The spirit of Joseph Smith flamed into life when, as a boy, he stood in the grove of trees and looked upon God the Father and when he gazed up and listened to the voice of the Savior himself (see Joseph Smith-History 1:17).
Joseph walked out of that sacred place changed — changed in ways we can never fully understand. He was little more than a child, but much of the darkness that blinds mortality had been lifted from his spiritual eyes.
And the process continued — increasing light within while the powers of darkness attempted to extinguish his work, to choke his path and, with chaos and whirlwind, bring him to destruction at last.
Patience was his hallmark, the patience that can only come from trusting the will of God. He learned how to obey, to virtually place his every breath, his every thought into the hands of his Father.
In Kirtland, Ohio, alone, the Prophet Joseph paid lawyers nearly $500,000 in land and cash. But knowing the will of God, he maintained a calm assurance that he and his people would be taken care of. Thus he was able to say, “It was clearly evident that the Lord gave us power in proportion to the work to be done, and strength according to the race set before us, and grace and help as our needs required” (“Photobiography of Joseph Smith,” McCloud, p. 55).
There was a youthful, vibrating energy in all Joseph Smith did. He learned to wait upon the Lord and at the same time go forward with the work at hand. He learned to love as the Savior loved — and his daily walk was an affirmation of the scriptural assurance that "perfect love casteth out fear" (see 1 John 4:18).
Joseph was interested in people — in the literal happiness and salvation of all humankind. He was bold in action, bold in testifying and bold in obeying. All he did was enriched by a pure love and by unspeakable faith in the truths that had been entrusted to his care.
The youthful, joyful spirit of Joseph is still felt in upstate New York. Here where the November trees are bare, and the small villages rest more in the silence of the past than in the bustle of the present, the presence of the boy becoming a prophet still tingles in the air.
Standing in front of the Josiah Stowell house, I find it easy to draw forth the bustle of Joseph’s time, to picture him: he has changed from his work clothes and carefully dressed in his best suit for the occasion, and now he is coming down the stairs eagerly, for Emma Hale waits in the parlor, and Joseph intends to ask her to be his wife. She will say yes, and they will spend their first night together in one of the rooms of this warm and substantial house.
In the home of Joseph Knight Sr. the empty rooms echo with the sound of voices, purposeful and keen with enthusiasm. Joseph Knight lent the young Joseph his horse and cutter to court Emma Smith, and it was Knight’s carriage he drove to the Hill Cumorah on the night he obtained the plates. Writing in August of 1842 of those who had stood by him “in every hour of peril,” Joseph said of this man: “For 15 years he has been faithful and true, and even-handed and exemplary, and virtuous and kind. Behold, he is a righteous man” (“Joseph Knight Recollection of Early Mormon History,” from MaxwellInstitute.byu.edu/publications/transcripts).
Another who was faithful and true was the convert Brigham Young who, upon accepting baptism, launched into the work with all his heart and might. When the spirit of apostasy in Kirtland was so virile that even some of members of the Quorum of the Twelve talked against the Prophet Joseph, Brigham was the loudest voice for obedience, loyalty and faith. When Joseph and Hyrum were imprisoned in Liberty Jail, Brigham, as head of the apostles, exacted a solemn covenant from the brethren that they would not leave the state until all the poor had been brought out. It was Brother Brigham who received the mantle of Joseph and carried that light and authority with him to the valleys of the Great Salt Lake.
The ways in which Brigham Young magnified that authority are legion and legendary. His spirit still hums close to the surface of Salt Lake City — a sense of golden largess. It is there like a benediction on Temple Square.
Hike up to Ensign Peak and you can almost hear the sound of his voice say something like: No nonsense, just get the job done. Obey — always obey the head with unswerving faith. Push forward, give all you have, then wait for the Lord God to bear you up.
This was the spirit of the seasoned, enlightened, dedicated Brigham Young. He knew who stood at the head of the kingdom: Jesus Christ. And he never pretended to be the man Joseph was, but he intended to follow in his footsteps as faithfully as human flesh and immortal spirit might. Joseph had taught him how to love, and the Spirit continued to tutor his ways, so that he could say to the Saints: “God bless the humble and the righteous, and may He have compassion upon us because of the weakness that is in our nature. And considering the great weakness and ignorance of mortals, let us have mercy upon each other” (“Discourses of Brigham Young,” p. 272).
The mighty spirits are there; the influence of their reality can never be dimmed beyond our discerning. We are not meant to let the distractions of this world blind our eyes and stop our ears. They fought the good fight for our sakes.
At some places, in the stillness, they can both teach us and bless us, and our very love for what they are and what they gave can hone our spirits and hallow our way.
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com.