Prophets Old and New
Heidi Swinton, Virginia Pearce Cowley, and Sheri Dew have spent years studying the lives and words of ancient and Latter-day prophets, but they also have many firsthand experiences interacting with living prophets, seers, and revelators. In this episode, the three close friends sit down together to share their thoughts of what makes a prophet, and how Joseph is like—or not like—other prophets.
The documentary Heidi wrote about Joseph Smith: Joseph Smith, American Prophet
President Thomas S. Monson’s biography Heidi wrote: To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson
Quote: “As we all stood to sing that intermediate hymn, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” I had two overpowering thoughts come to me. One is about the Prophet Joseph Smith, the prophet of this dispensation. My love and admiration for him grows with every passing day” (President Russell M. Nelson, “Spiritual Treasures,” October 2019 general conference).
President Lorenzo Snow’s experience of seeing the Savior: “When Lorenzo Snow Saw the Savior in the Temple,” LdsLiving.com.
Orson F. Whitney quoted by Larry C. Porter in his address at BYU: “Each succeeding President of the Church ought to vary in some respects from all other incumbents of that high and holy position. For this reason: The work of the Lord is always progressing, and consequently always changing—not its principles, nor its aims; but its plans, its instruments, and its methods of procedure. These are constantly changing, in order to meet new conditions and profit by them. Hence a variety of leaders is essential. To-day is not Yesterday, nor will To-morrow be To-day. The Lord provides the men and the means whereby He can best work, at any given time, for the carrying out of his wise and sublime purposes. The Man for the Hour will be ready whenever the Hour strikes” (Larry C. Porter, “Brigham Young: “The Man for the Hour Will Be Ready Whenever the Hour Strikes,” January 1998).
Quote: “I will try to be contented with my lot, knowing that God is my friend. In him I shall find comfort. I have given my life into his hands. I am prepared to go at his call. I desire to be with Christ. I count not my life dear to me, only to do his will” (Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 6 June 1832, reprinted in Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jessee (2002), 264-265; punctuation standardized, “Joseph Comes to Know God”).
President Nelson’s message about gratitude and his prayer for the world:
Sheri Dew 0:00
When it all comes down to it, at some point, Joseph Smith could be regarded as fascinating, intriguing, a very interesting historical character, or any way that you want to describe him because there's a whole lot to study. It's just, actually kind of mind boggling. But when all said and done, you know he's a prophet when the Spirit tells you he's a prophet.
Multiple Speakers 0:24
The Prophet Joseph. Stand by my servant, Joseph. Joseph. Joseph Smith. Joseph. Joseph Smith. Brother Joseph. Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith. The Prophet Joseph Smith. Brother Joseph.
Heidi Swinton 0:39
Welcome to Joseph, a Deseret Bookshelf Plus original brought to you by LDS Living. And I'm Heidi Swinton, your host.
Welcome back, everybody. Did you recognize that voice at the beginning? It was Sheri Dew, my very good friend. She has a lot of great things to say about prophets. And when I realized that the next step in our journey was to talk about the role of prophets in our day, I thought, "Who better to talk about that than Sheri Dew, who's written about prophets? Or my other good friend, Virginia, Pierce Cowley, who is raised in the home of a prophet?"
But before we get there, I need to tell you a quick little story just to set the stage. When I was writing about Joseph Smith, one of the general authorities said, "You can't write about a prophet without a blessing from a prophet." And so he arranged for me to receive a blessing from President Thomas S. Monson, who at the time was the first counselor in the First Presidency. So my husband and I went down to the Church offices. Now, you can imagine how daunting this was. And the man sitting at the desk looks at you like, you know, you kind of think you're going into see the great Oz. And he says, "Why are you here?" And we tell him who we are. And we sit and wait patiently. And then they invited us into his office.
And President Monson was so welcoming, and so generous, [he said] "Come and sit down." And he didn't know me. And I didn't know him. Never been formally introduced. And he talked to us. And he asked us a little bit about, you know, what about this? What about your family? After we talked for a few minutes as he tried to get to know us. He said to me, "Why are you doing this?" And then he pointed to this big stack of papers on his desk. And he said, "These are scripts about Joseph Smith." Then he sort of paused and with the drama that he was so good at [and said], "Three people have tried to write about Joseph Smith. Three people have tried, and three people have failed." Well, I just got, I thought to myself, "Oh, dear, what am I doing here?" And he said, "Well, come over here and sit in this chair and let's see what the Lord has to say about it."
You could tell he wasn't sure what he thought about it. And you know, it was I fourth in line. Three people have tried, now it's four people have tried and four people have failed. So I sit down, and he started giving me a blessing. And at first, it was a bit tentative, so you could tell that he wasn't sure where this was going to go. And then, as he talked, all, the sudden, his voice became more robust, and it became strengthened, and there was a power that came through it. And he started talking about how successful this was going to be. And that threw me. "Millions shall know Brother Joseph again." I still remember him saying those words. And how significant that was to me. What he was saying was, you can do this. And essentially, the rest of that blessing was promises about yes, it's going to be hard, and take good care of Emma. And you can do this.
I was hearing from a prophet of God. But those words in my mind, were coming from the Lord. Though it didn't allay my fears that I was really going to be able to, you know, capable of this. It gave me a sense of calm. That I had more on my side than just me. That I wasn't just stabbing in the dark with the best I knew how. I was going to be working with extra strength and some inspiration. And even though I had to work as hard as I've ever worked, and try as hard as I'd ever tried, I had that underpinning of you can do this. And that came not just from Thomas Monson, that came from the Lord.
Now, let me add a postscript to this story. When President Monson, newly called as prophet and president of the Church, asked me to write his biography, I was serving a mission with my husband in England. We hadn't been talking I was not on his frequent caller list. I hadn't been back to that office. I was surprised when he asked me to do it. He called me on the phone, and after talking at length, he said, "Now, I've already given you a blessing to write about Joseph the Prophet. And that blessing will work for this prophet Thomas Monson as well." And you know, it did. I didn't need that extra boost of knowing, "Okay, I'm supposed to be doing this." I could feel it. And I kind of hearkened back to how it felt when I wrote about Joseph. I could feel there were, maybe the right word is angels, round about me that could kind of help keep me steady, even though it was really, really hard. You labor for every word. But in that labor, I could remember that blessing. So not only did I have heavenly angels with me, but I had earthly angels, who understood working with prophets, writing about profits. And they were my two very dear friends, Virginia, Pierce Cowley and Sheri Dew.
Now Virginia, who was raised in the Hinkley household, her father was president Hinckley. And she had a lot of exposure to prophets over the years. She never took that casually. I remember walking into Sheri Dew's office one day, and Sheri and I've been friends for years. And I sat down. And I just looked at her and I was at one of those points in the book where I wasn't sure what to do next. And I was, I was not only uncertain, but I was losing a little faith in myself. And Sheri looked at me and she said, "Stop right there. I know exactly where you are. I have been there." And suddenly, I had someone to talk to who had been at that moment in the writing process. So since that time of writing, whenever I've wanted to just have one of those heartfelt conversations about prophets, when I wanted to just talk about, what do you think about this? And what do you think about that? I've turned to those two dear friends: Sheri and Virginia. And said, "Let's just chat."
So sit back, hear what we have to say, and see if it'll sink into your heart and sort of prompt you to think about, "Hey, this is how I feel about the prophets." And if it helps you at all, when President Nelson hears the song, "We Thank Thee, Oh God, for a Prophet," President Nelson thinks of Joseph Smith.
[Tape Recorder Click]
What do we think about when you say, we thank thee, oh God, for a prophet? What comes to mind?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 7:27
Oh, I remember clearly a memory from my childhood. We'd been to conference in the tabernacle. I was probably, I don't know, 10, 12 [years old]. I don't know how old I was. And in those days, you could wait outside the door in the tabernacle, and President McKay's car would come up, and he would come out of that door onto the square and get in his car. And as he walked in between that line of people, and looked at us, we all were singing, "We Thank Thee, Oh God, for a Prophet." He was so prophet-looking, white hair, and his presence was so powerful. So every time I hear that song, I see that picture.
Sheri Dew 8:13
I've got a memory that's almost exactly of that. Vintage, I guess I would say and that is the first time I ever remember coming to general conference, I was a seventh grader. My parents brought me and my next sibling, my brother. And here we come out to general conference, which was a big deal for kids from the farm in Kansas, to get to come to Salt Lake City. We stayed in the Wagon Wheel motel on North temple, I remember it vividly.
And oh my goodness, you stood in long lines. You waited to get in. And frankly, I was most fascinated at that age with the guy on the little seat that would go up and down, that was running the television camera and had KSL on it. I thought, "How do you get that job? I bet that guy didn't have to wait in line."
But coming out of the last session, we were walking toward what was then the west gate of the Temple Square. And there was a crowd gathered, and they were kids, mostly kids. So my brother and I stopped. And we were kind of on the outside of that ring. Because there were quite a few kids. I don't know how many, but maybe 20 or 30 kids. Your father, Virginia, always used to say, "I don't look like a prophet." Now, David O. Mckay, he looked like a prophet.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 9:28
Sheri Dew 9:30
And here comes President McKay. And for two little kids from the farm, we were just mesmerized. And it was the first time I ever had an experience of thinking, "Oh, wow, there's something. There's something really different about him." Yeah, I'll never forget that. It was my first moment of really thinking about a prophet, especially the living prophet.
Heidi Swinton 9:55
You know, I'm going to fast forward to today because I sat in conference recently and listened to President Nelson and thought about all of the comfort and the guidance, and the sense of peace that he has given us all year. About the spread of the virus around the world. And he hasn't been the least bit dour or sad, he has just energized us and told us to stay to our covenants and trust in the Lord. And that we would come through this. I think we needed to know we will come through this.
And so when it says, "We thank thee, oh God, for a prophet, to guide us in these latter days," that, "guide us in these latter days" really has come into focus for me as I've listened to him take a pandemic and set it aside and say, "We can do this as a people. We can do this." And knowing that he's speaking for the Lord. Every time he was on social media, every time he was speaking in any kind of a circumstance, he just exuded this sense of, "We can do this. And we're going to be okay."
Virginia Pearce Cowley 11:04
Don't you think, Heidi, that that is one of the commonalities of the prophets of the restoration is this calmness and hope? I mean, they're all different. They all have different personalities. But I don't ever remember not feeling reassured, like life is gonna be good when they stand up. I never remember not having my fears calmed, no matter what the circumstances. They're optimistic.
Heidi Swinton 11:29
Oh, yeah. And I remember being at a dinner where President Hinckley was speaking, your dad, and it was the night before we were going to bomb Iraq. And everybody was, "Is this the next world war that everyone's gonna use their nuclear whatever's and we're out of here?" And he got up and he said, "I just want to tell you, we don't need to worry about what's going to happen. This isn't it." And there was just this sigh of relief that went across the room. That okay, okay, we're okay. There is that trust in them that has been born of childhood memories, like you to have mentioned, but has also been born of, you know who he is talking for, and where that message is coming from.
Sheri Dew 12:21
I think we see optimism born of faith. They just have an abiding faith. Fundamental faith that Jesus is at the head of this Church, and that God is our father and they're going to lead us.
But Heidi, you and I were both in Hong Kong when President Hinckley dedicated that temple. In fact, this is where the title of his biography came from, because we're in a chapel there in Hong Kong, and it's the year before the government in Hong Kong is going to revert to Beijing. And there was a lot of anxiousness in Hong Kong about, what is this going to mean?
So here is President Hinckley dedicating a temple in Hong Kong. And he stands up and says, "Well, everybody asks us"–this is a horrible paraphrase, but–"Everybody asked us what's going to happen, and we don't know. But we're just going to go forward with faith. And all is going to be well. Tomorrow, we're going to dedicate a temple, and it's going to be an amazing experience."
And I remember thinking, oh, that is so characteristic of him. We see that in every prophet, we've absolutely seen it in President Nelson. I mean, as the pandemic began, my youngest nephew, not all that long returned from admission, said, "Well, if this doesn't convince you, we got a prophet, I don't know what would." And then he proceeds to articulate all the reasons he could see, that we've got a prophet he's telling is going to be okay. And honestly, in a time of crisis, I've kind of thought a number of times, "Yeah, we have a man who stood over an open heart many, many times in a life and death situation, and calmly saved a life. Okay, yeah, I kind of like that kind of background, now ordained as a prophet to help us through another–in some cases–life and death situation."
Heidi Swinton 14:04
You know, I think one of the things that just adds to that is that when he stood over those hearts, he was always praying for guidance. He was never alone at the side of that table. That sense of faith that he has exhibited through not only his religious life, but his professional life. It says to me, I need to be prayerful about the things I'm doing, not just the things I'm doing in relationship to a calling, or to the church, but in everything I'm doing. I need to know the Lord's hand is in it.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 14:39
And that's the other commonality isn't it? They have all placed their lives in the hands of the Lord. And we can do that too. But it's an amazing thing to study the lives of each one of those men who are all so different and who are all so prepared by God because they've given them their lives to Him.
Heidi Swinton 15:01
Well, I think of Lorenzo Snow. You know, it's one of the few accounts that we have of someone actually seeing the Savior and describing it. And he saw Him in the temple. Here he was next in line to be the prophet of God. Wilford Woodruff was really sick, he wasn't going to make it. And Lorenzo Snow went to the Lord and said, "Don't take Wilford Woodruff, take me, because I can't do this. And Wilford can, I'm willing to put my life on the line so that he can carry on."
And the Lord appeared to him out in the hall, after that prayer, and said, "Here's how you should reorganize the Church, and you should do it immediately. And this is what I want you to do." It was that coming together, of an expression of–"This is going to be hard, I don't want to do this," and yet saying, "But thy will be done. And I'll do whatever you ask." And he went forward, he was a great president.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 16:06
It's really a model, isn't it? For us to see, because you can track their lives in a way that we can't see our whole lives. But when you put your self in the hands of the Lord, he prepares you for whatever's ahead. He knows.
Sheri Dew 16:22
Boy and that's one of the things you see when you study the life of a prophet. You can just see that the Lord has been the schoolmaster, the tutor, has designed the curriculum and you see what these men go through, and their wives, and their families, but especially their wives, and you see the learnings that prepare them in astonishing ways. That's one place where retrospect is interesting.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 16:47
I've got to read you the quote from Orson F. Whitney, this is a little bit long, but I think it's so profoundly stated. He said, "Each succeeding president of the church ought to vary in some respects from all other incumbents of that high and holy position. For this reason the work of the Lord is always progressing and consequently always changing. Not its principles, nor its aims, but its plans, its instruments, and its methods of procedure. These are changing in order to meet new conditions and profit by them. Today is not yesterday, nor will tomorrow be today. The Lord provides the men and the means whereby He can best work at any given time, for the carrying out of His wise and sublime purposes. The man for the hour will be ready when the hour strikes." Love that. It's Dr. Nelson, all those years of preparation, and he comes to the Church, on the eve of pandemic. I mean, really–
Sheri Dew 17:51
You can't make this stuff up.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 17:52
No, you can't make that stuff up!
Heidi Swinton 17:55
It kind of makes you say, who's in charge here?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 17:58
Heidi Swinton 18:00
Put that in the perspective of Joseph Smith. He didn't have anything to work with, other than the tutoring that he received from Moroni and from the Lord. But he was prepared long before he came here. And that says something to us. So how would you put Joseph Smith in that context?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 18:20
Joseph Smith is so much larger than life. He is unique. He is not like the succeeding presidents that shirt, his mission wasn't the same. So it's hard to even put them in the same box. He lived between two worlds in terms of visitors from the other side, and tutoring from the other side–the Savior himself tutoring him along. It's pretty remarkable what we see, what was it? Maybe 24 years, from the time of his first vision until us, I mean, really? Really?
Heidi Swinton 18:55
And the profound nature of the revelations he received and that he could espouse to everyone, and then live by them, no matter what. He said, "I'll always stand by a true principle, even if I stand alone in it."
Virginia Pearce Cowley 19:11
And the doctrines so out of sync with what was generally believed.
Sheri Dew 19:16
Yeah, again, I just don't think you can make this stuff up. Because he never had a bishop, never had a stake president never went to EFY, never went to youth conference. I mean, think about it, some people are troubled that a young boy would have had the experiences and then that a young adult, it was a young adult who organized the church. And for me, that is absolute witness of the miracle of it all. And the fact that the Lord had his hand on this remarkable man.
Speaking as a publisher, I'm just going to put my publishing hat on for one second to say that's not doable. It is not doable. I've seen pages of the original manuscripts of Book of Mormon, where there's barely a strikeout. Okay, I've met authors who told me their first draft was perfect. but none of them are. None of them are. You talk about these extremely bright men who lead us, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland or President Dallin Oaks or President Russell and Nelson, all these leaders that we've had through the years, yeah, they'll tell you about the 40 drafts that they go through for a 15 minute conference talk. It's not possible for a first draft to be published as the Book of Mormon. That isn't doable. Nobody's brain can do that.
Heidi Swinton 20:31
And in that length of time. It's not like he had two and a half years to write something.
Sheri Dew 20:39
Filled with all those cultural complexities, the strange place names, and then now let's go to what Virginia said a minute ago, the doctrine that ran counter to what anybody else believed, or so dramatically enlarged what anybody else believed. This isn't what they were teaching at the Harvard Divinity School.
Heidi Swinton 20:59
Well, and the emphasis on Jesus Christ that runs all the way through the Book of Mormon. He didn't have Primary and Sunday school, and Young Men and Young Women and leaders in his face all the time with things to put on the refrigerator to learn the principles of the gospel. And yet they are so completely woven through the Book of Mormon, as the story is told of those ancient people. It's another witness of Jesus Christ. Joseph could not have made that up.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 21:31
To say nothing of what we learn about Christ in the Doctrine and Covenants. It's His voice over and over. Somebody said to me the other day, "When people don't believe in Joseph Smith, do they go Savior?" I thought about that all day. And I thought, I don't think I can separate Joseph Smith and the Savior out in my heart. Because how I have come to know the Savior is so often through Joseph Smith. How would I know this?
Sheri Dew 22:03
That's beautifully put. That is so true.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 22:05
So I think I can't separate my belief in Jesus Christ from my testimony of Joseph Smith. Can't do it.
Sheri Dew 22:13
Because Joseph Smith so enlarged everything we understand about the Savior.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 22:19
Sheri Dew 22:20
And what we understand about Heavenly Father, "For I had seen them and I knew it, and I knew that God knew that I knew it. And I could not deny it." The fact that this young man held on to that witness when everyone scoffed at him, imagine a teenager being told, "What are you thinking?" And that's what happened to him. And yet, he just held true to it all his life.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 22:50
Well, he held on to it for a long time almost alone. And then it's like the Savior rushes in and calls him his friend. I mean, he walks down that road with him. There's that period where he just has to hold on alone.
Heidi Swinton 23:06
And then when he and Sidney Rigdon see the Savior, I love it when he says, "And we saw Him." "We"–suddenly he's not standing there alone by himself anymore. And you just think, that was such a blessing for him. To have someone who said, "Yeah, I was there."
Sheri Dew 23:25
It's the same relief he expresses in that one statement, which I cannot quote at all. But when there finally have been witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and he comes back and tells his mother, "Oh, okay, finally, I'm not the only one that has seen these plates. And the can bear witness of these plates." So there's nothing normal about that.
Heidi Swinton 23:42
Not only saw the plates, but saw an angel.
Sheri Dew 23:45
Yeah, saw an angel.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 23:47
Oh, and many, many, many other people. You've got Elijah, you've got Paul, you've got dozens from the other side. He's just living between two worlds. It's just remarkable.
Sheri Dew 23:58
I like what Truman Madsen used to say about that. He used to say, "Who would you like to learn about Jesus from? The instructors at the Harvard Divinity School, or Paul?"
Virginia Pearce Cowley 24:08
Sheri Dew 24:09
"Would you like to talk to the Apostle Paul to learn about Paul and what he said about the Savior? Or do you want to go to Harvard? I choose Paul," you know, is what he said. I've always loved that statement.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 24:18
Heidi Swinton 24:19
So when people say, "I can take everything but–' and then they get to Joseph, you know, "I can take this commandment and this commandment, and I believe in God the Father in Jesus Christ and all of that, but I just can't buy into Joseph Smith." What do you say to that?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 24:37
I don't know Joseph, as well as I'd like to or hope to, by the time I leave this life, but I love the things about him that are human. I love that he was disappointed by people that he loved. And that he gave them another chance and he gave them another chance and then it didn't work.
I love that he bounded down to the wharf of Mississippi River to greet the new converts coming in. I loved that he wrestled with kids. I loved it that he threw his children up on his shoulders. I love that part. I love the part about him mourning the loss of his children, the difficulties in his marriage. I don't know any part of him that feels wicked, or that feels like he is manipulative. I see a human being doing things that were absolutely stupendous. When you read his journals and you see all of the things he was trying to deal with at the same time–business interests, converts doctrinal problems, leadership problems, everything is going on every day, all day long. And he does it. He does it.
Heidi Swinton 25:58
And it never lets up.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 25:59
No, it never lets up. Lawsuits
Heidi Swinton 26:01
He never takes a trip to Hawaii.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 26:02
Right. Doesn't take the weekend off.
Sheri Dew 26:06
No, he comes home at night and gets tarred and feathered.
Heidi Swinton 26:09
And then he gets up in the morning and preaches a sermon.
Sheri Dew 26:13
Yeah, to the people that were tar and feathering him the night before.
Heidi Swinton 26:18
You know what I love about him? Is I love that come what may, he was going through what the Lord asked him to do. And I think there's such a lesson in that, because I remember reading how he gave a message to the saints in Nauvoo in 1840 and he said, "If I can just live, to see the temple completed, I'll say, 'Lord, this is enough. Let thy servant depart in peace, let me just have this.'"
And he didn't get it. It wasn't his responsibility in the Lord's timeframe. And that has really helped me personally to know that the Lord has a plan, and I fit into that plan. And when I submit my will to Him, I'm comfortable with it. When Joseph took people into the red brick store in 1842, and said, "This is what it's all about," and gave them their endowments, that was not what he wanted. He wanted to be in that big white building on the top of the hill, the culmination of his ministry, and instead, he was on the second floor of the red brick store with trees that they dragged in to make it look like something other than the red brick store and gave the endowment.
And then it continued and continued from one person to another, until there were people prepared to take advantage of the temple when it was finished, and give the endowment to the Saints before they left. And I take it back to Joseph Smith and say that took not only courage, but strength of character to say, "Thy will be done."
Virginia Pearce Cowley 27:56
To give up what he wanted so desperately.
Heidi Swinton 27:58
Yeah, to give up what he wanted.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 28:00
I've got this really great statement that he wrote in a letter to Emma, he said, "I have given my life into his hands. I count not my life dear to me, only to do His will." . . . I wish I were that good.
Heidi Swinton 28:16
Yeah, when have you had to do that? Can you think back to when you had to say, "Okay."
Virginia Pearce Cowley 28:22
Yeah, you do it. Many times during your life. But sometimes it's harder than others.
Heidi Swinton 28:29
But it's almost always hard.
Sheri Dew 28:32
It's always hard. You know, going back to your statement about those who say, "I just don't think I can buy Joseph Smith." That's a fair reaction. So I think we have to be respectful of that reaction. But then I go back to something President Hinckley used to say all the time, and he'd say, "Either Joseph saw what he said he saw in a grove of trees, or he didn't. And if he did, this is the most magnificent work on the earth."
And when it all comes down to it, at some point, Joseph Smith could be regarded as fascinating, intriguing, a very interesting historical character, or any way that you want to describe him, because there's a whole lot to study that is just actually kind of mind boggling. But when all is said and done, you know he's a prophet when the Spirit tells you that he's a prophet.
And the other thing is, when you look at the gospel, I think "I can't separate out the pieces like that." That's like trying to separate out a piece of–I don't know what analogy. No analogy is coming to mind. But I don't know how you separate out his remarkable revelations about doctrine that nobody else was talking about, I think, where do you think he got–
Virginia Pearce Cowley 29:50
Were do you put it? Where do you put it?
Sheri Dew 29:51
It had to have come from the fact that he was living between two worlds and a whole lot of the time he's talking to the other one, then he comes back to the world and has to deal with his family and his children who were dying and all those other things. But he's being tutored in a way that we have nothing like it in our world. Nothing like it in our world in terms of expanding our vision of doctrine, understanding purpose of life, the full nature of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, what eternal life is like, what we can become, who we actually are as children of God–I mean, the pieces of doctrine go on and on and on.
So how do you separate that out? How do you say, "I like everything else, but I sure don't like Joseph," when it all came because of what he did. My brain can't make that separation.
Heidi Swinton 30:39
I remember one of the historians when I was writing about Joseph Smith for PBS, one of the historians I interviewed said, "The Lord likes to write on a clean slate." I think that was the case, he chose someone who had a mind that could receive and not discount "Well, this or this, because I was taught this and this," but a clean slate, and one that was willing to not only absorb, but understand far beyond his capacity in age and in education.
You were just enumerating all these doctrines. And I think about the doctrines that related to his own life, bearing children, and then receiving the comfort that he saw Alvin in the next life, and there was a next life, and they were going to have those children with them together. And yet, that ties right back into the Book of Mormon, when Mormon talks about it, and tells Moroni, "You need to know this," and you see how the Lord has just layered teaching upon teaching upon teaching. And Joseph just brings them all together in so many unusual ways.
So how do we take the love that we have for President Nelson, not only our admiration for him, but our testimony of him that the Lord is working through him and other prophets that we've all been associated with and been close to, and have that reflect or inform on Joseph Smith? How does that help us to gain a love for Joseph Smith?–Or does it?
Sheri Dew 32:20
There's a couple of things that come to mind for me. And I think we could talk about this a long, long time. But for example, President Nelson has been somewhat open–maybe more open than others recently–in talking about the fact that the Lord wakes him up in the middle of the night and talks to him about things.
When I first heard him express that I thought, "Uh, do we talk about that today?" And he's been pretty open about it. And I've thought a lot about that through the last three years. And I've thought, okay, for whatever reasons–and we could all guess what the reasons are–but for whatever reasons, he's saying, "I'm going to declare that God is talking to me. I'm going to tell you, he's talking to me."
That is exactly consistent with what Joseph said happened to him. And we've got a book of it, we got a book of Doctrine and Covenants, where he goes and asks a question, and sometimes he's asking it for some colleague, or some other member of the Church, and sometimes it's just for him, and the Lord responds. And I think that is a remarkable situation.
I'll give you a recent example. And I've tried to do it really fast. There was a day in September when I was invited to a meeting with President Nelson, with Elder Rasband, and with Michael Colemere, who's the Director of Church communications, managing Director. And we were meeting with President Nelson to talk about some possible communications initiatives. One of them was we said, "It might be time, it's now September, we've been through a long summer of COVID, it might be time for you to record another message for the members of the Church that would be uplifting to them and would be encouraging. Something going into general conference."
And he said, "Sprinkle a little fertilizer on that and bring it back to me next week. And we'll talk about it further." And we said, "Okay." But the very next day, we got a call from his office saying, "President Nelson wants to talk to you again." So the three of us, again, Elder Rasband, Michael Colemere and myself, got on a zoom call with the president and he said, "You know, your idea that you proposed yesterday, it wasn't a bad idea. It just wasn't the right idea."
He said, "During the night the Lord spoke to me about that and said, 'You need to speak to the world, not to just the members of the Church, and you need to give a message about gratitude. And as part of your message you need to offer a prayer for the world.'" President Nelson, in talking to us that day said how long the message should be. He told us what day it should be released and what time of day it should be released.
As we were sitting I thought, "Wow, I had a witness that I was watching a prophet respond to revelation he had received. So fast forward now to Hashtag #givethanks which went live on November 20, 2020. An 11 minute video is the kiss of death for digital. Way too long, right? And you never release something on a Friday, everybody said, "Yup, these are just bad decisions," we said, "Yup, the Prophet told us we're gonna do it."
Unprecedented reach. We can say without hesitation, never before in the history of the world have so many people, especially not of our faith, heard the voice of a prophet. I got to see that one little thing where I saw a prophet tell us with really specific instructions he couldn't have possibly come up with on his own. And I think the same thing of Joseph. Joseph couldn't possibly have come up with the three degrees of glory on his own. I don't care what kind of genius, native intellect he might have had. It's not possible.
So to me, it's completely consistent. Because again, in the beginning, I was, "I don't know how that feels to me to be that open about revelation." We believe the prophets getting revelation, whoever the Prophet was, but I wonder if we're at a period of time where he needs to say it. And we need to have the chance as individuals to say, "Do I believe that or not?"
Virginia Pearce Cowley 36:22
I had never thought of this. I mean, I'm stunned by your description of what President Nelson is doing for us. I think, okay, if we're talking man of the hour, this is the hour when we need somebody to say, "We get Revelation, this is what it feels like. It's ordinary, it happens all the time, is guiding our Prophet, and you can get up for your life."
Sheri Dew 36:47
Well think about the very first talk he gave in general conference to the general membership, "Revelation for the Church, Revelation for our Lives." I mean, I always hate to say "themes for prophets," but that's got to be one of them.
Heidi Swinton 37:01
And I think trusting him that revelation is the key for us. We always kind of want to jump to the next step, rather than just accepting: if I have the capacity to receive revelation, no matter what happens for me, the Lord will help me through it. That is exactly what Joseph was teaching everybody. It's what he believed in his own life. And it's what he continued to exhibit. I mean from Liberty jail, it was all about revelation. And his having the ability to break through that barrier of, "This is getting harder." And for the Lord to say, "Hold on thy way. The Son of Man hath descended below them all–trust Him. The Atonement is going to carry this for you, get going." And I think that message for all of us is: hold on to what the prophets are saying today.
Sheri Dew 38:01
15 of them.
Heidi Swinton 38:03
15 of them.
Sheri Dew 38:03
And one of the things I love that I've heard President Nelson say many times, he says "We have 15 prophets on the earth." He may be the senior apostle at this hour, but we have 15 prophet seers and revelatorrs. Wow, that's amazing. And it reminds me of how many times in the Book of Mormon especially–it's always fascinating to me to watch to read the Book of Ether where you get this collapsed vision of one civilization. And I don't know how many verses are that it says, "And the Lord sent prophets–again." Or, "He sent many prophets, many prophets–again," and I think, okay, the Lord has sent many prophets, 15 of them–and we know their names–again.
And we have the chance to say, "Do we believe in what we listen?" Or do we say, "Yeah, not for me." And the Jaredites said, "No, not for me." And look what happened to them. They collapsed under the weight of their own wickedness.
Heidi Swinton 38:59
So are their experiences in your life where you've had to kind of pull yourself up by the bootstraps and say, "I know Joseph was a prophet."
Sheri Dew 39:14
I will say this, I've gotten to the point in my life where, when something happens that's really hard, and that kind of rocks me . . . I'll say to myself–sometimes out loud–"Okay, what do you know for sure?" I know that God is my father. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that Joseph is a prophet because of how many times the spirit has borne witness of that. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God for the same reason. And I know we have a living prophet. And some days I can't go much further than that.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 39:52
But when you say that out loud, the Spirit rushes in and testifies. It's amazing.
Sheri Dew 39:58
And you say, "I've got Something to hang on to." And right now my personal world is kind of rocking and I don't know what to do about it. And I feel sad about it, heard about it, confused about it, whatever it is that you feel, but there's something about being able to hang on to that and say, "But I do know those things. I'm sure about those things. For now, I'm hanging on to that, until some of these other things work themselves out."
Heidi Swinton 40:25
It's kind of like when Joseph said, "I'm a lover of the cause of Christ, and an upright steady course." It is that steady course of, "This is what I know to be true. And then all these things come at me from the side and nearly flatten me. But then I pause, and I say, 'Wait a minute, what is this really all about?'" And it's about the cause of Christ. And that helps me in the same way.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 40:55
You know, Sheri, when you talk about what you repeat to yourself, I've done that multitudes of time in the same way. And what is interesting to me is that I'm left hanging there for a while. But on solid ground with those things I know, and then down the road aways the problem is solved in a different way than I had expected it.
Heidi Swinton 41:21
Sometimes the spaces are longer than you would like.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 41:24
Much longer until you think maybe they aren't going to happen. But reaffirming those kinds of things, periodically, I think God honors that.
Heidi Swinton 41:37
And isn't it interesting that the only space Joseph ever really had was that space between the time that he had that vision in the sacred grove and Moroni appeared. And then everything went on–full speed ahead. There was no break after that. For some reason that time–
Virginia Pearce Cowley 41:57
It's so interesting, isn't it? These spaces that He gives us.
Heidi Swinton 42:00
Yeah, the spaces that He gives us, and then the expectation, "Okay, you're ready to go."
Sheri Dew 42:05
I mean, I'm thinking about the talk President Nelson just gave in general conference in April of 21 about faith. And I think sometimes–and this is the hard part for me. But sometimes I think the Lord just wants me to show some faith. And to exercise some faith. I've asked myself a million times, what does that actually mean? Exercise your faith? What is it that?
Virginia Pearce Cowley 42:28
It's that the Lord loves effort.
Sheri Dew 42:34
But sometimes we have to be willing to go on, and not have all the answers.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 42:39
I think very often.
Sheri Dew 42:41
Let's take the last year of the pandemic, combined with earthquakes combined with blah, blah, blah. And honestly, it has kind of spooked me, like really spooked me. And I've offered a prayer a lot. And that is, "Please help me distinguish between my own fears, and impressions that I'm getting from the spirit, and help me know what to do." So again, it's been a whole new exercise for me in how to exercise faith that He's actually going to take care of me when I'm in my house by myself and it starts to shake really hard. And when I'm walking down the aisles of empty food and empty, whatever, and going, "Oh, I should have gotten my food storage more up to date." You know, it's all that stuff where you go, "Oh, wow." And part of it is just–it is effort. And part of it is the effort is faith.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 43:31
That the idea that you have to wait upon the Lord.
Sheri Dew 43:34
Heidi Swinton 43:35
For anything! And you saw that with Zions camp, where they went and they never had the big battle. And there were people that said, "What was this all about?" Well, it was having the faith in the Lord, that whatever he was teaching you on that would come back to bless you in another way.
I walked into President Monson's office one day and I said to him, "President, I'm just having a really hard time about something." And it was something personal in my own life that had just smacked me to the ground. And I was disappointed. I was discouraged. I was depressed I was–I was all those things, and I could not get my arms around it or figure out how to handle it. And so I was just gonna pour it all out on his desk and see what he thought about it.
Sheri Dew 44:26
And he was going to fix it.
Heidi Swinton 44:26
And he was going to fix it because I couldn't fix it.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 44:29
You came to the boss.
Heidi Swinton 44:31
I said, "I just wanted to–" that's as far as I got. He got out of his chair. He stood there, he put his hand up in the air like he, you know, used to do. And he said, "Heidi, Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding, and He will direct thy path and that's what you need to know." I thought, "Okay. I picked myself up and went out to trust in the Lord." But it was just such a dramatic reminder that my faith was wavering, my trust was not intact. And I was allowing the circumstance to get in front of what I knew to be true. That the Lord was there for me.
Sheri Dew 45:13
So I want to do a PS to that and this is probably a different tangent, but it is simply to say, there have been, especially in the last year, there have been a lot of times when yet another goofy thing happened. Like when there were 110 mile an hour winds in my neighborhood, and everything is falling over. And I remember thinking, Sheri, this is not Rocky Ridge, you're gonna be fine. And so there is an interesting thing about being wired into our history, our people–
Virginia Pearce Cowley 45:41
It is huge.
Sheri Dew 45:41
–Our legacy that says, it's a strength, they did this. They did Zions camp. I haven't had to do Zion's camp. I haven't had to do Rocky Ridge. I have a car that works. I have food on the table.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 45:52
But genetically, you carry their faith. We are all connected to Joseph Smith, we have spiritual DNA that comes straight down from him to us, whether you joined the Church yesterday, or whether you have pioneer forebearers, we have a heritage there that is real. It's real.
Sheri Dew 46:12
And it feels like it. It feels like it. And frankly, had started with Joseph, and it goes all the way through to President Russell Nelson, and to whoever his successors will be.
Heidi Swinton 46:23
You know, when it gets right down to it, our connection to Joseph is really a connection to Jesus Christ. It's really that lifeline that we feel the Savior with us. And so many of the promises that we've received, that He'll be with us, and that He'll stand by us, and that He'll guide us, and the opportunity to come forward and be with Him, all come from Joseph Smith. But what does it feel like for you? How do you put that into words and everyday life?
Sheri Dew 46:59
I would say for me that the paramount responsibility of a prophet is to testify of Christ. And they testify of Him over and over again. And whether we're reading the sermons of Joseph Smith or reading the revelations received by Joseph Smith, I mean, my goodness, what do we learn in just section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants? If you only have that one section, it's this mind expanding vision of the Savior. And then all the way through to President Nelson and every prophet in between. They testify of a Savior in a way that makes Him real personal, and helps me believe that He knows me, He cares about me, He's going to help me. He really is going to be my advocate.
And I can never separate my love for and my respect for prophets from my deep love and worship of the Savior. Because for me, they are what helped me do that. One of the things that helped me say, "I know Jesus Christ is real. I know how to have access to His power." Why? Because the priesthood was restored. Why? Because of Joseph Smith asking the questions. And His power and God's power is on the earth, and I can have access to it and it's real. It's tangible to me. So for me, prophets have made all the difference in the world in my personal worship of and belief in Jesus Christ.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 48:38
You couldn't have said it better. I just think that the Savior is the center of my world. And I try to think about Him if I didn't have a President Nelson, if I didn't have a Joseph Smith. They have brought me to Him and He has brought me to them. And it goes on and on like that, and I am so, so very grateful for Jesus Christ. For His atoning sacrifice. For His love, for His constancy, for His power that works in my life and your life. And all of that reverberates through the prophets. It just is like an echo that goes back and forth and it's rich, and it's comforting. There aren't words for it because it's a kind of security, a kind of deep security that is never failing. I love the Savior. I love Joseph Smith. I love President Nelson.
Heidi Swinton 49:47
You know, I think about Joseph Smith, and how in some ways he so exemplified the power of love in life. And he learned that from the love that he felt from the Savior. He understood what it was like to have a bad day, and then go to the Savior. He loses the 116 pages, and he has to work it out through the power of the Atonement with the Savior.
And his love that he felt from the Savior, then was spread around to all of the people that were close to him. And that had that same desire to have Jesus Christ at the center of their life. That's what it was all about for them. And Joseph helped them get there. And because of that, they called him "Brother Joseph." They didn't put him way out there, they put him right with them, because of the love that he had for them, which was just the beginning of the love that they felt for the Lord. And I feel that love.
I feel like He's with me on every occasion. When I'm celebrating, and when I'm sad. And I feel like He understands what I am trying to do, because He knows my heart. And I think when we trust that He knows our hearts, and He knows our desires, and that our desires and our hearts are focused on Him, that then we're getting closer and closer to being one with Him, which is what we really want to have happen.
So Joseph has given me that glimpse into being close to Jesus Christ. And I don't have to wait till I go through the veil for that opportunity. I have it here. This was a great way to spend a morning. And thank you, Virginia and Sheri, for being willing to sit down and talk about the things that are of most worth. Talk about the Savior, and His impact in our lives and His prophets. So thank you, thank you.
Virginia Pearce Cowley 52:01
Sheri Dew 52:02
Our joy, thank you.
[Tape Recorder Click]
Heidi Swinton 52:07
I love talking with dear friends about Jesus Christ and His prophets, especially Joseph Smith. It's a great way to spend a morning or an evening, and it's a great way to make a connection with people that is going to last for a lifetime. That's what's happened with me with Virginia and Sheri, and it will happen with you.
You know, I didn't notice that at the time that we were recording, because I was just chatting with my friends. But as I was listening to it again, I think the thing that just blew me away was how we could almost finish each other's sentences. And that's not because we've all been on the same journey, but it's because we have the same love for the prophets of God. We're different, and yet we're the same. And we feel connected to Joseph and those who followed him as prophets and seers and revelators. And it's added a dynamic to our friendship that is probably one of the most important elements of tying us close together.
What about you? Was there something you hadn't thought of before about your relationship to modern day prophets and to Joseph? Is there something that just has kind of fallen down into your heart and is just going to sit there and hang there and you're going to hold on to it?
Here's a homework assignment. I want you to take time with some family or some friends to talk about your feelings about Joseph and the prophets and listen to how they feel. And their feelings are going to stay with you. And you'll never see each other the same, it creates a connection. That is a bonding between you because prophets are in the middle of that.
Now we're going to have one more episode in this series. And I feel like I'm just getting good at this, and we're almost done. And I'm gonna miss you. But we still have some time together. And I can't wait. Because in this next episode, we're going to talk about how prophets lead us to Jesus Christ. How prophets help us feel the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. And that's what it's all about.
I could talk with Sheri and Virginia for ever such dear friends. Special thank you to them. You can learn more about Sheri Dew in Virginia Pearce Cowley in our show notes at LDS living.com/Joseph.
"Joseph" is a Bookshelf plus original written and hosted by me Heidi Swinton. And don't you think I'm getting pretty good at it? And produced by KaRyn Lay, Erika Free and Katie Lambert, and our executive producer is Erin hallstrom. Mix at Six studios did our sound design and mixing for this episode. So it's so long for today, remember stand by Joseph.