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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Promptings: sensing about myself that which God knows and wants me to know.

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A few years ago I sat in Fast and Testimony meeting and listened as my wife, Lietta,  spoke of the workings of the spirit in her life and on promptings in general. I have spoken often with her about living by promptings.

Very early during my mission, I felt myself fitting the description Henry David Thoreau wrote about a man in a state of quiet desperation.  I had agreed to serve a  mission  without having ever experienced any sort of spiritual prompting. Not having informed the sort of missionary I felt duty-bound to become, I trembled that my desperation might not remain merely quiet.

In my particular desperation I sought The Lord and related very much to Enos, who wrote that he had been driven to aloneness with God in the wilderness because, as he expressed it, “my soul hungered.”

Enos further explained that,

“I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.”

I have always related to the power of Enos’s feelings. As a young missionary in the Language Training Mission I experienced spiritual fear that was entirely palpable. Part of my sense of self included feelings of shame and unworthiness at having agreed to become a missionary with what I considered insincerity.

The Language Training Mission was my first genuine experience with what I refer to as The Moroni Promises as they are written in the tenth chapter of his Book of Mormon writings.

The Moroni Promises became my path to understanding the role of the Spirit in my life, freeing me from youthful notions that the Spirit only worked with me on occasion; often only on a basis of worthiness. I had the mistaken idea that if I was not good, if I was not obedient, I then was not faithful sufficient for the constant companionship of the Spirit.

Being caught in an innocent assumption of God having a only a conditional relationship with me, I believed then that the Spirit of God as a Fire would only burn in my bosom when God was pleased. I had come to equate the constancy of the Spirit as a conditional circumstance based on some vague mixture of my goodness, my worthiness and my conformity to the opinions of the Church.

For the longest time, I had failed to apply the Moroni Promises to that false notion. Now in private and quiet desperation I came to my attempt to confirm Moroni’s promises.

The result was not immediate; not a flash of light in dark woods, nor a bright candle in a room darkened by spiritual unworthiness. The result was a dawning spiritual awareness that the God loves me with no conditions; Divinity never turns away from me regardless of who else is not pleased with me. The Divine Spirit is in reality the same Spirit that ignited and continued to flame my mortal life and being.

Awareness of the Spirit and of promptings was awakened in me. I do not speak of any special sense of being a recipient of special revelation or promptings not available to others. I in fact have come powerfully to understand that promptings, hunches, feelings … intuition, if you will, are the most powerful ways the Divine works with you and me.

It is not mine to doubt or discredit whatever prompting anyone else knows as experience. That is why the notion of a cookie-cutter religion is so annoying and inaccurate as a portrayal of how human beings attempt to live in harmony, avoiding discord but always possessed of a willingness to question and ask.

The Moroni Promises became my modus operandi so to speak … and for me an incredibly comfortable way to feel guided as my contrite spirit not infrequently sought to be.

Second to the Moroni Promises in importance to me was the D&C scripture regarding how best apply and test those promises. The Divine was working with a troubled young man who was then – as I was in my time – struggling to know how to be guided by the Spirit.

Oliver Cowdery it seemed had quite casually assumed that receiving revelation took no effort or focus on his part. His literal-minded interpretation of what Joseph Smith was doing in dictating verses was that simply because Joseph as Joseph, i.e. Christ’s prophet,  had merely to open his spiritual eyes and mind … and start dictating.

As we read in D&C 9, God opened Oliver’s understanding by prompting Joseph to declare not the revelations themselves, but the how-to as a manner of living prompted by The Spirit:

Here is what happened to Oliver … and please note that I have edited all scripture quotes, personalizing them as they prompted me regarding my own circumstance and feelings. It is in that manner that scriptures have been for me, a means of sensing about myself that which God knows and wants me to know.

Christ:

Surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall cask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records …  parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit. 

I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Spirit which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. 

This is the spirit of revelation. This is thy gift; apply unto it. 

Whatever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it. 

Ask that you may know the mysteries of God that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you. 

Behold, it is I that have spoken it; and I am the same that spake unto you from the beginning. Amen.

Perhaps only partially understanding, Oliver was unable to do that which he had seen and heard Joseph doing … again because he had erroneous assumptions about what receiving revelations really meant and who can receive revelations.

Christ did not abandon Oliver but with a patient and unconditional love, explained again but in a different way.

“Because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph, I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him.”

Oliver had proven himself incapable of being prompted by The Spirit. Christ then again gave Oliver divine guidance in the only way Oliver could in that moment receive a prompting.

Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time. Behold, the work which you are called to do is to write for my servant Joseph. 

It is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you. 

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. 

But, you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right (The Moroni Promises),  and if it is right I will cause that 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 … you cannot speak or write that which is sacred save it be prompted you from me by The Spirit. 

Now, if you had known this you could have received prompting.Behold, it was expedient when you commenced but you doubted.

As it dawned on me back then and has repeatedly come back to my heart and thinking over the years, I remember the electrifying moment when Christ’s next words to Oliver in Section 9 leaped off the page at me and confirmed that I, as a missionary called of God, was in the right place. It was the right time for me. I was not abandoned to doubt and confusion about the coming years of my mission call.

Stand fast in the work wherewith I have called you, and a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day. Amen. 

I felt, for the first of many times, something Joseph revealed in section 121, for the moment, having strengthened my weakening spirit,

 “For there is a time appointed for every man, according as his works shall be. … God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, … then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion … and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

Eventually the mortal me completed a mission.

However, my life’s lessons were not to be completed in such a context. Even now I have to admit that for reasons known more to God and less understood by me, differences in my perspective on spiritual living eventually led me to a hasty decision to remove myself from the Church. Doing so was a rash act based on anger and impulse but, I must also add, such anger and impulse were the consequences of how I chose to address doubts that came up in my life.

The addressing of those doubts was not a mistake.

Eventually, wading through the religious ashes of a former life, and after having met and courted an intensely perceptive woman who could sense my spiritual wounds, I addressed my doubts. Together with Lietta, that which we sought to know opened up an incredible vision and understanding of life that otherwise would have remained hidden, lost in my literal-minded acceptance of doctrine and theology.

Literal-mindedness was the personal curse of habit that in fact hindered my previous ability to see life on anything but limited terms of organizational religious literal-thinking.

I offer no criticism of a typical way of life for Mormons that is  performance-based on the idea that grace is sufficient to salvation only after all we can do. Performance and obedience-based religious participation in which The Church keeps active members engaged in a good cause. However, as each human being is unique, such engagement in religious busy-ness does not work for me.

In a very real way, The Moroni Promises are the basis for the certainly and confidence which I place in God as I know and experience God through the same Spirit God experiences me.

My testimony … as I desire to express what testimony means to me … is that of a constant and conscious awareness of the Spirit of God in my life.

My experience is that Our Heavenly Parents and we ourselves are of the same Spirit.

There is not a separation between God’s Spirit and our Spirit …

it is one and the same …

the only way necessary for God to know our hearts and minds

… and for us to know the heart, mind and will of God.

We need no theology and no doctrine to know these things. Theology and doctrine are best utilized in lesson plans and classes for teaching.

Living with the constancy of God’s presence is more a matter of willful awareness, a contrite Spirit that humbly and always reaches out for God over a lifetime of spiritually-prompted moments.

On performance based religion: Assess your assumptions

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What does it mean to live spiritually?

Religion proposes a performance-based life with the following operational formula:

Obedience + Worthiness constitutes Spirituality … which leads to –> Blessings

Most Churches encourage the belief that heaven is the destiny. Life in heaven is a reward toward which one directs a life of a having learned of a “proper” way to think and accumulate accomplishments. Performance-based religions, many with systematic theologies, doctrines and programs pattern this way of imagining god and god’s reality.

Although entirely lacking proof in any physical or spiritual form of such a realm a host of early American prophets, evangelists and circuit-riding preachers asserted performance-based spirituality. They did so in creatively imagined and described forms.

Christian fundamentalism takes this notion a few steps further. Most  believers easily and perhaps without much critical thought –  buy into religious legalism. It becomes almost second nature to accept the idea of an over-controlling detail-obsessed God who seems much after the pattern of a controlling parent or lover. Uncritically, as an act of faith, devotion and obedience many sincere believers buy without question into the notions such as

  •   humans are so imperfect that God created religion by which that Male Patriarch could – in a loving but domineering manner – thrust into our lives guidelines for living.
  •  Such guidelines almost casually become laws or, better said, doctrines “irrevocably decreed” which the children of said God are expected to follow.
  •  This God of guidelines demands strict adherence to such doctrines which in fact do nothing more than establish a notion that obedience is elevated at the expense of agency.
  •  The highest spiritual approval in life is nothing more than an experiential pat on the head for being an obedient child.

The implications of such internalized assumptions include an idea that the God and Father of Obedience created a world abundant with the fruits of creative activity, but then mandated performance and worthiness as prerequisites before creative activity could bear fruit.

Fundamentalism: An unnatural way of living.

On Prophesying, Seeing and Revelating

A performance based religion puts bans on what are perceived to be inappropriate things. These bans become “laws of the Church” which by implication become “Laws of God” which are viewed then as irrevocably decreed and upon which a worthiness-obsessed God gives blessings.

In a performance-based-religion, members are banned from inappropriate music, television, movies, books and other literature. Freedom of expression in art, music, and other forms of entertainment are seen as risks that may cause the Father to stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion certain food and drink products are banned and seen as the causes of risks that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion the Father requires strict adherence to dress and personal appearance codes the rejection of which creates a risk that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion scriptures become the means and tool that can be utilized to effectively stand in for a lack of contemporary legitimate revelation. The same God who started everything eons ago by speaking directly to his children doesn’t do that anymore.  Scripture becomes the weapon that confronts those who challenge would-be prophets.

In a performance-based-religion, the very Father of Obedience has become in fact a Father of Conformity. The Father of Conformity either refuses or is unwilling to justify or explain how such an  only-right-means-to-salvation system and circumstance is equally fair and just to every other human being on the planet.

In a performance-based-religion the Father of Conformity has authorized the use of emotional guilt, intimidation, thought control and coercion to keep members in line. He is also seen as justifying guilt-ridden sermons and lessons designed to push believers into submitting to the authority of the leadership without question or criticism. Failure to respect the leadership creates a risk that the Father will stop attending the disobedient.

In a performance-based-religion the Father of Conformity has authorized the use of the theory that people should spend long hours at the Church and do work in the Church in order to gain rewards in heaven. A bureaucracy has been created at all levels in order to engender, monitor and “lovingly” coerce this sort of working participation which then becomes the standard by which member spirituality is measured and recognized.

The same bureaucracy becomes then a powerful instrument for limiting criticism and dissention through emotional and spiritual abuse by perceived authority and endorsement by the Father of Conformity.

A process of establishing and enforcing man-made rules and doctrines creates mere man-made leadership.

The consequences are always harmful, stifling and soul-destructive.

Some who are driven away leave with emotional scars that cause depression, substance abuse and  – unfortunately – suicide, along with the very activities against which the religion relentlessly preached. One can make a case the some of those driven off are at least temporarily not prepared to deal with life and society in a manner that is free from long-internalized judgmental and narrow notions.

Rigid Church programming involves and in fact revolves around forms of guilt and coercion. Within the Church as well as among those driven off there is a danger of low self-esteem that causes essentially unreasonable reactions to the Church itself.

Repentance becomes much more than returning to God, it involves returning to the Church from which one has fled in desperation. This is not unlike a battered-wives syndrome where one consciously returns to a life at home with a mean and unrepentant drunk who will continue business as usual.

There is a genuine tragedy when one feels driven off from the clan or out of the tribe  because like an enormous and ominous dark tower, the Church rises in the background or even the actual center of the tribal village,  thrusting itself with impunity into the middle of family relationships to which it has no moral or God given right to interfere.

Members – unconsciously in many cases – are forced to choose between Church and family.

The Father of Conformity has said nothing about why this circumstance is a positive fruit by which that Father is known among the children of men. The either-or attitude may only be a perception of those driven off when the rest of the family remains inside the righteous but unseen walls of Church conformity, but the Church does little or nothing to address that very  family estrangement of which the Church and it’s self presentation is the principle cause.

Limited serenity that comes from separation from the direct and immediate sources of emotional pain still feels like something much better than the rigidly inflexible  cauldron of conformity whose principal legacy is misery.

One day perhaps enough souls will be driven out of that imagined reality to change a destructive mentally-imagined reality.
That which you imagine to be absolutely true … Believe … and then pretend to make it so

platos cave

If one honestly recognizes that assumptions are in fact only assumptions, then it makes  possible an entrance to the real world in which human beings are perceptibly masters of their own universe.

Divinity then is something other than an invisible monarch and by definition is not focused on our condemnation of anyone?

Could we not propose that just as our lives are the living myths of our own creation, our personal stories are made of all the stuff inside with which we show and tell others who we are?

Human spirituality in this century is no longer even the simplistic 19th century evangelizing fundamentalism of the American frontier.

Modern spirituality is best blended with common sense and ethics rather than organized religion driven by hundreds of years of theological guesswork that becomes more and more obviously flawed and inadequate.

What is called for is spirituality that functions as part of and not a background to a reality that is defined daily by human interaction, curiosity, discovery and challenge.

Old Time Religion does not work – principally because all those old assumptions that were never valid are now seriously impeding social movement toward social justice and genuine compassionate concern for each other.

It’s time to stop climbing and clamoring all over that medieval  statue of Jesus and other gods and instead looking in the direction in which Jesus was always pointing … the compassionate inner self whose kingdom has always thrived and pulsed within.

Assess your assumptions

It’s the internal story most of us were taught to carry around that may be flawed. What is within us in terms of how we define the world and its realities – spiritual, material, intellectual, sexual – all the inner thoughts that determine our outward performance come from a source that was never designed to be perfect.

“The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, profane, clean, obscene, grave and light, without shame or blame.” – Thomas Hobbes.

Our secret thoughts are the authors of our own story, our personal mythology from which we navigate our lives.

Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox have addressed this subject* with excellence and I have paraphrased their writing to discuss myth.

Our secret thoughts are where we have authorized our answers to the following questions:

Where did I come from?

Why is there evil in the world?

What happens to me when I die?

With whom do I belong?

How close should I be to others?

What are my obligations?

What is taboo and to be avoided?

Whom should I imitate?

Who are the heroes, villains, enemies and allies?

What are the stages along life’s way?

What is disease?

How can I be healed?

What should we do with bounty and surplus?

What is our relationship with nature and the animals?

Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

Why Do We Feel The Way We Feel?

Are We Vitalized Or Bleeding Away Our Emotional Energy?

Our lives are living myths of our own creation. Our companion is our personal story, all the stuff inside we use tell us who we are and tell the world the same.

“Myth” is a word given too much work in how we share knowledge with one another. Many will not accept a myth because it is something built from nothing. Others say myth is illusion or a mistaken belief. When myth equates to the opposite of “fact”, how can we trust or use myth?

Myth is assumption.

Every definition of life is an assumption.

Every reasoning behind what we choose to do and how we choose to behave is based on assumption.

Defenders of religious creeds use the word “myth” to characterize religious beliefs that conflict with their own, saying

“Your, assumptions are not as valid as my assumptions. In fact, your assumptions are myth while my assumptions are truth.”

What do we deny if we refuse to recognize our own assumptions?

Image result for mythological god

Our personal mythical scenario is always on and is always running. Sam Keen has described myth as referring to

“an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community or culture.
The myths we carry around inside include unspoken consensus, the habitual way of seeing things, unquestioned assumptions, and our ‘automatic stance’.”

A society lives on its own unconscious conspiracy to consider a myth the truth, the way things really are. Do we belong to the majority who are literal without thinking; men and women who are not critical or reflective about the guiding “truths” – myths – of their own group?

As Keen implies,

” To a tourist in a strange land, an anthropologist studying a tribe, or a psychologist observing a patient, the myth is obvious. But to the person who lives within the mythic horizon, it is nearly invisible.”

I also like this quote from Carl Jung:

“I asked myself, ‘What is the myth you are living?’, and found that I did not know. So … I took it upon myself to get to know ‘my’ myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks … I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me.” -C.G. Jung, The Portable Jung

How much are our individual lives shaped by inner scenarios based on assumptions we have been taught to accept as absolutely true?

Do we live an inner myth that reflects how we’ve been taught the world “is” rather than how we’ve discovered the world to “be”?

 

*I recommend YOUR MYTHIC JOURNEY, Finding Meaning in Your Life Through Writing and Story Telling, by Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox., copyright 1973, 1989 Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc