Scott Taylor: What I know now of tomatoes and jalapeños, crocodiles and cheetahs — and general conference

Initially, this “What I Know Now” article was to focus on a message I shared as a stake president nearly two decades ago. The theme returned to mind recently as I harvested and prepped tomatoes and jalapeño peppers from our garden for late-summer salsa-making.

My plan was to write about repeatedly reaching through the leaves and branches of tomato plants and plucking the red, ripe tomatoes — only later to notice hands and arms covered with a greenish substance that can turn even brown. Washing it off first turns the soapy lather and water those same colors, with thorough efforts resulting in hands and arms fully cleansed.

Also, I planned to mention cutting up the jalapeños and the lingering unseen hot-pepper oils that can irritate — again, hands need a thorough cleansing. I was reminded of that recently when, despite two prompt hand washes after chopping jalapeños, a brief brush at the corner of my eye with a still-contaminated finger resulted in intense stinging.

After reviewing the technical terms — the hot peppers’ capsaicin and the tomato plant’s trichomes, acyl sugars, terpenoids and flavonoids — of chemical irritations and skin discoloration, I planned to draw in the life-lesson analogies I shared years ago.

The message — then, like today — is how one can be impacted in unnoticeable and unseen ways, despite being in seemingly safe and normal situations. The analogies extend to include the cleansing power of repentance — similar to thorough washings needed to overcome tomato-plant stains and hot-pepper components.

However, thinking of “the unseen” had me recall the April 1976 general conference talk by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I was a late-teen then, a target of his youth-oriented talk titled “Spiritual Crocodiles.”

Recounting trips to Africa where he learned from guides and witnessed attack-ready crocodiles stealthily hidden in the smallest and shallowest of watering holes, President Packer warned of “spiritual crocodiles, infinitely more dangerous and more deceptive and less visible, even, than those well-camouflaged reptiles.”

“These spiritual crocodiles can kill or mutilate your souls,” he continued. “They can destroy your peace of mind and the peace of mind of those who love you. Those are the ones to be warned against, and there is hardly a watering place in all of mortality now that is not infested with them.”

He pointed to resources from which “you can receive signals alerting you to the spiritual crocodiles that lurk ahead” — the counsel of parents, teachers and leaders; the power of prayer and promptings; individual revelation; the whisperings of the Holy Ghost; and the teachings and example of “the ultimate Guide,” the Savior Jesus Christ.

President Packer also encouraged those having encountered spiritual crocodiles — whether “nipped a time or two” or “morally mauled” — to find the “spiritual first aid” available through one’s bishop and be “completely healed.”

In his October 2019 general conference address, “Watchful Unto Prayer Continually,” Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles referenced President Packer’s talk with his own African experiences and analogies from watching cheetahs and topis. He highlighted three key learnings — beware of evil’s beguiling disguises, stay awake and be alert, and understand the intent of the enemy — and invited listeners to identify additional lessons from his relating the experience.

“I promise that the blessings of effective preparation and spiritual protection will flow into your life as you are watchful unto prayer vigilantly and continually,” he said.

Just as important lessons can be learned by observing the behavior of cheetahs and topis, “so each of us should look for the lessons and warnings found in the simple events of everyday life,” Elder Bednar noted.

“As we seek for a mind and heart open to receive heavenly direction by the power of the Holy Ghost, then some of the greatest instructions that we can receive and many of the most powerful warnings that can safeguard us will originate in our own ordinary experiences. Powerful parables are contained in both the scriptures and in our daily lives.”

And so, what I really know now is:

  • Many resources exist to help us to stay safe from unseen and unnoticeable spiritual dangers.
  • Repentance is a merciful, God-given blessing offering both spiritual cleansing and healing.
  • Prophets and Apostles — and general authorities and general officers, too — share their experiences and spiritual learnings in conferences and instructions to help us.
  • They want us to look to our own experiences for our own spiritual learnings — and also to help others.
  • And we can find a myriad of life lessons and messages that strengthen and protect — whether they involve tomatoes or jalapeños, crocodiles or cheetahs, or whatever.