Sunday, August 24, 2008

Compelled to be Humble

In the book of Alma (in the book of Mormon), verse 15 it states: "Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble..."

In relating this scripture to my conversion story, I sadly realized that I was compelled to be humble in order to be willing to accept the gospel. My father's death when I was 15 years old brought me to my knees. I spiraled into depression that took 2 years to lift. I felt desperate at the time to find a way out of that spiritual darkness that I find is best described by Alma the younger when he says "But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was charrowed up to the greatest degree... Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell...Oh, thought I, that I acould be banished and become extinct both soul and body" (Alma 36: bits of 12, 13 and 15). Anyone who knew me during that time knew that I was miserable, that I truly did wish to cease to exist in order to join my father whom at that time I believed didn't exist anymore.

I have wished many times that I hadn't needed his death to turn me to the questions that drove me to learn more about the LDS Church and its doctrines. How I have wished that when I was first introduced to the church at 14 years old that I had desired to learn about it then, instead of being compelled (as I see it) after my father's death.

And yet I have realized that I needed that event to occur in my life in order for me to be humble, to repent and be baptized. However if I could trade having my father back in my life (even though we didn't have a good relationship) for the last few years of testimony and Spirit in my life, I would make that trade.

But only if I could have the promise of the chance to accept the gospel at a point later in my life. And hopefully share it with my father who would accept it with me.

Thank goodness for temple work. Through making sure my father's ordinances have been completed, I strongly beleive that he has also accepted this gospel, even though it was not while he was living.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Alternate Ending to the First Vision

As a teenager I came to the same point when Joseph Smith prayed to know which church was true and which he should join. I started with the same course as he: I began learning about the different churches that I might join if I were to find the truth there. I visited my friend's churches, my grandparent's churches and I read the history of world religions. I spent 3 years with this as an intellectual pursuit where I attempted to have an open mind and be able to recognize the truth when I found it.

Through that search--what the Unitarians would call a "search for truth and meaning" I learned many valuable lessons about what I wanted to see in a church before I felt it could be the possessor of what is true. A short list includes:
2)modern-day revelation
3)God's authority to act in His name
4)opportunities for those who have never heard of the church to be redeemed
5)justice and accountablity as well as mercy for all people
6)families that could be reunited after death
7)freedom from pain and hurt after this life is over
8)the afterlife is not as black and white as heaven and hell

I honestly beleived, with how advanced our society is, and how long people have been on this earth that the truth must exist, that out of all the thousands of organizaed religions in the world, one of them must be true. So when I didn't find what I was looking for, I kept looking. Although I did give up my search of churches when I decided I would become a Unitarian Universalist reverend to dedicate my life to that search for truth.

That decision had been hasty because I hadn't investigated all of the religions in the world. At some point, I had written off all Christian churches because none of them had what I was looking for. That was before I was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It has what I was looking for and more. I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to learn about it which I did. I spent 10 months meeting with the missionaries regularly to learn about the Lord's church on the earth today, that it was restored and revealed by Him through prophets, not pieced together by groups of men.

I abandoned my goal of becoming a Unitarian minister, needless to say when I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As I pondered these events and how there were some similarities to Joseph Smith's first prayer on the subject of which church to join. I wondered what would he have done if the answer he had gone had been "none of them" and it was left at that. If the Lord hadn't then revealed to him that Joseph would become the first prophet of the restored church of Jesus Christ. And what would I have done if I had prayed to know if that Church of Jesus Chirst of Latter-day Saints was true and felt that it wasn't?

At that time in my life, I would have despaired. I was already despairing over the death of my father who made my questions concerning religion all that more poignant. Where was he? Would I see him again? Was he free from life's afflictions? At some point, I felt that the LDS church was the end of the line for me. Either it was true or it was not, and if it was not I didn't want to imagine life without it. The answers to my questions provided by the doctrines of the LDS church made so much sense to me that it couldn't not be true.

I'm sure the more pragmatic side of me would have continued my spiritual quest for truth, that I would have pursued my doctorate in divinity from one of the UU theology schools. But how grateful I am that I didn't have to. How grateful I am to know, through the verfication of the Lord's Spirit that the church is true, that Joseph Smith really was the first prophet of the restored church of Jesus Christ and that Christ really is who he says he is.

Am I the Soil or the Seed?

Last night I attened a missionary lesson whereThe investigator shared with us an audio tape recording of man, I beleive a spiritual writer (non-LDS) speaking of the inherent potential of the seed, how it is what it is and does not aspire to be anything as it follows the path programmed into it. The investigator likened himself to the seed. He was therefore on a path that he would follow but not aspiring to reach the potential he had because it was inherent within him and that it would happen without his desiring or working for it to be so.

The missionaries then referred to the parable of the seed in Matthew 13 saying that if this man was the seed, that based on his actions and experiences that he could fall into ground that would either support his growth and learning or impede it. Since, as humans, we are not seeds but have our agency to choose for ourselves, we can decide where we will cast our seed, whether into dry stony ground where we will not grow or into rich verdant soil where we are able to meet our full potential.

The parable is as follows:
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and abrought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

My visiting teacher accompanied me and the missionaries to this meeting. She said something that got me thinking. She had once been taught that maybe it is not the parable of the seed, but rather the parable of the soil.

For me it helps to break it down by the symbols. To me, and in the context of our conversation, the symbols are as follows:
The sower: God
The seed: the word of God
The soil/sediment: our choices regarding how we nurture the word of God

As described above it could be interpreted differently where we are the seed, and the soil are the surroundings we choose to place ourselves in. Both interpretations provide useful spiritual lessons.

The lesson I got last night was that the word of God is what it is and will not change. It has the same potential for every person on this earth to change and lift their consciousness to be more perfect and like God. To me, that makes the word of God the seed. Whenever the word of God is shared or learned by another, it has same the potential to change the person's life with a knowledge of God's eternal plan for all earthly life.

Despite that the gospel has the same potential, it does not and will not always have the same likelihood of taking root and growing up within a person. Individuals, based on their thoughts, actions and words create the climate wherein that seed will attempt to grow. The hope is that all who hear will strive to be the good soil where the word of God will be nourished so it can grow and take root in that person's heart. But often a person's heart will be more like the stony ground where the seed will not be able to take dig deep root, or the thorny ground where the word will be choked out of that person's consciousness.

A person like unto the stony ground may not be interested in hearing the word taught to them, or may not want to be obligated to making the changes in his/her life that the gospel would necessitate. This is the person who does not want to know whether it is true or not for whatever reason.

A person who would be found in the thorny ground may be willing and interested in hearing the gospel preached to them, but other ideas, thoughts, activities may take their attention away from the learning process. It could be involvement in political, professional, social or religious organziations that keep a person too busy to nourish the word of God within their heart. They may be distracted by the world's meaningless activities or by the endless blare of the media.

As the only member in my family and the first in my group of friends to join the church, as well as being a ward missionary, I see that the majority of people who have the opportunity to learn of the gospel fall into the category of stony or thorny ground, while it is the minority who choose to provide the rich soil of their hearts for the nourishing of the word of God. I pray that more people in our country, society and world will be willing to nourish the word of God when it reaches their ears, that their hearts will be desirous to learn of it and experiment upon like Alma urges in the Book of Mormon.