Anthropological Linguistics and the Gospel

What do anthropological linguistics and Amazonian Ecuador have to do with Christ’s restored gospel?

Although we may claim, in the words of the beloved hymn, to “stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers” us, it is often too easy to take the spiritual and theological riches of the restored gospel for granted. Dr. Janis Nuckolls, in her inspiring August 2022 BYU devotional address, entitled “Finding Wonder in Remote Places,” reminds us that leaving space for wonder and awe in our day-to-day lives can help us find greater joy on the path of discipleship.

Photo by Josh Stevenson

While Dr. Nuckolls, an anthropological linguist at BYU and my former teacher, was leading a group of linguistics students on a study abroad in Amazonian Ecuador during the summer of 2022, a national strike was declared. Protestors blocked key roads, preventing critical supplies from being transported to the village where she and her students were staying. Dr. Nuckolls shares: “In the final days of the strike, we were drinking boiled rainwater, and the gracious, hardworking people in charge of feeding us ended up having to chop wood to make fires to cook our food. All of this caused me some anxiety as a director looking out for my students. When we were almost two weeks into the strike, I questioned each student individually about how they were doing.” Although her students assured her of their well-being, what assuaged her concern the most was how amazed they were at their surroundings, like the leaf-cutter ants parading around them.

Dr. Nuckolls has long been an example to me of a kind, intentional, and mindful disciple-scholar. Her ethos of Christ-like care stems in part, I believe, from her practice of finding awe and wonder in her everyday life. In Ecuador, the wonder Dr. Nuckolls (and her students) felt in their rainforest surroundings encouraged her to turn outward and focus more intently on the well-being of her students. As she notes towards the end of the devotional, researchers have found that this kind of devotional practice can “lessen stress, reduce the kind of self-critical thinking that leads to depression, and inspire greater humility, generosity, and tolerance for uncertainty.” Regularly standing all amazed, then, is one of the keys to our spiritual, mental, and emotional health. 

Read Dr. Janis Nuckolls’s full address, “Finding Wonder in Remote Places,” to hear more stories of finding wonder in unlikely places.

Source: BYU Speeches

—Josh Stevenson, Latter-day Saint Insights


Find more insights

For more insights on finding wonder in the gospel, read Elder Gérald Caussé’s October 2015 general conference address, “Is It Still Wonderful to You?

Additionally, consider reading Elder Ulisses Soares’s April 2022 general conference address, “In Awe of Christ and His Gospel,” to learn what a difference finding awe in your worship can make on our journey back to our heavenly home.

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