Halloween Devotional

Yesterday, Oct 31st, President Hinckley spoke at a devotional at BYU. I got into the Marriott center just a few moments before the devotional itself began and wound up sitting high in the stands on the southern side of the center. I firmly believe that these types of meetings are the reason the Marriott center is so big; I simply cannot imagine the basketball team ever pulling in as many people as I saw there yesterday. I imagine there were probably only about 200-300 empty seats in the arena.

We never actually sang anything particularly “prophet”-y. The opening hymn was Teach me to walk in the light. After the prayer, we all sang Have I done any good in the world today? It was an unusual arrangement. Normally, this is a really upbeat song (I imagine both it and Called to Serve as having been written by very enthusiastic gym-teachers). The arrangement today was slow and thoughtful. It was very downbeat and I really didn’t enjoy it. That said, it was very fitting considering the speech that was to come.

President Hinckley was introduced. At the podium, he acknowledged the holiday, saying that it called for something different. With those words, he gestured to his tie, which was covered in a jack-o’-lantern pattern. So I guess he is okay with Halloween.He proceeded to offer several vignettes from his life, all of which he said were published elsewhere. At the time, I didn’t really see the thematic link, but I think I am beginning to.In the first vignette, he recalled riding in the car of a man in Terreon, Mexico. It was a nice car and the man who drove it was a successful businessman. He and his wife had been desperately poor when the missionaries found them. The wife said that the missionaries “took the blinders from our eyes”. As they grew in the gospel, they changed professions, becoming junk dealers. They remained active in the church and, in particular, shared the gospel with thier family. Over 200 family members had joined as a result of thier proselytizing and thousands of lives had been blessed because those elders found this family and this family was converted.In the second vignette, President Hinckley recalled visiting the tombs of Napoleon, Lenin, and other “great” men. He also recalled visiting the graves of US soldiers in the Phillipines and British soldiers in Myanmar. He reflected that “the dead are gone” and he spoke of “the terrible cost of war”, the lives lost and sent into the “oblivion of the grave”.

In the third vignette, he connected the spread of the Black plague to the beginnings of the Rennaisance and the eventual Restoration of the Church and Priesthood. He found the plagues and the Dark Ages that coincided with the plagues prophesied in Isaiah. As the plague spread across Asia into Europe, it killed indiscriminately (He quoted Boccacio as saying that one could lie down as healthy as ever and be found dead in the morning). At the same time, the Rennaissance was beginning and it would eventually lead to the Reformation. This in turn would allow the eventual formation of the United States which allowed the formation of the church and the restoration of the priesthood. This church, this priesthood is the stone cut out of the mountain that will fill the whole earth.

In the fourth vignette, President Hinckley talked about Joseph Anderson who was a general authority and the secretary to President Heber J. Grant. He lived to be 102 years old; he was the oldest general authority ever. When President Grant lay dying in bed, he called Elder Anderson to his side and asked Elder Anderson if he (Pres. Grant) had ever been unkind to him and, if so, he asked for Elder Anderson’s forgiveness. Elder Anderson told President Grant that he had nothing to forgive him for. Elder Anderson cherished his relationship with Pres. Grant for the rest of his life.

In the fifth vignette, President Hinckley told a favorite story of his father. A boy had a dream wherein he was climbing a ladder to heaven. On each rung of the ladder he had to write one of his sins in chalk before he could climb higher. The boy’s father asked if he had been in the dream. The boy said, “Yes, I passed you as you climbed down in order to get more chalk”

In the sixth vignette, He quoted the following poem by Rosemary Benet, written about the mother of Abraham Lincoln:

If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She’d ask first
“Where’s my son?
What’s happened to Abe?
What’s he done?”

“Poor little Abe,
Left all alone
Except for Tom,
Who’s a rolling stone;
He was only nine
The year I died.
I remember still
How hard he cried.”

“Scraping along
In a little shack,
With hardly a shirt
To cover his back,
And a prairie wind
To blow him down,
Or pinching times
If he went to town.”

“You wouldn’t know
About my son?
Did he grow tall?
Did he have fun?
Did he learn to read?
Did he get to town?
Do you know his name?
Did he get on?”

In the seventh vignette, he told the story of Mary Penfold Goble, one of his wife’s ancestors. She had travelled in a wagon train that accompanied the Martin handcart company. He quoted from her account of the events, wherein she recalled the death of her brother, a newborn sister, and her mother. She had to have her toes amputated and she remembered Brigham Young weeping on seeing her and her siblings and hearing of their suffering.

In the eighth vignette, he told of going to Vietnam in 1966. Upon arrival, he was asked to sign a form releasing the army from any damages for harm that he might incure. He travelled to a meeting in Danang, where men came in fresh from the field, stacking thier rifles outside the door. It was the first time in months that many of the men had partaken of the sacrament. It was a Saturday night and the Jews in the camp had the use of the meeting hall, but when they came and saw the number of men at the meeting, they graciously let the LDS continue to use it. That night he slept in a stifling building and the next day travelled south for another meeting. All night long he heard planes flying overhead to bomb North Vietnam and he wondered how many would return.

In the ninth (and final) vignette, he shared an experience he had in talking with Shimon Peres. He asked Mr. Peres if he believed that there would ever be a resolution to the problems in the Middle East. Mr. Peres noted that at the time of Adam and Eve we were all one; “Is there any need for us to be divided?”. He then shared a story that he said he had heard from a Muslim friend. A rabbi asked two students how one can tell when the night ends and the daylight begins. The first student said that it was when one could look to the east and distinguish between a sheep and a goat. The second said that is was when one could look to the east and distinguish between a fig tree and an olive tree. The rabbi answered, “No. The night has ended and the day has begun when one can look into the eastern light and see the face of a woman and recognize that it is your sister and see the face of a man and recognize that it is your brother.”

President Hinckley went on the advise us to record our significant events and to review them from time to time.

Finally, and most personally, he told us about his wife, how much he loved her, how much he missed her. It was painful to hear him talk of her. He counselled the assembled students that now was probably the best chance they had to find an eternal companion and that they should do so with great care and much prayer.

So, do you have thoughts on his thoughts? Corrections for my poor transcribing skills? Additional insights? For me the most significant points were when he spoke of his love for his wife and when he endorsed Halloween.

There are other excellent summaries of this devotional found here and here.


  1. For those who are interested and able to watch, here is the rebroadcast schedule for the devotional:
    BYU Television
    Monday, November 13, 2006 @ 2:00 PM
    Friday, November 17, 2006 @ 2:00 PM
    Monday, November 20, 2006 @ 2:00 AM

    Monday, November 20, 2006 @ 6:00 AM
    Monday, November 20, 2006 @ 11:30 AM
    Tuesday, November 07, 2006 @ 5:30 AM

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Great summary, JDC. Thanks. It sounds like this was an odd sort of devotional, somewhat religious but also somewhat secular. What’s the reaction on the ground there?

  3. I know that Peggy Fletcher Stack is reading it as a statement against war (in general). I think that is probably accurate. I personally think that the emphasis on death possibly originates in his deep sense of loss regarding his wife. He clearly misses her and looks forward to being with her again. I get a sense that his being here is something of a drag for him sometimes.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    God bless GBH. I love his willingness to share these sorts of events in his life with us, even if there isn’t a unifying theme.

  5. One very minor suggestion:

    In the story Shimon Peres told him, I suspect that the first sentence should have been:

    A rabbi asked two students how one can tell when the night ends and the daylight begins.

    Great post, great summary, a great man.

    One other thing: I was there the first year the Marriott Center opened–1971. In those days the place would be packed to the rafters for basketball games. Of course, with Kresimir Cosic playing for the Cougars, it was great fun. And, there was no alternative–if you wanted to see the game, you went to it. Otherwise you stayed home and listened to Paul James on KSL radio.

  6. Oops. I’ll fix that!

  7. Elder Maxwell used a similar approach when he offered some vignettes from his life in his last conference talk (Oct 2004). That talk has become one of my favorites. I enjoy hearing any of the Brethren move away a bit from the usual format and do something different.

    Regarding the possible (but understated) war theme: Last year at the time of President Hinckley’s 95th birthday, the following was reported:

    From: Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Mike Wallace: CBS icon visits his friend” in The Salt Lake Tribune, 23 July 2005 (http://www.sltrib.com/utah/ci_2883951; viewed 23 July 2005):

    LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley “was not and is not happy with the war in Iraq,” CBS newsman Mike Wallace said Friday. “He deplores what’s going on there.”

    The longtime reporter, who interviewed Hinckley for “60 Minutes” in 1995, was in Utah to participate in Hinckley’s 95th birthday gala at the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

    “It wasn’t an interview situation, so I didn’t press” Hinckley, Wallace told a half-dozen or so reporters. “But I was sorry I didn’t have a camera.”

    LDS spokesman Dale Bills was quick to say the church “has no position on the war in Iraq” and that Wallace’s comments were “his own characterization of a private conversation.”

    President Hinckley probably has not felt it appropriate to say more than he has said.

    This report caused not so much as a ripple in the water. It was, for all intents, ignored by the populace.

  8. Thanks JDC for the info. It brings a question to mind. Why can’t Pres. Hinckley speak out against the war? Without favoring a political party, the FP finds it suitable to speak out against gay marriage and I don’t see how the war is any less a moral issue. Ofcourse if the Prophet does divulge to Mike Wallace that he’s against the war I guess that doesn’t mean that the rest of the brethren are of the same opinion. Still, my partisan side wonders why the FP won’t give us democrats an inch.

  9. If you download the Move Media (or whatever it’s called) player at byutv.org, you can watch the replay anytime you want. I watched it again today.

    Nice summary, by the way.

    I was struck by how he mentioned that whether his change of style for this talk was a good thing would be up to the listener. I sensed that there is more than meets the eye and that we should ponder his words to learn from them. He said that these events affected him in a significant way, but I think he leaves it to us to consider why that is so.

    One of the messages I got from the talk was what a blessing the gospel is. Life is hard, but the gospel light breaks through, especially when it is lived in love. Love seems like a theme that can run through many of the stories.

    I was interested to read Stack’s summary in the Trib — I thought the war thing was actually a little overstated, but I can see why such an assertion could be made. I think it’s less a political statement anyway and more just a deep desire for peace in every way. Pres. Hinckley has spoken about that desire both in a world sense and also in a personal sense (that we have peace in our homes and in our lives). I think he’d be down on ANY war, not just one that is politically charged.

    Therefore, I don’t necessarily see a need for him to come out with a “position” on this specific war. His position is a general one, IMO.

  10. cj,
    I think that Pres. Hinckley is, generally speaking, against war (unless, of course, God commands otherwise). Speaking out against this war would be either redundant or explicitly political. So of course I can understand why he doesn’t do it.

    I also didn’t really notice the anti-war vibe until someone else pointed it out to me.

  11. In related news, Today President Hinckley tied DOM as the oldest LDS president.

  12. I couldn’t find Stack’s summary on the Tribune site. Does anyne have a link to it?

  13. Steve Evans says:

    jjohnsen, see the BCC sidebar on the left side.

  14. Aaah, thanks.

  15. Could it be that he is against war in general – and wants to hammer home that point, but feels that he shouldn’t explicitly speak out for or against this one?


  1. […] Gordon B. Hinckley (President of the LDS church) recently spoke at a BYU devotional.  There is a nice write-up of the even here at By Common Consent. […]