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Seeing Light

[Sister Catherine Hardy Andersen]

I love and admire my husband very much, but introducing him at a BYU Hawaii devotional--or any other gathering requiring a microphone, has never been on my bucket list, so please bear with me as I try to do justice to my subject. I'm going to provide some details about Eric's life and then share a story about him that I think illustrates the kind of light he's going to discuss with you today.

Blessed with intuitively brilliant parents and five outstanding siblings, Eric was raised in the Los Angeles and Seattle areas. During their Los Angeles years, his grandparents and great grandmother shared their house. In addition to the four generations sharing the premises, his parents purchased nanny goats for Eric and his older brother to tend and milk. Those two boys wrote checks to the man who delivered their Purina goat chow, and they sold goat milk to neighbors unable to digest cows milk.

Following a mission in Denmark, Eric completed his undergraduate and law degrees at BYU Provo, which is where we met. Among the greatest blessings and sources of joy in our lives are our three children and eight grandchildren.

After law school, Eric clerked for Judge Clifford Wallace of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and for Justice Lewis Powell of the U. S. Supreme Court, and then practiced law one year in Washington DC and four years in London, England. We then moved to Iowa City where he has taught at the University of Iowa College of Law for 32 years and served as an associate dean for about half of that time.

Two callings have dominated Eric's church service: for as long as I have known him, Eric has been a devoted and faithful home teacher. For almost 19 of the 40 years that we've been married, he has served as a counselor in the stake presidency. Several years ago, a very recent convert whom I had been visiting teaching for a few months, asked me whether I had a husband.

About 9 years ago, there was a debate at the University of Iowa College of Law on the question of whether same sex marriage should be legal. The participants were two nationally renowned advocates for their positions on this question. Unfortunately, the woman who was going to argue the position opposing same sex marriage missed her connecting flight the morning of the debate and was not able to make it. Eric and another faculty member who is a devout Catholic agreed to step in on very short notice and argue the position in opposition, a very unpopular position in our community, so that the event would not have to be cancelled.

I wasn't there, and although Eric shared with me the trauma of suddenly being thrust into this divisive debate for which he had had so little time to prepare, he didn't mention the part of that story I'm about to share. That came from a University of Iowa colleague--not someone I've met-- who was there. Quoting from him:

"When the debate started, the law faculty moderator was introducing the participants, and said Eric was a man who needed no introduction, and that he was “the person without whom this place would stop.” The entire room erupted in applause and cheers that went on and on, every person in the auditorium acknowledging what he meant to the law school, because he in some way had touched every person’s life, whether they were faculty, staff, or student.

After the debate, I was with a group of students talking with the attorney who argued the pro-gay marriage side and he said he’d never seen that before, that he’d participated in lots of debates about gay marriage all over the country, and because it’s such a polarizing topic, they were usually tense, often uncomfortable events with lots of screaming and yelling. He had never been at an event where the entire room had so much respect for one of the participants that they would give him such an ovation, regardless of their own beliefs.

But that’s how Eric is, one of, if not the most, fundamentally humane and decent people I’ve ever met...The world could use a few more people like Eric."

I don't know the man who wrote these words, but I know the source of the qualities he describes and hope you will give your attention to my husband as he speaks about that source.

[Brother Eric G. Andersen]

Invisible Light

Since the beginning of recorded history, mankind has been fascinated by light. We have thought about it and written about it, trying to figure out what it is and how it works. We know that it is essential to life on earth.

We learned long ago that shining white light through a prism produces an array of colors. But around 1670, Isaac Newton proved that all those colors were actually contained in the white light; they were not (as some believed) somehow added by the prism.

Then we learned something amazing. In 1800 a scientist named William Herschel put light through a prism and was measuring the temperatures of the different colors displayed on a surface. He found that temperatures were higher at the red end of the spectrum than at the violet end. For some reason, he decided to put his thermometer past the range of the red color where there appeared to be no light coming from the prism. He discovered something shocking: the temperature went up – higher, even, than in the color red. He surmised that there was some kind of “invisible light” there, if that makes any sense. We’ve since come to understand that he had discovered infrared rays.

The very next year, scientist Johann Ritter was doing his own experiments with light that had passed through a prism. He was measuring the rate at which the chemical silver chloride reacted in each color of light. He observed that the reaction was less at the red end of the spectrum and greater at the violet end. Then he ran his experiment past the visible, violet light and saw that the chemical reaction was even more pronounced than in the violet color. He had discovered that “invisible light” existed past the other end of the visible-light spectrum. We’ve since learned that he had detected ultraviolet rays.

Since the days of Herschel and Ritter, our knowledge of invisible light has expanded enormously. We now know that there is a vast array of waves in what we’ve come to call the electromagnetic spectrum. Visible light is actually a very small portion of that spectrum.

The other portions of the spectrum have been there all the time, but our natural eyes aren’t capable of detecting them. Just think about what became possible as we’ve come to understand and control a vast array of waves in the electromagnetic spectrum.

Have you ever had a broken bone? X-rays were probably used to diagnose it. Do you ever listen to the radio? You’re using radio waves. Have you ever cooked or warmed food in a microwave oven? You know what those waves can do.

But all that power lay dormant until people learned to sense it and to use it. One could almost say that the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not.1

Divine Light

The portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that our physical eyes cannot detect are not the only kinds of light that people do not see. There exists a divine, spiritual light that is just as pervasive and, in important ways, more powerful than the waves of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is there, but it must be detected to be of any use to us.

The scriptures are packed with references to “light.” It is everywhere. Indeed, these references are so common, that it can be tempting to ignore them, or to treat them as mere metaphors or figures of speech. But I believe that many of them refer to something that is a fundamental reality in its own right. The scriptures attempt to describe, in our imperfect and limited language, something that is a deep part of our immortal, spiritual existence.

Many of them use the word “light” to describe the influence of the Savior Jesus Christ in our lives. The Gospel of John teaches that Christ is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."2 "I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world,” the Lord said to the prophet Ether.3 Through Joseph Smith we learn that “Jesus Christ. . . [is] in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.”4 And “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”5

From these and many other teachings in the scriptures about light, I have come to believe that this divine light is essential to how we come to perceive, understand and appreciate spiritual things. Our minds are literally “enlightened.” The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that “the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings.”6

The same passage of scripture goes on to identify this light as much more than a teaching tool; it is the fundamental manifestation of the life-giving power of God:

“Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space— The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things."7

The Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost

The many references in the scriptures to divine or spiritual light raise a theological point. In our doctrine we recognize the Light of Christ as an influence available to every son and daughter of God born into the world. We also learn that the Holy Ghost is an individual being, a personage of spirit, the third member of the Godhead who witnesses of the Father and the Son, and whose companionship can be claimed as a precious gift by priesthood ordinance following baptism. Exactly how the two work together is a question that I will not pursue. It is enough for me to understand that they work together. As Elder Packer taught:

"It is important . . . to know that the Holy Ghost can work through the Light of Christ. . . . The [Light] of Christ is always there. It never leaves. It cannot leave. . . . Once a person has received that gift of the Holy Ghost and can cultivate it together with the Light of Christ, which they already have, then the fullness of the gospel is open to their understanding."8

In my remarks today, I will consider the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost to be a unified source of divine light in my life, a gift to be sought and cherished. In the time remaining, I would like to share with you some thoughts about that light and experiences with it that have enriched me.

Recognizing Truth

Divine light can be the means by which we recognize truth and distinguish between good and evil. Mormon urged to us to accept and profit from that blessing: “Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil.”9

This passage of scripture brings to mind an experience I had as a young boy. My family had traveled from our home in California to Salt Lake City, where General Conference was being held. After we had waited in line, an usher found a place for us, up behind the choir on a wooden bench at the base of the big organ pipes in the Tabernacle. It gave me a visual perspective on General Conference that I’ve never had since, and certainly don’t expect to enjoy again. Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, began to speak. I have no memory of what he said, but as I viewed him from behind, standing at the pulpit and speaking to the people, in an instant I understood – somehow perceived clearly – that I was seeing and listening to a prophet. It is difficult to describe other than as a moment of enlightenment. It was not a particularly emotional experience, but actually rather matter of fact. I recognized something about him that seemed plain as day to me. He later became the President of Church when I was in my early 20s. Sustaining him in that office was, to me, a completely obvious and easy thing to do.


Recognizing the truth does us little good if it doesn’t change us in an enduring way. In other words, we must be converted. Divine light has played an essential role in my conversion.

The scriptures describe some dramatic conversion experiences, and light is always present in them. Paul saw “a light from heaven above the brightness of the sun.”10 Alma said: “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold . . .!”11 Light is everywhere in the description of King Lamoni’s conversion:

"[T]he dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness . . . had infused . . . joy into his soul . . .."12

That enlightenment also occurs when we do not have a dramatic conversion experience, but find our faith growing gradually and organically. Alma described how that works when he compared the development of testimony and conversion to a seed that grows into a tree:

"[It] beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me."13

Trees need light to grow. Divine “enlightenment” provides it.

My own conversion has been much more like the growth of the tree in Alma’s sermon than Alma’s own, thunderous experience with the angel who called him to repentance. I have been blessed with numerous, subtle witnesses of the Spirit, but nothing very dramatic. Changes day to day, or even year to year, have been gradual. But when I look back over time, I see that what began as a seedling is now a mature tree.

The setting in which I have worked out my professional life has contributed to that slow, steady growth. For the past three decades it has been my privilege to be part of an outstanding faculty of legal scholars, none of whom is a Latter-day Saint. As a group they are more talented and accomplished than I, and I have been challenged by their ideas. I hasten to add that I have consistently been treated with respect by my colleagues, many of whom have become dear friends. But for a person whose formal, higher education was entirely at BYU – a blessing for which I will be eternally grateful – landing in this community has given me an important and valuable opportunity to confront ideas about life’s values and virtues that often contradict my own. That has led me to examine my beliefs and commitments carefully. As Lehi taught, opposition creates the need and opportunity for us to choose.14

As I near retirement and take stock of my own conversion in this setting, I can say two things. First, there are many important questions to which I do not have answers. Indeed, the older I get, it sometime seems the less I know. Associating with talented people who disagree with me has made a certain humility come naturally. Second, notwithstanding all I do not know, the pillars of faith in my life feel firm and well set. Just as I saw and recognized Spencer Kimball as a prophet, I see and recognize the fundamental claims of the Restored Gospel as true. For me, there is a clarity and obviousness about it, made possible by the blessing of divine light.

Finding and Retaining the Light

I began this talk by analogizing divine light of the Gospel to the parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that, for most of human history, were ignored because they were not seen. Once we look in the right way, we discover that divine light, like those useful microwaves and radio waves and X-rays, is abundant and everywhere. But there are crucial differences. It is possible to disbelieve in divine light in ways that are not possible with X-rays. And even after gaining a knowledge of divine light by personal experience, it is possible to lose it, and even to doubt that it was ever there.

Finding the Light

Our understanding of natural phenomena is based on the idea of publicly reproducible experiments. If what William Hershel and Johann Ritter discovered was genuine, then other people should get the same results by doing the same experiment under the same conditions. When they do, we have a workable theory, and we can build on it. Crucially, the experimenter’s spiritual perspectives and desires don’t matter. All that matters is that the test is conducted in the physically correct way under physically correct conditions.

The results of that scientific method are truly impressive. That is how we have built the technologically powerful world in which we live.

But a key mistake, especially in our modern age, is to assume that this is the only way truth can be discovered – that anything that cannot be proved in that way doesn’t really exist outside of our own minds. By limiting the admissible evidence to that which is scientifically provable, some skeptics and atheists conclude that there is no evidence for divine light.

That kind of skepticism has been around for a long while – well before the age of modern science. Paul describes it in his first letter to the Corinthians:

"For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."15

Why does discerning divine light not submit to the rules of science? The reason, I believe, is that it is given to us for a specific purpose, and accomplishing that purpose requires that we find it in a different way, and use it on different principles than the waves we have discovered in the electromagnetic spectrum. To those who refused to exercise faith (in Paul’s description, the rebellious Jews requiring a sign) or who believed only what their natural minds could perceive (the philosophical Greeks seeking mortal wisdom), the doctrine of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ simply made no sense. They couldn’t “see” it because they didn’t use the spiritual instruments necessary to detect the spiritual light by which these things are known.

Divine light is given us as part of the plan of a Loving Father in Heaven to invite, but not compel, His children to return to Him. In a sense, we are compelled to believe in physical light, microwaves, and radio waves; the physical evidence of them is undeniable. Our Heavenly Father will not, however, compel us to believe in Him, or in the divine light that will help lead us back to Him. Our Father gives us the agency to choose to believe.

So spiritual things – which are as real as physical light, microwaves, and radio waves – are manifested in accordance with our faith and our fundamental desires to seek out God and become like Him. If we refuse to exercise faith and do not have that desire, then the spiritual experiment will not work. But when we do, it does work, in a deeply authentic way. Alma describes it thus:

"[T]his is . . . good . . . for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. . . . O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good..."16

What a beautiful description of the divine light exerting its power within us! It is real, and it is discernible, but by God’s design it is not scientifically provable.

Retaining the Light

If we have experienced that enlightenment as described by Alma, we need to understand the importance of retaining it. Divine light is simultaneously more energetic and more fragile than the waves on the electromagnetic spectrum. When we have it, it can enlighten, move and motivate us powerfully. But when we lose it, it is possible to doubt that we ever had it.

That, again, I believe, is an intentional quality of divine light which enables us to choose what we want most, and not be forced to accept something. An X-ray can be forced on you; spiritual light will not be, at least not in the long run. There are individuals who have had the light imposed on them, and thereafter remained faithful to it to the end of their mortal days.

Paul and Alma the Younger are two obvious examples. Yet others have found themselves the recipients of unsought spiritual manifestations, and have, for a while, responded positively to them before reverting to their own fundamental desires. That was true of Laman and Lemuel, and also the Nephites who fell away following the miraculous sign of Christ’s birth. To retain spiritual influences, whether they be dramatic or – as is usually the case – more subtle, we have to continually seek them and cherish them.

One way we can fail to cherish these influences is to be embarrassed by them, and to disown them in light of others’ criticism. That lesson was vividly taught in Lehi’s dream of the tree of life. Recall that, after some of the seekers had endured challenges and hardships to reach the tree, and had partaken of the fruit, they became ashamed when those in the great and spacious building mocked them.17 Despising spiritual gifts is a good way to lose them very quickly.

Another way to lose those gifts is to attempt to misuse them for our own purposes – to dominate, to impress, to call favorable attention to ourselves. The proper use of these gifts is to serve others. Individuals can pretend to have them, and sometimes deceive others, but true gospel power cannot be so misused. In my opinion, the passage from D&C 121 on using the powers of the priesthood states a general principle relating to the use of Gospel power: it cannot be controlled or handled except according to the principles of righteousness.18

We can also lose these gifts simply by neglecting them. Even after they have proven their worth, if we

"neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and [we] pluck it up and cast it out.

Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because [our] ground is barren, and [we] will not nourish the tree, therefore [we] cannot have the fruit thereof."19

Spiritual enlightenment is fragile. May we take care not to disown it, misuse it, or neglect it.

Becoming a Light to Others

One of the key elements of the Gospel is that we have the opportunity to contribute to the salvation of others. That includes our becoming a source of light to those around us.

“Ye are the light of the world,” Jesus told us.

"A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."20

What great meaning is contained in that two letter word “so,” as in “let your light SO shine”! It is to shine in a way that glorifies not us but our Father in Heaven. I conclude with two stories illustrating how we can become such a source of light to others.

In 1885, a young woman named Margaret Gordon was living with her family in a tiny village in Ontario, Canada. Her father had moved his family to Canada from England and managed to find a job teaching school in that remote place. Margaret, then 19 years old, corresponded with some LDS cousins in Utah. They sent her a copy of the Book of Mormon. As she read it, she felt a powerful spiritual witness that what she was reading was true. She was sufficiently moved that she began sharing her witness with the other members of her family. Eventually her father, the last hold-out, agreed to move the family to Utah, where they joined the Church. Margaret never faltered in her testimony and spent a lifetime of remarkable service on the frontiers of the western U.S. and Canada, building the Kingdom of God.21

Her testimony of the Gospel, and especially of the Book of Mormon, was irrepressible. As an old woman in her 90s, she hauled two, young great grandsons into her little bedroom where she read the Book of Mormon with them aloud, and explained it, and testified of it, verse by verse, over the course of many weeks. It may have seemed a fool’s errand at times, because the little boys squirmed and laughed at the strange names in the book. But the light of her testimony was strong. It shone brightly on the seedling testimonies of the two boys. My brother and I were changed forever by that experience. To each of us, a testimony of the Book of Mormon is an anchor to our faith.

The final story is one that I felt I could relate only if I was able to verify that it was more than a faith-promoting rumor. My inquiry made it as far as a senior Church officer who heard the young woman tell the story, and who confirmed the details I’ll share with you. That gives me sufficient confidence to tell the story to you.

A few years ago, a young woman in Guatemala had been taught by the missionaries, but decided not to continue with the lessons. One day as she was riding a local bus, several young men climbed aboard. She said that she and everyone else on the bus immediately recognized them as gang members by their appearance, including the evidence of handguns under their shirts. This was an all-too-common occurrence in that place. They knew they were about to be robbed. The gang members separated, some going to the front of the bus, some to the back, according to their standard procedure.

The bus came to the next stop and a group of young Mormon elders came aboard. They, too, separated, one standing up front, and the others going back into the bus to sit next to the passengers. The one in front got up and began to teach, sharing with the passengers a message about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The young woman said that he spoke with great power. The bus came to the next stop. The gang members all arose and exited the bus.

My guess is that those missionaries had no idea what had just happened. Of course I cannot say what went through the minds of the gang members, but it seems quite possible that they were repelled by the spiritual light and power the elders had brought with them, and that they wanted to be away from it. If I am right, a spiritual power and light not only had touched the heart of one who gave heed to it, but had driven darkness away. After the bus ride, the young woman sought out the missionaries, resumed her study of the Gospel, and related this story at her baptism.

I testify that this invisible, spiritual light is as real as infrared or ultraviolet light. How marvelous its effects have been in my life and so many others’ lives! How marvelous that we ourselves can be a source of that light to others! May we cherish it, and nurture it, and share it, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[Special recognition given to Catherine H. Andersen, Richard J. Olson, and John D. Peters who provided invaluable assistance in the preparation of this talk.]

[1] see John 1:5

[2] John 1:9; see also Doctrine and Covenants 84:46, 93:2

[3] Ether 4:12

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 88:5-7

[5] Doctrine and Covenants 93:36

[6] Doctrine and Covenants 88:11

[7] Doctrine and Covenants 88:12-13

[8] Boyd K. Packer, "The Light of Christ", an address given on June 22:2004, at a seminar for new mission presidents, Missionary Training Center, Provo, Utah

[9] Moroni 7:19

[10] Acts 26:13

[11] Alma 36:20

[12] Alma 19:6

[13] Alma 32:28

[14] 2 Nephi 2:11-13

[15] 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

[16] Alma 32:28, 35

[17] 1 Nephi 8:28

[18] Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-46

[19] Alma 32:38-39

[20] Matthew 5:14-16

[21] Claudia Bushman (ed), Pansy's History: The Autobiography of Margaret E.P. Gordon, 1866-1966 (Utah State University press, 2011)