ is in the center. We learn his words. Nothing is higher.
As we strive to place Christ at the center of our lives by learning His words, by following His teachings, and by walking in His path, He has promised to share with us the eternal life that He died to gain. There is no higher end than this, that we should choose to accept His discipline and become His disciples and do His work throughout our lives. Nothing else, no other choice we make, can make of us what He can.
A certain childless couple serve as examples of walking the path back home (the point of the address). People counted themselves fortunate if they could spend an hour (or about an hour and forty minutes?) in their presence. This couple is humble, nurturing, poor, sought out, and unlettered.
As I think of those who have truly tried to follow the example of the Savior and who have walked in His path, there comes readily to my mind the names of Gustav and Margarete Wacker — two of the most Christlike individuals I have ever known. They were native Germans who had immigrated to eastern Canada, and I met them when I served as a mission president there. Brother Wacker earned his living as a barber. Though their means were limited, they shared all they had. They were not blessed with children, but they nurtured all who entered their home. Men and women of learning and sophistication sought out these humble, unlettered servants of God and counted themselves fortunate if they could spend an hour in their presence.
Their appearance was ordinary. Their method of communication was hard to understand. Their home was unpretentious. Material items of the world were not important to them. “Their home was a heaven on earth.”
Their appearance was ordinary, their English halting and somewhat difficult to understand, their home unpretentious. They didn’t own a car or a television, nor did they do any of the things to which the world usually pays attention. Yet the faithful beat a path to their door in order to partake of the spirit that was there. Their home was a heaven on earth, and the spirit they radiated was of pure peace and goodness.
We too can have what this couple has.
We too can have that spirit and can share it with the world as we walk the path of our Savior and follow His perfect example.
Consider the path you are on. Is it the path described above?
We read in Proverbs the admonition, “Ponder the path of thy feet.” As we do, we will have the faith, even the desire, to walk the path which Jesus walked. We will have no doubt that we are on a path which our Father would have us follow. The Savior’s example provides a framework for everything that we do, and His words provide an unfailing guide. His path will take us safely home.
A reminder that he (President Monson) loves, serves, and testifies of Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ is his master, and he is truly His messenger.
May this be our blessing, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whom I love, whom I serve, and of whom I testify, amen.
Thomas S. Monson is the President of The Church of Jesus Christ because he is the chief (most senior) Apostle. The name “Apostle” means “one who is sent”, with the doctrinal tradition implying that they are sent from the presence of God to mankind. There is no greater message that a messenger from God can bring than this: How to recognize and follow the path back home.