WE LEARN LINE UPON LINE THROUGH REVELATION
About 50 years ago, in the 1970’s, I was a youth. There was a popular LDS-church-themed musical play that traveled around part of the United States. Later on it was made into a movie that you can probably watch on YouTube. It’s called Saturday’s Warrior. In it there’s a lovely song that comes up in a poignant scene. The chorus of the song says, “Line upon line, precept on precept—that is how He lifts us, that is how He teaches His children.” I saw the play, but I learned the song from the record album. That important message has stuck with me all my life: Learning happens a little bit at a time. And learning is a good thing—a gift from a loving Father.
The topic Kerry and I were given—We learn line upon line through revelation—has three parts:
Line upon line
First of all, Heavenly Father wants us to LEARN. We came to earth to get and tame our bodies and to prove that we would do all things whatsoever the Lord our God would command us (Abraham 3:25).
In order to make our Earth Life Test more interesting, most of our premortal knowledge is veiled. I personally believe that everyone is veiled in different ways, so we have a variety of personalities, strengths and weaknesses, insights, and interests. This variety definitely makes life more interesting.
With our knowledge and abilities veiled and this Test in which we prove ourselves, we require opportunities to learn and teachers to teach us.
From the beginning, Adam and Eve were commanded (Moses 5:12)—and they obeyed—to teach their children the Plan of Salvation, and I suppose, everything else they’d need to know to survive earth life. I know the Lord sent messengers to teach them the gospel, but I’m not sure who taught them how to hunt and cook or read and write—stuff like that—but I’m sure it took a lot of time and practice to learn. We need time and practice because we make mistakes; we aren’t instant masters of things we’re learning. That’s what learning requires—time and practice.
Which brings me to my second point: We learn LINE UPON LINE, here a little, there a little—at different times and from various sources.
SAMPLES: I have here an example of My Very Best Writing from Second Grade. In this booklet I progress from printing, in September 1968, to cursive writing. By April 1969 my handwriting looks pretty good—nice and big too, no glasses required to read it.
I also have a sample of another skill Eve probably learned—spinning wool into yarn. This is my first attempt: it’s thick in some places and ultra-thin in others, it’s full of kinks. My later attempt, if you can see it, has an even thickness and it hangs straight, no kinks. Both are potentially serviceable, but the later attempt makes a more attractive piece of cloth.
As I prepared this talk I realized that all knowledge we acquire is REVELATION. Revelation means the act of disclosing or revealing, especially a striking realization, like “I never realized that before.” So revelation is sort of the last stage of learning—it’s happening all along, but revelation is how your learning becomes a part of you.
I could end my talk here, but that would make it really short. So I’ll give some examples and discuss why this topic is significant, at least to me.
Two years ago I decided to take springboard diving lessons. You could say I’m naturally inclined to be a diver—no fear of the water, no fear of going headfirst into water, I’m graceful, and I love doing it. But I soon learned that there’s a big difference between diving recreationally, or like a swimmer, and diving like a diver. Swimmers dive off a 1-meter non-springy platform; they dive low and outward across the water, for distance. Divers don’t want to go out, they want to go up. Since the coming down part is inevitable, you want to be up in the air as long as possible and get everything done before your hands hit the water, and you make no splash.
My beginner diving lessons started with learning to jump UP off the diving board. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. And part of just about every practice session, no matter how advanced a diver you are, usually finds us jumping up and coming down feet first. It isn’t interesting and it isn’t fun, and it can be very frustrating, but it’s a necessary part of the process. Lesson upon lesson, jump upon jump; board timing is… almost everything.
How many of you knew that the goal of diving is to go up not out? Now you know this fact about diving. That’s revelation. And you know a little about diving practice. Also revelation.
When I was in fifth grade—about 1971/72—I was really interested in Helen Keller and read a lot about her. When she was two years old Helen became ill and lost the ability to see and hear, and her speech was also undeveloped. By the time she was seven years old, Helen was unmanageable, so her parents hired Annie Sullivan to teach her. They basically just wanted Helen to calm down, but Annie was an amazing, inspired person. Teaching Helen was frustrating and seemed to go nowhere, but Annie persisted. Finally, one day, Annie was pumping water from the well; she held Helen’s hand in the water and spelled out W-A-T-E-R <in sign> into Helen’s hand over and over. Annie had been using this teaching method without success, but this day it finally clicked. Helen understood that W-A-T-E-R <in sign> meant water, the wet stuff coming out of the pump. That revelation changed Helen’s life; she went on to accomplish great things and inspire others the world over and in years beyond her life. (Helen’s teacher is known as The Miracle Worker. And as incredible a person as Helen Keller is, I think I’ve always admired Annie Sullivan just a little bit more.)
The scriptures use the phrase “line upon line, precept upon precept.” I consulted the dictionary and, for the purposes of this talk I choose to define precepts as ideas or teachings; lines are active, things you can do; they leave a mark. Like my handwriting lines: visual proof that I improved. So we learn both by study, or being taught, and by doing. We learn ideas and put them into practice—try, then fail or succeed, learn more, try more, make a little progress, and so on. Learning is accomplished through revelation.
Could Helen Keller have learned all she learned on her own, or WOULD she have? We are all involved individually and together in Heavenly Father’s Plan of learning and progressing. This is where the fourth part, the implied part, of the topic, we learn line upon line through revelation, comes in. I call this part Branching Out or Intersecting with Others. I’m not the best example, but I’ll try to explain.
Almost every morning I do a brief devotional: I sing a hymn and choose a scripture. I write out the scripture and my thoughts about it. It takes about 15 minutes and it’s a great way to start my day. A few days ago, I chose to sing hymn #220 “Lord, I Would Follow Thee.” It’s not a hymn I sing a lot, even though it’s really great. I think I don’t especially like it because when the 1985 hymnbook came out there was a tendency to sing several of the new hymns A LOT, so I got kind of tired of this one. Despite my feelings, it IS a great hymn. And I find that the Lord often likes to give me instruction in situations where I’m somewhat reluctant to learn. Maybe you know the feeling, “I don’t want to … go there … do that … whatever ….” And then, “Wow, I’m so glad I went. Wow. Look at everything I learned!”
What I learned about “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” is that it depicts the line upon line learning process. Verse by verse it shows the progress of a person who starts out with truly admirable intentions: to love and follow the Savior; to be willing to pause her life to help others. As she moves onward she becomes less self-focused, more understanding of others’ weaknesses. And moving further, she learns to more actively, or with greater sensitivity, focus on others’ needs. In the last verse she understands a bit more what it means to be like the Savior. For example, instead of finding strength beyond her own, she learns that all her strength comes from Him. Instead of pausing in her busyness to help others, mankind becomes her busy-ness (or business, like Jacob Marley said). Instead of loving others in her mortal way, she strives to live His new commandment: to love as He loves (see John 13:34).
There’s another type of learning or revelation. It comes seemingly from “out of the blue” or, in other words, from the Spirit. The more we act on inspired thoughts or spiritual promptings, the more comfortable we get with recognizing and acting on them.
Recently, in a yoga class, I silently prayed for a phrase to use as a personal mantra that day. This came immediately to mind: “Feed my sheep” (see John 21:15-17) followed by this new idea: Feeding sheep doesn’t only mean sharing the gospel. Many people just want to be seen and listened to—like the guy in the pool who caught my attention while I took a drink of water between swimming laps. He asked me how to do the breast stroke kick, so I showed him and explained how it had changed from when I was young. (It’s healthier for your knees now.) I could have missed that opportunity by ignoring the guy, or just “not seeing” him.
Years ago a friend taught me that the phrase “charity … seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5) meant to her that we should reach out to others who aren’t in our usual, familiar circle. Like the very talkative gal I met on a UTA bus who was wearing a McDonald’s uniform. She told me she’d won 12 Olympic medals for swimming—hmm—and had seen a UFO the night before right after saying her prayers. I said, “It’s a good thing you said your prayers first or you might not be here now.” She thought that was pretty funny. Which made me feel appreciated. This wasn’t me reaching down to the lowly; it was me reaching up as the lowly. I was the sheep being fed.
One day while I was diving at Provo Rec Center, a boy asked me if I was an Olympian. That was pretty cool. People notice an old lady diver. If you’re not going to the Olympics, not going to compete, not trying to win a scholarship, why take diving lessons in your sixties? How about because I love it? How about because I’m still learning and improving? How about for the collateral effects—the friendly strangers who cheer me on or approach me and tell me they love watching me dive? How about for the swim team kids who see me at the different fitness centers and come up to me and say, “You dive at BYU, don’t you?” How about for my teammates who love me and I love them? How about for the love of my Heavenly Father who gave me this talent and desire?
“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days (D&C 64:33-34).
Brothers and Sisters, the cheerful, faithful way you live your lives, the struggles you encounter that may one day be my struggles—line upon line you are leading the way for me. Line upon line I am trying to lead the way for others.
“Line upon line, precept on precept—that is how He lifts us, that is how He teaches His children.”