In an organized religion Prophets frequently face in-house challenges to their perceived authority from loyal followers or dissenters seeking to wear that same kind of prompted prophetic mantle.
In September, 1830, five months after the founding of the LDS Church, Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith was forced to deal directly with one Hiram Page who had become equally caught up in the open charismatic prophetic role modeled by Smith. Hiram professed to be receiving revelations by use of his own “seer stone,” a method by which Joseph had earlier translated the Book of Mormon.
Having established a place for charisma and prophecy in the new church, Joseph had to deal with others practicing the same gifts he professed. He had to assert who receives revelations and who doesn’t. Joseph declared that he received the following revelation for Oliver Cowdery, his Book of Mormon scribe but he actually intended his declaration to impact the whole church.
From the LDS Doctrine and Covenants Section 28:2, 11-13.
“ But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
… And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him; For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.
This of course was the same prophetic Joseph who boldly declared:
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.”
The question arises then, in formal religious organizations with charismatic belief in revelation, what is the norm for individual members?
Sensing God’s support and a guided influence in one’s own life is the desired departure from a biblical absolutism that turns Christian spirituality into mindless fundamentalism. It reflects the thriving mystic quality of religion that keeps God from remaining forever aloof, out there somewhere judgmental and punitive.
Salt Lake Mormonism is an example of performance-based religion that proposes God as someone with “standards and policies” which reflect a constant human requirement to perform up to those standards and policies.
In one’s practice of non-performance-based religion, the requirement to perform obviously is absent. Rather, devotion and its rewards lie in the venue of what Joseph Smith described in a later revelation to his church: (Section 121)
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
In the absence of a need to accomplish religious performance, Jesus Christ does not live in our spiritual lives as a kind, gentle and loving but forceful and demanding equivalent of a divine Julius Caesar. The Lord does not authorize religious leaders to speak to us for Him. Nor does he reveal to more to any religious leader than to us individually.
We as a spiritual people must not ignore our own internal promptings if they are based in Christ in our own lives. We do not have some duty to blindly consent when someone in prominence announces that the Almighty has chosen or inspired another human to lead a people or a nation to specific actions that impact communities or individuals.
I believe that God is in our experience. As we ultimately define all things for ourselves based on our own inner encyclopedia, God will be more vividly sensed inwardly than outward.
I believe that those things from which we tend to hide and cower come from how we’ve internalized external portrayals. This is one of the fundamental temptations we face.
Learning to trust our own internal perceptiveness makes life – especially God in our lives – more real. It is not necessary to simply be satisfied with the limitations of outward evidence.
My experience is the God of Compassion taught and patterned by Christ which contrasts that Old Testament either-or mindset.
Recognizing the total implication of “the kingdom of God is within you” ought to unleash our willingness to trust the internal sense we have of God’s reality. Otherwise, we’re left to wait on extra-ordinary external events such as miracles or perceived “divine retribution events” – from which we may then say, “Aha! There is a God. Or God DOES exist.”
When we pray to God for something and that something actually comes to pass, many of us seem to be content that “God has spoken and answered our prayers.” There is a limitation to that in that we never really speak to God or feel God’s presence except through the event itself.
Such leaves us to conclude that God exists in the same way we concluded that Santa exists because we wanted a bicycle and found one under the tree.
If that’s all we have then all we have is a God of two dimensions – either/or – with no explorable depth.
Scripture I DID take literal changed my life and informed the spirituality I call my own to this day. I’m the child of a culture dominated by fundamentalist religious thinking. I was born and raised within the Mormon version of reality founded as it is on the idea of chosen generations, elects of God and growing to maturity inside the “one true and living church on the face of the earth.”
In retrospect, the most enduring treasure of that earlier life is the spiritual sense of living that seemed to permeate every aspect of my life – a life asset that remained in place even after I had rejected the uncomfortable shackles of literalist religion; the requirements of a scripted way of living.
Early on I believed those who said God would prompt if I would listen.
However, I also believed when they said God would not prompt if I was unworthy.
When what family and friends concluded was a mid-life crisis of faith commenced, I was surprised that I did not feel more painfully bereft of God’s promptings. The literalist culture had constantly and confidently predicted that those who fall away lose personal worthiness (a VERY important concept in Salt Lake Mormonism) and suffer the loss of the spirit.
What was portrayed was a God prone to pouting; a God who would no longer speak to me because of divine displeasure with my non-conforming attitude, behavior and overall doubting spirituality.
This portrayal was buttressed by verses from the 9th section of the LDS book of Doctrine and Covenants in which Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon scribe, Oliver Cowdery is admonished because he tried and could not translate. Perceiving what I read as a formula for spiritual communion with God I was struck by the following verses from section 9:
7. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must cask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
10. Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.
11. Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now;
I intuited powerful suggestions in those verses which later in life I came to understand as having formed a significant part of how I would habitually – almost casually once the habit became fixed – respond to promptings.
In Christian terms, one might describe it as deeply personal interaction with God through the Holy Spirit … but an interaction free of any restriction or proscriptions of scripture. Neither God nor I needed anyone else’s permission, approval or biblical validation to define our relationship.
In non-Christian terms, the on-going communion is an interaction with the higher power or a deeper source to which I belong of which I am a part … and from which I have a personal mortal identity.
Having obtained this knowledge and experience from inside a fundamentalist portrayal of reality and religion, my early years of habit in this way of being prompted and trusting the impulses were years of internalizing ideas and recognitions which were defined in the context of Church doctrine, theology and practice.n Those years reinforced the script by which I was expected to life.
What I perceived as “prompted” was defined for me by those having religious authority over me. I have in recent years referred to those definitions as someone else’s magic.
Section 9 contained for me that two-edged sword of promise and warning
“ … you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right
… But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”
I took those verses to mean that when God prompts within, you will know it and it will feel “right” (whatever right is.) Feeling “rightness” or “truthfulness” was also the principal basis for the proselyting message the Church presented to the world regarding the Book of Mormon.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true;
and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Mormons challenge each other and all those who “investigate” the Church to be willing to test the promises of verses 4 and 5 above. I found personally that the process itself works. The formula gives more spiritual detail in the second half of verse 4 above, but all is consistent with the Section 9 verses.
As a young Mormon missionary, my way of coping with the strictly defined and guided lifestyle and preaching activity in the mission field was to try to remember and apply the burning-bosom-versus-stupor-of-thought scenario in everything I did. When I arose early in the morning for prayer and scripture study I managed to burn more of my bosom
than stupor of my my thinking. Such was the habit that went home to the normalcy of Rocky Mountain LDS Church life.
In priesthood practice of rite and ceremony, section 9 totally informed my life. There are multiple opportunities and requirements for active Mormon priesthood leaders to ordain, confirm, pronounce blessings and name children in rites that include through inspiration saying what Jesus would have one say.
I always took that responsibility very seriously and tried to avoid rushing through or treating as routine any rite the included personal counsel authored by the Savior himself. When giving a name to my own newborn child, confirming a newly baptized member, following up an anointing with a blessing, or setting apart someone called to serve in the congregation, I would pause and wait for a prompting before beginning to speak.
This at first led to awkwardness and a need to resist any temptation to blurt the first thing that came to mind. Eventually I became comfortable with both the need for patience and a confidence that the prompting would come.
In those early years all promptings were interpreted in the context of church theology, doctrine, policy and procedure. Someone else’s magic in defining my promptings for me began to fade while I was in my mid twenties and started to realize that a pouting nit-picking punitive God with tattle tale angels writing on divine clipboards was a figment of a large percentage of literalist imaginations.
Understand now that my personal experience as a self-described prompted individual in no way means that I considered myself a puppet managed by a divine string-pulling almighty puppeteer. Rather, I saw or felt a connection with something higher than my mere mortal mind distracted by the details of daily existence.
Mormonism had taught me that religion is more than just a way of life, it can BE life. But … not MY life. That I rejected the Church and at one time withdrew my membership only had to do with rejection of that particular scripted way of being.
For me then Mormonism taught me the personal spiritual approaches and practices that eventually helped lead me out of the Church with no sense of lost connection to God as a consequence. Eventual re-baptism into the Church was accomplished on my terms and I did, however, create spiritually for myself the terms and conditions by which I would belong to my Church and culture.
A life that includes a willingness to be prompted – when promptings arise – is very much the foundation of how I’ve lived my life now into more than 70 years. Although having given up on the notion that God will tell another human being – a “prophet” or whoever – what I should be doing and how I should be conforming to doctrines of any group, I continue to insist that all things are connected; that we can sense that connection and find in it applications in our daily lives.
I have no formula to advocate.
I believe that if such is accomplished it is the result of individual and highly personal spiritual labor to the end of living in communion with the God of reality. I do believe that one way of doing so comes from individual effort based on imagination and a willingness to suspend beliefs in order to be or feel “led” by Divinity.
For me the act of writing out one’s thoughts on a daily basis is a powerful means of communion with one’s inner spirit. The mind is the place where the majority of human activity takes place – the mortal home of the soul. Taking journaling one step further by setting aside time to write thoughts as they spontaneously occur without time for editing for propriety’s sake can be very revelatory.
Such writings need not be shared with anyone else, but if kept and pondered with questions such as:
“Why did I write that?”
“How come I wrote it that way?”
“Why am I so angry … so pleased … so offended … so happy?”
The effect is both healthy and instructive … a movement further along one’s own path.
Divination and Me
Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines God-approved divination by lot as occurring in the choice of scapegoat by Aaron in Leviticus, in Numbers 26, in Joshua 7 and Samuel’s selection of Saul as king, in the choice of Mathias as Judas’ replacement in Acts.
Divination by lot seems to be that which most similarly resembles popular contemporary divination methods. It began for me one day years ago when out of boredom in a book store I began reading a book entitled “A Guide to the I Ching,” by Carol Anthony.
My eye was caught by the following under a paragraph entitled “On being led” as “necessary to establish the relationship between the student and the I Ching:”
A willing suspension of disbelief
A sincere effort Perseverance”
This was a tiny powerful moment because I found myself reading the definition of how I had earlier started on a different path while still retaining my use of scripture and coming to the spiritual place in which I now live.
I did not buy that book then, but as I continued scanning that “New Age” shelf I came across a marvelous book by Cynthia Giles, “The Tarot: Methods, Mastery and More.”
Expecting at first a Tarot “how to tell fortunes,” what I discovered was that Giles, who has a Ph.D. specializing in Jungian Studies, was touting the Tarot as a means of self-exploration rather than a means of telling one’s own and other’s futures.
Among other things, she wrote of divination as a means of expanding ways of knowing one’s self, of wellness and rejoining body and mind, of growth uniting body and soul. I bought that book and read it … and reread it.
For the next 2-3 years in the 1990’s I bought a set of Runes, a Tarot deck, the I Ching book, commenced my exploration … and found myself amazed. In all three contexts, what I learned as “revealed to me through divination tools” was essentially identical -the same information – in each context.
I realized then that journaling and techniques that task the mind and imagination creatively became a fascinating and enjoyable labor of love.
I found a means of exploring the inner self in a deliberate absence of seeking external mystical sources as portrayed by others who also used these tools.
I was not seeking to know the future or some sort of channeled wisdom. Carried on independent of the need for outside religious approval based on someone else’s magic or assumptions, I found myself further down my path toward a more direct communion with the reality of God than I’d ever intended or anticipated.
For me, religion is not about performance in hopes of reward and recognition. It is more the advice in the Sermon on the Mount.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Without a sense of the mystical, Christian worship comes up short.
Alan Watts, again pre-Zen Watts, wrote something to the effect that without mysticism Christianity is left lacking. In my own experience, when I connected with the Episcopals, I participated for the first time in my life in a liturgical service.
Having eaten bread and taken water in a very routine way (in my Idaho ward)a blessing was said and the little pieces of bread and water were passed out to the congregation where they sat every Sunday from childhood, I understood it as “passing the Sacrament.” It was just something we did as part of Sunday Service.
That first Episcopal liturgy and communion was profound in comparison.
When invited to take communion I shrugged inwardly with a sense of “yeah sure.” But as I listened very closely I understood a sense of re-enacting the moment of the Last Supper.
When I went up front and knelt, the contrast between the routine sacrament of my youth and early adulthood paled in comparison to how I felt that single first time.
“Listen easy … you can hear God calling…” – Neil Diamond
I rarely sense the presence of God while in the presence of a sermon. It is my experience that I do rarely not sense the presence of God. The presence of God is much more frequent when I read or hear something that challenges or prompts deeper thoughts inside; when I don’t have to cope with sermonal droning.
It’s one of the reasons why I listen to a lot of New Age music – which is not, BTW, connected to New Age Religion. It is usually instrumental, highly melodic and harmonized, can move slowly or quickly in solemnity or gaiety with no intrusion of lyrics.
It’s a marked contrast with contemporary rock music, exhausted elevator music, the march march of exhortational hymns or the self-conscious piety of praise hymns.
The more lasting familiar music for me is Classical music with melodies that have stood the test of time. A lot of my writing is generated with New Age or Classical music in the background.
What does it mean to to be spiritually and prompted by Divinity? Such is for you to discover by your own labors, by the arms of your own flesh, by search, ponder and pray. There is no formally correct way to do that.
Although my view has adjusted itself more readily to the reality and psychology of belief, my perspective has not changed. It feels to me, however, that I may reach a wiser and more tolerant acceptance of views that oppose my own as well as an understanding that those with whom I agree and disagree each have their own light and own hill upon which to place it.
For those who remain spiritually and socially committed to formal religion, its doctrine and precepts, I continue to express the idea that your commitment must entail your own working and understanding of Jesus as the Christ first and foremost – even beyond the idea of Jesus as God.
The Christ Path, the primary focus of Paul’s writings, is a path driven by an active and working faith in personal spiritual empowerment.
It’s a path upon which we should walk unencumbered by someone else’s magic or authority.
It’s a path upon which we can walk more effectively in the absence of clerical middlemen who knowingly or ignorantly encourage our dependency on things outside our own proprietorship of our lives.
It’s not a path of giving ourselves over to Jesus in some metaphysical way that locks in a permanent spiritual data link with Jesus by which we then continue our life to its culmination with every step internally prompted by what we consider to be a spiritual source outside ourselves.
The Christ Path does not assume that God has so limited the correct living of life that He remains willfully silent and non-communicative to humanity, stubbornly and somehow divinely refusing to respond to prayers or questions –
In it’s only and highest usefulness the Gospel consists of concepts intended to facilitate and bring forth a greater ability to know God. The Gospel fails human beings who attempt to extract from within its precepts and doctrines some mandate that lets us lazily refuse to live in the gray reality of the present – insisting instead that everything is either black or white.