Thursday, March 2, 2017

President David O. McKay on the daily shaping of character

President David O. McKay (1873-1970) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1906.  He served as a counselor in the First Presidency to Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith beginning in 1945, then then as the president of the Church from 1951 to his death in 1970 at age 96.
"About fifty years ago I stood in a sculptor's yard in Florence, Italy. Scattered about were unbroken, irregular pieces of granite from which a sculptor was preparing to cut out a vision which he saw in his mind. We did not pay much attention to those rude stones, for in the middle of the yard stood  magnificent figure which was cared over four hundred years ago. It was the famous statue entitled, 'David,' picturing David of old. It stands today in the Florence Museum, unfinished, but in our crude judgment we could not see but what it was perfectly finished.
"If you had stood in that yard, and a man had placed in your hands a chisel and a hammer, would you have dared to take one of the shapeless blocks of stone and carve a human image out of it? You could not do it. Or if someone had placed before you a canvas and given you paints and put in your hands a brush, would you have undertaken to paint on that canvas the picture of an ideal soul? You probably would have said to the first, 'I am not a sculptor,' and to the second, 'I am not a painter. I cannot do it.'
"Nevertheless, each of us is carving a soul this very minute—our own. Is it going to be a deformed one, or is it going to be something admirable and beautiful?
"Yours is the responsibility. Nobody else can carve it for you.... Your tools are ideas, what you are thinking about. The thought in your mind at this moment is shaping your character, contributing, almost imperceptibly to the lineaments of your face, so that those who can read character can see what the thoughts have shaped in you, for the thoughts you have will shape your outward expression."
- David O. McKay, "Secrets of a Happy Life," pp. 145-46

"The Awakening Slave"
by Michelangelo
We can forgive President McKay for making a couple of minor mistakes in his 50-year-old memory; he didn't have Wikipedia or Google search to do fact-checking.

First of all, there is quite a difference between granite and marble. The Utah setting and the granite construction of the Salt Lake Temple were part of Pres. McKay's context of thinking, but the beautiful Carrara marble of Italian sculpture is a very different type of stone.

And second, while the famous renaissance sculptor Michelangelo did leave a number of unfinished sculptures, his "David" was not one of them—it was certainly a complete and polished work. Some of the unfinished sculptures dramatically illustrate the imagery of a work of beauty emerging from the rock as the expert sculptor chips away from around the figure.

The ability to create such fine sculpture is a spectacular and rare artistic gift. These remarkable images continue to take our breath away with their exquisite detail and expressiveness. But Pres. McKay's point is well-taken. In a symbolic way, every individual is a sculptor of his or her own soul. We are the ones who determine what that finished product will be as we shape and form our character, chipping way things that don't belong, smoothing and polishing the things that remain.

It matters so very much what and how we think. The thoughts of our mind and heart, President McKay instructs, are the tools that shape our souls, and the results can be seen both inwardly and outwardly. How careful we should be!
But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not. (Mosiah 4:30)
Not only do our thoughts shape our words and deeds, but they also define the faith that exists deep in our hearts and leads us to Christ. How important it is to fill our minds with good!

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