Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar: “Behold! the beginnings of love”

10.13.2022 | The Maxwell Institute

This post was written by Kylie Nielson Turley, a participant in the 2022 Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar.

You know this story: Enos is a hunter who goes to the forest, remembers what his dad says, and then prays for himself, his friends, and his enemies.

Read the whole story? Check.

Understood the story? Check.

Applied to self? Check.

Move on.

Or not.

Why not slow down? Ask some questions. Make connections. Ponder.

For example, why does verse 1 begin with “behold”? Is it just a filler word? a transition? Is it just to get attention, as if Enos is saying, “Listen up!”? Except the imagery is visual (not auditory), which is odd because almost every detail Enos shares is related to sound, not sight. His narrative is composed almost wholly of auditory details. The last sentence joins sight and sound. In that verse, Enos says he will “see [the Lord’s] face with pleasure” (Enos 1:27), which seems to be an echo of Enos’s “wrestle . . . before God” (in front of God/before his face) (Enos 1:2). Enos will hear the Lord say, “Come unto me, ye blessed . . .” (Enos 1:27),which is an antithetical echo of what Enos was thinking (?) or saying (?) in the introduction, “blessed be the name of my God” (Enos 1:1). The sensory details reflect each other, giving the narrative a sense of closure. But the first sentence is incomplete. Where is the rest of it? Are we “beholding” an ”ancient typo”? Or is this purposeful?

That is what I think about “behold” in Enos 1:1, but I used to simply read the story or spot-study doctrine by yanking scriptures out of context. Now I try to read closely and carefully. I ask textual questions. Unanswerable questions such as, Who is Enos’s mom? and Why does the over-the-top Lamanite animosity come from? are dead ends. They tend to boomerang; they end up betraying more about the person who is asking than about the Book of Mormon. Textual questions are productive. They open up the book and drag the reader inside.

Which really is how and why I fell in love about ten years ago. I fell in love and started focusing on questions. Or maybe I found this approach and then fell head over heels. (Love can get crazy and circular like that.) My high school friends would have said I was “whipped”—absolutely whipped over the Book of Mormon. Every detail, every word, even every mark of punctuation is worthy of notice. Do you remember those heady days of your first real love? Was any aspect of your beloved unworthy of notice? The little freckle on the beloved’s ankle? Beautiful! Your beloved’s most beloved teacher in elementary school? Fascinating. Did you not want to know everything about your new love?

That is why I applied to be part of the LDS Theological Seminar. I adore the Book of Mormon. A typical day at the seminar was this: get up by 6 or maybe 7 a.m.; analyze a few verses from the Book of Mormon on your own and write like crazy until 11:45 a.m. Shower and dress and run to Alfred Lerner Hall to talk about those same few verses all afternoon. Continue the discussion at dinner. And during intermission of Macbeth. And at Hagen Daz ice cream after the show. Repeat. My kind of schedule? Absolutely. Learning that I am not alone? Priceless. A small miracle. I loved the attendees of the seminar long before I met them.

But I came with a pit of fear curdling in my stomach.

Apparently being whipped is not the same as being perfectly in love since “perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moro 8:16). And  on the other hand, encountered fear in New York City.

This did not surprise me. The seminar was merely the newest situation in which I have found myself interacting with people whose depth of knowledge and intellectual capabilities make me wonder if I really did graduate from elementary school. I am, in a word, intimidated. Just so everyone knows: in my life pre-Book of Mormon love affair, I was confident, self-assured, and secure. Sure, I was quiet and more likely to listen than to speak, but I was capable and competent in my little niche. If I asked questions, I posed unanswerable questions and felt smart when they could not be answered.  

Then I fell in love and began reading. (Or vice versa.) The process shattered my well-mannered world.

Loving the Book of Mormon did not cast out my fears, it brought me face-to-face with them.

Loving scripture has not made me feel more safe; it makes me pack a suitcase and go to Columbia University to learn from wicked-smart people. My personal preference would be to study scripture in a nice, isolated cabin in the mountains. I blame the Book of Mormon for bringing me to this scary place filled with intimidating people, and I also blame it for my choice to stay.

Studying Enos has helped me understand why. During the seminar, we discussed why Enos says that his faith “began to be unshaken in the Lord” (Enos 1:11). The phrasing is strange. Something is either unshaken or not, isn’t it? What does it mean for faith to begin to be unshaken? I have no answers, but the idea suggests a parallel: If Enos’s faith can begin to be unshaken, can I begin to have perfect love? Can I be in the process of casting out fear? Before studying Enos, I assumed that I love or I do not, I fear or I fear not. And because of Moro 8:16, if I fear, I love not.

But in reality, neither label fits. I am not extreme, not fearless nor loveless. The middle can be unsettling. It was easier to live in my niche. There I feared little because I risked nothing, I feared little because I loved less.

Falling in love with the Book of Mormon does not mean I am fearless. It means I value what I love more than I regard my embarrassment or fear. Casting out fear is difficult. That is because my fears, like unanswerable questions, appear to be real when they are not. The object of my fear is rarely the problem. Intimidating people, for example. I will continue to fear them as I care what they think of me more than I love who and what God is placing in my path: his word; some smart people; the opportunity to teach and be taught in New York City.

As far as I’m concerned, falling in not-yet-perfect love and working to cast out fear looks like going to NYC rather than running to that cabin in the mountains, like writing imperfect essays and sharing them even though I prefer to sit back and let others tell me what they think, like choosing to gather in his name and interact with people who just might answer my questions.

I have a lot of questions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. The more questions I have, the more I am drawn into this book. As I stretch to understand, I begin to forget my fears and then I see (and hear) more clearly.  

Behold! the beginnings of love.

I am whipped.