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Dean Garner

Stand in Holy Places

That musical number was absolutely beautiful, and we could probably just all go home, and we would be edified. Aubrey, thank you; that was wonderful. And I loved the comments of both the prayer from Anna and Kaitlyn’s testimony, which basically says why we are really here—to be taught by the Spirit. And certainly the Spirit was brought to us as a result of the musical number.

Today as you saw me sitting up here next to my wife, Lisa, you’re probably wondering how in the world was he so lucky. That would be a real question to ask yourself. I ask myself that often, and I am so grateful that she could be with us today and I’m grateful for her support always in my life—not just in this, but in every aspect.

I want you to just for a minute think about the most beautiful place you have ever been. Maybe it’s the beach—the warmth of the sand in your feet, the sun as it’s setting over, the cool breeze as it’s coming, and the smell of the waves, the ocean as it’s coming in. Maybe it’s the mountains and the smell of the pine trees and the birds in the trees and those kinds of things.

Why did you choose the place that you did choose as the most beautiful place you have ever been? Maybe it has something to do with an experience that you’ve had there. Maybe it’s a sacred experience that you’ve had there. Today, we want to talk about this idea of sacred experiences in locations. It’s interesting that the Book of Mormon has such an experience recorded.

You remember in Mosiah 18:5 that Alma is preaching to the people, and this is how the location is described:

Now there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searchers of the king.

Now, that’s not a great description—all it is, is water and a small thicket of trees, right? But then notice the next few verses that begin to happen, in verse 7:

And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.

And you remember what happens almost immediately after that? In fact, six verses later, in verse 13 they go into the water. Alma and Helam go into the water, and Alma raises his hand and he baptizes Helam in the name of Jesus Christ, and Alma says this to Helam: that the Spirit would “be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.”

These powerful things begin to happen in that beautiful sacred place. Now, listen in verse 30 of the same chapter to the description of that place:

Now it came to pass that all this was done . . . by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.

So why the difference and the change from when it first said they’re near a water with a thicket of trees to this beautiful declaration? It’s the things that happened there. It’s the things that happened there.

I remember as a young missionary—in Pennsylvania is where I was called to serve. And we were living in—my companion and I were living in a cabin out in the middle of the woods, basically, because a guy died, and he donated the land to the Church. It was fabulous! A little cold, though—it was the middle of winter, and if you stood just right you could see outside, onto the ground, through the wall. So it was kind of cold in the wintertime. The only heating we had was a little stove that we had to stoke with wood, and during the night it got really cold. But it was a great place. It was an adventuresome place for 19-, 20-year-old missionaries. But something happened there that was different, that changed the way I viewed that place.

There was a stream that ran down behind the cabin, and we dammed it up because we had a sister who was getting ready to be baptized, and there was no font in the area. So we baptized her in the stream. It was in April when we baptized her. Her name was Ann Hess. I remember stepping into that water—it was in April, right?—spring run-off from the snow, it was freezing. I stepped in, and it was taking away my breath. I got down to the water about waist deep, and I said, “That’s deep enough. I don’t want to go any deeper.”

Then I helped her down into the water, and she was doing the same thing. She’s shorter, and [the water went up higher on her], and she was trying to catch her breath because it was so cold. And I baptized her, and we came back out, and she was purple. She was blue and purple, and she was freezing. We drug her out of the water, and off she went, and we wrapped a blanket around her. But it changed the way I saw that area. I felt differently about it because of the sacred things that happened there.

Remember what happened to Moses in the Sinai, in chapter 3 of Exodus? It says, “Now Moses kept the flocks of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.”[1] We usually call it Mount Sinai, right? “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”[2]

“And [the Lord] said, Draw not nigh hither: put off the shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is sacred ground.”[3]

So, what makes ground holy? We have Alma baptizing in Mormon. We have Moses in the Sinai desert. In Doctrine and Covenants 87: 8, we are commanded to stand on holy ground: “Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord. Amen.”

President Packer said that inspiration comes easier when you can set foot on the related site that it happened to.[4] Fascinating.

Abraham Lincoln—I know many of you are not from the United States. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. He was also the president during a terrible civil war that occurred here in the United States. He went to a battlefield after the battle had occurred there, this terrible battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and he gave what is now a very famous address. Part of that address reads:

We are met on a great battlefield of . . . war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government . . . by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.[5]

It is that kind of idea that we want to talk about—this idea of coming to understand, coming to know. When a monument was placed at Gettysburg years later, one of the generals who fought in the battle of Gettysburg came to that field to dedicate the monument, and this is what he said:

In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not . . . heart-drawn to see where and by whom these great things were suffered . . . , shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.[6]

We’re meeting in an Assembly Hall. Is this sacred ground? Is this dedicated ground? Absolutely. Interesting—the first building that was on Temple Square was a bowery. All it was, was poles, and they laid branches on the top to keep the heat off of people. That was the first thing that was built here. Later, they came along, and they built an adobe building—a mud-baked brick building. Brigham Young came along in 1877 and said, “No, this can’t work. We’re going to build a building that will hold 3,000 people.” And they started construction on this building right here. And as they did, you’ll know that many prophets have been in this building. It is holy ground. It is sacred ground.

January 7, 1887, President Joseph F. Smith said at the dedication of this building, “May the Spirit of the Gospel . . . dwell in the midst of the people that shall come from Sabbath to Sabbath, and from time to time, to attend the meetings and worship in this house.”[7] It is holy ground.

It’s interesting—in 1980 they did renovations to the building, and they got rid of a bunch of stuff that had been added since then to try to take it back to its original luster and beauty. They did add, however, a basement to the building. They re-stained all of the wood and cleaned it up, and they re-marbled all of the pillars. You know that the pillars aren’t really marble, right? It’s wood, and it’s painted to look like marble. They put in a concert grand piano. They put two harpsichords in the building and a new sound system. And the sound system—and I don’t know if these speakers were part of that, or a later addition—but they put the speakers underneath the seats and put it on a sound delay so that those in the back would get the sound at the same time the person at the podium was speaking. Ingenious! Eight hundred speakers is how many they placed.

There are 24 spires on the top of this building, and many stars of David, to remind us that the gathering of Israel is still going on. As a matter of fact, most of you came in through this door over here, right? Did you see the star of David up above as you came in? It’s a beautiful symbolic representation, the star of David. This has a connotation of God to man, and the other part is man to God. When you put the two together, God and man working together to accomplish a goal—what a marvelous idea as we enter into covenants with Him in sacred and holy places. So this building is certainly one of them.

Why such efforts? Why do we want to come to understand sacred and holy places? [There is a] sacred and holy place in Haifa, Israel called the Crusader Cemetery. Two Mormon missionaries died while serving in the land of Israel in Haifa. Haifa is in the northern part of Israel; it’s right on the coast, and is one of the only natural seaports on the coast of Israel. These two missionaries died serving a community of German people there, and there they are buried—John Clark from Farmington, Utah and Adolph Haig from Payson, Utah. Both of them died early in life, and you’ll notice that the pillars are kind of cut off at the top, they’re broken off? To depict that they died early in life. It is a holy place—sacred ground.

Another one of those sacred grounds in Israel is in the northern part, up above the Sea of Galilee, in a place called Caesarea Philippi. This is where one of the headwaters for the Jordan River comes bubbling up out of the ground. It’s a wonderful place to go, and also a powerful teaching place where the Savior, with his apostles, was doing some teaching. And he said, “Whom do men say that I . . . am?” Do you remember the reply? Some say this, some say that. But then Peter’s great declaration: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[8] This is holy ground.

Another location is this church in Bethlehem. The doorway has been blocked in. That happened during the Crusader time period, and there’s a little tiny door that you have to almost kind of duck through to get into it. That’s because they were afraid of being attacked, and you can’t get a horse through a tiny door. So they made a tiny door.

When you walk through that door, you see massive pillars on both sides of the nave as it goes down to the middle of the church. These particular pillars are believed to be pillars that were once on Herod’s Temple Mount, taken from there and placed here. Wonderful things. It takes you right to this little doorway; you walk down some stairs to this doorway, and past the doorway is this odd room. It’s traditionally believed to be the site of the birth of our Savior. It is holy ground. It is sacred ground.

Another of these powerful places is the Temple Mount itself, where many times we find powerful spiritual experiences taking place. There is no longer a temple there; it’s the Dome of the Rock. The second most sacred site of all Islam is this place because Mohammed was taken into heaven from this place, and he also led prayer for Moses and many of the ancient prophets, Abraham and such. That Dome of the Rock sits on the place where many believe the sacred and ancient temples sat—Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s, and Herod’s temple. It too is sacred and holy ground because of the things that happened there.

There are trees, not far from the Temple Mount, that could have been alive during the time of the Savior. They are easily 2,000 years old. They are trees in what is left of the Garden of Gethsemane. You know what happened there—our Savior suffered for our sins that we might be redeemed, that we might enabled to come back in the presence of our Father.

Around, not too far from that area, on the north side of the old city of Jerusalem is this rock wall, which looks like a face—Calvary, Golgotha, “the place of a skull”[9]—where the crucifixion took place. It is, as our hymn says, “There is a green hill far away, without a city wall.”[10] Yes. Just outside the city wall. And around the corner from that place is the tomb where Christ was laid, according to two modern prophets. It is a sacred place. It is a holy place.

It’s interesting because it’s just not in Israel that we find these holy places. This is an image of a sugar maple grove in New York State. It is here that a young man, Joseph Smith, and his friend Oliver Cowdery went to pray about baptism. And in this grove of trees is where John the Baptist came and restored the keys for baptism, and then they went to the Susquehanna River and people were baptized for the first time in this dispensation.

It is also in that area, in Fayette, New York, where the Church was organized in this home, or this is a replica of that home on the same foundation. And Peter Whitmer Sr. invited Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to come and translate, finish the translation here, and later the Church was organized. This is inside of that home, and President Spencer W. Kimball dedicated that home and then broadcasted a session of conference from this place. It is holy ground.

We also find on top of the Hill Cumorah a statue, which reminds us of the powerful things that happened on Cumorah and at Palmyra. This is the hillside of that powerful place where Joseph found the plates. It too is a holy place, a powerful place where the Spirit resides.

Here we find Joseph Smith Sr.’s home, where all of the Smiths lived at the time that Joseph started receiving revelation. He was told by Moroni in a room, where all of his brothers would be sleeping. In the front room was where all of the boys would sleep, then in the back room is where the girls would be sleeping. So whenever you see pictures of Joseph in bed alone when Moroni appears—probably not.

But nonetheless, right behind that small log home is this grove of trees. It too is sacred. We even call it the Sacred Grove because it is holy ground.

Newell K. Whitney had his home, or a store, in Kirtland, Ohio, and in the back room of this store is a small room, upstairs, where many powerful revelations appeared. Many.

The Kirtland Temple, where the Savior and the Father appeared. It is holy ground. It still feels.

The John Johnson home—we find here is where many revelations occurred. As a matter of fact, in the upper room is where Doctrine and Covenants 76 was received. And Joseph and Sydney were together as this powerful experience was going on, and Joseph would say, “What do I see?” and he would describe it, and Sydney would say, “Yes, this is what I see,” and he would describe the same thing. Sydney would say, “This is what I see,” and then Joseph would say, “Yes, this is what I would see.” A sacred place, no question.

I want to tell you about one other sacred place. This one is in Missouri, and in Missouri the Saints were fleeing from Kirtland at the time because of mob actions and those kinds of things. And as they were fleeing, they would take as much as they could and they would leave much behind. Warren and Amanda Smith left Kirtland, and about the 25th of October they were surrounded by a mob of men who took all their guns and their ammunition. And the mob knew they did because they searched all their wagons. The Smiths had nothing left.

On the 29th, the Smith rolled into a small encampment that was founded by a man named Jacob Haun. And Jacob Haun came there from Wisconsin and set up a small mill, built a blacksmith shop, and he began to mill their grain—their corn and the other grain that they brought. This is Amanda Smith. Jacob Haun would put the paddlewheel in the creek, in Shoal Creek. And it would turn, and the stones would rotate, and they would drop the grain in between, and it would make flour out of their grain.

Well, this is an important site for the Saints because it was the only place at the time that they were able to mill their grain; no one else would do it for the Saints. Jacob Haun was the only one. Well, the Smiths stopped there on their way to Far West, which is about 16 miles from Haun’s Mill. While they were there, the brethren began to gather together inside the blacksmith shop. Now, the blacksmith shop wasn’t finished; it was only beginning to be built. It had log walls and a roof, but the chinking—all of the mud and stuff that was packed in between the logs—wasn’t in place. So there were wide gaps in there. There was tension among the Mormons and the Missourians at the time, and even to the point where there had been death on both sides because of conflict that had occurred.

Some of the reasons for this uncomfortable situation? The economic situation—the Saints would only trade among themselves. Well, the people who were living there at the time tried to get them to buy goods and things, and the Saints wouldn’t partially because they didn’t have any money. But the Saints would trade for goods among themselves. The Mormons controlled the vote. Pretty soon, so many Mormons were coming into the county that those Missourians would no longer control the vote.

Another reason is the Mormons were friendly toward the Indians and did not like slavery. Missouri was a slave state, and they did not like the Indians. Mormons proclaimed that their religion was correct and it was of God and superior to all others, and that God had given them this land. And that made the long-time residents of Missouri a little nervous, obviously.

There had been physical conflict, as we mentioned—signed documents from ex-Mormons stating that even some of the Mormons were rising up in rebellion and wanting to take over the government of Missouri. And finally an extermination order came from the governor of the state, Lilburn Boggs, who said, basically among other things, that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public peace. Their outrages are beyond description.”[11]

Obviously, there were problems. The problems continued to escalate. It got worse and worse and worse. And on the 29th of October, 1838, Amanda Smith—she and her husband had set up their tent by the blacksmith shop—was sitting in the doorway of her tent and saw the mob coming down a hill. It was the same mob that had taken away their arms. She knew; she recognized some of them. And immediately when she saw them, they started firing their rifles into the blacksmith shop because that’s where all the brethren had gathered for prayer. And she tried to get to the blacksmith shop, but there were so many bullets flying through the air that she dared not go near it.

She grabbed her two daughters and ran across Shoal Creek on a plank that they had put there so that they could mill their grain. Another sister was running with her, and as they ran, the mobbers turned and started shooting at them. Amanda said she was not hit but had numerous holes in her clothing from the bullets that came by. The sister that was with her, however, was hit. She screamed out, and Amanda turned to her and said, “Stay here.” There was a fallen log; she urged her to hide behind the log, safe from the bullets. She took her two daughters and ran on until the firing stopped.

When she felt like it was safe to return, she turned around and came back. She found that the sister had passed out; she had been shot through the hand. She helped her get together, tape her hand up, get her hand put together, and they came in. The first person they found was an old man that had been cut to pieces, literally cut to pieces by a corn cutter, by the mob members. His name was Brother McBride. And even worse than this, as she came to the blacksmith shop, her oldest son, whose name was Willard, was carrying her son Alma, one of her younger sons, from the blacksmith shop, and she said, “He’s dead.”

He said, “No, Mother, he’s not dead, but he is wounded seriously. But Father and Sardius have both been killed.” She didn’t have room to cry at the moment; she needed to take care of her son. She immediately turned to the Lord. She didn’t know how to take care of him, had no clue. Because what had happened is when the mob members surrounded the blacksmith shop, they stuck their guns through those holes right up against the people inside and pulled the trigger. Her son Alma had his hip shot off. He was just a little boy, and they put the gun right next to his hip and pulled the trigger. She was afraid he was going to die and pled to the Lord for help.

It’s interesting because Willard, her other son, tried to get into the blacksmith shop as the shooting began, and each time he would run to the blacksmith shop, his arms would fly out, and they would bang against the door, and he couldn’t get in. Three times he tried, and each time—finally he hid in a pile of wood that was nearby, and he escaped certain death because everybody who was inside was either dead or dying.

She cried within her heart, “Oh, my Heavenly Father, what shall I do? Thou seest my poor wounded boy and knowest my inexperience. Oh, Heavenly Father, direct me in what I should do!”[12] She said impressions and thoughts came to her. They had been burning the bark from a shaggy-barked hickory tree, and the impression was that she should take the ash, get a wet cloth, dip it in the ash, and stick it in the wound of her son—which she did, over and over and over. Each time she would stick it in and pull it out, a mash of bones and skin and other things came out with it, until she said it became “white as chicken’s flesh.”

And then she was inspired to take part of a tree—it’s called a slippery-elm tree—and take part of the root from that tree and make a poultice. A poultice is just a pack of material that is wetted and is able to be used for healing. And then she stuck that poultice inside of his hip. She took a quarter of a yard of material to pack inside of young Alma’s hip.

Afterwards, she found vent for her tears, and just unloaded. The mobbers didn’t come back that night, although the survivors thought the mob would. So all of the men that were alive and hiding somewhere stayed hidden. Those that were wounded were moaning, and the women would go to them and try to give them as much comfort as possible. The next morning came the grizzly chore of burying all the dead. It was October; the ground was frozen. But there was a well not too far away that was empty, and they would take the bodies of the dead and throw them into this well. Until it came to her son Sardius, and those that were helping couldn’t do it, and so they laid him on the ground. And she later had to come and put his body in there, and then they covered it over with a little bit of dirt.

As the days went, on the mobbers did come back. They took all of their food, all of their clothing, their wagons, their animals. They took their grain. They even harvested the grain that had been planted in the fields, and they milled it at the mill that was there for their own families. The women didn’t know what to do so they prayed, and the mobbers told them, “No. You can’t pray. We forbid you to pray.”

Finally, she said, “I stole down to a corn-field, and crawled into a ‘stout of corn.’ It was as the temple of the Lord to me at that moment. I prayed aloud and most fervently. When I emerged from the corn a voice spoke to me. It was a voice as plain as I ever heard one. It was no silent, strong impression of the spirit, but a voice, repeating a verse of the Saint’s hymn:

‘That soul who on Jesus hath leaned for repose,

 I cannot, I will not desert to his foes;

 That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

 I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!’”[13]


We sang that opening hymn today. Alma lay for five months on his stomach, and a gristly mass grew in place of his hip. He began to walk—without bone. Doctors didn’t know how, but the Lord does. Why did he have to be healed? Why did he have to be saved? He went on three missions later in life to the Sandwich Islands—Hawaii. On one of those missions, they were coming ashore and the boat capsized. There was an important person on the boat—Lorenzo Snow—who they lost. For 30 minutes they couldn’t find him; he was under the water. When they finally found him, they drug him up onto the boat, and Alma was one of those who resuscitated a future prophet of God. He also served as mission president in England years later. That corn stalk was holy ground for Amanda Smith.

I want to know where your holy ground is. Is it your sacrament meetings? Maybe it’s your apartment. Have you had your apartment dedicated? Sisters, have you invited your home teachers to come to your apartment and dedicate it? What a powerful thing to do; we make it holy ground. And then be careful what you bring into your holy ground, the things you watch, the things you say, the things that you do. Make sure that that holy ground remains holy and can remain holy.

We have just a couple of minutes. What I’d like you to do is—each of you has your journal because I saw you raise them up—I want you to take a moment and consider what you can do this semester to stand in holy places. I’m going to give you two minutes to write down your thoughts, feelings, and impressions.

I know two minutes is not a lot of time. I would hope you would continue to write if you feel impressed to do so. Now, will you act on what you have written down? That’s a question I want a response to. Will you act on what you have written down? Excellent. Because that’s revelation. This building is holy ground. Revelation comes. The Holy Ghost works; He teaches us what we need to do to become better.

I testify that Jesus is the Christ and this is His Church. I testify that as we do our best to stand on holy ground, that He will inspire and give us direction. Holy ground can be where you are. Make your life holy ground. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Exodus 3:1.

[2] Exodus 3:2.

[3] Exodus 3:5.

[4] Boyd K. Packer, “The Snow-White Birds,” BYU Speeches, Aug. 29, 1995.

[5] Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address,”

[6] Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, quoted in Report of the President, Bowdoin College: (1905), 6.

[7] Joseph F. Smith, quoted in JoAnne Jolley, “Century-Old Assembly Hall Is Renovated,” Ensign, Feb. 1983.

[8] Matthew 16:13–16.

[9] Matthew 27:33; John 19:17

[10] “There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” Hymns, no. 194.

[11] Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 199–201.

[12] Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record, Deseret Historical Association: Salt Lake City, Utah.

[13] Andrew Jenson, The Historical Record, Deseret Historical Association: Salt Lake City, Utah.


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