Essay: Willingness to be Prompted

Not by bread alone

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 consciousness expresses itself most from 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. Similar divination appears in Joshua 7 and Samuel’s selection of Saul as king, as well as 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 and a sincere effort … perseverance”

This was a tiny powerful moment. I found myself reading the definition of how I had  started on a different path while still retaining my use of scripture on my journey 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” 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, and commenced my exploration of Gile’s proposed means of self-exploration.

I found myself amazed. In all three contexts, that which I learned as “revealed to me through divination tools” was essentially identical -the same information – in each context.

I realized then that journaling and other techniques that task the mind and imagination creatively can be 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. There was no concept of my being responded to by some external entity hiding in cards, runes or yarrow sticks.

I was not seeking to know the future, or encountering 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.

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. When I connected with an Episcopal parish I participated for the first time in my life in a liturgical service.

I had over my lifetime taken the Mormon communion of bread and water in a very routine way. A blessing was said on the tokens after which 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 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 that I would be invited to 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 first time with communion in a liturgical church. I understood that myth and ritual within a liturgical context touches on the mystical and without a sense of the mystical, Christian worship comes up short.

“Listen easy … you can hear God calling…”

If people stop challenging my thinking I’m liable to think I’ve reached the apex of smartness … and that will be right before I fall flat on my face.

I rarely sense the presence of God simultaneously in the presence of a sermon. Yet, in my experience sensing the presence of God is not something rare. The experience is much more frequent. When I read or hear something that challenges or prompts deeper thoughts inside, 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, by the way,  connected to New Age Religion. It is usually instrumental and 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 or the marching forward cadence of most hymns.

The more lasting familiar music for me is Classical music with melodies that have stood the test of time.

So a lot of my writing is generated with New Age or Classical music in the background.

Now having said that, I’m going to refer to an icon of elevator music. Neil Diamond has a song that begins … “Listen easy … you can hear God calling…”

Christian Divination in the 21st Century: Prophets, Prompters and the Spirit speaking to the Church

Recently, I had occasion to call a local businessman who had started a Health Club and was offering a discount to members of all local churches regardless of denomination. His procedural approach was for our congregation to pay the member’s full rate from which he would “rebate” the discount amount back. When I asked why he was doing this he declared firmly “The Lord told me to set up this business in this way.”

Another person I know declared that the Lord had prompted her to take a specific teenage female into her home and to act as a surrogate parent on her behalf.

In the context of my social work I’ve met more than one Christian adult who faces adversity with a faith that [paraphrased] “the Lord must want me to go through this for a reason. I trust in Him and do my best.”

Guidance, prompting, faith and trust … all express the living mystical aspect to Christianity that touches far more accurately on how to life by the Spirit than all the preaching, doctrine and conformity to some sort of orthodoxy.

There are countless millions who have such a spiritual connection with a higher power – be it the Christian version of God or another Divinity. They compose a spiritual approach to life that includes taking scripture beyond the literal and letter-of-the-law adherence formula for an afterlife reward.

What I refer to as Christian divination and ought not to be confused with the assumed prophetic activity of contemporary evangelical celebrity leaders who declare directly or strongly imply that God has spoken to them personally – perhaps in the manner of the health club operator mentioned above – but in a non-sharing way.

Pat Robertson has taken the most publicly open role of prophet of our times in declaring all the things God has told him regarding national politics and American elections.

He, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham again are remembered for declaring that catastrophic events in this country are a direct statement of God’s repudiation of America for its sinfulness regarding abortion and homosexuality.

Exercising their right to free speech, these public persons – because of their influence – perhaps encourage Christians who support them to make that leap of faith to accepting such “prophetic uttering” as today’s “thus sayeth the Lord” pronouncements of the will of God.

Claiming to speak the will of God can be a risky business. To do so runs the risk of being perceived in the same vein as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and other cult leaders who essentially lead their followers to their demise.

Prophets may also face in-house challenges from loyal followers or dissenters seeking to wear that same 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 intended for 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 problem with prophecy repeats itself now more than ever, particularly with the entry of politics into Christian activism, blurring the lines between seeking goodness for the sake of goodness and seeking control for the sake of religious convictions.

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 and stoically judgmental and punitive.

In an earlier article Render Unto Caesar I wrote that:

Is the very heart of our Christian way of life an understanding that Jesus, from the unseen world of spirit, is a commanding presence? Or is Jesus a presence commanding Christians what to think, when to think it and who to support?
A commanding presence is one of influence. Jesus is our commanding presence whose mortal pattern we as Christians consciously seek to model. That is not a pattern of blind obedience to ecclesiastical authority. His most ardent criticisms were directed toward the priestly class. Nor was the pattern one of blind obedience to secular authority. When challenged about it, he spoke wisely, Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars.
Jesus 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 any religious leader more than to us individually His will as to our decisions concerning our religion or politics. 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 Christian duty to blindly consent when someone in prominence announces that the Almighty has chosen or inspired him to lead American Christians to specific actions that impact communities, a people and a nation.

God is in our experience

My own experience has been more easily understood in the context of Paul’s writings.

God IS in our experience and as we ultimately define all things for ourselves. God will be more vividly sensed inwardly than outward. More miracles become evident from inward sources than outward interventions.

I believe that those things from which we tend to hide and cower come from how we’ve internalized external portrayals and created the fundamental temptations we face internally.

Learning to trust our own internal perceptiveness makes life – especially God – more real. It is not necessary to simply be satisfied with the limitations of outward evidence.

I come back to my old saw – the God from which we are tempted to hide and cower is someone else’s magic.

Again to literal thinking: Jehovah of the Old Testament comes across as a mean-spirited, vindictive and judgemental old guy. Easy to think it’s better to hide and cower.

The God of Compassion taught and patterned by Christ contrasts that Old Testament either-or mindset. Realizing 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 – or some other thing equally beneficial occurs – 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 only through the event itself. That 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 take literal that 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, for me 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 and requirements of a proscribed way of living.

Sam Keene has called that sort of proscribed way of being an “automatic stance.”
The automatic stance of Mormons in general is their belief in revealed religion based on contemporary revelations from God going back to the earliest moments in Church history.

For me the spiritual sense that eventually grew with my maturation was that of a God who communes individually with human beings – who does not restrict himself to chosen “prophets” or the contemporary holy icons of LDS culture in particular and Christian culture in general.

Early on I believed those who said God would prompt if I would listen. I also believed when they said God would not prompt if I was unworthy.

When my eventual mid-life crisis of faith commenced, I was surprised that I did not feel more painfully  bereft of God’s promptings despite the fact that the LDS narrative had constantly and confidently predicted that those who fall away suffer the loss of the spirit.
What was portrayed was a God prone to pouting and who would no longer speak to me because of divine displeasure with my non-conforming attitude, behavior and overall lack of worshipful spirituality.

This portrayal was buttressed by verses from the 9th section of the  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;

There were for me 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 with a trust in what section 9 had led me to experience.

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, from which and within 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 LDS doctrine, theology and practice.  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.

D&C 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 have challenged each other and all non-members willing to listen 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 life style 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 I “stuporfied” 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 oil-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 LDS theology, doctrine, policy and procedure – someone else’s magic.

Someone else’s magic 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 Christian 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.

The Mormonism of Joseph Smith had taught me that religion is more than just a way of life, it can BE life.

That I rejected the LDS version and withdrew my  membership only had to do with that particular organized way of being.

For me then Mormonism taught me the personal spiritual approaches and practices that eventually helped lead me out of the Church but with no sense of lost connection to God as a consequence. That connection eventually overrode the sense of someone else’s magic and facilitated my rebaptism in 2011.

A life that includes a willingness to be prompted – as and when promptings arise –  is very much one foundation to 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.

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