Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Lessons from the Hill

I was 17, about to graduate high school, and start college. I was an unpopular kid with maybe 3 or 4 friends who I could hang out with. My parents suggested I try applying to be in the Hill Cumorah Pageant (the Church's visual retelling of stories from the Book of Mormon). What the hey, I can give it a shot. I applied and was accepted. Little did I realize that my experiences there would change me dramatically. 

When I arrived at the Hill, I was put into a group of peers. We would learn church lessons together, share our testimonies with each other, and experience incredible moments in some of the Church's most hallowed properties, like the Sacred Grove, or the Hill Cumorah itself. I was challenged to read the Book of Mormon while I was at the Hill, in a timespan of less than a month. I spent hours sitting on the side of the Hill Cumorah (the original location of the very plates that would eventually become the book I was reading), absorbing the stories and teachings. I have a vivid memory of the sun setting on the Hill, reading the words of the prophets, and feeling this overwhelming love from God. A feeling that told me that all these stories we were acting out, the words that I was reading, everything I was being taught -- it was all true. It really happened.

When you read the Book of Mormon in less than 3 weeks, you miss a lot of the details and nuances. (I would get those specifics later in subsequent readings.) Instead, you see the rise and fall (and rise again and fall again) of a nation of people. You see God's hand continually outstretched to a group of people that would sometimes turn to Him, and sometimes get caught up in their pride. You see a story of a God who loves his people, even when they don't make good choices.

Yes, that's me in the blue pants,
rehearsing to die on the front stage!
(Click to enlarge.)
In the pageant, I played a Frontline Nephite Battleman, a faceless fighter who could have fought in any of the myriad of battles in the Book of Mormon's thousand year history. I died on the very front of the stage, sprawled and mangled unceremoniously. What fun! I enjoyed it so much that I decided to come back a second year, when I was 19. That year I played Laman, one of the main characters who would eventually lead his family to destruction and spiritual death. As Laman, I had a chance to taste of the fruit of eternal life, but I chose to turn away and reject it because of my pride. This wasn't some nameless fighter, this was a very real man. A fully formed human being with a wife and children. Laman saw miracles and angels and was given a testimony, but he rejected it because of his pride and arrogance. 

I've thought about Laman and his choices. How am I like Laman? I've received a witness of God's word, a testimony of the truthfulness of all those stories we acted out on the Hill. I know they happened. More importantly, I know the words and teachings in the Book of Mormon come from God. And I have a choice just like Laman did: keep walking that path to reach the fruit of eternal life, or let my hubris and stubbornness get in the way of my progression. My life is a journey, and sometimes I meander away from the path, and sometimes I am firmly rooted on the path. But no matter what, I can always thank Hill Cumorah and my summers at the Pageant, and remember that they gave me a foundation and witness of what I believe to be true.

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