Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is considered to be one of the best read church leaders in history. He can recite hundreds of poems from memory and peppers his talks with bits of classic literature to make a moral point. Following are some of the books he shares to help listeners learn how to live their religion. They can serve as a guide to our own reading as well.
Our Town by Thornton Wilder
“Some of you may be familiar with Thornton Wilder’s classic drama Our Town. If you are, you will remember the town of Grover’s Corners, where the story takes place. In the play Emily Webb dies in childbirth, and we read of the lonely grief of her young husband, George, left with their four-year-old son. Emily does not wish to rest in peace; she wants to experience again the joys of her life. She is granted the privilege of returning to earth and reliving her 12th birthday. At first it is exciting to be young again, but the excitement wears off quickly. The day holds no joy now that Emily knows what is in store for the future. It is unbearably painful to realize how unaware she had been of the meaning and wonder of life while she was alive. Before returning to her resting place, Emily laments, “Do . . . human beings ever realize life while they live it-every, every minute?”
Our realization of what is most important in life goes hand in hand with gratitude for our blessings.” (Finding Joy in the Journey)
King Henry the Eighth
Shakespeare, in his play King Henry the Eighth, taught this truth through Cardinal Wolsey-a man who enjoyed great prestige and pride because of his friendship with the king. When the friendship ended, Cardinal Wolsey was stripped of his authority, resulting in a loss of prominence and prestige. He was one who had gained everything and then lost all. In the sorrow of his heart, he spoke a real truth to his servant, Cromwell. He said:
O Cromwell, Cromwell
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, He would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.4
Many of you are familiar with the play Camelot. I’d like to share with you one of my favorite lines from this production. As the difficulties among King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Queen Guinevere deepen, King Arthur cautions, “We must not let our passions destroy our dreams.” This plea I would leave with you tonight. Do not let your passions destroy your dreams. Withstand temptation. (Be Thou an Example)
Alice in Wonderland
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our goal is to obtain celestial glory.
Let us not find ourselves as indecisive as is Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You will remember that she comes to a crossroads with two paths before her, each stretching onward but in opposite directions. She is confronted by the Cheshire cat, of whom Alice asks, “Which path shall I follow?”
The cat answers: “That depends where you want to go. If you do not know where you want to go, it doesn’t matter which path you take.”
Unlike Alice, we all know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life surely leads to the path we will follow in the next.
Each of us should remember that he or she is a son or daughter of God, endowed with faith, gifted with courage, and guided by prayer. Our eternal destiny is before us. The Apostle Paul speaks to us today as he spoke to Timothy long years ago: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee.” “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust.”(Choose You This Day)
The Music Man
Sometimes we let our thoughts of tomorrow take up too much of today. Daydreaming of the past and longing for the future may provide comfort but will not take the place of living in the present. This is the day of our opportunity, and we must grasp it.
Professor Harold Hill, in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, cautioned: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you’ve collected a lot of empty yesterdays.”
There is no tomorrow to remember if we don’t do something today, and to live most fully today, we must do that which is of greatest importance. Let us not procrastinate those things which matter most. (In Search of Treasure)
Long ago, the renowned author Charles Dickens wrote of opportunities that await. In his classic volume entitled Great Expectations, Dickens described a boy by the name of Philip Pirrip, more commonly known as Pip. Pip was born in unusual circumstances. He was an orphan. He wished with all his heart that he were a scholar and a gentleman. Yet all of his ambitions and all of his hopes seemed doomed to failure. Do you young men sometimes feel that way? Do those of us who are older entertain these same thoughts?
Then one day a London lawyer by the name of Jaggers approached little Pip and told him that an unknown benefactor had bequeathed to him a fortune. The lawyer put his arm around the shoulder of Pip and said to him, “My boy, you have great expectations.”
Tonight, as I look at you young men and realize who you are and what you may become, I declare, “You have great expectations”-not as the result of an unknown benefactor, but as the result of a known benefactor, even our Heavenly Father, and great things are expected of you.
Life’s journey is not traveled on a freeway devoid of obstacles, pitfalls, and snares. Rather, it is a pathway marked by forks and turnings. Decisions are constantly before us. To make them wisely, courage is needed: the courage to say, “No,” the courage to say, “Yes.” Decisions do determine destiny.