Editor’s Note: This post comes from Dave Dixon of the non-profit group No Poor Among Them.
As many of us know, the Bloggernacle has been abuzz the last two weeks about the seer stone. This shiny, egg-shaped stone, brown with streaks of white, was used by Joseph Smith to produce the Book of Mormon. According to the best sources available, he found the stone at a young age, while digging a well for a man named Clark Chase, near Palmyra, New York. For those who have somehow missed photos of it, it is a beautiful stone. Joseph Smith used it in treasure-seeking schemes, but with little success. Yet the use of the stone brought about a book of scripture which Latter-day Saints everywhere hold dear. The process was described by David Whitmer in this way:
[H]e used a stone called a “Seers stone,” the “Interpreters” having been taken away from him because of transgression. The “Interpreters” were taken from Joseph after he allowed Martin Harris to carry away the 116 pages of Ms [manuscript] of the Book of Mormon as a punishment, but he was allowed to go on and translate by use of a “Seers stone” which he had, and which he placed in a hat into which he buried his face, stating to me and others that the original character appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in English.
I’m not going to pretend I understand how this process worked, or why the stone was necessary to begin with. As someone living in the 21st-century United States, I can’t pretend to understand the importance that folk magic had on this process, but through my modern lens I find the story of the seer stone incredibly beautiful and meaningful. Here’s why.
The term “urim and thummim” was often used interchangeably when referring to the seer stone. The LDS Church’s website describes a urim and thummim as “instruments prepared by God to assist man in obtaining revelation and translating languages. In the Hebrew language the words mean ‘lights and perfections.’” In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read that “the place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.” Thus, to think of Joseph Smith finding a material object like a rock, while laboring for subsistence and using that rock to produce such a marvelous work of scripture is breathtaking to me. I don’t know what it was about that particular rock, but might we catch a glimps of “lights and perfections,” of “the place where God resides” by similarly looking for God in His creation? Could a simple stone, blade of grass, flower, or scoop of soil be a conduit to learn more about our Heavenly Parents and our purpose on this earth? I think so, if only subtly.
The Book of Mormon prophet Alma seems to agree by telling a sign-seeking Korihor that “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which moe in their regular form do witness that there is a supreme Creator.” While people may interpret their interactions with the creation differently, I think there are very few who don’t receive some kind of fulfillment from witnessing the beauty this earth has to offer.
This raises another way in which I find beauty in the story of the seer stone. Early in his life, Joseph Smith sought to find buried treasure by using different seer stones. People in the community obviously believed in his ability to do so, as they hired him for that express purpose. Nevertheless, as a seer, his abilities with the stones only yielded things of eternal worth. Growing up in poverty, Joseph was often tempted to use godly gifts such as the plates and seer stones for riches. Yet it was only when Joseph sought God’s purposes first that things seemed to pan out. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob speaks to this point: “Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”
We may not have the ability to use seer stones in our lives, but each of us uses and benefits from the creation. But how we use it ought to be important for followers of Christ. Do we use the creation to seek for riches and build up our own personal wealth, or do we try to use the earth in consecrating, sanctifying ways? Do we care for the poor with the bounty of the earth? Do we think of future generations before consuming finite resources? If Joseph Smith could bring about a book of scripture revered by millions today with the use of a stone, what might we do with the earth’s resources to further God’s purposes?