Today, with many of you, I have spent some time reflecting on the life of President Gordon B. Hinckley, prophet of the Lord for nearly the last 13 years, and lifetime disciple of Jesus Christ. I hesitate to write about it because nearly everyone is, and heaven knows I don't have anything particularly unique to add to the incredible tributes that have already poured down like rain. I have listened to the news stories and read the articles from local outlets and national giants. I have taken in the commentary from friends, religious leaders, and politicians remembering and praising the prophet. In all the listening I have not come up with any profound conclusions, only a simple question. How is it that we all feel like we knew President Hinckley and that he knew us? I don't know the answer, but I know that I feel that way. Every story, every statement, every blog seems to reflect the same sentiment. I never got the chance to actually meet President Hinckley, I've never shaken his hand or told him my name. I've been in the same room (actually ginormous hall) as him, I've been in close proximity outside, but never actually met the man face-to-face. Why then, do I feel such an affinity to him. He would no more know me than a stranger on the street, and yet somehow he did.
In April of 1995 during a solemn assembly, as a 14-year-old boy, I stood with all the Teachers in the Aaronic priesthood throughout the church to sustain the new prophet, seer, and revelator. One by one each quorum stood, then the whole body of the church. It was in the living room of a friend and he and I stood with the awkwardness of teenagers but also with the feeling of great sacredness within. We took part in that historic moment that has only come a handful of times in this dispensation and we resolutely raised our arms to the square...and the Spirit bore witness.
In July 1997 we gathered at This is the Place Heritage Park to welcome in the wagon train arriving in the valley after a long trek that reenacted the same journey of 1847 in commemoration of the pioneer sesquicentenial. We were a "basket family" dressed in pioneer garb ready to greet the weary traveleres with a basket of food and gifts. President Hinckley was there too. It was my first close encounter and the Spirit bore witness.
In April of 2000 I was a young missionary in my first city. I had only been in the field a month and I was homesick and discouraged. We traveled to a nearby city to hear General Conference - in English! President Hinckley spoke these words, his voice cracking with emotion, "He is my God and my King. From everlasting to everlasting, He will reign and rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To His dominion there will be no end. To His glory there will be no night. None other can take His place. None other ever will. Unblemished and without fault of any kind, He is the Lamb of God, to whom I bow and through whom I approach my Father in Heaven." The message inspired me and reminded me of the power of His work. The Spirit bore witness.
In February of 2002 I happened to get a ticket with a random family to the church program in the Conference Center during the Olympics. I was sitting clear up in the balcony. President Hinckley was not expected to attend the performance that evening but in a surprise to everyone he entered the hall. I am always touched by the hush that immediately comes over any congregation when the prophet enters the room, but this time it was different. There was a gasp and then a cheer and then extended applause. It was not something that we should adopt in Conference, but in this setting, with people from all over the world, including dignitaries and athletes, it was moving. The Spirit bore witness.
In discourses too many to mention he spoke with the power of God and the Spirit bore witness. God in His tender compassion bore witness to me through His Spirit that President Hinckley was His mouthpiece on earth for that time. He was indeed His anointed at that hour, in that day, with that message. What is even more remarkable is that God inspired His servant to speak to me, and to you, and to the whole world. The Spirit knits hearts together in love, even hearts that are otherwise unfamiliar to one another. So, I did know President Hinckley and he knew me after all, because God knows His prophet and God knows me and the Spirit bears witness.
I will miss our beloved prophet. I will miss his friendly smile and being called by him a "beloved associate". I will remember his great humor and his favorite prop for jokes - the cane. I will picture him at the pulpit in my mind, his right hand moving up and down to emphasize his point, and hear his words echo as he draws out the word 'great', as if to match the phonetics with the meaning being conveyed. I will miss his incredible organization and use of language, his innovation, his willingness to speak to the media, his boundless energy. But most of all, I will miss his testimony and his love. Can anyone doubt that this man knew the Lord? Now the page will turn to another chapter in church history but we look forward with excitement and optimism, for the words that President Hinckley used on several occasions to close Conference are always true for us, "He watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps!"
And the Spirit bears witness.