Thursday, March 10, 2011

Looking Up: Inspiration from W. W. Phelps

In which our Heroine continues her Independence Missouri Monologue. 

The second main thing that I learned at the visitor center in Independence, Missouri was a little about a man named W. W. Phelps.  He was, of course, Mormon, and operated a printing press there in the town.  As I learned about his personal history, I felt strengthened and inspired.  Here is a quote by  former (now deceased) LDS apostle, David B. Haight, that summarizes the events of which I’m speaking:
"We were singing a great song as the intermediate hymn, 'Now Let Us Rejoice,' written by W. W. Phelps (Hymns, no. 3). That was written following an incident in Independence, Missouri, where Brother Phelps was the editor of a little newspaper. He had a printing press, and the people who were unfriendly towards the Church decided to do away with it, and the mob broke in and burned the building and destroyed the printing press. They burned some 200 homes of the Saints in showing their displeasure over the people following this movement. In that despair W. W. Phelps wrote those words, 'Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation. No longer as strangers on earth need we roam,' bringing hope to the people and encouragement. With hope that those things will happen in our lives, we move on because of the truthfulness of what we are attempting to do."
Elder Haight’s topic is essentially courage, something I am by and large lacking on a regular basis.  It seems that I am in constant need of stories like this to buoy me up throughout my health problems.  What Elder Haight does not do, but that the visitor center did do well, was to really flesh out the story.  If you can imagine a violent mob burning your place of business and threatening the lives of all of your family and friends, then I think you can get a little more of an idea about the despair Phelps was living through.  The people were forced out of town with no time to prepare for travel.  They left red tracks in the snow from their bleeding feet as they trudged away.  But was the exhibition and discussion of this topic depressing?  On the contrary!  I had the sense that there was just this incredible hope that the Mormons of that day had as they suffered, then relocated, and rebuilt (again and again and again). 
They must have had their eyes not on their bloodied feet, or on their smoldering homes that terrible day, but on some great goal that kept them going.  I think that they had a sense that if they could just keep pressing forward—or in other words enduring to the end—that things would come out all right eventually.  Actually, they recognized that they would be better for it and I think it gave them great courage. 
We can all do with a little courage at the worst of times.  It’s a good reminder for me to think of the words that Phelps wrote as he tried to reason his way through the difficulties, and to remember that setting your sights on a higher goal is not only worthwhile, but essential. 

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