We don't pull handcarts, but we too have a destination in mind — a place of peace, a haven of happiness, a home among companions and friends.
Editor's note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast.
In 1857, newlyweds Carl and Elise Christensen wanted to gather in the Western United States with fellow believers in their newfound faith. To the Christensens, this meant sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, traveling by rail from New York City to Iowa, and then setting out for the Utah Territory by handcart.
Years later, Carl — better known as C.C.A. Christensen — tried to capture his experiences in artwork. His paintings are beloved today for their simple yet emotional portrayal of the remarkable pioneer journey he knew so well: the natural wonder of the landscape, the daily routines of the pioneers, their hardship and suffering, as well as their joy and hope. These were not imagined or secondhand depictions. Christensen could paint these things because he lived them, as he pushed and pulled his own handcart more than a thousand miles across the wide, desolate, yet beautiful American West.
It was a trek made sacred by sacrifice. At the trailhead in Iowa City, Carl wrote of what he called “our first trials”: “We had to give up books.” He explained, “We were only allowed to take fifteen pounds in weight for each person who was to travel with the handcarts, and that included our tinware for eating, bedding and any clothing we did not wish to carry ourselves” (see "Their Faces toward Zion: Voices and Images of the Trek West," by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Bookcraft, 1996)).
Life for the pioneers had to be reduced to only the essentials for survival. Books were a luxury they couldn't afford. And then, once they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, the hardships did not end. They began another journey: the journey of building new lives in a new land.
Carl and Elise could have stayed in Europe, where life was, in many ways, more comfortable and established. But they had a destination in mind that meant more to them than physical comfort, and their faith drove them forward in spite of hardships.
Our journeys today are no different. We don't pull handcarts, but we too have a destination in mind — a place of peace, a haven of happiness, a home among companions and friends. It will require sacrifice, we may have to give up some nonessentials, but that's what makes a journey sacred and beautiful — even a work of art.