Collapsing the sacred distance between man and man

A few months ago my family visited Picardy in northern France. From the cathedral city of Amiens we drove to Albert and entered a rolling countryside so beautiful now but so full of blood and horror almost a century ago. Despite our distance from the First World War, “Somme” still invokes a feeling of dread in the British, images of trenches and mud and mutilated bodies passed to us through a vivid national memory. We were not there but somehow we know it was uniquely awful.

We stopped at the British cemetery-memorial in Pozières to find the name of my wife’s g-grand-uncle, Herbert Kirkby. Herbert was born in Portsmouth, England in 1893 and was killed in action on the 31st of March, 1918 as a member of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade. Like so many others, he has no known grave.

My sons found his name on the memorial.

We paused in remembrance and took a picture which I then texted to my mother-in-law back in England. Within five minutes she replied:

“At the Preston temple doing Herbert’s work.”

Hearts turned to the fathers. I do not know how Herbert died nor how he felt as the life ebbed from his young body, but I can imagine how he might have felt dreadfully alone, abandoned by the world and miles from anything resembling home. Across the miles and years, we felt to tell Herbert that he was remembered to us and not only that, but that we were ready to claim him as our own among the teeming, anonymous masses of the dead. Standing on a sacred bridge of place (the Somme and Preston) and time (1918 and 2010), we cried and rejoiced as one more part of the family of man found its way home, together.

This is the essence of Mormonism: relationships now and eternal, not because they are nice but because they are somehow essential.

From France 2010


  1. Very nice.

    One of the testimonies of this work that I have is that collapsed sacred distance which is felt at times like the one you describe.

  2. Capozaino says:

    Pictures like that always make me think of the song “No Man’s Land” (also known as “The Green Fields of France”). It’s comforting to me that people who died in the most lonely, tragic, and painful of circumstances will not be forgotten by God, but gathered in with all the rest of us to make things right. It’s also good to hear that somebody out there actually does family history work.

    On a lighter note, “The Essence of Mormonism” sounds like a terrible cologne.

  3. Mark Brown says:


    RJH, you have beautifully captured the essential nature of our faith. God bless you all, and especially Herbert.

  4. Brad and I recently speculated that sealing is necessary because it encourages the dead to stay together at a time when, with the immensity of eternity before us, we may feel drawn to leave our earthly relationships behind. It’s the childhood friendships we once thought would last forever but now no longer care about writ large. The temple has given us a reason to find Herbert, and he us.

  5. Lovely. What a wonderful experience for your family.

  6. Ronan, That was beautiful. I rarely think about the dead’s focusing on us. It was a nice reminder that we are looking toward one another.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    Amazing stuff, Ronan. The sweeping chain of family through eternity is most often considered from a mortality-centric view; I like your perspective a lot.

  8. Wonderful vignettes, ronan. Thank you.

  9. I really enjoyed this Ronan. Thank you for sharing.

    Within that speculation, what is the reason that staying together is better than roaming off into Eternity?

    I certainly agree with the sentiment that the sealings are tentative; but I also wonder if there is some sense that those sealings are a necessary holding point which precedes the ‘final judgment’. Following that event, assuming it is a moment in time, those bindings are re-configured.

  10. This was terrific, Ronan. Thank you.

  11. I couldn’t agree more. Well done.

  12. One of the strengths of the restored gospel to me is that, in order to fully “work out our own salvation,” we find as many kin as we can and seal ourselves to them, and them to us. This is a beautiful example of that principle in action.

  13. This is the essence of why I believe.

  14. This is beautiful. I’ve never been very interested in family history (been too busy trying to “break the chains”), but this stirs something in my soul to believe it is important.

  15. RJH,

    Images of WWI bring out certain emotions in me. I makes me both agree and sad. This post reminded me of certain aspects of spiritual life that I seem to have either forgotten or ignored. When I read it yesterday, I brought me to tears. I needed that. Thanks.

  16. “It makes me…”

  17. RJH, do you happen to know why the tombstones are arranged in lines of different lengths? Does it perhaps have something to do with organizing the fallen by their military unit?

  18. neat story- especially the timing of your message and that of your mom’s! In a recent testimony of a ward I sometimes attend, a sister spoke of an acronym coined by the father of a friend of hers: GPS= “God Planned Serendipidity”

    I think that applies to your story.

  19. Excellent post — just seeing this now. And great comment # 4 — many thanks.