I grew up in a small village in the Rocky Mountains some 165 miles north of Salt Lake City. I look back upon those first 19 years as the formative process for a child of pioneer stock, of a band of Mormon believers sent to our valley to found a community bonded by faith, hard work, trust in each other and a God who spoke from Heaven to individual souls who were anxiously engaged in the good causes of life.
I recall that by the time of my late-teens a sense of religious duty seemed irresistible as it prompted some sort of postponement of my growing sense of independence and what my future might look like in terms of education and vocation.
I grew up only partially active in the Church and that mostly for social reasons. I grew up relatively free from parental pressure to go to church and if I attended for reasons other than social and connected to my love life, it would have been a response to the unrelenting and guilt-making pressure from my beloved but weepy and manipulative Grandmother. Grandma Ruger was the one who taught me the religious stuff like prayers but who could not seem to tolerate any form of disappointment in her expectations and wishes that we be good active Mormons.
When I entered the age of availability – 19 years – and aware of our ward’s missionary-minded bishop, Glen Yost, I tried to stay low on his radar. But my attempt to avoid the bishop was only half-hearted in that the sense of pride in being thought of as mission-worthy did much to challenge any critical thought on my part about putting my life ahead of the Lord’s need of me.
Bishop Yost easily cornered me one Tuesday or Wednesday night at MIA and I knew what he wanted. I was next in line among his harvesting of local recent high school graduates and urging them to fulfill a mission for the Church. Even as I was gathered in and cornered in his office I knew that I would probably agree to go.
My own assessment of how I might be a man worthy of a mission call was somewhat tempered by an inner awareness and admission that I was a social Mormon more than a testimony Mormon.
No one more than I was aware that I had not prayed according to the Moroni formula in chapter 10 of the Book of Mormon which was a constant teaching theme in Church, MIA and Seminary classes.
No one more than I was aware that I had been going through the duty motions to please family and peers more than a consequence of the inner-convicted faith of someone like Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
The only “spiritual” moving experiences seemed to come with my response to Mormon music – mostly the hymns that I liked the best. I’ve only recently come to realize that I have been brought “spiritually” to tears more by music than the spoken word, more by the tune and melody of a favorite hymn than any sermon or lesson.
That is still true today.
Back then no one more than I was aware that my kidding and joking and lack of seriousness that interjected itself into almost any religious discussion with my friends was closer to the real me than any sense of piety and future religious devotion.
But I listened to Bishop Yost make his pitch and almost without hesitation, perhaps as a habit of going along with whoever I wanted not to be disappointed in me, I told him I would think about going.
Within a week, having added a dose of serious do or don’t to the issues of life, I experienced what seems like my first religious prompting.
I was moving irrigation pipe and thinking about whether or not I would go on a mission. At some point I forgot about the mechanics of moving pipe and got lost in my thoughts. A few minutes later I realized that I was pondering about what a mission would be like for me all the while a hymn, The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning, was playing over and over again in my head.
That then was the closest I had ever come to experience and believing that the Lord was bringing something to my personal attention … in my memory that is the first time I was ever prompted by God.
Contacting Bishop Yost with the good news of my agreeing to go was the easiest next step. Of course then he went right for the jugular in terms of preparation and repentance.
I’d have to quit my secret smoking on the way to and from pipe moving and with my friends in the evening. It wasn’t as secret as I thought and my mother confirmed that years later when we were joking about how I thought I was fooling people.
All this took place in the early summer of 1965. By August and my 19th birthday I’d received my Patriarchal Blessing and a call to the Spanish American Mission in Texas and New Mexico. I was disappointed for a while because I had requested and had my heart set on Peru. I guess Texas and Spanish was the best I could get.
I do not recall any further promptings until I entered the mission home in Salt Lake and the enormity (well to me it WAS enormous) of what I’d done and how I was locked in to a way of life for the next 2 1/2 years hit me.
I had no sense of “trying this one out” and having any right to change my mind and give it up. My mother, who was not active, had flat out told me that if I went I had to complete it and that she would not have me come home early. She was referring to being sent home from my mission for getting in trouble or serious sinfulness but it didn’t matter. I was her oldest and if she agreed to have me go there was no way of ever wrecking her opinion of me by trying to the right thing and failing.
So into the mission home I went, experiencing the most intense and powerful moment of reluctance and change of mind I would have over the next 30 months. The mission home was full of the kinds of guys I had come to both envy and detest because they came from active families or because they came already testimonied-up and because they looked and acted so damned happy to be there.
I on the other hand did not feel that way.
Before I got out of the car my mother had hinted that I could still change my mind … and I was tempted. But then my grandmother was there and ready to literally bawl me out if I tried to change my mind. Coupled with the awareness that I did not want my mother to see me try and fail at anything, I outwardly avoided changing my mind.
I went into the mission home feeling more than ever that I had faked my way through things once too often.
All I had going for me was my new suit, my new missionary Bible with its center section full of interesting stuff and my new Book of Mormon. Both books had my name and title embossed on the front. Elder Arthur Ruger … at least I felt like a dignified faker.
I was given an English copy of the missionary Six Discussions and told to start memorizing. Later I would be given the same thing in Spanish after I got to the Language Training Mission at BYU in Provo. Well, it was something other than the bible and Book of Mormon so I looked it over.
… and saw the things I would be teaching and testifying to non-members interested in the Church. Then I knew about the fear of exposure as a fraud and how I would seriously struggle saying any of that “I know” and “I testify” stuff in the discussions with strangers while maintaining a straight face.
I went after the formula testimony as instructed. Ask God if it’s true and you will feel it. I didn’t know what the hell that felt like and to my memory my bosom never even scorched, let alone burned.
Maybe my pipe-moving moment was my burning bosom … but my bosom had not burned and my rubber boots leaked as I squished my way back and forth across the field in August humming The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning in my head.
I suppose I made that pipe-moving epiphany do for my burning bosom for a long time since there was no way I was going to back out of this predicament. But I’ll tell you … 30 months looked like an endless time frame and I felt something akin to having entrapped myself inextricably in quicksand where I would only be able to tread water and hopefully keep my nose out of it.
In Provo, spending full time learning Spanish and memorizing discussions that were formatted like the lines I would use in a six-act play, I had plenty of time to my thoughts … which had always been very private and very secret.
From that time forward I don’t remember ever sharing in depth my secret thoughts with anyone although I had had moments of sharing worries and fears with my mother. But my thoughts were mine and mostly kept private regarding the most important matters.
I think then at in the Language Training Mission, since I could not keep Jesus out of my thinking, that I somewhat reluctantly invited the Lord to be a presence in my thoughts and perceptions. I also became reconciled to the idea of having to make do mostly with scripture rather than science fiction, etc. As an avid reader from early grade school, I might be limited to the Bible and Book of Mormon, but I could quit feeling sorry for myself and at least read them.
Later in life, in my 40’s, I worked seriously with the Church’s Topical Guide and marked my scriptures up so thoroughly that it seems now that some sort of expert could reconstruct my life story from an analysis of how I marked and organized scriptural references.
In retrospect, I admit that I had no sense of being in a thinking minority inside the church and culture – of being something of an intellectual. I did not consider myself intellectual nor did I discern any differences in how anyone sought or absorbed knowledge and new information that they encountered. I think that I thought of myself as someone who was more curious in a literary and education sense than most people around me. As a curious sort, I wanted to not only know what and how, but why.
I was to my knowledge never a scriptural literalist and that I chalk up to the teachings of the Church: We believe the Bible only so far as it is translated correctly.
I know the Church taught me that the Book of Mormon was the truest book ever on the face of the earth, but I don’t recall ever being taught to blindly accept its teachings without praying about it.
You see, I grew up at a time when authorities (whoever they were and are) were not so concerned about conformity and knee-jerk obedience. Those who taught me took seriously the idea that I would not be complete unless I obtained my own witness and confirmation of any truths.
Those who taught me expected that I should and would ask God about the things I needed to know rather than presume to tell me WHAT to ask God, WHAT God’s answer would look like and WHAT source my answer came from if it didn’t conform to Church teachings.
That is part and parcel of the 19th-Century non-correlated Church that expected and trusted the membership to live guided by the Holy Ghost rather than simplified conformity-laced instructions from Church headquarters.
That is the community in which I grew up and which I came to believe cared more about my independent choosing of the right things rather than any monitored and micro-managed absorption of everything religious superiors wanted me to know.
So I started a love affair with scripture that was not based on reading The Law according to someone else but based on expecting a whisper as I read. It was how I understood the Moroni promise. It was an unconscious expectation – since at that time the words and concepts I put in the above paragraphs were not part of my experience on perception of life and learning.
The whisper never set fire to my bosom. Yet from the get-go of my courtship with scripture, that reactive sense of quickening never seemed far away or too infrequent to be worth the bother of search, ponder and pray.
Prayer then, related to scripture, was the Moroni promise – and it was a promise that gave me confidence. It was all about sincerity and trust along with a smattering of worthiness, but not so much as to discourage me, a sinner, from even trying because I might not be worthy of God’s attentiveness.
What happened for the rest of my life … even after the correlated Church rose to the fore and began its micro-managing style and tendency to censor … was in fact a consequence of how I learned to learn within the Church culture. They taught me to ask God, to trust the promptings if and when they came, and then act on the promptings.
When I later heard that Brigham Young expressed the idea that he feared the membership would act on his counsel without praying about it and getting a confirmation of its truthfulness, I was not surprised.
It was the way I had finally come to be a genuinely active Mormon. I had come to my own burning bosom sense but seemingly completely ignorant of the fact … because a lot of times the prompting never centered in my bosom, but in my mind where the Spirit interacts the most.
My chest rarely speaks to me except when I am out of breath from exertion or have perhaps heartburn. But the Spirit speaks within my mind quite frequently and when the strength of the voice is sufficiently powerful, my heart feels it too … what I call a quickening.
So scripture formed the earliest focus of quickened learning and also formed the earliest workable understanding of how the Lord works with individuals; how in fact that still small voice “whispers” loudly enough to make itself heard in time for me to act.
Even today I cannot testify of the absolute truthfulness or inerrancy of the Book of Mormon any more than I can the Bible, The Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of G.P. … but I do not see that as important, except to scriptural literalists inside and outside the Church.
I was never a fundamentalist in that respect.
But I can testify to being prompted – whispered to – if you will, by an assortment of scriptural verses over an assortment of moments in my life when needing to know was great or when appropriateness and timeliness was critical.
That to me is the mystical sense of religion that differentiates mechanical practice and religious busy-ness from a genuine moment-by-moment life of the spirit that exceeds any performance-based religiosity.
All that unsolicited opinion – masked as lessons, talks and testimonies – seems to be more a thinking conformity encouraged by a leadership trying to stay in command of an Ark. I think that too many members live as if they don’t understand that the Ark may someday dock at a Celestial Berth, but never convey ashore a single human cargo from its hold and directly into the actual Eternal Palace … because that is not what the Ark is for.
Today, as a husband in a spiritual relationship with a wife and with whom I share both like-mindedness and our contrasting individual perspectives governed by individual experience, I cannot live any sort of mechanical (religious or secular) life sterilized by a lack of prompting and/or spontaneity.
It all comes with the territory and we both know that … and in fact have come to understand that our differences or dissimilarities are the spice of life that facilitates falling in love all over again very frequently.
Let me then discuss the search, ponder and pray and how such have defined my spirituality; how search, ponder and pray has informed my religious understanding in ways that leave me grounded in the world and of the world without risking any sort of eternal loss.
Perhaps better described for me – as I learned recently – illumination is the better word. Spiritual illumination constitutes for me that constant presence of the Holy Spirit. (I do not like the phrase “Holy Ghost” which is a formula word that sounds like an ingredient in an artificial religious recipe book. Too much dogma and not enough leavening)
I do not ever recall feeling that personal promptings for me constituted some sort of revelation to my family or anyone else. Never a revelation from God to my family through me, God in my experience does not work that way. God does not use middle men to manage human beings in any manner.
Having said that, I would then characterize my prompted life as all about my relationship with the Divine. That is how God encouraged me to be a better man, a better husband and a better father. Then in my life, once quickened with a love of scripture not unlike my unhesitating love of music, I came to trust promptings and illumination as revelation from the Lord regarding my own spiritual well being.
That is the essence of the impact of the life and teachings of Joseph Smith in my own life. This was more than the post-Joseph years with Brigham and his successors where the Church took on a more institutionalized look out of necessity. I believe however that institutionalization – in its process of evolving – sacrificed much of the charismatic nature from which spiritual gifts are more easily manifest.
The Moroni verses of the Book of Mormon (which of course is the principle fruit of the labors of Joseph Smith as a prophet) teach that each human being is able to receive direct personal revelation with no outside interference or a need for outside agreement, permission or approval.
This in fact becomes the essence of a personal relationship with the Lord that is vital and without which there is no Spirit in life. In such a pretended religiousness, life devolves into an almost mindless sterility of feeling.
I need to add that it is not in my experience that the Spirit is an influence that attends mortals based upon any sort of personal worthiness. Anything contrary would give serious lie to the idea of the Grace of God freely given and God’s unconditional love and ability to bless totally free from any mortal theology and dogma.
Furthermore, the idea of promptings only to the “worthy” the “righteous” or the “deserving” suggests a God of conditional love and a God who keeps score and only shares the wealth with those who satisfy him. That might be a good description of an earthly king, but it has no business in any theological realm.
It is my prayerful and Spirit-prompted understanding that The Lord will always strive with man (and woman) through the Holy Spirit; that such striving and spiritual feelings is manifest and can be sensed; is perceptible in life on a constant basis.
Let me then start with the Moroni verses which go back to the early days of my testimony and have since informed how I have come to sense, perceive and define the reality of God as Heavenly Parents (plural usage intended by the way.) Any gospel truth worth knowing and by which life is worth living is one willingly revealed and gifted to you and me by God.
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.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
There is no fixed and official way of understanding, accepting and living by that promise.
A frightened young missionary feeling alone and trapped in a secret kingdom of his own creation took the advice of his elder brethren and read those two verses.
They were about sincerity … really asking … really wanting to know … asking what you want to know and being totally honest in how you do that. There was no formula to the asking – any more than Joseph took James 1:5 literally and went into the woods to ask … to really ask … willing to accept any answer.
Now me being a reader, I was not content to read two verses and therewith limit myself in any prayer for wisdom, I kept reading.
8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God.
And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.
9 For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom;
10 And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
11 And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
I must add at this point that my brand-new patriarchal blessing included a promise that the sick would be healed under my hand – which I took to mean in my 19th year that I would have a gift of healing if I was a good boy.
I had just read how the scripture explained the mysterious words from my Patriarchal Blessing.
But then were not those verses prompting me that I would be illuminated spiritually (if I were a good boy) to invoke divine influence in my efforts as a missionary?
12 And again, to another, that he may work mighty miracles;
13 And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things;
14 And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits;
15 And again, to another, all kinds of tongues;
16 And again, to another, the interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues.
And of course the suggestion that if the Lord called me to learn Spanish then by God He would make sure I had sufficient giftedness to learn Spanish.
And ought I to add – with a smile – that after my mission and as an active Mormon during the Viet Nam years, I was not that surprised by how easily I learned Russian.
17 And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.
Back in late 1965 I read nothing in those verses that suggested conditionality in terms of Church conformity while at the same time suggesting that if I were a good boy I would not be abandoned for the next 30 months.
The Moroni promises informed me sufficiently on an immediate basis to inspire the confidence – when confidence was lacking – and sufficient trust to stay with the missionary task and carry it out so as to return home honorably.
The Moroni promises engendered a spiritual practice that involved a heavy and lifelong reliance on that which the Spirit whispered being far more meaningful than any exhortation or counsel which was all I would very justifiably expect from Church leaders – unless of course I heard the “thus sayeth the Lord” context.
And I only heard that sort of thing in any meaningful way in 1978, in a Solemn Assembly in San Antonio, Texas.
After an inadvertent but wonderful bumping into a humble little man named Kimball – who then smiled up at me and shook my hand, I listened later when that same man – as a prophet of God – stood up in meeting and announced a revelation regarding priesthood becoming a universal opportunity.
He didn’t have to announce “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Only literal religious legalists would have required that he do so. As soon as he communicated God’s truth, the Spirit illuminated me with a quickening I would never forget.
The Moroni promises also engendered a lifelong addiction to scripture as a reliable place for sensing the Spirit of the written law. I had come to understand that the only way to read scripture is to try to do so in the same Spirit by which it was written, as Peter said in the New Testament. Such is not an exercise in priestly literary rigidity but more like searching the scriptures with a hungering soul like that of Enos in the Book of Mormon.
What do promptings feel like?
“the direct knowing or learning of something without
the conscious use of reasoning; immediate
understanding” – Webster’s New World Dictionary
I cannot define promptings or illumination according to a definition that appeals merely to an intellect. What follows may sound formulaic but in my experience has little to do with formula or mechanics and everything to do with feeling natural and necessary for the moment.
There are hunches we experience that are based on experience itself or are based on things like the little clues we may pick up out of the corner of our physical or spiritual eyes when we focus our physical or spiritual attention.
As I have come to realize recently, none of this in fact constitutes some formality of religion-defined revelation. No, this greater mental awareness of things spiritual literally constitutes illumination.
I define illumination as a feeling from which old things and feelings are remembered, new and useful things and feelings are created, and by which meaningful connections are grasped or remembered.
At times promptings are challenged by my rational mind; less rarely does that rational mind challenge illumination.
From a spiritual standpoint (not to be confused or conflated with a religious standpoint) promptings and illumination lead to creativity in any form of creativeness to which I am naturally drawn. I would express that both my novel and poetry writing are closest to peak performance and personal satisfaction during a prompted illumination in which I find myself immersed in the actual writing – not the process – but what is flowing from my pen or keyboard.
Also in that regard, prompting and illumination have for the most part always informed my public speaking and counseling efforts regardless of whether or not they take place inside or outside Church.
The confirming feeling within whenever prompting or illumination is present is a feeling that I am as accurate in my expression as I ever will be regarding the information of the moment.
During my mission I recall encountering what Joseph Smith said about this process and what he said of course validated the limited but workable understanding of how I would function as a missionary guided by God:
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;
[that is,] 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,
Those who have read my novel and are familiar with the plot and characters would then understand if I say that it was written under the influence of those characters from the unseen wilderness of my mind. When they seemed to take over the writing or demand that certain scenes or words be used, on each occasion I felt a confirmation connected to that quickening feeling in the heart.
Most of my writing and much of what I say in a formal public venue (only after I get a head of quickened steam rolling) is created in the same way.
My version of teaching by the Spirit as directed
In the process of “reading” and dictating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith was assisted by Oliver Cowdery, who got to a point where he had a desire to do the kind of “reading” Joseph was doing.
His attempt, his failure and the response of the Lord are recorded in Section 9 of the D&C. This section has been one of those lifelong scriptural texts that have remained primary in the way I have tried to live in a guided way.
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.
This verse served as a clarification regarding the seeking of divine illumination. The premise should not be one where God shows up, you show up and say to God, “What’s on your mind, boss?”
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that 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.
This goes back to the Moroni promises in that you are not to consult God and try to draw Heavenly Parents in on every little thing, creating a co-dependent relationship that is not healthy for you and misunderstands the role of divinity in our lives.
This is not to say you cannot be spontaneously prompted but it does say that you have an investment in the details of whatever, whenever and however promptings come.
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.
The absence of a prompting is still a prompting. The absence of illumination may be an illumination itself.
The reasons for the absence may be appropriate; may suggest a triviality of an issue that does not belong in the God-questioning arena or – as has been my experience – something about which I had either no feeling or a bad feeling (which I describe as a stupor of thought.)
In leadership and teaching callings, on the subject of spirit-prompted discourse, I used the following scriptures.
Luke12:11 And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say:
12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.
DC 100: 5 Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men;
6 For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say.
Lietta and I learned it this way when we were lay preachers in our local Episcopal parish:
Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
It is my experience with the Spirit that this is the only appropriate way to stand in for the Lord when giving blessings, healing the sick, setting apart members for callings or any other context in which you are wanting to speak the words the Lord would speak were He present.
Learning aided by the guidance of the Spirit
2Nephi:30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God:
I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept,
here a little and there a little;
and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel,
for they shall learn wisdom;
for unto him that receiveth I will give more;
and from them that shall say, We have enough,
from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
We are a revelatory people.
We are led by the Spirit, prompted by the Spirit and taught by the Spirit.
We utilize scripture not as some sort of membership “handbook of instructions, rules, policies and customs,” but as the very spiritual vehicle from which promptings and illumination regarding our lives come.
A personal relationship with the Lord is almost inevitable as we allow the Spirit to manifest in our lives. A personal relationship with the Lord is absolutely necessary and supersedes any notion that the Lord’s way is through mortal intermediaries through whom He speaks to us indirectly.
A personal relationship with the Lord is never inappropriate and is never subject to outside approval according to someone else’s magic or some sort of correlated policy that elevates conformity above individual spiritual need.
The moment the Church becomes more important than the individual, amen to the legitimacy of that organization. If in fact someone asserted that sort of supremacy, prompting and illumination regarding the truthfulness of that assertion is absolutely required of each and every member.
That’s what Brigham taught us what to be and how to do it.
A pattern of life
The enduring power of religion is not as a social club or political/moral sign-waving publicity stump. It is not a matter of following any brethren. Rather, it lies within the realm of my human need for meaning and purpose in living.
What seems to require endurance is more in the perceptive realm of mind and spirit and certainly not best served with the traditional literal-minded approach of moralizing.
When our non-physiological internal hungers flare up the void to be filled is not satisfied by chicken soup, a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. These kinds of internal hungers and dissatisfactions reflect not a lack of consumable organics, but a powerful uneasiness … restlessness with life.
Our thoughts truly are who we are; what has and continues to form us.
When we think we are just worried about things, wanting things we don’t have, dissatisfied with work, with marriage, with friends, our church, our community, the economy or the government – even our favorite pro team that’s never going to win a championship – we are thinking the thoughts that form us.
If I am religious then my religiousness holds out the possibility to my internal restlessness that there is something that will adequately respond to internal desire – that fills the void.
If I am religious then congregational spirituality must offer something more than Sunday group and conformity-dominated worship with its attempt to pretend that everyone in life is always on the same page, in the same predicaments and has available the same blessings of the church and gospel principles.
There’s something blatantly impersonal in that sort of exhortation to group conformity.
Families must be offered more than sterilized and programmed lessons and endlessly similar and repetitive discourses in meeting and conferences. The overworked clichéd generalities that create feelings of acceptance and belonging to the mega-church in-crowd that flocks together in pious self-congratulation every Sunday do not satisfy.
I returned to the church and as a human being I expect more from the Church of my culture and heritage than just going through weekly motions and repeating worn out slogans. I want help as I seek something responsive beyond chicken-soup to my internal hunger. It’s a hunger that cries out for something of substance and not rigid god and scripture talk.
It’s a hunger for an experience that is barely verbal but more powerfully prompted from within by something Holy Spiritual (wholly spiritual).
Satisfying that hunger involves one simple concept.
I believe in taking and holding personal boundaries of ownership of your spirituality just as you take ownership and responsibility to provide for yourself and your family. You do not ever casually allow any one or any group to come and go as they please across those boundaries.
Responsible citizens do not run to something external like a government for food and shelter dependency. Nor should citizens run to the local house of worship to for spiritual feeding and shelter – creating a dependency that is only a single step away from the fear, shame and guilt of the cult.
This is not what is obtained by splashing in the shallow waters of mega-church scripturally-literal spirituality that, when all is said and done, shackles itself to the limits of literal-minded moral whining; to what amounts to an approval theology that masquerades as the teaching of Jesus the Master.
The power behind our beliefs is not our ability to become educated in what scripture SAYS, thereby permitting us opportunities to publicly display how well we can read or memorize verses. Power lies in what scripture, prayer, tradition and reason prompt within.
I’m not talking about being prompted to obey, conform and donate.
I believe that in my ward here where I live an un-spoken communal experience of what is divine both inside and outside our perception lies within the potential of every member. It does however remain powerfully elusive – even perhaps hidden – while the emphasis on social behavior, conformity and financial contribution serves more as conformity-laden obstacles to an unselfconscious life of illuminated love of the Lord.
I look across my laptop at the wife and sweetheart who has learned more about my religion and the impact of its religious culture in the past year than I did over my 40 years of self-programmed activity. I see – in a sense – my mortal rescuer who out of love and devotion to our marriage almost literally dragged me back to the process for restoring the cultural skin I inadvertently tore off when I had my church membership removed.
Lietta does not have nor does she live with the mystical sense of connection and prompted illumination that is mine. She is scriptural, extremely spiritual in a more practical and Good Samaritan way than am I and the ultimate fulfillment of the promise in my Patriarchal Blessing of finding a companion who is strong.
She has given me blessings in formal and informal ways and I absolutely trust her spirituality which is faithful to the vows and promises of our marriage and to my religion.
I expect that she lives a prompted an illuminated life but according to her own lights and definitions, none of which need to conform to anything outside our home and marriage.
I trust that our Heavenly Parents will bless and inspire in her in ways to help her continue the beautiful unfolding that has become her life; the sense of eternal togetherness of our marriage that needs no formal ordinance to imply forever.
No one can give you a spiritual testimony identical to theirs in a sense of converting you to their way of thinking.
It’s not about getting you to see things my way, but about encouraging you to blend spiritual exploration with critical thinking that does not rely merely on logic and fact, but also with internal feeling. It is your internal feeling that reflects whether spiritual-mindedness is part of how you view and interact with life and whatever “reality/the real world” is to you.
But I will make suggestions from my own internal feelings.
1. Self analysis: Determine what spiritual approach or attitude is natural to you and then work to thrive on it.
18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
It is important that you understand how you view reality. If you see reality as an earthly world governed spiritually by a divine monarch – a king who commands, judges and rewards/punishes, then the world of literalism is what will work for you. You can safely utilize written scripture and willingly follow the brethren and/or sisters as a method of compliance with formulaic instruction and a code of moral rules and rituals.
There is nothing wrong with this so long as your natural stance tends to be a response to God as a lawgiver and scripture as law – the letter of the law.
(2) If you understand or come to understand that a more natural approach is one of reason applied to spiritual concepts and an internal hunger for some sense of spiritually palpable communion with the divine, then your tendency is toward a more mystical approach. “Religion” as a label of your spirituality is not the word to describe your spirituality.
The idea of communing with The Father as you perceive The Father is based more on prayer, scripture and reason – you allow yourself to ignore everyone else’s “magic” (anyone else’s definitions) and establish for yourself precisely what works for you.
Regarding someone else’s magic, if you do not define your own reality, rather let someone else do so, the reality is not yours. It is borrowed by you – loaned from someone else.
And as with something loaned, the lender will only validate your use of loaned magic as you use it in ways approved by the lender. In other words, your magic is not yours – it is the lender’s magic to own. It is formulaic by definition since it won’t be validated unless you adhere to the lender’s requirements.
A direction of study…..
If you study with an approach that reflects searching, pondering and praying, then there are lots of written sources available. The number of sources will be a matter of how much width, breadth and depth you desire.
Reading and activity sources that I used are the only things I can recommend from personal experience. Do not be afraid of books from outside your faith tradition.
Warning: If you have come to adulthood believing only in scripted and approved study that limits you to your church, you’ll be wrestling with things you are inclined to resist. If you believe that there are things God does not want you to know then perhaps you should stay inside a limited existence governed by someone else.
If not, then I recommend what I have read and found efficacious:
(a) The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell.
(b) Myth and Ritual in Christianity, Alan Watts
(c) Behold the Spirit, Alan Watts
(d) Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg.
If you have similar experience with promptings and illumination inspired by religion then consider beginning studies and genuine uninhibited thinking about your own personal mystical events.
These are in fact spiritual promptings and the source of everything from hunches to revelations. Remember, nobody, no church, no theology has a monopoly on personal revelation. God needs no one’s permission to reveal himself or anything he desires to you.
Active pursuit of the Spirit and communion.
Find scripture that is written in language clear to you. If the King James Version works, use it. If you want more accurate or precise translations, find another. I used The New Jerusalem Bible.
Furthermore: Find a Bible that contains the Wisdom Books. All of the Wisdom books, from Job to Ecclesiasticus contain thoughts more than laws. Especially useful is the Wisdom of Solomon which expresses the Holy Spirit as Sophia or Wisdom. Read that with pondering and prayer and then see what you conclude about the spirit.
What I have recommended is merely another way of going to our Heavenly Parents according to the Moroni promises. I found that the spiritual experience of the Divine opens itself widely and without limits. Freedom from the need to be validated by anyone else was wonderful. I was left to really be taught by the Spirit. It was my own Joseph Smith experience and the most vivid way of living a religion that I have known.
The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”–Gospel of John-
Sent by the Father to be taught all things… To have all things brought to remembrance. Is that not prompting? Is that not illumination; the seeing and making of spiritual connections?
“Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. “-Acts-
I was not raised in a church where the Holy Spirit was defined by momentary flashes of tongues and prophecy although I am aware that many Christian congregations enjoy such an experience frequently if not regularly. Furthermore, it is my perception that in those charismatic congregations we are more apt to find that same emotionally vital and mystical experience of Christ that urges us away from moralizing and into the more important basics of charity, hope and faith.
The Holy Spirit and Me
I grew up in a church that taught that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a Gift from God of constancy for my lifetime. The Gift was part of my baptismal rite when, after having been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Ghost, I was placed in a chair and hands were placed on my head. Someone speaking for the group commanded “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”
I was then taught that the Holy Spirit of God would be my constant companion throughout my life. I also was reluctant to accept any notion that that the Holy Spirit would attend me only so long as I was worthy or righteous. The so-called “stupor of thought” was not a tool of punishment based on disobedience or refusal to conform.
On the contrary, I came to understand that unworthiness or unrighteous behavior would not drive the Holy Spirit out of my life but might very well cause me to lose part of all of my ability to discern that Spirit.
When I was baptized at 8 years old I did not immediately break out speaking in tongues and prophesying. As an adult when I performed baptisms neither did I do any breaking out in tongues and prophecy. Rather, I took my impressions of the baptismal rite and my thoughts home with me where they would be repeatedly examined for years to come and would ultimately inform my understanding of my relationship to God.
“But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”-Gospel of Mathew-
As a young husband and father I was taught to give Husband’s and Father’s blessings to my family. With the birth of each child and when the time for the naming my children arrived, in the presence of my fellow Mormons I would take the child in my arms to for a name and blessing.
I was taught not to charge into the blessing with my own wish list of hopes and fears for my child’s future, trying somehow with God’s power to hex my child against adversity, illness, disappointment and failure.
Rather, as the verse above teaches, I was taught to wait on the spirit and bless the child with the words that came into my heart as I waited on the spirit. Sometimes strange or unexpected phrases escaped my lips, but at no point did I have any apprehension about the things I was saying.
From time to time I was asked to give my wife a Husband’s Blessing in a formal ritual of placing my hands on her head and proceeding again as described in the scripture above. And at the beginning of each school year I would do the same with each of our five children, giving a Father’s Blessing, waiting for spiritual promptings before I could speak.
My only regret was that as I belonged to a church with an extremely strong patriarchal tradition, I had no opportunity to receive a formal blessing from under the hands of my wife and children. Patriarchy had part to do with my leaving that church years ago and it remains in my mind that spiritual promptings in families truly move in all directions – between fathers and mothers as well as from parents to children and from children to their parents.
What might I have missed by not empowering my wife and my children (when they were old enough to understand) to speak to me their own words as prompted by the spirit in a formal setting.
And now I have experienced my wife’s prophetic nature as she has given me wife’s blessings of an incredibly beautiful nature. They are potent blessings and are not subject to any authorization or legitimacy based on ordination. The experience is wonderful.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” –Gospel of Luke-
As written earlier, I offered little resistance when Bishop Yost cornered me in his office and talked about going on a mission.
“And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.” –Gospel of Mark-
Subsequent promptings were not limited to a venue of calls to religious activity but became a desired outcome around which most of my life’s decisions were reached.
“And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” –Acts-
In my family I have admitted that, despite always trying to live by spiritual promptings, in 1979 when I moved my family from Texas to Oregon I did so contrary to a prompting not to do it.
However, the subsequent two years of economic agony were eventually overcome and I came to understand that in our lives God is not vindictive.
I was not spiritually abandoned during that agony – rather, blessed from the get-go while stuck in the mire into which I had deliberately stepped.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.”-Epistle to the Romans-
I heard a story once of a church leader suddenly confronted by a life and death emergency into which he had unwillingly been thrust onto center stage. Because of his ministerial calling, he was asked by those around him to lay hands on an accident victim to save a life. Because of his leadership role, it was thought that if anyone could save the victim’s life, he could.
This particular person found himself terrified of the responsibility and immediately removed himself to a private place where he pleaded with God not to let his personal failings and flaws stand in the way of preserving someone else’s life. In speaking of the incident later, he declared that he had suddenly lost his perspective and no longer trusted God; somehow imposing his own sense of unworthiness between himself and the victim whose faith in God’s power rested on a mistaken belief that God worked only through righteous and formally ordained servants.
The lesson of this experience is not about faith, but about living in a context of being aware of God through the spirit. If you have ever participated in prayer for the sick or an anointing of the sick as described by James, you’ll understand that men and women do not heal the sick. The healing of the sick in the household of faith is an interaction between God and those who are ill.
To give comfort to and to pray with and on behalf of the sick is a marvelous work and experience – one in which we should never be as foolish as to assume that God absolutely needs us to work a miracle.
Rather, when we join ourselves to the sick in love and prayer, the gift of healing is given not only to the ill person, but to each participant.
Specific spiritual experiences do not have as their primary purpose a function of promoting faith. In the church of my childhood I was taught that any spiritual experience was a “faith promoting experience” intended by God as personal verification to me that I belonged to the only true church on the face of the earth.
However, over my lifetime I came to understand that epiphany, illumination and flashes of inspiration lead to a greater sense and awareness of prompting and guidance – not in the manner of a human puppet who assumes that he only moves because God pulls the strings – but in a manner of coming to know and understand that the kingdom of God is within.
The kingdom of God within is a beautiful and fully illuminated place where there is constant opportunity to know one’s self more completely, a constant opportunity for enhanced personal insight and wisdom, and most importantly, the on-going reality of God.
The kingdom of God within each of us is a place where we can see clearly through the window pane because we are not too busy painting on the clear crystal pictures what we think or what other mortals have told us is inside.
As Peter of old declared, mystical experience is part and parcel of what it means to be religious.
17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
It is my experience that if we think we need someone else’s approval or assent to live spiritually in this manner, we deceive ourselves. Within us we are led to our Heavenly Parents; led to discover union with divinity; a union of love and compassion.
That is prompting
That is illumination
That is God’s Gift of the Holy Spirit to humankind.