Hugh Nibley and the Miracle of Writing
The following is taken from Hugh Nibley’s Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Semester 1, pgs. 6-7. I’ve had this book for a long time and I went back to it to find this quote because it made a big impact on my thinking at the time and my motivations for journaling.
The book is the most remarkable invention ever made, as Galileo says. It is the miracle of miracles. “If anything is to be hailed as the greatest of all miracles, it would certainly be writing,” he said. In 26 simple symbols you can convey not only what happened and what people’s names were, but what they did (you can do that with TV), but their innermost thoughts and most sensitive feelings can be conveyed by these 22, 24, or 26 letters of an alphabet. Nothing else can do or ever has done that.
So writing comes to us as a special message and special emissary. That’s where you get this emphasis all the time in the Book of Mormon. They talk about the importance of the record, how it’s transmitted, how its handed down, the characters it’s written in, the trouble they have writing it (preserving the pages, etc.), because as they tell us,”this is the only way our knowledge can be preserved.” That’s why they had to go back and get the brass plates.
The only device that has defeated time and space–and it does that, as Galileo says. But it’s not a human invention of course. We are told it is a superhuman invention. That’s what put me onto this; I was referring to some other stuff. Writing is so minimal, so extremely simple. Any instrument that will make a scratch on any surface will record the most subtle message for any period of time over any amount of space. That’s astonishing what you can do. Of course, it has to be a rather permanent service and things like that, but it’s so simple. Are you have to do is scratch something on a surface, and you have done it.
To read it again you don’t need elaborate the electronic equipment or anything like that. But the price is this (this is where it comes, of course): How do you unravel it? You don’t need an elaborate electronic machine to feed it back into. You have to feed it back into yourself. You have to riddle (to read means to riddle; it’s the same word). You have to unriddle what is written there. That’s up to you; this is the thing. Reading is an act of faith. When you read, you riddle. You use your wits. That’s why to say you’ve read the book of Mormon doesn’t mean anything. It’s how much you have applied to it here. You have to extract the meaning, and you have to do almost all the work. There’s an immense lot of meaning in most of the verses in the Book of Mormon, an enormous lot.
These words awakened in me a sense of the miracle that writing truly is, particularly in its ability to transmit ideas from one mind to another. Speech possesses the same ability but it vanishes once the speaker is gone. Writing is far more sticky, after all, “The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory” (Chinese proverb).
I thought of how reading an autobiography takes you into the mind of the writer, you can understand them, and get a peek into their mind through their words. It then became immediately clear why the scriptures were so important and so different than any other writing. Many of the words in scripture come directly from the mind of God, even if they arrive to us slightly corrupted by human language, transmission, and translation.
If we are sensitive, the words act as a catalyst for the Spirit which can iron out kinks and allow us to understand without obstruction; what a tremendous thing that scripture can do! Be careful to not be so distracted by the hands of men that you fail to discern the fingerprints of God.
For this reason, and in spite of my own weakness in self-expression, I write here on this blog and keep various journals chronicling my journey through life (large plates) and the words of the Lord delivered through his servants or to me personally (small plates). I refuse to leave this life without providing to my posterity a witness of my dealings with God and how I understood his role in my life. Mankind has been gifted a spectacular power and the love I have for my children compels me to use it.