Sunday, January 16, 2011

Columbus Moments

First impressions are powerful. The first thing I associate with Christopher Columbus is the idea that “the world is round.” Perhaps you would agree. Yes, he discovered America, but so did Leif Ericson, and a number of others long before. From the time that I was a boy, I remember hearing stories of Columbus proposing that he could reach Asia by sailing west. Crossing the Atlantic was a task that many Europeans didn’t know had been done. Eventually, Columbus did sail west and proved that he was right. Or was he?

The Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria arrived successfully in the Western Hemisphere, but it wasn’t what Columbus thought. To his death, Columbus argued that he had arrived in Asia. Sadly he was wrong, but his efforts made future exploration possible that would prove that he had the right idea.

Imagine how disastrous the voyage of 1492 would have been for Columbus and his crew had the “New World” not been where he thought Asia should be. The fact that he was both right and wrong is intriguing and beautiful to me. It offers a certain amount of hope to face an unknown task, one where you don’t know entirely what you are doing and have to act on faith. In just such a situation, it is possible that Columbus had additional help.

The ancient American prophet, Nephi, foresaw a time when his descendants would be visited by a people from over the sea. He said, “And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.” (1 Nephi 13:12)

The prophecy does not speak of Columbus by name, but if you can consider that his role fits Nephi’s description, there is a valuable clue to receiving personal revelation. Insight may not be all-inclusive, but that doesn’t preclude it from being true. Columbus had enough truth to get him moving in the right direction.

Another American prophet, Moroni, had an insight about what we know and don’t know. He said, “I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” (Ether 12:6)

At times when we are moved upon by the Holy Ghost to act, it may be tempting to doubt that the promptings are real just because we don’t have a full understanding of the impression. That witness may not come until we have chosen to act for ourselves. The Lord may be waiting to see what we will do when we don’t know what to do.

One of the most difficult things I experience while trying to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost is to make sure I correctly interpret the meaning. In some cases, the meaning simply isn’t clear but I still feel like I need to act all the same. When that feeling leads me to do something good, and I follow, seldom have I ever been disappointed. Then in hindsight the lesson reveals itself. I may have mistaken a few details in my Columbus moment, but the whole picture quite often shows that I did what I needed to do, and it was enough.

Imagine the recent upturn I felt when I made my own discovery about the story of Columbus. The idea that everyone thought the earth was flat appears to be erroneous. Well, there goes my association. There is enough evidence to indicate that many scholars before Columbus believed the earth to be round. In fact, the techniques of celestial navigation were beginning to be widely used by mariners of his time. Curiously, the “flat earth” idea has been misconstrued as history for decades because of a single biography written a little over three hundred years later.

“Hmmm,” says I. While Columbus may not have been completely right in his thoughts, and while history may not be completely accurate in what happened, that doesn’t change the reality of an impression.

I suspect that I will have many more Columbus moments in my life. I may feel the spirit and not be entirely clear about what it means, but as long as I recognize a prompting of the Holy Ghost, and I act on it, I can be assured that God will lead me in the right direction. The key is to follow the impression when it comes.

What I Believe…

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