Church News viewpoint: From ash to pearl ash

More than 180 years after the Saints left Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836, and nearly 14 years after the restoration and dedication of the renovated and rebuilt sites in 2003, visitors to the Church-owned historic village today enjoy a better look at how things were when the early members of the Church lived there.

A city known for being the first gathering place of the early Church members, Kirtland was home to much of the Restoration of the gospel. The lessons and spiritual experiences that occurred during the Kirtland era make the village — years later — an inspiring place to visit.

One important stop on the tour is in the ashery.

A building common during the late 18th century and much of the 19th century as residents of newly settled areas cleared their land to farm, an ashery was a place to take the ashes of hardwoods to transform them into lye, potash and pearl ash — all valuable commodities at the time.

First, workers began by putting ash in large wooden containers to which water was added and a liquid would filter out of the bottom. At that point, the substance — lye — could be used to make soap or refined again into potash.

Potash was made from boiling and stirring the lye. When imperfections would boil to the top, a worker would remove the imperfections. The hot lye would eventually become potash, an even more valuable substance than lye.

Although settlers themselves commonly performed the first two steps, an ashery was necessary for the final step. Through baking potash in an extremely hot kiln, the dark substance would transform to a pearly white material called pearl ash. Pearl ash — the most valuable of the products — was used in making glass and china and could be sold for a high price. In Kirtland, profits from the ashery helped in building the temple.

Just as the ash in an ashery becomes more valuable as it is molded and shaped during the refining process, so can a person who relies on the Lord through difficult circumstances.

“It may be safely assumed that no person has ever lived entirely free of suffering and sorrow, nor has there ever been a period in human history that did not have its full share of turmoil and misery,” President Thomas S. Monson said in the October 2013 general conference. “When the pathway of life takes a cruel turn, there is the temptation to ask the question, ‘Why me?’ At times there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel, no sunrise to end the night’s darkness. We feel encompassed by the disappointment of shattered dreams and the despair of vanished hopes.”

President Monson encourages those who feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone and like they are in the middle of the refining process, to remember others have gone through trials, have endured and have overcome.

“The history of the Church in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times, is replete with the experiences of those who have struggled and yet who have remained steadfast and of good cheer. The reason?” President Monson asked. “They have made the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of their lives. This is what will pull us through whatever comes our way. We will still experience difficult challenges, but we will be able to face them, to meet them head-on and to emerge victorious.”

Crucial to one’s personal refinement process is relying on the Lord during trials and difficulty. Just as the ashery worker helped every step of the way — removing imperfections and tending to the precious substance — so does the Lord as He helps His brothers and sisters become more purified and holy.

“There are many kinds of challenges,” said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Some give us necessary experiences. Adverse results in this mortal life are not evidence of lack of faith or of an imperfection in our Father in Heaven’s overall plan. The refiner’s fire is real, and qualities of character and righteousness that are forged in the furnace of affliction perfect and purify us and prepare us to meet God” (“The Songs They Could Not Sing,” October 2011 general conference).

Just as the ashery worker couldn’t leave midway through the refining process, neither does the Lord, unless we push Him away through our own unrighteous actions. He knows our trials and through the companionship of the Holy Ghost He is there, through every stage of our personal refining process.

“In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong,” said then-apostle Elder James E. Faust during the April 1979 general conference. “In this way, the divine image can be mirrored from the soul. It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd.”

Although the refining process is hot, laborious and often difficult, it is often through that process that something beautiful and valuable emerges. It is through the refining process that a person is able to become more pure, and, like the valuable pearl ash sold to help pay for building the Kirtland Temple, can be used to build the kingdom of God on the earth.

“Our Heavenly Father, who gives us so much to delight in, also knows that we learn and grow and become stronger as we face and survive the trials through which we must pass,” said President Monson. “We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were — better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee,” October 2013 general conference).