Posts Tagged ‘truth seekers’

The post “What would a MormonInsider Say About…“  responded in part to Leah’s questions. This post continues with some more parts.

I met him when I was in his city on business and later attended a meeting with several Latter-day Saint young single adults. He had a boy-next-door-grown-into-a-studly-man charm about him. He was spiritual, kindly, thoughtful, and brilliantly innovative. Did I mention he was also easy on the eyes? We’d been in touch a few times before my flight was laying over in his city and he picked me up from the airport.

I had called him about meeting during my 4 hr long layover. He didn’t know I was flying stand-by on my brother’s flight benefits, which meant I hadn’t booked my flight before I talked to him. He didn’t know if he wasn’t able to meet me, I would have taken the earlier flight, leaving enough of an evening to enjoy the company of friends in my ward back in Washington, D.C..  It was my idea to hang out in the terminal. He had a better one. We hiked to a point that overlooked the city.

I was totally digging him. It would have been the beginning of a beautiful story if only he was interested in me, but he was not responsive to my shameless flirting. (I’m not of the camp who think men are stupid.)

While descending the hike, he was going on about being thirty-something and still unmarried. He said he must be doing something wrong because he’s been sincerely praying about it for years and it escaped him. “Can’t you see that I’M the answer to your prayers?” was the thought that crossed my mind. I looked away to broadly grin at my private joke.

I could have been an answer to his prayers, if he wanted me to be.

Leah asks about recognizing answers to prayers. How do you know they’re not just coincidences? What about unanswered prayers and why does God seem to answer yes to frivolous occasions and fail to come through when it really counts?

All good questions.

The truth is, if handsome/charming guy ended up liking me, I probably would have attributed it to being the answer to his prayers and him to mine. I never would have considered it a result of my self-interest and/or biological factors; I really would have enjoyed kissing him. (I’d have to be his girlfriend, of course. I’m not the non-committal make-out type. But, you guessed that already.)

Usually when things happen in our favor, it’s really easy to attribute it to God. For example, after a tornado, when one house is standing and the one next to it is demolished, someone could say God protected it. So how do you know it was really Him and not just chance, luck or nature’s course simply unfolding?

Leah posed her questions on my claim of receiving answers to prayers on this post where I was describing the truth discovery process by the Holy Spirit. To be honest, I don’t know if it’s an answer to prayer unless the Spirit confirms it. And the Spirit doesn’t confirm things to me as often as I’d like because it requires effort to take the mental action otherwise known as exercise of faith.  It requires diligent pondering, remembering past witnesses and deciding to trust that God will continue His pattern of communication that I’ve already experienced. By the phrase confirmation of the Spirit, I mean that my mind his enlightened with a simultaneous impression on my heart that I am able to conclude in the moment with certainty that it’s not my imagination, but the Holy Ghost. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite diligent in seeking the Spirit, but only the most important things get the required attention.

In the post “My Current Explanation of Life’s Purpose,” I described how sometimes I feel like God leaves me alone, even when I remain diligent in seeking Him. I believe that the times of greatest growth in faith, for me at least, have come when I feel I’m not being heard. In those times, I look back, remembering past witnesses and decide to remain faithful to what has already been made known to me when I could very easily walk away. So, perhaps those unanswered prayers are purposeful in how God shapes me into who He knows I can become.

 

Without the Spirit’s confirmation, I don’t know for sure that it was God. I just infer it.

Without the Spirit’s confirmation, I can’t say that I know it was God and not chance. Usually, if something happens for which I have been praying, I simply infer it was God; I don’t know for sure.

Here’s an example.

With the recent downturn in the economy, the leadership of the nonprofit I’m with decided to focus all resources on the core mission. My position applies to the core mission’s expansion. They cut me back from full time to part time, which does not cover my living expenses (gone are the days of BYU housing rent at less than $300 monthly). The break was nice for a while so I could breathe and sleep because working full time and going to school at night is very difficult. To cover my expenses, I started using more student loans than I originally planned when I began my master’s program.

Several things weighed on my mind. I’m committed to “provident living” as it’s known the Church, meaning that I should live within my means and only go into debt for education, a modest home and I can’t remember the other one right now. Though my debt was to further my education, not all of it was necessary and therefore contrary to this principle. Also, I purposefully decided not to pursue a law degree and pursue a liberal studies degree.  I won’t be qualified to work in a particular trade when I finish my program.  I chose enriching coursework with an end that requires me to forge my own way to form the unique career path that I envision. This was a relatively safe decision when I was employed in a job I loved.  It wasn’t looking so hot once my circumstances changed. Lastly, the unemployment rate is over 10% nationwide. I often considered how if I continued living in part off the student loans in addition to the tuition loans, I could finish my program and have to start waiting tables to meet the demands of paying them back. Sheesh. Being an adult is the pits sometimes.

I wanted a new job in my field, but it is really small and specified and I prepared myself to have to take a detour job to pay the bills, if I could even find that. I started praying that I could find a new job in my field and began networking with the organizations whose work I admire.  Many of them operate partially off government grants and with the current tenor of Congress and its deficit decreasing efforts, the story was the same at all those I approached. They’d love to have me, but they have no funding for me and I could volunteer.  I did do some volunteer projects here and there while I continued networking. Unfortunately, I can’t eat off goodwill. For the summer, I picked up a full time temp job in addition to the part time job with the nonprofit while taking summer school and I continued networking. It was going to be tight for a while, but hey, girl’s gotta do what she can.

Then BAM!  The Bishop of my ward called me into his office and asked me to take on an ongoing time consuming “calling” or responsibility.

What should I do?

I decided I didn’t have time to continue looking for a job and take on the responsibility of my new calling. In prayer, I told that Lord that I’m unsure how the job thing was going to work out, but I would trust that if I prioritized serving Him first, it would be fine. I didn’t know what would happen; it could be one of those painful growing experiences, but I viewed it as a chance to put God first in my heart and my life.  If not at this moment, then when?  My life could turn into a long series of special circumstances that put my own needs first before the Lord and I don’t want to live that way.

I accepted the calling and quit thinking about finding a new job and put my mind and heart to pondering how I could seek the Spirit to better help those over which I now I had stewardship to access Christ’s power more fully by faith.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine forwarded a job posting to me she saw while on a website she rarely visits. She knew that I was part time with my nonprofit, but didn’t know I was officially looking and then officially quit looking for the time being (hey, she’s recently married, so we don’t keep up like we used to, you know how it goes). Her find sounded promising. Bleary eyed at midnight, I composed a specified cover letter, updated my resume and emailed it in. The very next morning the executive director emailed me wanting to schedule an interview. He was clear that they would not extend beyond the posted salary range because they’d already budgeted for the year, but assured me the benefits were good and that the next year they could readjust the salary.  I was pleased to hear that the position had a steady revenue stream, so it wasn’t from a temporary grant.

I came into the interview well prepared to make a case for myself.  He opened by telling me that since the job has been posted in the last month, 212 people applied. He was interviewing 12 and I was first because I wrote the best cover letter. “You told me what I couldn’t surmise from your resume,” he told me. He also liked that I said I look forward to a conversation where we could see if we were “a good professional match.”  He said most people assured him in their cover letters they were a perfect fit for the job. He made clear that he would solely determine who was the best fit for the position.

Ends up, this is a position he’s been wanting to expand for several years, but he’s very particular on who should fill it. Though his board has been pressing him on it, he’s been exploring it at his own pace.

After the interview, I used the weekend to draft some recommendations I thought they could do within the next year, based on my experience. I also mailed him a thank you card referring to some specifics from our conversation.

We corresponded for a week over my recommendations while he completed the other 11 interviews. I was preparing to negotiate for the highest end of his salary range, since I knew what it was. The day the interviews closed, he emailed me asking me to accept a director position, rather than the advertised manager position.  Along with the increased position, he offered an increase salary beyond the advertised range that reflected the responsibility of a director.

It was like getting a promotion without asking for one and before I even started.

I was grateful a thousand times over. It’s work that I would do for free if I didn’t have to make a living. I’m specialized in a very small niche and this position seems tailor made to my greatest strengths. Of course I accepted (like I’d be blogging about it if I didn’t). I later came in to discuss some specifics and he was beaming that I was just the person he has had in mind to realize the vision he has for this new expansion.

 

Was it God, me or just a coincidence?

So, was this an answer to my prayers?  After all, I must say I rocked the interview.  I wrote a cover letter according to what my quick Google search taught me at midnight since I couldn’t remember exactly how to write one. I used my brain to conjure up some recommendations and I cordially sent a thank you note. That was all me. Oh, and my friend by chance could have been on a job database when she didn’t have a reason to look for a job  and decided to pass along a possibility to me. But when I have been specifically praying for help about something beyond my control and it falls into my lap better than if I planned it myself, I’m highly suspicious Providence had a hand in it. I have found that God is really good at arranging introductions between people who should meet if the required faith is offered to work such a miracle.  I’m just what my new boss has had in mind for the last few years for the position and what they want to do is exactly what my very unique job at the nonprofit prepared me to do for them. Coincidence? Of course I don’t think so, but it’s only an inference. The Spirit hasn’t confirmed it to me, but I’m connecting the dots on this one.

The Lord told Joseph Smith, “I, the Lord,…delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end” (Doc & Cov 76:5).  I’m choosing to live my life in a way that puts God first, trusting that as I do, He delights to help me out. This isn’t the first instance in my life where I seem to get a beautiful break, but I don’t do it for what I can get. I do it because of what I want to give.

I can’t really prove it was God, but I don’t require proof to continue this path of experimentation.

 

Next up, I’ll respond to why bad things happen to good people, which is what I think Leah means when prayers are not answered before a child is murdered. Then I’ll write up my long time promised Black Mormons part 2 post because my response to Chris’s post will make more sense in light of understanding some views I have, explained well through relaying the history of race in the Church. It might rock a few socks, but hey, let’s keep things authentic here at the MormonInside.

Stay tuned.

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To my delight, Michael Shermer was Stephen Colbert’s guest this last week. It was interesting to see Stephen’s tone at the following point in the interview. He’s a practicing Catholic, so I wonder how much of this was portraying his conservative-pundit-caricature and how much was the real Stephen being playful with a nonbeliever.

Colbert: “You used to be a Christian, right?

Shermer: “That’s right.

Colbert: “Jesus misses you…He told me.

Shermer: “He did? Well why didn’t he talk to me?

Colbert: “Because you don’t believe.”

Shermer: “If being talked to depends on whether I believe or not, then that means it doesn’t really exist, it’s all up here in my head, which is the point of my book, that it’s all up here.

I sympathize with the criticism of prerequisite belief for a confirmation of God’s existence. On its face, first believing before you can believe smacks of the very kind of self-deception Shermer tags onto believers.

However, God works according to the faith we exercise.  If we thought of God as a painter, our offered faith is the medium with which He paints. The more we offer to Him to use, the more He does on the canvas. If someone doesn’t outreach to God, they’re not offering the faith that will produce miracles.

Compare Shermer’s I-won’t-believe-until-I-have-evidence  approach to this ancient American soon-to-be christian convert’s prayer:

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee…”

(Alma 22:18).

This man wasn’t sure if what he was learning from Aaron was true, but he was willing to ask with the hope he’d receive an answer. He also was willing to sacrifice to gain the desire of his heart, which is also a prerequisite to recognizing the Holy Ghost or in other words, receiving answers to prayers.

This  prayer was the catalyst of a spiritual experience that led him to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

From what I know about Jesus, Stephen Colbert was right, Christ does miss Michael Shermer. He’d like to offer Shermer the kind of communication that affirms His existence, but it would likely take Shermer’s initiation and humility.

Speaking of doubts, I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. It would hurt his book sales.

(Surely, God can initiate with whomever He wishes, but the usual pattern is we outreach to Him in trust and He confirms. I must say the Apostle Paul doesn’t seem to fit this pattern of ask in faith first, then communication comes, but we don’t know the backstory of what’s absent from the record. As an observant Jew, he very well could have been seeking God’s will and received an unexpected answer on the road to Damascus.)

Here’s the video

The post “Magic Mormon Underwear Gets a Mention at the Believing Brain Discussion” and the post “My Response to the Shermer Lecture“ relate to my interaction with Michael Shermer.

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This post responds to Leah’s comment on this post.

Hi there – I have found your last two posts interesting. I’m a woman who was raised mormon and now consider myself a secular humanist/naturalist/whatever non-religious term you want to use. I was at the Shermer lecture and before you said you were Mormon – I leaned to my husband and said “she’s Mormon”. Mormon-dar? It’s a thing I guess. :) I can see a lot of the old me in your thinking in your posts, so it’s very interesting. I wondered about your comments above, you say that you have had answers to your prayers. You have probably had this question before, and I present it to you as I once presented it to myself – you have had answers to your prayers, you have had spiritual experiences, but what about those prayers that were not answered? Or just coincidences? Why does God answer YOUR prayer about finding your driver’s license but doesn’t answer the prayer about finding the missing child before she is murdered? Ok, I went extreme there, but I think you get my point. What about people who pray and get answers that a different church is true? What about Mother Theresa?! These were questions that hurt my brain and I’d be interested to hear your response. I’m not a great writer, so I apologize for the choppiness of my thoughts here. I also thought of this blog recently when I was watching this:   I think Chris puts a lot of my own thoughts into words and if you ever feel like giving it a watch and response I’d be really interested in that as well – particularly about his “water” example about 10 min. in. Oh, one more thought – how do you explain people like myself, or Chris in the video, who are happier and feel more “ourselves” and love this world and planet and human beings and  life more than ever AFTER leaving what is supposed to be the one true church and greatest happiness? Are you ever curious about that? Do you not think it’s genuine? That is one thing I never considered when I was Mormon (that people actually cared MORE about families and life and this earth AFTER leaving) so I don’t know what a “Mormon Insider” would say to that. :) Thanks!

 

Dear Leah,

I’m so glad you dropped in. I was amused by you pegging me as a Latter-day Saint at the lecture before I announced it. It could have been the soft glint of my gold CTR ring, but it was likely the impish grin I shot back to my friend when Shermer started razzing on polygamists and called them Mormons.

Your questions are sending me in several different directions. I need to be brief tonight and will respond more fully another time about Chris’ video. I’ve watched it in full and read most of the comments.

Your questions about my view of prayer would make this post very long, so I’ll save it for another day. Stay tuned.

What about Mother Theresa?

From this question, it seems to me you’re asking how I make sense of religious people outside of what I claim to be Christ’s restored Church. I think there are lots of people who were placed in circumstances to influence God’s purpose for mankind, but their life situation did not include access to the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (meaning seeking to fully receive the Atonement of Jesus Christ by living in a priesthood covenant relationship with God). Martin Luther King comes to mind.  He wouldn’t have been effective if he was LDS. People don’t really care for Mormons, much. As a Protestant preacher, he was able to appeal to a broad audience and was powerfully able to draw on legitimacy higher than the state for rights claims. His leadership eventually influenced the potential  ordination of every faithful man in the Church. The great reformer, Martin Luther, also comes to mind as a man of God who fulfilled a great purpose in God’s plan of salvation, but did not have the fullness of the gospel in mortality.

The 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants describes how those who did not have the opportunity to hear and live the fullness of the gospel will get the chance to accept it in the Spirit World. The Spirit World is the place where all departed spirits go before resurrection and judgment.  God holds us accountable to knowledge we have; if He did otherwise, it would not be just.

As a tremendous woman of God, I’d expect Mother Theresa will continue to seek to do God’s will, even while she awaits resurrection in the Spirit World.  I’d say for people like her, accepting the fullness of the gospel there will be seamless.

 

- how do you explain people like myself, or Chris in the video, who are happier and feel more “ourselves” and love this world and planet and human beings and  life more than ever AFTER leaving what is supposed to be the one true church and greatest happiness? Are you ever curious about that? Do you not think it’s genuine?

As a strong advocate of religious freedom, I’m committed to respecting others’ free exercise of conscience, especially if the decision is not to believe. I read a book recently by a Georgetown professor who worked for the  State Department in the International Religious Freedom commission. While making the case that religious liberty is an inherent right, he wrote the following:

An undersecretary of state once told me that his most powerful existential questions had to do with his tennis swing, not the existence of God. This was a cordial but pointed jest, designed to refute my argument that the search for transcendence is universal. It reflected a point of view that should not be trivialized, much less ignored

(Thomas F. Farr World of Faith and Freedom p. 22).

I don’t trivialize or ignore your decision to walk away from belief in God. I’m happy that you have found happiness and contentment in your life. For me, I enjoy lots of things that are seemingly apart from a faith experience. I enjoy my work, I like to exercise, I enjoy my friends and family and other things. However, I have experienced the greatest amount of joy through accessing God. I want Him to mentor me. I want to  know Him better and discover His will and pursue it. It’s what is most important to me. The more I understand about Him, the more insatiable my motivation to seek after Him becomes. But as Dr. Farr invites his readers to recognize, not everyone views life as a search for transcendence. Some are happy thinking about the beauty of their tennis swing.

Because there are these different shades to which people are interested in God, it makes sense to me that heaven has multiple levels, as described in the  76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Heaven is organized to accommodate the level to which people were interested in internalizing the gospel of Jesus Christ. For those insatiably seeking to know God, their level of heaven would be living with Him and continuing to know Him throughout eternity. For those who weren’t interested in such a venture, they ultimately settle in a comfortable place that reflects the degree of God’s glory they pursued.

Have you ever wondered if there is a God, why would He put mankind through a mortal experience where He cryptically remains hidden from proof of His existence?  I’ve wondered that and since I saw Harry Potter this weekend, can describe it best in this way. [spoiler alert!]

After Voldemort kills Harry, he ends up at the railroad station King’s Cross where he speaks with Dumbledore.

 

Harry: “I’ve got to go back, haven’t I?”

Dumbledore: “That’s up to you.”

Harry: “I’ve got a choice?

Dumbledore: “Oh yes,” Dumbledore smiled at him. “We are in King’s Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to. . .let’s say. . .board a train.

Harry: “And where would it take me?

Dumbledore: “On,” said Dumbledore simply.”

(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows p.722)

For those who choose to live life according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, including God’s commandments, they always go “on.”  This is why God created the earth- life experience and gave His Son. It is by the development of faith in Jesus Christ that we increase in spiritual power and we go “on.”  Going “on” includes changing to gain holiness more like God’s. We become more holy through the exercise of faith in Christ. If God wasn’t so cryptic, we would miss out on the development of faith and trust in this power greater than ourselves. God wanted to provide all His children the opportunity to go “on.” Good people who are disinterested in the gospel ultimately live in a place like Harry’s King’s Cross.  Harry’s at peace (p. 712) and it’s a pleasant place, but that’s the end. No trains will be coming to take these residents “on.” They don’t change beyond what the were like when they arrived.

The joy we receive in this life and in the next is directly proportional to the degree we choose to receive the Atonement of Jesus Christ.   We access the power of the Atonement through trusting in it, or exercising faith.

I absolutely consider your claims to happiness as genuine, but your happiness would not be my happiness.

I hope that wasn’t incredibly dissatisfying for you.  And I hope it won’t be interpreted as self righteous. It’s really more of an attitude of may we all receive the desires of our hearts, in this life and into life’s later phases.

Thanks again for your questions. My life is a little crazy right now, so I will respond to prayer questions and Chris’ video another time.  Thanks for giving me writing prompts!

 

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This post relates to this post.

“I know it’s not my brain,” I told my friend on our way home from the Michael Shermer discussion at sixth&i. I was trying to explain that my spiritual experiences weren’t imaginary.  He responded simply, “How do you know it’s not your brain?” He wasn’t trying to make me feel foolish for my claim. If he was willing to treat me that way, I wouldn’t choose to spend any discretionary time with him. He just wanted to hear how I could be so sure. He’s not sure there’s a God and he’s not sure there’s not. Whatever the truth is, he just wants to know it. I like that about him. I’m increasingly more appreciative of self-honest people these days.

“Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,” I told him.

This is the part where I’d refer to the profile I wrote for this blog, but I see now that it’s deleted. Shoot. Anyway, I would have used it to demonstrate that the ongoing questioning process is key to my walk of faith. Some people feel like their faith is shaky when they start to question things they previously accepted. One of the most often repeated invitations in scripture is to “ask.” It is usually coupled with the promise and “ye shall receive.” I’ve lived that promise, more than I can count. As I have had innumerable experiences with the Divine (one described in the post “Why I Believe“), it increases my confidence to deepen in my questions and seek more.

Through this process, I have a few personal beliefs that others in the Church accept as true, but I personally think are more products of our culture. Some of Latter-day Saint belief (and other faith tradition beliefs, too) is based on logical inferences drawn from writings accepted as revelations. We have the words of prophets, living and dead, and we have the Holy Ghost whose role is to “teach us all things” (John 14:26). Then, God invites us to make sense of it and ask along the way to fill in the gaps and gain a personal understanding of truth.

I’m finding it’s a lifelong process to really take this venture seriously. As I am open and willing to reexamine what I’ve previously accepted, I come to better know God. It’s highly motivating to continue forward.

Though as a general practice I like to think myself special, I’m not alone in this approach.  I have lots of Latter-day Saint friends who approach their faith similarly.

The stereotype that people of faith are close-minded likely comes when people attack them, which seems to be the style of the atheist/non-theist community (you can see the comments in the previous post for an example of this). If my friend had treated me this way, first we wouldn’t be friends much longer, and second, I likely would have appeared close-minded because I would end the conversation.

 

After that Background, Here’s my Response

This brings me back to Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain: From Gods to Ghost and Politics and Conspiracies and my own brain activity. His thesis is that the brain naturally looks for patterns as it processes its environment.   The brain then forms these patterns into belief that people confirm with self-selected proof, ignoring evidence to the contrary.  Further, through these beliefs, the brain can even produce experiences perceived as supernatural, especially when someone is alone or sleep deprived.  These perceptions are fired by neurons in the brain, self produced by these formed beliefs.

I think he’s right, to a point. It’s a usable thesis to generally explain some instances of why people believe as they do. It especially applies to prejudices and stereotypes. I’m hoping that in his book he has something stronger with regards to experiencing the “supernatural” beyond the examples he provided in his lecture. He personally stayed up for 72+ while driving and hallucinated human forms on the side of the road. Once he slept, it ended.  He also used an example of prisoners in solitary confinement. These hardly match similar circumstances of those who claim to have been visited by heavenly messengers or other comparable reports.

The skeptic’s approach is to think critically, meaning you look for evidence and draw conclusions based on it, which I appreciate and practice. Some people find me intolerable because I sometimes ask questions that require them to show what evidence led them to their conclusion.  The skeptic’s model of truth discovery declares that if there’s no substance to an assertion, it should be rejected. Because of the critical thinking approach, they view faith in God claims as comparable to belief in Santa Claus and fairies.

This is the part that atheists/nontheists will find terribly dissatisfying. My faith operates in a model that shares similar aspects to this evidence-based approach, but relies on the Holy Ghost to confirm what is substantial.

 

My truth discovery model with regards to faith

Alma, an ancient American prophet, in a discourse on faith invites readers to “experiment on the word” and to “exercise even a particle of faith.”   Are you a skeptic and don’t have any faith to exercise? Alma says simply the desire to believe is enough (Alma 32:27).

The process in which I engage to explore truth claims is the following:

  1. I have an idea.
  2. I pursue that idea. Alma describes this as giving “ place, that a seed (the word) may be planted in your heart.” (Alma 32:28).
  3. I discern by the Holy Ghost if the results are worthy of keeping or tossing out. Alma says you can identify it as a good seed if it enlarges the soul, enlightens the understanding, and/or begins to be delicious (Alma 32:28). Further, he says that if it is light, it is good. (Alma 32:35).
  4. I cultivate the good idea by rinsing, repeating and pursuing more good ideas.

What I anticipate is incredibly preposterous to an atheist/nontheist is that this experiment can’t be physically measured; it is only spiritually experienced. And yes, it happens in the mind and some could clearly apply Michael’s model and self-deception claims to it.  I’m not trying to disprove him because I don’t think it’s possible to prove either way. I’m just trying to explain my worldview. There have been times when I completely wanted something so badly that I would have willed it so, if possible. I’ve received answers to prayers that were completely different directions than my mind was petitioning for.  If it was my self-deception, I anticipate I would always get or believe exactly as I was seeking. This isn’t the case.

I’ve also tested and pursued ideas that turned out to be a flop. They didn’t grow and enlighten as other ideas I’ve tested.

Being tutored by the Holy Ghost requires humility and a willingness to act on any enlightenment received. I’m currently living and experiencing this process and at times have had my mind and heart enlightened and filled with light as I’ve considered the things of God. I have a certainty that not only there is a God, but that He cares about me.  I’m not certain of a great many other things in the Church. I simply believe them. I’m still working on the certainty. It takes a lot of work.

The enlightenment by the Holy Ghost is a different experience than other pursuits of the mind. I wish I could explain this, but am currently not able to. This is likely what is so frustrating to an atheist/nontheist. Since spirituality is experienced, individually, it’s difficult to put into a box for display and evaluation.

During the post-lecture book signing, Michael asked me if I was raised Mormon. When I replied yes, he said, “of course,” as if I wouldn’t believe in gods, ghosts, politics or conspiracies any other way. I must say that I feel it was to my advantage to be raised within a framework to test ideas through the spiritual process I’ve explained.  I was able to amass lots of communication from God by the Holy Ghost before my secular world taught a different framework of discovering truth. I have three very smart friends who are currently trying to step into new areas of faith, but I believe they are operating from the perspective of show-me-proof-then-I’ll-believe.  This is the scientific model. I’m this way too because of my smarty-pants education. But I have the advantage of countless answers to prayers through the medium of the Holy Ghost under my belt that motivates me to continue believing and expanding spiritually.

Because this process requires humility, it only works if someone “becomes as a little child” as the Savior taught (Matthew 18:4). It’s a lot harder for adults. I can feel that in myself, which is why I feel so advantaged to have had many passed experiences in spirituality with the Holy Ghost  before I arrived to my less-trusting phase of life.

This process is rational in that it is a series of decisions made in my brain. Michael described neurons in the brain producing experiences. I suspect he may be right.

Now, I actually do think it’s coming from my brain.

I think that God perfectly navigates nature as its best scientist and as the creator. It’s a new idea to me that perhaps as the Holy Ghost is instructing me and enlightening my mind, He’s actually firing neurons in my brain to do it.  It’s a little unromantic-sounding, but if it’s the truth, I’d accept it. :)

 

 

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Life’s purpose is to increase in spiritual power by the cultivation of faith in God.

I make sense of the purpose of life through the framework of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  One of its tenets includes the pre-mortal existence of mankind in the presence of God, “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth…for in heaven created I them[1]. In this state, we had a consciousness of the goodness of God and accepted the transition to a mortal existence. Since early Sunday School, children learn that the purpose of life is to come to earth to get a natural body and gain experience by
learning and growth. I have heard this narrative so many times it is now trite and serves me little in trying to make sense of life’s purpose. Therefore, I emphasize different aspects of revealed teachings to create my own guide. I center it in the development of faith in Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith, who I accept as a prophet equivalent to Abraham, Noah, Moses or Peter, taught that faith is a principle of power, “But faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth”.[2] I believe for those God first created spiritually to increase in power, He designed an environment for them to exercise faith.

My own efforts to develop faith independent of my parents began as a teenager.  After months and months of spiritual searching in prayer and scripture study, I received a powerful spiritual experience through the Holy Ghost that confirmed to me the existence of God and His awareness and concern for me. It increased my confidence to continue to outreach to Him and I not infrequently received further assurances.  As a full time missionary for almost two years, my faith expanded as I received immediate answers to my prayers. As my faith in Jesus Christ swelled, I felt the spiritual power of which Joseph Smith spoke and had a strong sense of the purpose of life. Then, at some undetected point, I entered a new phase of a development of faith.

God turned Deist on me, or at least He seemed to deal with me more like a clockmaker who set His world in motion and declines to intervene in its happenings. Without deviating from my usual efforts of prayer, scripture study and meaningful worship, I sometimes feel like God leaves me alone.  I am sure of His existence and do not believe His concern for me has changed, but He has provided fewer and less immediate assurances to me of His involvement. At this same time, I have become more mindful of life’s inequalities and tragedies. Often the self absorbed enjoy the comforts of marriage and family when the best swallow the pains of loneliness and neglect. Sometimes the promiscuous produce unwanted children when committed married couples taste the emptiness of infertility. Some inattentive parents overlook their children when involved parents bury theirs. The Mississippi overcomes homes, tornados demolish an Alabama town when tsunamis engulf and kill thousands in Japan. And some of the most admirable people in my life suffer with cancer when others live superficially, seeking to be incessantly entertained. Where is God? Is He still far removed?

This is the wrestling phase of my faith’s development and I see it as key in the purpose of my life; the cultivation of faith and the increase of spiritual power. This is where I have come to better know God.[3] My faith is not irrational. Every day it is a decision. I analyze the evidence available to me and  form a conclusion. Though I may feel little or no reciprocation from Him, I choose to piece together many past assurances from Him and choose to continue in trust.  Life’s purpose is to increase in spiritual power by the cultivation of faith in God. This comes not in the instant gratification to prayer requests or in knowing that every life question has a direct answer.  It is also not in the perfectly equivalent servings of blessings based on faithfulness.  Faith and therefore spiritual power comes by wrestling before God. It is in having just as many reasons to withdraw my reach to Him and walk away, but in choosing to increase confidence in Him, even when I feel He leaves me alone. The purpose of life is to have the opportunity and the right to walk away and the deliberate choice to stay. In that, there is spiritual power.

Life’s purpose is to change from selfishness to godliness.

By faith, I participate in the process of exterminating the rats within me.  C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly.  But the suddenness does not create the rats:  it only prevents them from hiding.” In the times of my life when God has been very quick to answer me, I was less aware of the existence of any rats. They were easily hid when I decided to open the cellar. When I have felt God leave me alone is when the cellar door has been thrown open. It has been then I can see my impatience, sense of entitlement or my self-pity.  The purpose of life is to access the power of God by faith to change these rats to their inverse form, patience, gratitude and humility.  The purpose of life is to provide me with the opportunity to use the power of God to diminish my ego and to have repeated opportunity to avoid re-inflating it. The purpose of life is to draw on God’s power by faith to have the secret imaginations of my heart be infused with virtue and integrity, rather than self-aggrandizement or pride.  As I increase in faith in God, I feel empowered to be open, authentic, discerning and giving and I welcome God’s all-searching eye to pierce my heart.

This process is both deeply inward looking and interdependent on the people around me. If I were to withdraw from the world into a lonely cave, I may be able to dig out the rats of the dark secrets of my own heart, but how will I have opportunity to develop compassion, patience and kindness?  How will I share in the grief of a close friend who lost their brother or help relieve the burden of someone devastated by a natural disaster?  The purpose of life is to draw on the power of God by faith to turn from selfishness to godliness.  I cannot accomplish such a tremendous change. It only comes as I consistently outreach to God to endow me with such power. The power to change comes by faith.

Life’s purpose is to build eternal relationships.

I was beginning to ponder the meaning of life when I was assigned “sealings” on my bimonthly shift at the Washington, D.C. Temple.  Because of the belief that each person on the earth must receive gospel ordinances administered by God’s priesthood authority, Latter-day Saints perform proxy ordinances in the Temple for the deceased, which will take effect only if accepted on the other side by the person passed away. Unique to Latter-day Saint belief is that God intended marriage to endure beyond the grave and this authority to “bind on earth and binds in heaven” has been restored in our time.[4] I was not paying close attention to those in the sealing room as we administered the sealing ordinance for deceased people, but one fellow Temple worker joked about the meaning of life.  My attention turned quickly to him, thinking it was curious this topic would come up when I was deeply considering it. He had asked the question in jest and another Temple worker responded with a playful point. Then the responder became serious saying, “I think the meaning of life is embedded in this ordinance.” It took me back because it opened my mind to a thought I had yet to consider. The best way to increase in the power of faith is to live in a covenant relationship with God, which happens when two people agree to live in marriage.  In marriage, there could be  many reasons to withdraw and walk away, but when they choose to increase in confidence and trust in each other and in God, even when they feel left alone, they deepen in their commitment and are positioned to see an increase in faith and power. In building a marriage that will last beyond the grave, each person has to draw on the power of God by faith to change selfishness to godliness because their weaknesses are heightened as they deeply affect another person. Sacrifice in marriage inherently invites the increase of power by faith to become more like God.  In this way, we can better know Him. We are brought closer to Him as we become more like Him in the sharing of His power by faith.  The purpose of life is to build eternal relationships.

The purpose of life is to wrestle with God, become more like Him and create and nourish relationships that extend through the plains of eternity.  I want to live my life aligned with these purposes so that I can live with peace.  It first starts with my mind and my heart.

What do you think?  Does life have a purpose? If so, how do you view and explain it?

 


[1] Moses 3:5 in the Pearl of Great Price, found in canonized scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[2] Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith (American Fork: Covenant Communications, 2000), 2.

[3] “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3).

[4] “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?” (Doctrine & Covenants 128:9)

 

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“Excuse me, is that your bag?”

Is this phrase burned into your psyche? No? That could only be possible if you don’t ride the DC metro rail system where the perky recorded woman’s voice asks us to quiz our fellow commuters when we see any unattended bags.  We’re all fighting terrorism together. So if you “see something, say something.”

There are other DC metro rail practices. For example, don’t be an “esca-lefter.” This means if you are standing on the escalator, stand on the right to allow those walking up a left side passage. Tourists have a difficult time with this one. If you come to visit, remember conformity to social norms isn’t always something you should resist.

You guessed it. I’m not an escalator stander. And I especially feel like a champion when I’m not a stander at the Rosslyn metro stop. That escalator is a tremendous beast and it’s a definite stroke to my ego when I trek up the left side the whole way up.  Just this last week a white bearded cheery man standing on the right….ahem, as I left him in my dust…said to his companion, “here comes someone with energy!” I flashed him the most sugary smile I could muster at the moment.

You see, I’m one of those former high school athletes that still has the heart of a champion, but sits in front of a computer for about 8 hrs a day, not realizing those days are long since passed until I try to bust it out like the good old days and end up heaving for air.  When I knock it out on the metro, I reassure myself “I still got it!”

Get the logic?

Get that it’s my ego?

Yeah, that’s an easy one to call, but the problem with the ego is that often others can see it when you can’t. That’s why Christianity often describes pride as causing blindness.  It doesn’t make everyone blind, though, just you. Heads up.

It revolutionized my life and my spirituality when I started to be aware of my ego and my weaknesses. Once I was able to be aware of them, I could start to work on changing them.

The closer I’ve gotten to Christ, the more convicted I am by my weaknesses. But, the Holy Spirit provides enabling power to do things that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. It’s amazing how the Lord makes demanding requirements of us and then gives us the power to meet the requirement’s demands.

As I personally engage in this ongoing process, I have to “dig deeper” like Shaun T says in those Insanity videos. (It’s a great workout and I love the powerjacks.) Digging deeply inside myself makes me better aware of who I am and helps me understand more of who I can become as I access the power of Christ‘s Atonement in my life.

And my favorite part about it is it makes me more secure because I view myself more as a work-in-progress rather than in need of masking imperfections. This makes me better able to give of myself in relationships that are important to me. Because of digging deeply and working with the Lord on my weaknesses, I see others more for their potential and increase in patience and admiration for them. It also makes it difficult to offend me. And I love that.

This week in my Religion and Politics in the U.S. class, we discussed New Age religion. The book we read, What Really Matters by Tony Schwartz described some retreats where people purge themselves of repressed emotions by specific practices. I thought it was fascinating and wanted to discover any of my own repressed emotions, so I can liberate them, but I was skeptical of the sweeping claim.  I told the class I was doubtful that in several weekends, you could identify years of repressed emotions and get over them, if you really wanted to. My classmate who is a man in his upward 60′s responded saying he had done such weekend retreats and in several weekends you can have cathartic experiences that reveal all your repressed emotions. The caveat was you have to go in willing to submit yourself to the process. He said it’s important to do such activities in groups because you can often see yourself and your weaknesses in other’s behavior and personalities. Now that’s being willing to lay aside your ego. It was a much softer and humbler side of this man than I anticipated was present in him.

It would be tremendously easier to remain on the surface of myself and with the world, but I find that intensely dissatisfying. How do people live their whole life without searching for deeper meaning? Do they feel numb instead of alive? The American economic model lends well to superficial living, materially, emotionally and spiritually. It takes work to go a different direction.

Digging deeper is a much better way to live. I highly recommend it.

But I’m not ready to give up feeling like a champion dominating the Rosslyn metro escalator. If you see me coming, be sure to stand on the right and make room for my ego.

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Learning more deeply of other spiritual traditions has influenced my reach for Christ‘s grace.  I’ve been more consciously practicing the values of Buddhist mindfulness and living in the present.  Through this targeted consciousness this week, I recognized how I needed to open my heart more fully than I have been. I go through phases depending on life demands. To accomplish this, I practiced my own version of a “love meditation” that I read about  recently  in What Really Matters by Tony Schwartz. This was the text that informed our class discussion. After calming myself,  focusing my thoughts and settling my heart, I imagined myself sending love to specific people who I  cherish.

It was amazing.  I’m definitely doing that more often.  I think I’ll start following it up with letting them know what they mean to me.

I like how as I am constantly searching for truth, I increase in my ability to discern it in the world around me.

Spirituality permeates life if we allow it. I believe that as I expand and sharpen the connection between my mind, heart and soul that I can better access the power of God. He’s anxious to share that spirituality with me, but I have to prepare myself to be able to receive it. As I try, He makes me able.  It’s not faith or works, it’s both.

Tonight in my Religion and Politics in the U.S. class we discussed New Age religion in America.  To further the discussion, my professor shared this Zen story.  What do you think it means?

Two Buddhist Monks were on a journey, one was more senior than the other.  During their journey they approached a rough and raging  river.  On the river bank they saw a young woman. She was clearly in need of help to cross to the other side of the river without drowning.

The junior monk walked straight past her without giving it a thought and crossed the river. The senior monk offered to help the woman and carried her across the river.   Once across they parted ways and the two monks continued on their journey.

As the journey continued, the senior monk could see that the junior monk had something of concern on his mind, and asked what was wrong. The junior monk replied, “How could you carry that woman like that? You know we can’t touch women, it’s against our way of life”. The senior monk answered, “I left the woman at the rivers edge a long way back, why are you still carrying her?”

What lesson(s) do you see?

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Remember my shameless bait to draw out insights from the  tremendous reservoir of Internet users?

No?

For the month of March, I offered a $10 gift card each to the top 3 MormonInsider visitors willing to both share posts with others and share their perspectives on the posts.

We can call these people top sharers. Everyone loves someone who shares good things.

Thanks to Elisabeth for sharing a specific example of the difficulty navigating the difference between being meek and being a pushover at “Blessed are the [pushovers] for they shall in inherit the earth“?

Thanks to Paul for sharing his satire, revealing the sometimes unacknowledged ridiculousness of gender expectations at “Can Women Ask Out Men and it Work Out?

Thanks to Afton for frequently sharing, especially for her perspective in “Do I Need a Man? A Woman with Needs or a Needy Woman?” I’m glad she added the insight about how fulfillment in life and in dating has more to do with how much you give of yourself, rather than looking for others to fulfill our needs.  I like how she looked to Christ to support her point.

A special thanks goes to Anonymous on “Modern Apostle’s Message: Question Your Guts Out.” She responded to the following instruction by Elder Bednar:

“Girls, if you’re getting serious with someone, you should ask,

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