In September of 2007, I took a trip from Henderson, Nevada to Rochester, New York so I could visit a friend who was in medical school. Since it was only a short drive away we went over to Palmyra and saw the old Smith family farm, and next to it, the Sacred Grove.
During my teens, I had heard from many of my peers who made a “Back East Trip” during the summer and visited the early Church history sites like these. (The Granding Building is another one, featuring the printing press that produced the first copies of the Book of Mormon) Often these peers would share their testimony of how special the Sacred Grove was.
It all sounded nice, but not something imperative for me to visit. I took them at their word because my testimony of the Book of Mormon was already solid, I didn’t need any more evidence.
And yet when I made this trip at age 23, it still affected me much more than I expected. There is a real difference between knowing something is true on paper and understanding it is true from your own experience.
We have examples in scripture of how mortals are affected when they come in close proximity with the Spirit. It has an unmistakable effect on our imperfect bodies when we draw near to it. Nephi wrote his psalm, decrying his own wickedness and imperfection; Joseph Smith, years after the First Vision, wrote of his own sins and how ashamed he was of them, not because he had done anything gravely wrong, but because he had been perhaps too casual and worldly for someone who had seen God face to face.
For my part, I didn’t see God when I went there, obviously. I didn’t need to, or rather, He didn’t need me to. I wasn’t called to that. Still, the sense of reverence surrounding this grove of trees in upstate New York made me aware something incredible had indeed happened there, and that I needed to pay attention to my surroundings while in this place.
The Grove itself it just that; a cluster of trees in some farmland that was once heavily wooded. You could probably find a hundred stands of timber like it in the surrounding square miles. There are a few simple footpaths that take you in, then bring you back out.
As my friend Heidi let me into the Grove, I had a question. Probably the biggest question anyone has when they visit.
Where did IT happen?
I expected she knew but held my tongue because of the solemn air of the place, that feeling that it had been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ, in person, in the flesh, in response to the prayer of a young man who They intended to be Their prophet. We were quiet as we slowly walked one of the trails, taking it all in, and when we reached the trail’s end, I finally asked.
Heidi thought I had read one of the signs outside the Grove, but I must have missed it: she said the exact spot was not known, it was just in those trees somewhere. Internally I figured, that makes sense. Marking out the Grove would allow future generations of God’s children to visit the place, but not make light of the specific spot itself.
Knowing this increased my desire to be reverent there, and ponder on what I was feeling. I found a bench at the end of a trail and Heidi left me alone for a while so I could pray by myself.
The Spirit still lingers in that Sacred Grove. It’s immensely powerful and I finally understood what all of my friends had been saying since my teens. For me, it became a time of prayer and rededication, the likes of which I have only ever known as I was preparing for my mission or my sealing to my wife. Should you ever get the chance to visit, I encourage you to do so.
Nevertheless, most people won’t get that chance. Even as the Church continues to “fill the whole earth,” economic considerations make that kind of travel impractical or improbable. And honestly, it’s okay. Save those resources for trips to the temple with your family. That same sacred air permeates these places as they pop up across the globe.
What matters more than the geography is the Spirit itself, and that is accessible to all of us, wherever we are. What I learned from the Grove, though, is the Spirit truly belongs to an omnipotent God, and when we draw near to Him with our actions and thoughts, He is there for us.
I’m excited to add The Restoration: A Proclamation to the World to the rest of my Gospel library. The doctrines contained in these proclamations are vital to a complete understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The last one was issued 25 years ago, on a subject that seemed almost banal in its universal acceptance: the Family. And yet today we see the wisdom of God in prompting His prophets to issue that very proclamation.
Study this new Proclamation, brothers and sisters. And stay ever faithful.
- “The Fruits of the First Vision” -Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2005
- “The Magnificent Vision Near Palmyra” -Elder James E. Faust, April 1984
- “The Cornerstones of Our Faith” -President Gordon B. Hinckley, October 1984