BUENA VISTA, Va. — Sister Julie B. Beck, former general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Elder Marlin K. Jensen, an emeritus member of the Seventy of the LDS Church, gave keynote presentations on the second day of Southern Virginia University’s 17th annual Education Conference.
Other presenters included Leslie Graff, an artist and child-life specialist; Ron Bartholomew, a full-time institute of religion instructor; Todd Brotherson, a Southern Virginia professor; and James Oneil Miner, a pianist who performed a number of pieces and also shared personal experiences about how “prophets have blessed (his) life.”
Sister Beck focused her remarks on the Lord’s first commandments to Adam and Eve. She emphasized the commandment to be fruitful and six other central words: multiply, replenish, subdue, dominion, dress and keep.
"I thought as I was drawn to the idea of being fruitful and pondering on Adam and Eve, what would Heavenly Father … give them to help them remember?” Sister Beck said. “They didn’t have scriptures, they didn’t have a Sunday School manual … what would be overriding precepts that they could remember that would be so clear, so memorable, so true that they could carry them around in their heads and use the Spirit of the Lord to interpret what that meant in their mortal experience?”
Sister Beck said that from reading the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, she learned that being fruitful encompasses “the idea of being very productive,” of “having an abundant harvest,” and “producing fruit in abundance.” She mentioned several of the times in scripture when fruit is used in a symbolic way.
“It’s just all through (the) scriptures, this idea of something beginning and a desire for abundance and a fruitful harvest,” Beck said. “What does that mean to the Lord? When we go to the book of Moses and we hear … ‘this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man,’ can you think of a more clear description of fruitfulness? That’s the Lord’s work. And he gave his first instructions in this clear way: be fruitful.”
After discussing the personal application of the first commandments, Sister Beck closed by saying, “through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his Atonement, that perfect water and light, we will be blessed and can have this abundant harvest, this fruitfulness in our own lives and in the Lord’s kingdom.”
Graff introduced several artists, including herself, who contributed artwork for a special display at the conference, and spoke about the “dimension that visual art adds to the Spirit.”
“The Spirit is a very qualitative way of learning because it’s in thoughts and impressions,” Graff said. “Its richness is in that individuality. It’s not something that can simply be reduced to the sum of its parts. Any of you who have had a personal experience with a truly great piece of art know how that works; it’s this combination of how it speaks to you and how it moves you.”
Graff said that the goal of art is to “connect,” “inspire” and to express appreciation of “the beauty in the experience of mortality.” She said that she feels art is “part of the way we are designed to learn.”
“Life is incomplete without art and a religious life is not a religious life without it,” she said. “(Heavenly Father) has these infinite spiritual gifts that he wants to give to us and share with us.”
Bartholomew began his presentation by saying that in previous years, humanity used to have greater access to “natural darkness,” “natural sounds and silence,” and “personal solitude.” He said we need to “create these commodities for ourselves … to hear the still small voice.”
He quoted President Thomas S. Monson who said we “need to seek (our) own ‘Sacred Grove’” where we can be “uninterrupted.” Bartholomew encouraged attendees to find a sacred place or a time to eliminate distraction and focus on having “a connection with the Holy Ghost.”
“These ideas are counter culture,” Bartholomew said. “It’s not part of the culture that we’re immersed in to be patient. It’s also counter to our culture to try to find a place we can be alone, where there’s not visual distractions (or) audio distractions.”
After discussing personal preparation, Bartholomew emphasized that once we have received revelation we should respond to it and record it.
“Elder Scott teaches that in addition to recording these impressions, we should seek to know if the Lord would give us more,” Bartholomew said. “Always wait patiently to see if there is more (revelation).”
Brotherson, who serves as president of the recently formed Buena Vista Young Single Adult Stake of the LDS Church, said he had been asked to speak about the part he played in the formation of the new stake. As a background for that story, he and his wife, Carrie Brotherson, shared their experience making the decision to come to Southern Virginia 15 years ago.
He said that throughout his remarks, he wanted attendees to keep three overarching themes in mind: “That this is the Lord’s work (and) that he guides it every minute of every day. … That we are his and he will not leave us alone. … And that the Atonement is at the center of our entire existence, everything we are and everything we do.”
“There was no doubt in my mind who had given me the call (to be stake president),” Brotherson said. “Because of that, in the ensuing months, when I felt overwhelmed, unsure of myself and my abilities, but confident that I knew who the call had come from, I could go forward head high with all the energy that I had … and know that the Lord’s work would be accomplished … because if we would put our hands in the Lord’s, he would guide us along.”
Elder Jensen, who previously served as LDS Church historian and recorder, spoke about when inspired prophets have seen the times ahead and provided needed counsel.
“Yes, we have inspiration,” Elder Jensen said. “The heavens are open for each of us individually … we can guide our families and we can handle our stewardships whatever they may be within the church, but isn’t it wonderful to have one man on Earth who speaks for God, who by the Spirit can know all things that are going to come upon the children of men according to the flesh and can guide us and lead us accordingly?”
He shared examples from church history including the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 89, which provided a law of health ahead of its time; Lorenzo Snow’s counsel to the Saints to live the law of tithing; and the institution of family home evening, which has helped families avoid “some of our saddest social outcomes.”
“What President Monson has seen or what someone after him will see, only our Heavenly Father knows. But see they certainly will and his eternal purposes will certainly be brought to pass,” Elder Jensen said. “I … have staked my life on the truthfulness of this church and on the veracity of Joseph Smith’s story and on the reality of the priesthood being restored ... I pray that this talk has given you a little greater perspective and a little greater desire to not just sing ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,’ but to stay tuned and to heed.”
Full audio recordings of the speeches are available at svu.edu/speeches.
Hannah Benson Rodriguez received a bachelor's degree from Southern Virginia University. She is a communications and marketing assistant at Southern Virginia and she currently resides in Buena Vista, Va.