Peace Is That Which We Seek: Chiasmus in Thomas S. Monson’s “We Never Walk Alone”

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President Thomas S. Monson (facebook.com)

Thomas S. Monson has served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since February 2008. Prior to this, he served as a counselor in the First Presidency beginning in November 1985 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles beginning in October 1963. Before his call to full-time Church service, he served as president of the Canadian Mission and as a counselor in a stake presidency and a bishop in Salt Lake City. Professionally, he worked as an executive in the publishing and printing industries. As a young man he served in the United States Navy during World War II.

His years as President of the Church have thus far been marked by continued temple building, historical transparency, doctrinal clarification, and a realignment of culture and practice. He is known for the illustrative stories and experiences he shares in his talks, which are filled with hope, encouragement, good humor, and prophetic warning.

President Monson’s address at the October 2013 General Relief Society Meeting, “We Never Walk Alone,” contains several chiasms and parallelisms. One chiasm from this talk was featured as his Facebook post on 13 September 2016. This article presents a diagram and detailed analysis of his Facebook chiasm, followed by a less detailed treatment of several additional chiasms and parallelisms from his address.


Diagram and Analysis:

A: Prayer is not just for times of trouble. We are told repeatedly in the scriptures to “pray always” and to keep a prayer in our hearts.
B: The words of a favorite and familiar hymn pose a question which we would do well to ask ourselves daily: “Did you think to pray?”
C: Allied with prayer in helping us cope in our often difficult world
C: is scripture study.
B: The words of truth and inspiration found in our four standard works are prized possessions to me. I never tire of reading them.
A: I am lifted spiritually whenever I search the scriptures. These holy words of truth and love give guidance to my life and point the way to eternal perfection.

thomas_s_monson_facebook_chiasm
September 13, 2016 (facebook.com)

A=A: “[P]ray always” is complemented by “whenever I search the scriptures.” Each element in this chiasm emphasizes the synergic relationship between prayer and scripture study. This element focuses on the timeless need for prayer and scripture study, which are “not just for times of trouble” and which lift him spiritually “whenever” he turns to them. As a result of constant prayer and regular scripture study, President Monson receives spiritual and temporal “guidance.”

B=B: “[W]e would do well to ask ourselves daily: ‘Did you think to pray?’” is complemented by “I never tire of reading them [our four standard works].” This element of the chiasm serves as gentle encouragement for us to pray daily and to consider the scriptures “prized possessions.” Rather than focus on one particular book of scripture, President Monson emphasizes all “four standard works” and their “words of truth and inspiration.” We would do well to include each in our personal scripture study.

C=C: “[P]rayer” is complemented by “scripture study.” The central focus of this chiasm emphasizes the practical purpose and inestimable value of prayer and scripture study. As “allied” forces, they help us “cope in our often difficult world.” “Cope,” which means “to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties,” is an interesting word choice. It suggests that prayer and scripture study don’t remove problems from our lives. Instead, they give us the needed advantage to benefit and grow from the opposition and challenges we face in life. (For a further discussion on the essential role of opposition in our lives, see “Facilitating Our Growth: Chiasmus in Dallin H. Oaks’ ‘Opposition In All Things’”)


Additional Chiasms and Parallelisms:

#1: In this chiasm, President Monson compliments the women of the Relief Society by declaring them to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Through their “strength,” “devotion,” and “goodness,” they invite “the spirit” wherever they go or happen to be.

A: My dear sisters,
B: the spirit we feel this evening is a reflection of
B: your strength, your devotion, and your goodness.
A: To quote the Master: “Ye are the salt of the earth. … Ye are the light of the world.”


#2: This chiasm focuses on the love Frances Monson had for Relief Society, the many assignments she had within Relief Society, and the great blessings that came into her life as a result of her service. Specifically, “some of her closest friendships came as a result of” her service in the Relief Society.

A: As I have contemplated my opportunity to address you, I have been reminded of the love my dear wife, Frances, had for Relief Society.
B: During her lifetime she served in many positions in Relief Society.
C: When she and I were both just 31 years of age, I was called to be president of the Canadian Mission.
C: During the three years of that assignment, Frances presided over all of the Relief Societies in that vast area, which encompassed the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
B: Some of her closest friendships came as a result of that assignment, as well as from the many callings she later filled in our own ward Relief Society.
A: She was a faithful daughter of our Heavenly Father, my beloved companion, and my dearest friend. I miss her more than words can express.


#3: This chiasm acknowledges the variety of women (and their unique challenges) that make up the membership of the Relief Society, but emphasizes their commonality. Despite their differing circumstances, they can find unity and benefit individually through their involvement in Relief Society.

A: Relief Society is made up of a variety of women.
B: There are those of you who are single—perhaps in school, perhaps working—yet forging a full and rich life.
C: Some of you are busy mothers of growing children.
D: Still others of you have lost your husbands because of divorce or death
D: and are struggling to raise your children without the help of a husband and father.
C: Some of you have raised your children but have realized that their need for your help is ongoing.
B: There are many of you who have aging parents who require the loving care only you can give.
A: Wherever we are in life, there are times when all of us have challenges and struggles. Although they are different for each, they are common to all.


#4: This chiasm includes a parallelism. The elements CDE are a parallelism that equates the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson with the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Both encouraged their people to pray and promised them spiritual peace as a result. The elements AB, which turn this passage into a chiasm, are President Monson’s third witness to the peace that comes through prayer.

A: There will be times when you will walk a path strewn with thorns and marked by struggle. There may be times when you feel detached—even isolated—from the Giver of every good gift. You worry that you walk alone. Fear replaces faith.
B: When you find yourself in such circumstances, I plead with you to remember prayer.
C: I love the words of President Ezra Taft Benson concerning prayer. Said he:
D: “All through my life the counsel to depend on prayer has been prized above almost any other advice I have … received. It has become an integral part of me—an anchor, a constant source of strength, and the basis of my knowledge of things divine. …
E: “… Though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity, is life’s greatest blessing.”
C: The Apostle Paul admonished:
D: “Let your requests be made known unto God.
E: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
B: What a glorious promise! Peace is that which we seek, that for which we yearn.
A:We were not placed on this earth to walk alone. What an amazing source of power, of strength, and of comfort is available to each of us. He who knows us better than we know ourselves, He who sees the larger picture and who knows the end from the beginning, has assured us that He will be there for us to provide help if we but ask. We have the promise: “Pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.”


#5: This chiasm emphasizes the benefits that come from combining prayer with scripture study.

A: As we read and ponder the scriptures, we will experience the sweet whisperings of the Spirit to our souls.
B: We can find answers to our questions.
C: We learn of the blessings which come through keeping God’s commandments.
B: We gain a sure testimony of our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of Their love for us.
A: When scripture study is combined with our prayers, we can of a certainty know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.


#6: This parallelism reassures us that whatever our temporal or spiritual circumstances, the love of God is a constant on which we can rely.

My dear sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes.

A: It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities.
B: It is simply there.
A: It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love.
B: It is simply always there.


Conclusion:

Chiasmus in President Monson’s address to the Relief Society emphasizes principles and doctrines taught in various passages. A major theme of his address is the blessings that come from combining daily prayer with scripture study — peace, answers to questions, increased doctrinal understanding, a sure testimony, and guidance in navigating “our often difficult world.” An additional theme is the blessings of involvement in Relief Society — unity, close friendships, and individual benefit. Above all is a reminder that Heavenly Father’s love for us “never changes” and “is simply always there.” By identifying and studying the chiasms and parallelisms in President Monson’s address, we are able to gain a more thorough understanding of his message and benefit from a more focused application.

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