The Passing of the Plates
Alma sat at his writing table as he had for year after year. The lashings on the wooden table still held tightly in spite of the weight of the stacks of metal plates it bore. The majority of the plates were bound together with oblong rings that allowed their reader to flip through page after page of historical and doctrinal information. Alma sat hunched over the desk meticulously engraving characters onto a shiny, new, smooth plate. He wrote of Moroni's victory over Zerahemnah and the mercies of God.
His library housed hundreds of such plates, as well as scrolls, on tables, and on shelves that were built into the walls. The shelving was partially covered by cloth curtains. The records gave the history of the Nephite people from the time they set sail from the Old World and arrived in this Promised Land to their present lives.
They included the tales of their prosperity and failures; their wars among themselves and with the Lamanites who shared this land in an all-too-often turbulent existence; their prophecies of the great Messiah who would one day come; and the many miracles and teachings of generation upon generation of prophets and leaders.
The room had a spacious window above Alma's writing table, but it had only one entrance. It was directly behind Alma. Its door was open. Filling its frame was a powerfully built, bearded man. His brown hair was covered by a loose cloth and was held in place with a double band. Both bands entwined within each other. His blue eyes were focused on Alma.
Before the man could announce his presence, Alma instinctively looked up, turned and stated, "Helaman, thank you for coming."
"I came as soon as I got your message. What is it?" Helaman respectfully replied.
Alma's countenance took on an unusually serious demeanor, even for him. He flatly declared, "This is a matter of utmost importance. Do you see these records before you?"
Helaman, whose life had been spent in the shadow of these many plates, responded simply, "Yes."
"You know that these are the sacred records of our people handed down from generation to generation, begun by our father Nephi who left Jerusalem in search of the Promised Land?" Alma continued.
Helaman was unaccustomed to acknowledging the obvious, but still delivered a respectful answer.
"You understand that our very society is founded and governed by the words engraved upon these plates?" Alma persisted.
Helaman spoke with determination and unflagging agreement. Alma eyed Helaman very closely, as if peering into his very soul.
"You know that these plates also hold the witnesses of many prophets who had been led by the hand of God and have recorded His words so that our people would know His will and of the Great Messiah who shall come and redeem all mankind?"
"Yes, father, I do."
Helaman was growing concerned and confused by the line of questions.
"Do you believe that the things written on these plates are true?" Alma asked bluntly.
Helaman shifted. He was unable to prevent a serious look from growing across his brow. He was both puzzled that his faith was being called into question, and determined to give an answer that would remove all doubt.
He stepped forward and declared, "Father, you know that I believe these things with all my heart and soul. I believed even as a child. As I grew to manhood, I saw many events that witnessed of the truths they hold. I have no doubts, father. You know this."
Alma smiled. He paused, closing his eyes a moment knowingly. He opened them and gestured to Helaman with his hand, "Yes, Helaman, my son, I do know this. That is why I have chosen you."
"Chosen me?" Helaman voiced his confusion.
"I'm no longer a young man," Alma explained. "Soon I will go the way of all the earth. It is time. Time that I pass on all that I have cared for since they were entrusted to me."
Alma paused to allow his words and meaning to sink in. As Helaman realized what Alma was preparing to do, he was visibly moved at the thought of the awesome burden and responsibility he was about to receive. He remained silent.
"Helaman, you have grown to become a good man. A man whom others respect. A strong man, and one who is true to his word. A man who is also true to his God. You make an old father very proud."
Alma smiled warmly with these words. Helaman felt his emotions well up within him, and a sense of satisfaction at the thought of having pleased his father and mentor.
"I have made this a matter of fasting and prayer and the Lord has made it known to me that you are the one who should now be entrusted with these plates, this sacred record of our people. Will you accept them?"
The verbalization of Alma's intent made it all too real for Helaman. He inadvertently stumbled backward and found himself sitting in the chair that was behind him. He sat momentarily with a dazed look, cleared his head, then stood tall and resolutely.
"Father, I accept this tremendous responsibility. I will dedicate my life to preserving this record and adding to it the words and deeds of this great people," he vowed.
"I know you will. Just as I have and my father before me. And king Mosiah before him. And so on back to Nephi. I can now rest well knowing that this record is secure."
Alma spoke with approval. He rose as he said this and put his hand on Helaman's shoulder.
"I wish to leave you with more than just the responsibility. I want to leave you with a blessing to help you fulfill this duty."
Alma gestured to his side. Helaman stood and moved his chair to the designated spot. He sat.
"Before I begin, I've asked two men whom I believe you know well, to witness this."
Alma stepped outside the door and returned with Moroni and Lehi following closely behind. Both men nodded to Helaman as they entered, but remained silent. They stood on either side of Helaman.
As Helaman turned back to his seat, two more men poked their heads into the room.
"Corianton! Shiblon! It's been quite a while! You're looking well." Helaman smiled broadly at the sight of his two brothers. They smiled in return and each gave their brother a warm sibling's embrace.
"Father told us what he has planned for you," Corianton said with his charming smile. "We didn't want to miss it."
"Yes, and we wanted to wish you well," Shiblon added.
"I was beginning to wonder if you'd make it," Alma said to his other sons with a warm chide.
Corianton smiled and shrugged. Shiblon simply added, "It was a long walk."
Alma shook his head warmly, then turned back to Helaman. He patted him on the shoulder and then stepped behind his chosen son. He placed both hands on his head. He then bowed his own head as he reverently closed his eyes. After a momentary pause, and with great reverence and feeling, he pronounced a blessing upon his son and successor.
"Helaman, in the name of God Almighty I entrust you with the power and authority to lead this people and care for their sacred records with the wisdom to say and record only those things that will help lead mankind to believe in the Messiah who shall surely come. Amen."
Alma opened his eyes and removed his hands from Helaman's head. Helaman opened his eyes and stood. Alma looked at his son. Helaman turned and the two respectfully and lovingly embraced as father and son.
Moroni and Lehi took turns shaking his hand and clasping his shoulder with the other hand as they did so. Helaman's brothers stepped forward and did the same.
"May the Lord be with you," Shiblon said.
"We're very proud of you," was all Corianton could add.
After a moment, Alma declared, "Things such as this are not kept secret, my son. We must declare this before the Church."
~~~ - ~~~
Alma stood before his congregation, as he had hundreds of times before. This particular occasion contained one key difference. It would be his last. As he spoke to his beloved people whom he had not only led in righteousness for many, many years, but had also grown to love, Helaman sat in a wooden chair to the side and behind the podium. He kept his silence and looked out at the large congregation that had filled the stone chapel to overflowing.
Not a single additional soul could have fit in any of the hand-carved pews. Corianton and Shiblon sat in the center of the front row. Men, women and children had been summoned to this meeting. Many stood in the aisles listening to their distinguished leader. From the moment the meeting had been announced, rumors and speculation had abounded. Some had come simply to find out which of the many rumors were true.
Alma continued to speak peacefully. His words were calm and pronounced. The congregation's eyes were fixed keenly on him. On a couple of occasions, Alma gestured toward Helaman. At a climatic point, Alma turned to Helaman, who rose. He motioned for Helaman to step forward.
As Helaman approached the podium and passed Alma, Alma whispered into his ear, "All this is now yours, my son. Guard these people's faith and records well and guide them as you know the Lord would want you to." As he turned to leave, he added, "And now I must go."
"Go? Go where?"
Helaman was stunned.
"To my rest," Alma calmly replied. He responded to Helaman's wondering and concerned expression by giving the admonition, "Watch over your people."
Alma gestured to the congregation. Helaman honored his father's final request. After a brief embrace from son to father, he stepped up to the pulpit as Alma quietly walked out of the building. Alma made his way through the fair city of Zarahemla, admiring its sturdy, stone buildings, the pottery sitting at the doorsteps of the many homes, the tapestries hanging in the bazaar, the grandeur of the city square, and the intricate carving in the wooden city gate.
As he made his way toward the jungle that encroached on the city from all directions, he paused. For a moment he looked back. His mind drifted back to his rebellious days of youth. A smile crept across his aged and wrinkled face. He had changed quite a bit since then. Not only had he changed inwardly and outwardly, but he had also effected a massive change on the Nephite people.
Few men could look over their lives without regret. Alma was fortunate enough to be one of those men. He had made his world a much better place for having lived in it. But, it was now time for others to play their parts and continue the quest. For a moment, he wondered what roles those would be, but only for a moment. He turned and headed for the path that led up the mountainside and cut through the jungle.
The mountain was steep and arched. The top of the mountain was enveloped in clouds. He followed the path upward, always upward. They say he was never heard from or seen since that day. The rumor that later circulated among the Nephites was that he had been translated like Moses or Elijah of old. Those who knew Alma best, found it difficult to dismiss that rumor.
©1999, 2003, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
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