Prayer then, related to scripture, is the Moroni promise – and it is a that always, when I bought into it, served as 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 has been 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, rather, quite pleased in how his idea authorized my to strengthen my testimony through questing prayer.
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 both heart and 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.
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 would then characterize my prompted life as all about my relationship with the Divine. That is how God encourages 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. 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.
D&C100: 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.
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 sistren 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, then 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.