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Ancient Testaments: Shafts of light in groves of trees

Resounding from Joseph's slow, heart-battering, frigid stay in a Missouri dungeon came a stunning promise: "God shall give unto you knowledge … which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times" (Doctrine and Covenants 121:26).

In the early years of his ministry, saving truth flowed through Joseph Smith in a more or less steady stream. It had not been just any knowledge, nor merely nice insights. It had been the kind of knowledge that affects important things forever — the kind that the wise and noble would esteem above life itself.

And what lay ahead was even more, a waterfall.

After Joseph left that prison, his was the improbable work of building up a beautiful new gathering place in Illinois for a swelling, multinational church. Yet, amid these relentless temporal pressures, his heart remained in tune. The planning and surveying, building and funding, logistics and legalities, setbacks and surprises, would not distract the busy prophet from his major job — to be both seer and revelator.

As seer, Joseph beheld truth that others could not see; as revelator, having seen, he then made known to others those parts they were ready to understand.

In Nauvoo, God kept his promise of further revelation to Joseph the Seer. Also in Nauvoo, Joseph the Revelator became an ever greater teacher.

Of course, Joseph was on a schedule, so he taught whenever and wherever possible — on porches and in dooryards, at store counters and construction sites, in offices and even rowboats. His journal occasionally refers to times when he "rode out" with one of his brethren — that is, left town by carriage or horseback in order to teach without interruption.

And when he could, he would use one of the forest clearings near the temple to meet with everyone together. In fact, one of the modern-day sites in old Nauvoo is called "The Groves." It brings to mind those stirring occasions when a living revelator opened eyes, filled minds, altered hearts. Hunger for righteousness was rewarded, as the Savior once guaranteed. The hungry were "filled with the Holy Ghost" (3 Nephi 12:6).

Our words cannot rightly do justice to what took place in those wooded auditoriums. The head of this last dispensation was there in person, eye to eye with his people. The majority of them, imperfect as they were, had given everything to embrace the covenant. So heaven favored them with these outdoor outpourings.

They had not studied church history. But they paid for it, lived it, made it happen.

The people listening to their prophet in those forest gatherings — sitting on log benches or on the ground, standing near the back of the crowd or straining to hear Joseph's words from atop a wagon box near the trees — were being prepared. They would someday be honored for the communities they would create in the middle of nowhere across Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming, the hundreds of settlements and towns they would form in the Great Basin and points south and north. They would make the great crossing.

The people gathered in those Nauvoo groves would later do much that was nearly impossible, bestowing upon all of us a latter-day legacy.

Their advance pay for these labors, and their preparation, was to sit at the feet of the Prophet of the Restoration — their "Brother Joseph."

That tranquil site, a quiet forest just down the hill, west of today's Nauvoo Temple, brings to mind light-friendly disciples of Christ, receiving the light as it fell upon groves of trees — the Conference Center, as it were, of the 1840s.

Wayne E. Brickey, who lives in Gallatin, Mo., is a retired Church Educational System teacher and curriculum writer and has been a tour guide to Holy Land and Mormon history sites. His novel "Before His Manger: The Long Wait for Christ's First Coming" is serialized in weekly segments Fridays on MormonTimes.com.