We were on vacation again during the last few days – a family reunion near Zions National Park, and then a couple of nights in Las Vegas. (Talk about contrast! But that’s another post…)
While in Las Vegas, we visited the Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The aquarium was really cool, frankly – lots of awesome fish, the names of which I will never remember. We saw piranhas, several varieties of shark (I liked the zebra shark the best), a komodo dragon (I know, not a fish, but it was there…), and many others. The aquarium was multi-level with large interconnected tanks. It didn’t have that fishy smell that some aquariums do (which is good, I think). And we saw this crazy fish: The unicorn tang.
Cool, huh? (That’s not our picture, by the way.)
But aside from the fish, here’s the thing I observed. My kids who were with us each had camera in hand and spent the first part of their visit staring into their cameras. Everything they saw was through the viewfinder or on the 2-inch square screen on the back of their cameras. The photos weren’t great because they were shooting through the glass of the displays, and – most important to me – they were so focused on getting photos, they weren’t really seeing the fish!
As I encouraged them to put down the cameras a bit, it occurred to me that I do the same thing with my scriptures. What I get out of my scripture study is directly related to the lens through which I read them. If I go looking for support for a specific idea, I’m likely to see lots of evidence to support my point of view. I’ll search out those verses that address my particular question, and I may limit my reading to those specific verses.
When I take a wider view, however, I’m more likely to see context and connections I’d otherwise miss. If I can read with an open mind, allowing myself to be open to new ideas and thoughts, I can learn more from my reading than just the one subject I have in mind. I will often find connections with things I have read a week or a month or a year ago.
It was this kind of open reading that led me to realize a few years ago how many times the Book of Mormon refers to the story of Moses’ raising the serpent on his staff, and the value for the Nephites (and me) of reflecting on that imagery. It was this kind of open reading that led me to think just this week more about covenants. I wrote recently about the covenant made by the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, and just this week I read about the covenant Nephites made regarding the Title of Liberty. Those two separate events reminded me of the importance of individual covenants.
I think, frankly, there’s a place for both kinds of study. Subject-matter study is valuable (and recommended by many general authorities), especially when we don’t stop at the top three verses in the topical guide. There’s value in reading before and after a cited verse to capture context and to frame our understanding. There’s great value in studying the subject of faith or the atonement or resurrection. And I believe that study could generally include more than just a reading of verses from the topical guide. It might also include the words of modern prophets to see how they incorporate scriptures into their messages on the subject.
My daughter wrote recently from the MTC that she’s been counseled to consider buying an inexpensive copy of the Book of Mormon and to read it with a particular question or topic in mind and mark it accordingly, and then to repeat the exercise with another copy, and so on, until she has a collection of books, each marked for a specific purpose. It would be an interesting exercise (one which, I believe, would require a great deal of discipline to stay on task), and I will try it soon.
For now, however, I am happy to reading the Book of Mormon with a broader view, looking this time for connections and context and counsel that grows out of my study.