On Search, Ponder and Pray
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 being a constant reader, I was not content to read two verses and therewith limit myself in any prayer for wisdom. I kept reading.
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.
For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom;
And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
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?; And again, to another, that he may work mighty miracles;
And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things;And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits;And again, to another, all kinds of tongues;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.
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 endowment of gifts based on conditional terms of Church conformity at the same time comforting me 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 – which would prove to be far more meaningful than mere submission to any exhortation or counsel of someone in authority.
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 such has little to do with formula or mechanics and everything to do with feeling natural and necessary for the moment.
Hunches are what come to us based on experience itself or 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.
Perhaps for those whose lives are touched by promptings, the single most significant source of illumination comes from scripture.
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 have 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.
I’ll end my writing by saying that as Peter declared in the New Testament, the scriptures are not for private interpretation. In a more contemporary context I would agree but further assert that no one “owns” scripture, its message, how it is to be interpreted, experienced or by which it illuminates.
In that regard, there is no single and absolute “true” meaning to the messages contained in scripture.
Otherwise, it would be impossible to fall in love with and maintain a giving and receiving relationship with something so sterile and rigidly inflexible that any old outfit could claim a proprietorship where no proprietorship was ever intended.