“And my soul hungered”: The Only Testimony I Can Give

Enos prays mightily and gains a remission of his sins—The voice of the Lord comes into his mind …

1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.

Brothers and Sisters,

Having spent that past few years I have felt somewhat inadequate and in a state of exile regarding my inability to express a testimony to my fellow saints in the tradition so prevalent in today’s LDS 21sst-century environment. It is for me an environment that seems to encourage only a bare minimum of experiences about which a priesthood-coorelated testimony seems to encourage as appropriate testifying of truths that will edify the saints.

However, having come to grips with what we all seem to think we must bear testimony to versus what we really know in the most personal corners of our hearts, I’d like to take this opportunity to bear my testimony of the reality of God in my life.

I’d like to testify about my awareness that God lives and loves us; that my experience of God’s love for me is one of the most real experiences in my life.

I’d like to testify of all those things that I know to be true. I’d like to testify of my own experiences with God and the truthfulness and the power of the Holy Spirit as it invigorates and inspires human life.

Long ago, as a young man newly entered into the mission home in Salt Lake City in preparation for serving 27 months as an ordained minister called to preach the gospel, I stumbled at the start. I came very close to walking out of that mission home within the first day or so as I became painfully aware of my unpreparedness for ministry and the missionary’s life of total devotion and commitment to teaching truth.

I had not prepared myself, felt that I had no testimony of the truth of any particular LDS narrative or teaching and that I stood at the precipice of a dangerous leap into a pretense that – if maintained – would lead ultimately to a revealing of myself as a hypocrite, mouthing words and phrases regarding things of which I had no internal convictions and about which I had received not divine prompting.

Rather than give in to that temptation to walk away, I took steps that led to my own “Enos moment ,” if you will …

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God,
before I received a remission of my sins.

The first step of My Enos Moment was true to the missionary training I was already receiving.

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.

The narrative of our heritage tells us to ask God with that heartfelt attitude which leads to a more intimate communion with the divine. There was no other way to get my anchor into the water.
gI began a process that took much longer than one all-day-all-night period. I’d have to say that sufficient fullness in that regard did not come to pass until I was in Texas and already going through all the motions as an ordained minister called to preach the gospel.

Eventually, in a form only I might be able to understand (since my prayers were personal, pertinent primarily to me and involved only my own standing before God), I came to a place where I felt I could serve as an honorable missionary.

The intensity of life as a missionary can do much for the intensity of spiritual experience.

A missionary’s constant flow with the depth of scripture and the constancy of looking for the Spirit in every moment and event of mission life can inspire a life permeated by that peculiar Mormon revelatory attitude that attempts to experience God in every venue. Not totally aware of the difference between how I experienced life spiritually as a focused missionary and how others not living in a similar intensely spirit driven mode might not be experiencing life in the same way, I essentially assumed that what was happening to me had for the most part already happened to every active adult Mormon; that I had finally arrived into that Mormon spirit-driven way of living that I had envied for so long in others.

I returned home as an on-fire returned missionary and ready for the next steps the Lord was preparing me to take. Like most active and participating members of the Church, I accepted as literal the LDS narratives about our earliest history, the LDS doctrines and assertions regarding my belonging to and being an integral part of the One True Church on the Face of the Earth. It was a heady time and did not seem to dissipate for almost 25 years.

Consistent with my missionary personality of the mid-sixties, I for the most part with ease accepted and maintained the narratives, doctrines and commitments as a priesthood-holder, father and temple-wed husband …

… until there came a time when events, people and historical narratives came to my attention in ways that I had heretofore (almost subconsciously) deliberately avoided or ignored. Eventually, a mindset came over me that hearkened back to 1965 and my frightened humanity in the Salt Lake Mission Home. That mission-home desperation of 1965 drove me to a personal humility in the presence of God that seemed so necessary for me to attain ministerial honor as a young missionary.

Such was the only personal experience on which I could rely to help me deal with all these pieces of information that seemed to tumble, as it were, into my awareness whether I was ready or prepared or not. It seems now like that was how the rest of the Moroni Promises asserted themselves.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

6 And whatsoever thing is good is just and true;
wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ,
but acknowledgeth that he is.

7 And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost;
wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God;
for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men,
the same today and tomorrow, and forever.

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.

I owned (as we all do) spiritually tangible experiences and knowledge that I had well understood all along and that had served me well for years. I just seemed to have forgotten the import and meaning of those experiences. Had I forgotten how I had made them work for me as a young missionary and a young father, husband and priesthood holder in every ward in which I resided?

In the face of new information, confusing narrative conflicts and rising doubts, I seemed to have forgotten the next-step applications of wisdom regarding my experiences with the Moroni Promises. That Moroni-Promise process in reality had nothing to do with whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet nor with the true-church narratives that intersect with LDS attention spans much like the chatter coming from a television set left on in the background.

The essence of that process is purely and simply the formula for success for every religious mystic in every setting (Christian or otherwise) going back thousands of years.
What should we expect should happen for or to us as we attend and participate in Church?

Perhaps better asked, what appears to be the expectation the Church has for what happens when we attend meeting with all it’s priesthood-correlated management of sacrament meeting topics/ talks, Sunday school, priesthood, youth and primary lessons and testimony-bearing?

An additional question would be to ask what sort of expectations do active members have as conditioned by Church narratives, procedures and patterns of activity/worship?

Does the Church expect membership experiences or moments of union with God?
Or would such experiences run counter to the hierarchical flow of information in which Leadership functions as necessary middle men between members and God?

Do Church members as a whole understand spirituality or spiritual satisfaction as a feeling of “confidence waxing strong” (section 121) that comes from obedience and conformity? Do Church members feel and are they as a whole satisfied with such feelings as that being “all there is?”

I agree with all those who by experience have learned that to be alive spiritually we only need personal union with God and an ability to be conscious of that personal union. These are not impossible tasks; do not take years of patience, meditation or suffering to obtain.

The Moroni Promises are proof of this.

Without a personal awareness of the constancy of communion with God, I do not see how religious life has much greater value than some sort of conscience-easing drudgery. That kind of religious life leaves more on the Lord’s table than anything consumed by repetitious activity that is nothing more than imitation of real spirituality.

Why attend Church at all if the only thing that occurs is a never-ending repetition of things we have all heard at an almost kindergarten level of depth. Why attend and participate if – as a result- We are not taught to swim in deeper water and told only to continue wearing our water wings and merely splash harder and make sure everyone else is splashing?

It was that shallowness and failure to offer any meaningful counsel regarding that trickle of confusing and contradictory information that seemed to challenge almost the entirety of truth claims made by the Church along with the shoulds and shouldn’ts mandated by the corporate insistence on conformity and obedience.

I have not gone to Church in order to listen to exhortations to spiritual unity based on unquestioned acceptance of cookie-cutter spiritual-mindedness.

I attended and participated with the idea that on any given moment – especially in a religious or worshipful environment – I could expect an enhanced awareness of personal union with God.

Such is not an unreasonable expectation for anyone … unless perhaps a human being is lost in the artificial environment of a performance-based belief system. Such would be a system that brings to life a God obsessed with obedience; a God who makes a big deal of worthiness; and a God who then is accepted as the Divine rewarder who may bless or withhold blessings based on obedience and conformity.

In such a religious context, Sunday school only needs to teach obedience. The Gospel needs only imply that the highest spiritual feeling one can obtain is that of being so personally obedient; that one could hardly notice the conditional circumstance that causes one to believe that God will be present or withdraw based on one’s personal condition of worthiness based on obedience.

That is not a loving God who loves unconditionally. Rather, that is a God who must be pleased and satisfied before blessings are given. A father or mother cannot parent children wisely in such a manner with such an attitude. Neither can God who – if the relationship is conditional – is no longer God … because you cannot count on God’s unconditional willingness to commune with you even if you aren’t good.

That is nothing less than a parent who quits speaking to you when you need that parent the most.

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