Guest Post: Reading the Book of Mormon for the 23rd Time

 Nickel has a Ph D in Art History and enjoys teaching part time. She spends her free time practicing cello and violin with her two little girls and listening to her husband sing. She is blogging the Book of Mormon over at http://nickelonthenacle.blogspot.com/
For the past three years, I have nailed my New Year’s resolutions. I am about to finish reading the standard works in a single year for the third time. In terms of spiritual practices, reading the scriptures has always been my strong suit. Except this last time was much harder. I estimate that I’ve read the Book of Mormon 22 times. Church leaders say that each time you read the Book of Mormon, you notice new things. This was true the second, tenth and even fifteenth time, but it absolutely stopped being true by the 22nd reading. At 32, there is still a lifetime of Book of Mormon reading in front of me. How do I keep it interesting?

Ever since President Hinckley’s 100 day challenge, I have set goals to read the Book of Mormon quickly. I’ve read it in 100 days several times and in as little as 5 weeks. Reading the Book of Mormon more like a regular book and less like a boring chore helped me to see the prophets as real people. This was especially true for Alma the Elder, who recognized and acted on truth when it was not to his benefit. In my mind, he is the greatest scriptural example of the power of the atonement to change us for the better. The visionary dreams of Nephi provided me with a new way of looking at the relationship between God and ordinary people. As an art historian, I enjoyed the imagery that they contain. More and more, the final books of the BOM are haunting, reinforced by successes and subsequent downfall recorded Ether. The Book of Mormon makes the Americas seem like the island in the TV show Lost. People are continually brought to this sacred place only to find destruction from within. But this time, there were no new insight, no new special feelings, only disappointment and nagging feelings of failure. I had read the Book of Mormon, but I had failed to read the Book of Mormon.

And now there is a new resolution for 2013. I’m going to read the Book of Mormon slowly – really slowly. I’m going to read it in 365 days. No more glossing over my least-favorite passages. No neglecting to use my critical thinking skills in favor of the unquestioning faith approach. This time will be different. There will be questions mixed in with believing and attempts at finding real answers. I’m going to wrestle with it like Jacob wrestled with the angel and then I’m going to blog about it. More than writing in my journal, blogging will make me accountable for finding the new and unfamiliar.

I’m not used to sharing my inner feelings about the gospel and the scriptures. Its not that I’m afraid, so much as I don’t think anyone cares. Too often I see that we, as LDS people, are content with easy answers to complex questions. I have been too content with shallow readings of difficult passages and I want to fix this. I’m hoping to bring about a spiritual rejuvenation of myself where I feel cynicism creeping in. I look forward to this new beginning.

19 thoughts on “Guest Post: Reading the Book of Mormon for the 23rd Time

  1. I started the Book of Mormon again in November of 2011, assuming (rightly) that because my husband had just lost his job we were in additional need of spiritual help. I can’t tell you how many times I have read the Book of Mormon in my life, but I’m 46 now so quite a few. (Though I have never specialized in reading it in a short period of time.) I had actually finished the Book of Mormon a few months before, and had put off starting it again, dreading the feeling of repetitiveness and “I just did this.” In the intervening months an idea for how to read it the next time had been building in my mind and heart, and when my husband lost his job and I started reading again I implemented this plan.

    It has now been almost 14 months since I started, and I am now on 1 Nephi 20.

    Yep, I’m on the super slow plan. And it has been amazing. This is what I do.

    I read the chapter once–an overview.
    I read the chapter a second time, then I take my scripture journal and I write the chapter down in my own words.
    I read the chapter a third time, and write down the doctrinal concepts in the chapter.
    I read the chapter a fourth time, and write down all of the insights I’ve had about the chapter.

    Recently I had a moment of panic about this study system. Some days I have only 5-10 minutes for my study. My scripture study wasn’t very consistent for much of last year–we fixed up and sold our house & moved across the country, but still–shouldn’t I at least be out of 1st Nephi?? When I voiced these thoughts to my husband, however, he calmed me down, reminded me that there actually isn’t a race to finish the Book of Mormon (particularly when I’ve read it so many times before), and asked what my experience with this study method has been.

    It has been extraordinary.

    I read through the chapter the first time, and it’s pretty much like my “normal” reading used to be.
    I read through it the second time and that’s obviously pretty slow, because I’m trying to find the “regular” english vocabulary to rewrite everything I’m reading. This seems to be serving two purposes. It means that I don’t skip over something without really comprehending it, which I have certainly done in the past. But it also means that I’m spending a lot of time in these words and ideas. It has created a new space in my mind that I can hardly explain, as I focus on the words and ideas without continually reading forward. It seems that feelings and insights come into these spaces in my mind in a much stronger way than they ever did before.
    I read through the chapter the third time and I think this time is interesting but much less remarkable–I look for points of doctrine and record those.
    The last time I read through is a wonderful experience. Originally I waited until this time through to start recording insights & thoughts that had come to me about the chapter. But a few months ago I noticed that I was having so many insights earlier in the process that I was having a hard time remembering them when I got to the fourth reading. I decided that I needed to follow Elder Scott’s counsel to record spiritual insights when we receive them. I’ve taken a sheet of loose paper, folded it so that it fits in my journal, and when I have a thought or insight or even a question I note the verse and the idea. Then as I read through the chapter for the fourth time, I record these.

    I’m in the Isaiah chapters right now, and wow it’s hard to try to figure out how to put those in my own words! It helps that I’m doing my reading using the Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon and the Isaiah chapters are mostly in verse form. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Book-Mormon-Readers-Edition/dp/0252027973) I think that when I’m done with these chapters though I’ll have a better idea of what they said and meant than I have after all of my previous readings.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to post such a huge comment but this has been on my mind a lot lately and I wanted to share what a good experience I’ve been having with what is quite possibly the slowest reading program ever!

  2. I’ve probably read the Book of Mormon about the same number of times you have.

    I’ve concluded that the faithful should be experiencing manifestations of the Spirit. Reading the Book of Mormon can help draw us nearer to the Spirit, but prayer is the key that opens the greater manifestations of the Spirit.

    I think the example of Enos needs to be experienced by the faithful. He prayed all day and into the night. I don’t think that everyone needs to try and do that, but I do think that each of us needs to “wrestle” with the Lord in mighty prayer until we access the heavens at some level. When we do, then we will have a deeper and broader testimony that will enable us to endure faithfully to the end of our lives.

  3. Cindy – It is great that you have found a new system of reading that is working for you!

    I once attended a Relief Society dinner, which was supposed to be a dinner with a brief message encouraging us to read the scriptures. The message turned into a lengthy 50 minute lesson where we were lectured on how to correctly read the scriptures, including what kind of pen to use for marking! It was terrible. We each have to figure out what kind of reading program makes sense for us at our stage of life.

  4. This talk by Elder Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, has great insights and strategies for studying the scriptures. As I have worked through his suggestions and adapted them for myself, my scripture study has changed dramatically. I’m much older than you (!) and have read the Book of Mormon daily throughout my life, but I now feel like I’m reading it with completely different eyes.

    http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,538-1-4040-1,00.html

  5. On one of my more interesting times through the Book of Mormon I read one chapter at a time, completely out of order. Sometimes I finished a chapter and then used a reference from that chapter to find the next chapter to read. Sometimes I chose randomly. I had a Book of Mormon reading chart that I’d cross off every chapter read so I didn’t repeat. I was amazed to learn how much the rhythm of the stories had set my learning. I seriously got to some chapters (like the ones just before all my favorite parts) and was like “was this here before?”

  6. I was unable to post at your blogspot location so I thought I would here. I have appreciated your series so far on the Book of Mormon. I have been going through a period of questioning my testimony and your writings have helped me wrap my head around giving scripture study another try. Thank you.

  7. Nickel,

    I hope you don’t think I was suggesting that my current reading system was something you or anyone else should implement! I just wanted to share what a different and interesting experience it has been. I would have been frustrated by the RS dinner lesson you described too, since at different moments in my life I’ve known that I needed to read for different reasons and in different ways. I’ve read and underlined only the “storyline” of the Book of Mormon, read and looked for references to Christ, read fast, now am reading slow, etc. I don’t think that I had considered before this time around that the Lord was sensitive to my feeling of repetitiveness and (dare I say?) boredom, and would put into my mind and heart a plan that would provide such benefit to me…

  8. Mandy – I’m so glad that you found the blog to be helpful! In writing about the Book of Mormon, I’m trying to understand it in human terms. In the short period I’ve been doing this, it has really changed my view of Nephi. I used to see him as this perfect example that I needed to live up to. Now I see some of his flaws and mistakes. I have a better understanding of his situation and suddenly he isn’t perfect, but good and struggling. And aren’t we all good (for the most part) and struggling?

  9. Cindy- definitely not! Nor am I suggesting that everyone read the way I am reading. I think it is ok to admit that when we read the same book over and over again and we do it because that is what we’re asked, that it does get boring. We have to figure out for ourselves how to combat that boredom and work through it.

  10. I love this idea–I too have seen Nephi as good but struggling as I read. The same applies to other Book of Mormon figures as well–poor Ammon, for instance, who converts a nation and then watches them all die. What was that like for him? I completely agree that we need to rediscover the scriptures in ways that are meaningful and resonant for us, so that they don’t get tired. I’ve read the Book of Mormon in Portuguese with my husband, read it backwards, read it fast and read it slow, read it with a special scripture marking goal. It’s good to find new ways to discover old truths. Thanks for a great post.

  11. I have also read the Book of Mormon dozens of times. One of the tricks that works for me is projects. I have done projects like reading the book of Mormon while searching for themes from my patriarchal blessing or other themes of interest. I like to read it quickly (Book of Mormon challenge – 3x in 90 days), and I also like to read it slowly – I’ve been doing a project that I call “scripture spiderweb” – which is basically reading one verse at a time, looking up all of its footnotes, and sometimes even its footnote’s footnotes…(I have other project ideas in an eBook I wrote here – skip to the projects section). …I find that doing different things at different times is really helpful.

    I am also always looking for new project ideas and stowing them away -for when I need another refreshing way to read the scriptures.

    Anyways – thanks for the post. I look forward to reading about your book of Mormon experiences. :)

  12. Elder Holland spoke at my stake conference this morning and this post was on my mind as he spoke about how he has no desire to read any other book more than 2-3 times, but he has read the Book of Mormon over a hundred times (I forgot the phrase he used to describe the number of times) and keeps going. What motivates him? To paraphrase, because the Book of Mormon is God’s truth, and because it is God’s truth, we need to DO something with it. Thank you for this post–reading it yesterday and thinking about it through the day prepared me to receive an answer I needed this morning. For me, the reading has to lead to action to be exciting and keep my interest.

  13. I too read and devoured the BOM, even before Hinkley’s challenge (but the last time I read it cover to cover I did something different) I became like a child and applied everything Moroni said to me as a member of the church. It unlocked something that was in my face the whole time. Shocked I hadn’t noticed it before since I thought he was talking to the Jews or the world in general, not the LDS church. And it lead me to read the Sealed Portion which further changed my heart beyond measure of joy.

  14. I, too, have read the B of M dozens of times and espouse the projects concept. I’ve also found it helpful to read it in other formats, such as the version with the lack of verse divisions, and the one reformatted with parallelistic poetry. We get so used to seeing the words in the same place on the page that it’s nice to change that up. Sometimes a reading of the B of M may only result in one or two new insights, but those were just what I needed that particular day, and cumulatively over a lifetime we gain a treasured friend in the book. Thanks to everyone for sharing such great ideas!

  15. Sounds like a great way to study it. I’ve also read the BoM around 70-80 times (lost track). That said, while I get a quick spiritual buzz from it when I speed read it, I get greater and deeper intellectual insights as I study it slowly and intently. Studying it by themes. Reading some Nibley, Sorenson, Adam Miller or Joe Spencer, and then reading it through a scholarly or philosophical lens also helps me see more things, as well.
    Then my blog of the Sunday School lessons over the last 3 years has also forced me to do additional studying.
    So, I’m excited when someone tells me that she is trying new methods to study the BoM.

  16. Love these ideas!

    I await the day when people in the church read Alma 32 more carefully. The seed is compared to the word. Then he tells how to plant the word of God in our hearts and have it spring up to a fruit-bearing tree. But most people gloss over it and say the seed is compared to faith. Not that that is a bad idea, and it does show up in other scripture, but the chapter is rich with how the word of God once planted and nourished by faith, brings results.

    That’s just my pet peeve. Deeper reading is beneficial. I think I will be reading your blog. I’m on aout my 20th reading or so.

  17. I’v read the BoM some 30 times and still receive more from it each time through.

    #2 Cindy, I met my wife at a fireside a few years ago, while we were in our mid-50s, a few hours after she was baptized. She doesn’t study scriptures; she vacuums them. She spent more than a year in 1 Nephi because she kept finding new insights and starting over to read in the context of them. We finally read it aloud together in twenty-eight hours over four days.

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