Sunday, 10 September 2017

First Conscious Contact with the Divine

My first conscious contact with the divine came a few years before I found Quakers.
My life until then, in the religious sense, had been one of seeking, though I would not have known to call it such. I found much that resonated with my condition and my experience in many faiths, and sought out opportunities to learn more of further traditions. At the same time, each generally had things that didn't ring true to me.
As a student, my house was visited by missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly referred to as Mormons – a convention I shall follow here, for brevity if nothing else. I wasn't actually in at the time, but a housemate and a friend were, and had arranged for a return visit to start hearing what they had to say; they did this not because they had any idea that they might be converted, being settled in their own beliefs, but because they thought it might be interesting. And so I heard about it, and arranged to be there when the missionaries came back.
It was interesting, from an intellectual perspective, and from a spiritual perspective. My housemate and friend lost interest, but they kept coming back to see me. I maintained an interest, though kept reminding them that I thought it highly unlikely that I would be converted – but that I was willing to hear them and learn from them for as long as they were willing to come. They were both German, Mormon tradition being that young people spend time as missionaries away from home, preferably in another country. Our conversations often covered other things, with the younger of the two seeing my sets of the board game “Settlers of Catan”, which is apparently a big deal in Germany, with people having tournaments and everything. I was quickly given a copy of the Book of Mormon, scripture they believe was found on buried tablets in America, and translated with divine assistance by their founder, Joseph Smith, telling of people who travelled, with divine guidance, from Jerusalem to the Americas, around the 6th century BCE, and of the travails of their descendants.
When it came time for one of the pair – they visit in pairs, for various reasons – to move on, to a new placement or to go home, he made me a gift of a copy of their “three in one” book, containing the three books of scripture the Mormons add to the bible: the aforementioned Book of Mormon; the “Pearl of Great Price”, another book of Moses; and “Doctrine and Covenants”, the book recording the revelations made directly to Joseph Smith in his lifetime. It is the latter that I, personally, found the most interesting, including a charming bit saying that his wife should be nice to him – before going on to say that wives generally should be nice to their husbands. It is an ongoing sadness to me that, somewhere among moving homes, that book has been mislaid. Eventually, I was invited to join them for worship on a Sunday, and I accepted, if they would accept my reservations – that I would not partake of communion, or join in any responses or hymns that did not agree with my own convictions, nebulous as they may be. For them, Sunday School occurs after the main service, and all participate, adults and children – though divided into groups by age, ability and knowledge. I think they low-balled their guess as to my level of understanding, as the material in the group they put me in was very easy to grasp, and I already had a fair understanding of it, but I appreciated it.
There is one central step in the process of evangelising for Mormons, based on a call at the end of the Book of Mormon – that anyone might pray to God for confirmation of the truthfulness of the account in the book, and thus the truthfulness of the church's teachings. Now, not believing in God, or in prayer, I could not do as they asked, and so I told them, but I did say I would do the nearest I could – to meditate on the matter, with an open mind. It was one of my deeper meditative experiences, and therein came my first conscious contact with the divine.
I will not say that a voice spoke to me during that meditation, for it did not. However, I emerged from it with a sure and certain knowledge in my heart, that I have attempted several times to put into words. None of my earlier attempts survive, so here I will try again. Needless to say, it was not what the missionaries would have hoped for, but it was not entirely a rejection of their teachings. I might put it so:
They do speak truth, but it is their truth, not yours.
Many others speak differently, and they speak truth also.
Truth is not a singular thing to be contained by one book,
By one set of beliefs,
By one teaching or tradition.
It is well to seek your own truth, and even once you have found it,
To never stop trying to understand all the truth you can find.
For not only is greater understanding a good thing in itself,
But as you live, and change, and grow, so might your truth.
There is much negative that can be said about the Mormon church, both in scepticism of their claims and in criticism of their beliefs and practices, and I can say some of it myself – but I will always appreciate them for this.
Written September 2017
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