Awake and Arise: Filling the Measure ofOur Creation

by John P. Starrs

 

(Originally presented at the Art, Belief and MeaningSymposium at Brigham Young University's Musem of Art in the Fall of 2001.)

 

Good Morning.  I would like to take a moment to thank Herman Du Toit forbringing us together today.  He hasworked a great deal to the benefit of all of us who believe in this endeavor,and I am personally very grateful for his efforts to move this very importantwork forward.

 

I would like to begin my presentation byrelating a story about a man named Emmanuel Ninger.

 

"The year is 1887, and the scene is asmall neighborhood grocery store. A distinguished looking gentleman in his late50's or early 60's is buying some turnip greens. He hands the clerk a $20 billand waits for his change. As she starts to make change, she notices that theink is coming off on her fingers which are still wet from handling the turnipgreens. She is shocked and pauses to consider what to do. She thinks, 'This isEmmanuel Ninger, a long-time friend, a neighbor, and a customer. Surely hewould not give me a bill that was anything less than genuine.' So, she giveshim the change and he leaves.

 

"Later she had some second thoughtsbecause $20 was a large amount of money in 1887. She sent for the police. Onepoliceman was confident that the $20 bill was genuine. The other was puzzledabout the ink that rubbed off. Finally they obtained a warrant to search Mr.Ninger's home.

 

"In the attic they found the facilitiesfor reproducing $20. As a matter of fact, they found a $20 bill in the processof being printed. They also found three portraits which Emmanuel Ninger hadpainted. Ninger was an artist, and he was a good one. He was so good, he hadhand painted those $20 bills. Meticulously, stroke by stroke, he had appliedthe master's touch so skillfully that he was able to fool everyone until aquirk of fate in the form of the wet hands of a grocery clerk exposed him.

 

"After the arrest, his portraits were soldat public auction for $16,000—over $5,000 each. The irony of the story isit took Emmanuel Ninger almost exactly the same length of time to paint a $20bill as it took him to paint a $5,000 portrait.

 

"This brilliant and talented man was athief in every sense of the word. Tragically, the person he stole the most fromwas himself, Emmanuel Ninger. Not only could he have been a wealthy man if hehad legitimately marketed his ability, but he could have brought joy andbenefit to his fellowman. He had a choice, and he compromised his integrity." (1)

 

My old friend Tevye' in Fiddler on the Roofexplained that each of us needs to know "who we are and what God expects us todo."

 

First, we must awake, and arise.  In his great sermon on pride, PresidentEzra Taft Benson taught:

"We have made some wonderful strides inthe past. We will be lengthening our stride in the future. To do so, we mustfirst cleanse the inner vessel by awaking and arising, being morally clean,using the Book of Mormon in a manner so that God will lift the condemnation, andfinally conquering pride by humbling ourselves." (2)

 

From the Book of Mormon we read:

 

"O how foolish, and how vain, and howevil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, arethe children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one,and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!

 

"Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride;yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and howslow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto hiscounsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom's paths!

 

Behold, they do not desire that the Lordtheir God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them;notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set atnaught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.

 

"O how great is the nothingness of thechildren of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth.  For behold, the dust of the earthmoveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our greatand everlasting God. Yea, behold at his voice do the hills and the mountainstremble and quake." (3)

 

And from the Old Testament:

"...for dust thou art, and unto dust shaltthou return." (4)

 

"Awake, awake; put on thy strength, OZion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforththere shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.  Shake thyself from the dust; arise, andsit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captivedaughter of Zion." (5)

 

How then, do we rise above the dust, if weare made of dust ourselves?  Inthis type, the Lord illustrates that we must first overcome the natural man,and then seek to walk in the beauty of His light, and along the path that Hehas shown.

 

From the Doctrine and Covenants we read:

"Yea, let the cry go forth among allpeople: Awake and arise and go forth to meet the Bridegroom; behold and lo, theBridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Prepare yourselves for the great dayof the Lord.  Watch, therefore, forye know neither the day nor the hour." (6)

 

President John Taylor taught:

"We came forth from our Father in heaven,having the privilege of taking bodies in this world. What for? That our bodiesand spirits together might accomplish the will of our Heavenly Father, and findtheir way back again into his presence; that while we are upon the earth, wemight be governed by his wisdom, by the intelligence and revelations that flowfrom him; that he might be a guide and dictator of our steps while we sojournhere; and that we might fill up the measure of our creation in honor toourselves, in honor to our progenitors, and in honor to our posterity; andfinally, find our way back into the presence of God, having accomplished theobject for which we came into the world." (7)

 

From the Times and Seasons we read:

"The world was not made to be annihilatednor the creatures that he has formed: all of them were intended to fulfil the measure of his creation.  The sun, the moon, the stars, theearth, man, beast, bird and fish, all occupy their several spheres, all weremade for the glory of God, and all were intended to fill up the measure oftheir creation, and to bring about his purposes and the beast of the forest,the fish of the sea, or the fowl of the air, all are necessary in the vastworks of creation and the chirping sparrow upon the house top, fulfills themeasure of his creation, in his own sphere, as much as an archangel does in

         his."(8)

 

Doctrine & Covenants 88 teaches thevery relationship that we have with the Creator:

 

"He that ascended up on high, as also hedescended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he mightbe in all and through all things, the light of truth;  Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also heis in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it wasmade.  As also he is in the moon,and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; Asalso the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; Andthe earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. Andthe light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him whoenlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth yourunderstandings;  Which lightproceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space-- Thelight which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the lawby which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon histhrone, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

 

"And the redemption of the soul is throughhim that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor andthe meek of the earth shall inherit it. Therefore, it must needs be sanctifiedfrom all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; Forafter it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned withglory, even with the presence of God the Father; That bodies who are of thecelestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was itmade and created, and for this intent are they sanctified. (9)

 

So here we learn a plain and precioustruth, He is in all things He has created, and all things that fill the measureof their creation shall receive the fullness of glory that the creator hasprepared for them.

 

Anselm Spring illustrates this point thisway,

"To appreciate God's creations, you haveto learn to see. Everything around us bears witness of its own creation anddesign. Every animal or plant, in filling the measure of its creation, praisesGod. We must, by fulfilling our creation, do the same." (10)

 

The remarkable thing about this process isthat it is intensely personal.  Noone can do it for us.  No one candiscover the path except us.  It isbetween us and our creator.  Thatis also a wonderful gift, because as long as we are on His path, then all iswell.  No amount of criticism,distraction, judgement or threats by others need affect us.

 

We must first seek to know His will thenseek to do his will.  It is a dailypursuit.  Each day we must awakeand arise, both physically and spiritually.

 

Paul admonishes us with the following"Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, withthe laying on of the hands..." (11)

 

This also extends to gifts bestowed beforewe came to earth.

 

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

"In the world before we came here, [the]faithful... were given certain assignments. While we do not now remember theparticulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreedto. [We] are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of[us]." (12)

 

Can we not agree that with the fullness ofthe Gospel upon the earth in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of times,with all its accompanying light and knowledge of truths in medicine and thearts, and science and technology and education, information and free will thatwe enjoy, that this is a wondrous and glorious time to be alive?  If we suppose that, and consider theamazing fact that out of the billions who live or have lived on the earth, thatwe are the recipients of these resplendent blessings, does it not also stand toreason that the Creator might have something for us each specifically to do?

 

What is the purpose of our creation?  The beasts and plants of the forestsand fields and the elements of the earth are obedient to the Creator in theirrespective spheres.  They followthe instinct given them by God to direct them.  Yet he has given us something more.  All children of God have the Spirit ofChrist within them.  We may alsoreceive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. These two precious gifts set us apart from all other creation.  He has given us dominion over all theearth, to be used for the benefit of mankind.  Yet he then commands us to seek the joy of eternallife.  Joseph Smith said:

"Happiness is the object and design of ourexistence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it;and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping allthe commandments of God." (13)

 

As we have the stirring of passion andtalent inside our hearts, we will realize these are a glorious gift fromGod.  As we comprehend thesepassions, talents and gifts, we need to follow the lesson of Alma, who gives usan allegory of another creation that is obedient and filling its measure.  He teaches us to compare the Word ofthe Lord to a seed.  If we plantit, and nourish, and care for it, if it is a good seed, in the season thereofit will bear fruit.

         "...ifye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, byyour faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to thefruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing upunto everlasting life.

 

"Then, my brethren, ye shall reap therewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering,waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you." (14)

 

There is an awful lot of work involved ingrowing that seed into a fruit-bearing tree.  It does not happen overnight.  Even though we see the tree growing from a seed, which wecould call success, is it yet a fullness? No, there will still be much work todo, and much patience required, and even as the tree begins to bear fruit, itis still only the beginning.

 

As we look toward the endeavors we maypursue, and perhaps ponder the more artistic talents we have been blessed with,let us consider the words of President Boyd K. Packer:

"The reason we have not yet produced agreater heritage in art and literature and music and drama is not, I am verycertain, because we have not had talented people. For over the years we havehad not only good ones but great ones. Some have reached great heights in theirchosen fields. But few have captured the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christand the restoration of it in music, in art, in literature. They have not,therefore, even though they were gifted, made a lasting contribution to theonrolling of the Church and kingdom of God in the dispensation of the fullnessof times. They have therefore missed doing what they might have done, and theyhave missed being what they might have become. I am reminded of the statement:'There are many who struggle and climb and finally reach the top of the ladder,only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.'" (15)

 

We must also consider that the time-tablethe Lord's plan is on may not coincide with our plans.

 

Visual artist Liz Lemon Swindle, who hasgiven us marvelous renditions of the prophet Joseph, and most recently of JesusChrist's earthly ministry, told me once that there seems to be a fairlyconsistent pattern among artists that it takes about 15 years of professionalwork to see monetary prosperity. That coincides with the truism that it usually takes about 15 years tobecome an 'overnight success'.

 

If we had the desire to become a greatheart surgeon, would we expect that desire alone would allow us to enter theoperating room and begin the procedure? Why do some then suppose that all it takes to be a great composer orwriter or producer is to feel the Spirit and take up the pen and write?  These are but the seeds of inspirationbeginning to take shape in our hearts, and we must take the time and effortnecessary for fruit to come of the seed.

 

Several years ago, I would say about 15, Ihad the stirring in my heart to be a rock-star, albeit a rock-star that wantedto share the good news of Christ. While on my mission, I met composer Sam Cardon's parents, and theyencouraged me to write to Sam about my musical aspirations.  After returning to BYU, I called Samand met with him at his invitation. After explaining how the Spirit had moved me to pursue fame and fortune,at least as I had supposed, he very wisely and gently explained that now I mustpay my dues and get to work.  Themusic industry, like any industry, demands talent shaped by intense work andpractice, practice, practice, before success is awarded.  I let the seed grow, and now that seedhas grown in directions I did not even imagine then.  While I will never be a rock-star, fulfillment that I couldnot have then comprehended comes in realizing dreams that were awakened throughyears of pruning and shaping,  andpractice, practice, practice.

 

L'Deane Trueblood, a visual artist andLatter-day Saint has had great success in her career as a painter andsculptor.  Her works are in highdemand, and the cost of her pieces reflects the demand by the public for hermaster works.  However, L'Deane waswhat some might call a "late-bloomer." While she had tremendous promise as a youthful artist, she made thedecision to put aside her work for a season for a "more perfect path." Shechose to raise a family.  Her giftwas maintained by the Lord through the years and all of the joys, sorrows andhard work of raising a family. After her children were raised, she once again picked up the tools ofher art and has blessed many with the gifts she has received.  Among her favorite artistic subjects,and perhaps her most splendid renditions, are the paintings and sculptures oflittle children.  Her works arethose of a life-long master artist.

 

Professional work in the arts must also bea total commitment.  We often hearthe phrase, 'Don't quit your day job.' Well, I believe that you can never become a successful artist until youdo 'quit your day job', and thus make your artistic pursuits your one and onlyvocation.  You must as the Psalmist declared,"Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee..." (16)

 

Remember, the Lord tells us if we followHim, He will provide.  I don't knowwhy that is so hard to do.  Itisn't easy, but it really does work. We may not always like the way the provisions come, but they always do.The Lord's timetable isn't always our timetable, but if we are in constantcommunication with Him, we are in a safe place, and He will lead us in the waywe should go.  Isaiah teaches, "Forye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the LORD will go beforeyou; and the God of Israel will be your [rearguard]." (17)

 

In 1996, in speaking to artists of thechurch, Elder M. Russell Ballard said the following:

 

"God's purpose for the artist is toinspire, to give us visions of ourselves that we might not otherwise see, tomake us better than we would have been. The world is better for the arts andrighteous artists in it. In the quest to achieve greatness in artisticpursuits—whether in painting, dance, music, drama, film, sculpture, orthe written word—we should always seek first to achieve God'spurposes...  Our ability to developand use our artistic gifts to edify and inspire others depends on our faithfuladherence to the Lord's teachings.

 

"God's purpose for the artist and theartist deep within each of us in the gospel plan is ultimately the same as forall his children: to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life. Each ofus must use our tools, gifts, and opportunities to triumph in the contest ofmortality. Whether we declare the gospel in quiet, individual ways or proclaimthat Christ is the Savior with the power of universal symbols, we must striveto understand our role in His purposes. And because all things are spiritual,only the process of prayer and inspiration can yield sufficient guidance tomake a difference in whatever method or opportunity is available to us." (18)

 

Elder Boyd K. Packer while speaking atBrigham Young University 25 years ago said,

"Go to, then, you who are gifted;cultivate your gift. Develop it in any of the arts and in every worthy exampleof them... Employ it in the secular sense to every worthy advantage, but neveruse it profanely. Never express your gift unworthily. Increase our spiritualheritage in music, in art, in literature, in dance, in drama.

 

"When we have done it our activities willbe a standard to the world... Let the use of your gift be an expression of yourdevotion to Him who has given it to you. We who do not share in it will set ahigh standard of expectation: "For of him unto whom much is given much isrequired." (19)

 

So THERE is a possible explanation for theamount of work and toil it takes to be an artist on the Lord's side, where"much is given much is required." (20)

 

We are not alone in our pursuits, and theyare not to be a competition with others. Glenn L. Pace said,

"Our Father in Heaven blessed us withvariety. He gave us water and dry land, he gave us various forms of plant andanimal life, and he gave us individual personalities and talents. Life is moreinteresting because we have variety. We will have more joy and be moresuccessful as individuals if we are aware of the people around us, our family,and our friends, as individuals and appreciate them for who and what theyare... Our quest for exaltation is our own. Entrance into the celestial kingdomisn't determined by competition or popularity; we don't have to "beat anyoneout" to get there. And when we greet each other in the celestial kingdom, wewill know what Alma meant by "my joy is more full because of the success of mybrethren." (21)

 

Arch Madsen, founder of BonnevilleCommunications, and, I would add, a personal hero of mine, said the followingabout media people, but I would extend it to all artists as well, for they arepart of "the media":

"Excellence really speaks. Everything wedo has to be with the finest talent that knows how to pray. We have themessage, and there are tens of millions of people just begging to hear it in away they can understand...  Thesort of people who will make a difference in spreading the truth of the gospelthrough communications to the world will have to be those who see themselves aslifetime media missionaries. They will seek the sophisticated experiencenecessary to do the job at the highest levels." (22)

 

As Goethe said so wonderfully, "Whateveryou can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magicin it. Begin it now."

 

Again, from Elder Ballard:

"If we are determined to live by HeavenlyFather's plan, we will use our God-given moral agency to make decisions for ourlives based on revealed truth, not on the opinions of others or on the currentthinking of the world. We will use the inspiring opportunities around us toincrease our talents. We will use all that God has given us to help bring topass His purposes. We will lift, inspire, and change hearts to help make peoplebetter than they might have been.

 

"We call upon all members, those in thearts and those seeking to appreciate the message of good art, to expand theirvision of what can be done. If we are going to fill the world with goodness andtruth, then we must be worthy to receive inspiration so we can bless the livesof our Heavenly Father's children." (23)

 

 

In closing, I would like to read from theLDS Hymnbook:

 

"Awake and arise, O ye slumbering nations!

The heavens have opened their portalsagain

The last and the greatest of alldispensations

Has burst like a dawn o'er the children ofmen!

 

"The dream of the poet, the crown of theages,

The time which the prophets of Israelforetold,

That glorious day only dreamed by thesages

Is yours, O ye slumbering nations, behold!

 

"Oh, lift up your voices in song and instory.

Let banners of peace in all lands beunfurled,

For truth, heaven born, in its beauty andglory

Is marching triumphantly over the world." (24)

 

Are we using our God-given gifts to helpGod and to bless others?  Or arewe, like the forger, thieves using our gifts for our own benefit alone, orworse yet, not using our gifts at all? 

 

May we all strive to find the Lord's pathand gifts for us.  May we strive tobe 'Lifetime Media Missionaries' in whatever medium we choose to preach.  May we awake and arise, and inglorifying our Great Creator, fill the measure of our creation.

 

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Footnotes:

1- Vital Speeches of the Day, pp. 40-41, as quoted by Vaughn J.Featherstone, "Secret of the Second Mile," New Era, May 1990.

 

2- Ezra Taft Benson, "Cleansing the Inner Vessel," Ensign, May 1986.

 

3- Helaman 12:4-9.

 

4- Genesis 3:19

 

5- Isaiah 52:1-2.

 

6- D&C 133:10-11.

 

7- Journal of Discourses, 1:368, April 19, 1854.

 

8- Times and Seasons,Vol.5, p.408.

 

9- D&C 88:6-13, 17-20.

 

10- Anselm Spring, "The Meadow," NewEra, Apr. 1985.

 

11- 1 Timothy 4:14.

 

12- Spencer W. Kimball, "The Role ofRighteous Women," Ensign,Nov. 1979, 102.

 

13- Teachings of the Prophet JosephSmith, Section Five1842-43 p.255.

 

14- Alma 32:28-43.

 

15- Boyd K. Packer, "The Arts and theSpirit of the Lord," Ensign, Aug. 1976

 

16- Psalms 55:22.

 

17- Isaiah 52:12.

 

18- M. Russell Ballard, "Filling the Worldwith Goodness and Truth," Ensign, July 1996.

 

19- Boyd K. Packer, "The Arts and theSpirit of the Lord," Ensign, Aug. 1976.

 

20- D&C 82:3.

 

21- Glenn L. Pace, "The Success of MyBrethren," New Era,Aug. 1987.

 

22- Arch Madsen as quoted in Meridian Magazine, Scot Proctor, Editor, 2000.

 

23- M. Russell Ballard, "Filling the Worldwith Goodness and Truth," Ensign, July 1996.

 

24- Awake and Arise, Text by Theodore E.Curtis, LDS Hymnbook,#8, 1985.