Situated on the border between the United States and Canada and lying along the river that connects lakes Ontario and Erie is one of the most spectacular natural wonders of North America. More than ten million people come to admire it every year. They call it Niagara Falls. At Niagara Falls, the river drops almost 200 feet and forms a gorge along the rest of the river. Fog or mist often clouds the opposite shore from view. Cliffs of 200 to 350 feet flank white-water rapids that continue for almost four miles downriver. The magnitude of the chasm is breathtaking.
Situated just below the falls and spanning the gorge is another spectacular but man-made wonder—Rainbow Bridge. Built in 1941, it connects the cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York. It is a suspension bridge, meaning that it crosses the gorge in the air by a series of cables and is not anchored to footings in the river below.
Ponder for a moment these natural and man-made wonders and consider how some of them are like the great chasm between us and our Heavenly Father and some of them can represent our ability to cross that chasm.
In the beginning, all of the Father’s children lived in his presence. (See D&C 93:23.) But when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they were cast out of God’s presence. (See 2 Ne. 2:19–21.) As their posterity, we are therefore now separated from God by a great chasm. Mists of temptation, sin, and ignorance often cloud our view of the shore beyond where our Heavenly Father stands ready to encircle us in the arms of his love. (See Alma 5:33.)
How can we cross this great chasm? Our fate would be sure death if we tried to cross it on our own. We would be no more successful than if we tried to swim or jump across the Niagara gorge. But if we had a bridge …
Edwin Markham described how the Rainbow Bridge was built:
The builder who first bridged Niagara’s gorge,
Before he swung his cable, shore to shore,
Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite
Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands
To grasp upon the further cliff and draw
A greater cord, and then a greater yet;
Till at last across the chasm swung
The cable—then the mighty bridge in air!
So may we send our little timid thought
Across the void, out to God’s reaching hands—
Send our love and faith to thread the deep—
Thought after thought until the little cord
Has greatened to a chain no chance can break,
And we are anchored to the infinite!
(As cited by David O. McKay in Conference Report, Apr. 1946, p. 116.)
The bridge between our world and the presence of God is personal communication with Heavenly Father. One of the happy consequences of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith is that the knowledge and power to rebuild that bridge in all its strength is once more available. The kite and slender cord, the greater cords, and the great cable used to build Rainbow Bridge can all symbolize ways we cross the great chasm between us and God. These ways include personal prayer, the scriptures and the words of living prophets, and the ordinances and covenants of the priesthood.
The means by which we first approach God is prayer. He reaches out to us through revelation, effected by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Implanted in the heart of every person is the desire to worship a divine being. Prayer really is the soul’s sincere desire, and it plays an important part in practically every religion. It was, in fact, the boy Joseph Smith’s first uttered prayer that opened the heavens and ushered in the dispensation of the fulness of times. That prayer, like a kite bearing a slender thread, brought the kingdom of God to earth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a monument to the efficacy of prayer.
God communicates with us through the agency of the Holy Ghost. (See D&C 8:2–3.) Members throughout the world testify that by the power of the Holy Ghost they have come to know the greater truths of the gospel. Indeed, by the power of the Holy Ghost we may know the truth of all things. (See Moro. 10:5.)
One of the great experiences we can have is to hear what are often the first vocally uttered prayers of people who are trying to bridge the chasm between themselves and God. Their words are often unpolished, and they have not yet learned the more effectual forms of prayer revealed in our dispensation. But their desire is genuine, their feelings poignant, their words plain and precious. Often the power of the Holy Ghost is manifest in great strength.
I had one such experience with an elderly sister who lived just outside the city of Baltimore, Maryland. As a stake missionary, I had been called to assist two elders in teaching and fellowshipping her. My soul was stirred as I listened to her sincere prayers to know what she should believe and do.
After she was baptized, I was privileged to bestow upon her the gift of the Holy Ghost. As I pronounced the words “receive the Holy Ghost,” she raised her hands in the air and loudly declared, “Praise the Lord.” The declaration momentarily startled me, and I paused to make sure everything was all right. At that point the Spirit whispered to me that this was simply her way of expressing her joy. She had finally felt the two-way communication with God that all of us seek. I closed my eyes and pronounced a blessing upon her, knowing that a bridge between this dear sister and her Father in Heaven was now being built.
Enduring personal communication with God must be built upon the foundation of continual prayer. Once a “slender cord” of communication has been established, it is necessary that stronger cords be drawn across the deep. These stronger cords can be the scriptures and the words of living prophets.
The scriptures contain the words that God has communicated to his people in ages past. He wants us to be familiar with them today. President Ezra Taft Benson has said that the Book of Mormon is particularly useful for our dispensation. (See Ensign, Jan. 1988, p. 3.) The scriptures contain the doctrine and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ that enable us to strengthen and deepen our personal communication with God. Through them, the Holy Ghost helps us structure an enduring connection with the Father and the Son. The prophet Mormon said that the scriptures can “lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—
“And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven.” (Hel. 3:29–30.)
There is a spirit and power in the scriptures that cannot be found anywhere else. President Spencer W. Kimball said: “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Bookcraft, 1982, p. 135.)
We need divine guidance as much today as in the past. How blessed we are to have the scriptures! And how blessed we are to have living prophets to deliver the counsel of a living God! The Restoration enables us to declare, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (A of F 1:9.)
Living prophets are like architects and engineers who help us chart our plans and help us make our bridges firm. Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “When [prophets] speak under the influence of this prophetic power, they amplify or add to the body of revelation possessed by the Church. They guide us in the maze of contending forces.” (In The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, p. xi.)
Like the cables that give a suspension bridge its stability, the ordinances and covenants of the priesthood stabilize the bridge of personal communication between heaven and earth. Receiving them allows us to receive greater light and knowledge from God. As we participate in these ordinances and keep our covenants with God, we are actually in the process of being brought back into the presence of God. (See D&C 93:1; A of F 1:3.) Among these ordinances are baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, priesthood ordinations, priesthood blessings, and the ordinances of the temple.
As a bishop in a ward where many people were new in their Church participation, I sought every opportunity to encourage ward members to receive the ordinances or renew the covenants of the priesthood. Our ward leaders fostered attendance at baptism services and planned sacrament services carefully. We took every opportunity to qualify people for the ordinances of salvation. Blessings of comfort and counsel were performed in great abundance, and temple trips were frequently made.
One ward tradition we started was an annual trip for youth and newly baptized members to go to the temple and be baptized for the dead. In interviews following their first trip to the temple, I often invited new members to express their feelings. I will never forget one sister’s testimony. She said that from the moment she entered the temple, she felt enveloped by the Spirit; she knew the Lord’s power was there. And as she ascended from the font, she felt that someone from the spirit world had accepted the ordinance. Within a year, her thirst for such closeness to the Lord led her and her family back to the temple for all the ordinances.
Bridges must be maintained, and when damage occurs, repairs must be made. Situated just east of the Rainbow Bridge are the ruins of a bridge that collapsed in 1938. It was called Honeymoon Bridge, and it collapsed under the strain of an ice jam. It was not a suspension bridge.
Our personal bridges of communication with God must also be maintained and, when necessary, repaired. The way to keep close to God is to continually do the things that helped establish the lines of communication in the first place. Pray always (see Alma 37:36–37), and search your heart and mind for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Ne. 32:5; 3 Ne. 17:3; D&C 8:2). “Feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 32:3) as found in the scriptures, and follow the counsel of the living prophets (see 2 Ne. 26:8–9). Participate often in the covenants and ordinances of the priesthood, for in them God will reveal to you his power. (See D&C 84:19–21.)
And if, through sin, you damage your relationship with God, be assured that the damage can be repaired, even if the repair work is hard and time-consuming. The Apostle John said:
“If any man sin and repent, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
“And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (JST, 1 Jn. 2:1–3.)
Near the end of my service as bishop, I met a man who had seriously damaged the bridge connecting himself with God. He had allowed his bridge to collapse, and the gorge seemed to him impossible to traverse. I admit that I also wondered at the possibility for repair. Suicide was a real idea in his mind, and he struggled with questions that seemed unanswerable. But we met often to discuss his questions, and the building process began again. It was difficult. The trials were many.
Just before I was released, we met over lunch. He had come far, but there was still a long way to go. I felt prompted to read him 2 Nephi 26:24–33: [2 Ne. 26:24–33]
“The Lord] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. …
“He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him.”
As we parted, he promised to keep trying, and I promised him that if he would, he could be completely forgiven and return to God’s presence.
Someday every valley will be exalted, every mountain will be made low, and the rough places of the earth will be made plain. (See Isa. 40:4.) I expect that the Niagara gorge will disappear, and Niagara Falls will cease to be. At that day, the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind will see God. (See Isa. 40:5.) Best of all, there will no longer be a chasm separating us from God. Let us build strong bridges now so that when that day comes, we can be welcomed into His loving embrace.