Thomas Keating, C. S. Lewis, Russell M. Nelson on Christian Healing

This post is not about the practice of healing people from illness; it’s about the personal healing experienced in Christian life. In Isaiah’s theophany in chapter 6, the Lord makes an extraordinary statement that has puzzled scholars and scripturists for ages:

And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.

Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Isaiah 6:9-10, KJV

Here the Lord seems to be telling Isaiah to obfuscate in his communications; to frame his prophetic message in a way that it will not be understood, because the people are not in a place mentally and emotionally to process it in a healthy way. God’s message of healing, if processed in the wrong way, could be warped into a message of triumphalism, nationalism, and other soul-destroying idolatries. We can engage with the gospel with intention of seeking a healing communion with God, or we can use that same gospel to validate our obsessions with enemies, to fashion a god-idol that hates all the people we hate, protects us from discomfort, validates our grievance identity, and so forth. In the contemplative tradition, we would say that we can use religion to fortify and defend our false self.

So what does Christian healing look like? It’s an ongoing process of healing our soul, which then facilitates healing in all our relationships backwards in time and also forward into the future. When communities are oriented around intersectional notions of identity, the lifeblood of those communities is witness testimony of unhealed hurt. In Christian communities that are actually infused with the influence of Christ, the lifelood of those communities is witness testimony of healing.

I was recently listening to a lecture by Thomas Keating, and I had to transcribe a segment because it so perfectly described my own experience of Christian healing:

…and as we read the scriptures now, the light is reflecting back on us our own personal experience of the presence and action of Christ in our lives from the moment we were conceived. Now, everything in our life, no matter what happened to us, no matter what other people did to us, we see the secret hand of God ready to bring good out of that situation, healing our emotional wounds…

…you can’t give away love from a vulnerability that is hurting. That has to be healed first, and that is why the spiritual journey heals every wound in life. It is vastly more powerful as therapy than any psychotherapy. And although therapy is very helpful in identifying the false self system, when one moves into the allegorical level, the spirit reaches so much deeper into our wounds, so much deeper into the psyche, and into our spirit and into our inmost being- no therapy can go to that place.

In the night of spirit – the purification that leads immediately into the unitive life – therapy is of no use at all. Not because it isn’t useful, but its capacity for healing is limited to the faculties and the psychological unconscious, and the allegorical level introduces us into the ontological unconscious. By the psychological unconscious I mean every thing that happened to us in our entire life is thoroughly computerized in the memory bank in the brain, with the trillions of cells that act as chips, and collect all the data of a lifetime, and which relate with the other parts of the brain and parts of the body in that extraordinary networking system which is the brain and nervous system.

Now, that wonderful instrument of receptivity – the brain and nervous system – gets filled with various kinds of tension and stress due to emotional experiences in early childhood that we couldn’t handle well because we didn’t have the reason or it was too traumatic or we felt rejected, not wanted, imposed upon, or whatever. And anger then results from that, and begins to get established in the nervous system and it takes an enormous amount of grace to heal that. That’s what is happening in the allegorical. Because besides this grace of seeing the scriptures as our own life laid out before us, we also perceive the dark side of our personality and the wounds of our lifetime, and believe me, this is what happens: God works backwards from where you are now, what is closest to the surface of your unconscious emerges first; when that’s cleaned out, we go the next shelf, maybe early childhood…

Some forms of Christian healing probably get back to the day of birth, maybe even farther, at least they claim that it does. But certainly, the spirit of God “who searches all things” and is present in our inmost being, begins to anoint these wounds and to heal them with its balm, but at first, it’s painful. So the more primitive emotions you experience, the more progress you are making, because you’re getting back to the real stuff that has cluttered up or ruined or put your life into a straightjacket of your emotions, through no fault of your own because all of that takes place before you can make a rational judgment for which you are morally responsible.

So the human condition is fundamentally the tragedy of being brought up in a world where people are functioning – including our parents – largely out of the false self system. Hence we pass on, from generation to generation, the damage that our own parents did to us. They did a lot of good to us, but because of the vulnerability of human nature and not having taken the spiritual journey to its full conclusion, they are under either the conscious or unconscious programming of selfishness…

When the interior damage of a lifetime is finally emptied out, and we’ve put up with the healing process, and the sense of getting worse and worse as far as we can see (which really getting better and better), this humility is the fundamental virtue that God asks of us, to accept the truth. Then, when it’s all cleaned out, you’re in a unitive state because the unitive state is already there by virtue of baptism- it’s waiting to be awakened and activated…once we remove the obstacles to it, it expands.

In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis famously puts this statement in the mouth of George McDonald:

‘Son,’ he said, ‘ye cannot in your present state understand eternity: when Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven”, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.’

This Christian healing depends first and foremost on, in the words of Isaiah, what we “see with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and understand with our heart,” in other words, our perception of the world. This is a function of the identity we choose: an identity based on our mortal experiences and grievances, or in our perception that we are children of Heavenly Parents, with Christ as our savior and good shepherd. This is part of why President Nelson has prophetically directed us to transition away from the identity of “Mormon,” which so often became yet another grievance identity, and adopt our true healing and unifying identity as a people.

So how do we know whether or not we are healing? Keating refers to scripture study as an important element of this process. Alma 5 is a powerful exercise in Christian introspection. 1 Corinthians 13 is another one. And here are some other scriptural indicators:

1 John 2:3-4 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

1 John 2: 9-11 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.

1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

1 John 4:18-21 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

1 John 5:2-3 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

2 Peter 1: 4-9 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.

postscript: if you want to see how a soul-healed Christian thinks and acts and behaves toward others, read about Spencer W. Kimball.

President Russell M. Nelson and Identity

Do you see a common theme in the ministry of President Nelson?

January 2017:

Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation.

April 2017 Conference:

The importance of the Savior’s mission was emphasized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who declared emphatically that ‘the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.’ It was this very statement of the Prophet that provided the incentive for 15 prophets, seers, and revelators to issue and sign their testimony to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the Lord’s birth. That historic testimony is titled ‘The Living Christ.’ Many members have memorized its truths. Others barely know of its existence. As you seek to learn more about Jesus Christ, I urge you to study ‘The Living Christ.’

April 2018:

Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.

My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. Let this Easter Sunday be a defining moment in your life. Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly… The most important truth the Holy Ghost will ever witness to you is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He lives! He is our Advocate with the Father, our Exemplar, and our Redeemer.

October 2018 to the sisters:

I invite you to read the Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year. As impossible as that may seem with all you are trying to manage in your life, if you will accept this invitation with full purpose of heart, the Lord will help you find a way to achieve it. And, as you prayerfully study, I promise that the heavens will open for you. The Lord will bless you with increased inspiration and revelation.

As you read, I would encourage you to mark each verse that speaks of or refers to the Savior. Then, be intentional about talking of Christ, rejoicing in Christ, and preaching of Christ with your families and friends. You and they will be drawn closer to the Savior through this process. And changes, even miracles, will begin to happen.

Also October 2018:

If we as a people and as individuals are to have access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ?—to cleanse and heal us, to strengthen and magnify us, and ultimately to exalt us?—we must clearly acknowledge Him as the source of that power. We can begin by calling His Church by the name He decreed.

Wendy Watson Nelson in November 2018:

[President Nelson] is saying, ‘What really is needful?’ If we’re really preparing the Church and the world for the Second Coming of the Savior, he is sincere about that. He doesn’t want us spending money, time, energy on anything that isn’t really focused on that.” (think about all of the programs and policies that have been dropped since he became President of the Church)

April 2019, Pres. Nelson discusses the nature of the forthcoming Temple Square in Salt Lake City. How will Temple Square be different? What will be the themes? Church history? Utah heritage? Prominent people? Pres. Nelson:

[the changes to Temple Square] will emphasize and highlight the life, ministry, and mission of Jesus Christ in His desire to bless every nation, kindred, tongue and people.

April 2019, the church website URL changes to churchofjesuschrist.org

May 2019, in the official church video showing Pres. Nelson’s visit to Samoa, the video begins with the narration: “For nearly 200 years, Christianity has been an expanding faith tradition in the Pacific island of Samoa. Ministers here have long shared their witness of Christ.” Then the video shows Pres. Nelson’s remarks.

Sept 2019, at his 95th birthday celebration, President Nelson stated

If I have learned anything certain in my 95 years of life, it’s that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God. His Church has been restored in these latter-days to prepare the world for His Second Coming. He is the light and life of the world. Only through Him can we reach our divine destiny and eventual exaltation.

I think it’s clear that that more than anything, President Nelson wants us to embrace Christianity as the core of our beliefs and as our primary identity. Alma 33:19-22

What is a Manifesto?

Since the launch of the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto, I have been following the reactions with some interest. One common criticism I have seen is the suggestion that it is presumptuous to issue a manifesto that attempts to dictate what is orthodoxy. The suggestion is that this manifesto is an effort to set what are the acceptable boundaries of discourse. While I understand the concern over attempts to set the boundaries of orthodoxy above and beyond those set by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would argue that this criticism fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of a manifesto generally and this manifesto in particular.

Merriam Webster defines a manifesto as “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.” According to this definition, the primary purpose of a manifesto is the expression of the views, motivates and intentions of those that issue it. In other words a manifesto first and foremost serves as a platform to allow those issuing the statement a platform to voice their aspirations and goals. Put yet another way, a manifesto serves to articulate ideals and to hold the issuers accountable for living up to those ideals. While it is possible for a manifesto or any article of faith to become used as a weapon to exclude others or impose conformity, that is not the primary purpose of such a document.

I know that is certainly not why I signed on to the Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto. Instead, my purpose for joining is to express publicly my commitment to the values and principles that the manifesto articulates. The manifesto speaks of key virtues that I aspire to embody: Truth, Humility, Integrity, Fidelity, Seeking, Revelation, Faith, Hope, and Charity. I know that I fall short of those virtues. We all do. Signing onto such a public document does not mean that I think I am perfectly living all of these principles. Rather, it is an expression of my desire to do better and more fully strive to live up to these ideals. It is a way to hold myself accountable for trying to better embody these principles in my actions, my conversations, and my thoughts.

What is striking is that this Manifesto actually makes all of this explicit. The Manifesto explains that it is “not a faction, nor a label intended to set forth boundaries for any particular group or organization.” Instead, it is a “a rallying point, and invitation to embrace conviction and fidelity.”

If you feel moved by the principles of the Manifesto as I do, then I invite you to embrace it either as a signatory or simply by trying a little bit harder to embody these principles as you strive to live the Gospel, debate with those you disagree with, and try to follow the example of the Savior.

Judicial Decision Making Versus Prophetic Revelation

An acquaintance recently attempted to argue against Originalism as a doctrine of constitutional interpretation by arguing that Latter-days Saints who believe in continuing revelation through a living prophet are bound to reject originalsm. I found his argument extremely unconvincing because there are some pretty fundamental differences between the role of judges in a democratic republic and the role of prophets and apostles in the Kingdom of God. But as I delved deeper onto the topic, I found that highlighting these differences was illuminating as it shed light on both the proper role of judges and on the nature of decision making in God’s Church.

We often refer to church leaders including and especially Bishops as judges in Israel. Accordingly, it is important to understand what we mean when we refer to church leaders as judges and how this might differ from member of the bench.

Before I begin, a working definition of Originalism is also in order. I define originalism as a theory of textual interpretation which is predicated on the belief that legal texts (constitutions, statutes, and regulations) have a fixed meaning at the moment of enactment and that the role of the judiciary is to faithful determine and apply that meaning rather than to attempt to expand or abrogate the meaning. There are a lot of nuances in how originalists try to determine what the original meaning is (does one look to the intentions of those who wrote the law or to what the public would have understood those words to mean?), but the thrust of originalism is that the role of a judge is as an interpreter rather than lawmaker.

The Word of Wisdom and Originalism

Gospel doctrine and interpretation is decidedly not originalist in nature. A good example of this would be interpretations of the Word of Wisdom. An originalist interpretation of the word of wisdom would find that beer and other mild alcoholic drinks were permitted, while meat was allowed only in extreme circumstances like famine. And the whole revelation would be seen as a recommendation rather than a mandate.

So why do we not read the Word of Wisdom in that way? In the Church, we believe in continuing revelation through Prophets and Apostles. This process of continuing revelation sometimes takes the form of formal canonized revelations like the revelation lifting the priesthood ban. But more often than not, it this is an iterative process where Church leaders over time gain additional insight and knowledge. That is the case with the Word of Wisdom over time church leaders better defined the terms of the revelation and expanded it into a requirement for temple worthiness.

It is also significant that while certain changes are sustained by Church members in general conference, many of these changes regarding the Word of Wisdom do not appear to have been.

Yet we accept the shift from advice to mandatory temple recommend requirement, and do not by and large question the legitimacy of this shift.

In contrast, it would be absolutely outrageous if federal judges began to enforce severe penalties on people for not complying with a health guidance that had never contained penalties and that had vague and ambiguous requirements. And this practice would still remain problematic even if the passage of time had normalized the practice.

So what gives enforcement of the Word of Wisdom legitimacy even though the text of the revelation is unchanged and there appears to have been no formal process of common consent on the changes?

Divine Authority and Civic Authority

The simplest answer is that the basis of authority in the Kingdom of God is decidedly different form that in a democratic-republic.  With the interpretation of Gospel principles and commandments we believe in continuing revelation from divine sources. This means that the prophet and apostles are fully empowered to receive interpretive guidance from God and even to completely alter or change a principle. There is no need for a vote or any other deliberative process. God speaks through his chosen prophet and the law is changed. If President Nelson declares the word of wisdom does not allow for drinking beer (or green tea, or recreational marijuana) that is the will of God regardless of what the original meaning was. That’s because God is the ultimate sovereign and when he speaks through a prophet that word is authoritative.  (I recognize that this is simplified and glosses over the long standing question of when a prophet is in fact speaking as a prophet).

With legal interpretation the situation is quite different. The ultimate sovereigns are the people. Governments are given power only through the consent of the governed. There is a formal structure or process for creating law. When that process is followed the law has legitimacy. When it is ignored the product cannot truly be called law because it lacks any legitimacy.

The separation of powers

This separation of powers is integral to the Constitution’s design of government. Laws must originate from the legislature which is seen as the most democratically accountable branch of government. The lawmaking process is quite difficult requiring both the House of Representatives and the Senate to agree to identical language for a law and then for either the president to sign the law or for a veto proof majority to emerge.

Judges do not play a role in this lawmaking process and this is by design. Their purpose is to interpret the laws that are enacted through the proper channels not to create them. In doing so, they must necessarily ask what the law meant at the time when it was enacted, because to do anything else would be a form of judicial lawmaking.  Put another way, judges are not empowered to sit as prophets and apostles. They do not receive divine revelation to alter or change the meaning of the law.

There is no similar separation of powers in the Kingdom of God. Legislative, executive, and judicial power is combined into a single channel. That power may be vertically distributed down to local units, but at the highest levels of governance it remains concentrated in First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. These same bodies are responsible for promulgating policy, interpreting policy, and adjudicating disputes. This concentration in power makes sense when we have leaders who are called of God and expected to implement God’s will rather than their own.  

Other Significant Differences

There are some other significant differences between judges and prophets/apostles. Judges are appointed through political appointments (in the federal government and in many states) or through partisan elections (in some other states). Judges are not selected because they are expected to have preternatural acuity or insight. By contrast, the appointment of a prophet/apostle comes through a divine calling from God. They are expected to exercise spiritual gifts and to have revelatory insight even on topics outside of their earthly expertise. As President Ezra Taft Benson put it, “The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or diplomas to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.” This divine commission gives a prophet/apostle a different type of legitimacy.

Furthermore, while members of the judiciary are expected to impartially apply the law, that does not mean that personal political persuasion or opinion will never enter into the decision making calculus. Judges need methodological constraints in order to avoid imposing their own political and social biases. Originalism is one example of a methodology which serves to constrain unbridled judicial decision making and to improve the objectivity of the judicial process.

Of course, Prophets are also fallible and subject to their own weaknesses. There are processes in the Church that help to contain this tendency such as having the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve operate based on a principle of unanimity. But because we believe that direct revelation can flow from heaven, there is not the same need to impose the methodological constraints of originalism

Indeed, when the Prophet and Apostles set policy, the whole tenor and purpose of that decision is fundamentally different. They are not asking what is the most faithful interpretation and application of prior revelations. Rather, they are seeking the will of God for present circumstances.

Further, there is a difference between the purpose of a judicial opinion and a prophetic declaration. Judicial opinions are primarily intended to persuade or convince. Since higher courts or subsequent panels can overturn, there is a premium placed on cogent and logical decisions. Stare decisis or the need to align decisions with past ones always plays a powerful role. Deviations from the past must be especially persuasive.

In contrast, fidelity to divine commands rather than logic or consistency with the past is the primary goal of divine revelation. The revelatory process may result in sudden and dramatic shifts such as the priesthood ban being lifted overnight or the Church shifting from using the nickname “Mormon” to aggressively pushing the full name of the Church. There is no expectation that this reversal be accompanied by a compelling case for reversal or an apology for past policy. It is enough to a say that the Lord has spoken.

Conclusion

In short, the purpose of judicial decision making is fidelity to the text of the law. Originalism is a valuable and needed methodological tool. On the other hand, the purpose of divine revelation is fidelity to the will of God regardless of what may have come before. God’s will is what counts and so slavish obedience to the texts of the past is not only unnecessary but is actively contrary to the nature of the kingdom of God.

Here is a chart summarizing some of the key differences described above:

Differences between Judges and Prophets/ApostlesJudgesProphets and Apostles
Basis of AuthorityPower derived from the peopleAuthority derived from God
AppointmentThrough political appointments or partisan elections (in some states)Through a divine calling from God
Mode of decision makingCan result in divergent opinions and disagreementsUnanimity is sought
Sources of ChangeLawmaking or constitutional amendmentsContinuing revelation from God
Scope of authorityLimitedUnlimited as revealed by God.
AccuracyFlawedPerfect though mediated through imperfect individuals
Division of AuthoritySeparation of Powers limits the judicial roleUltimate undivided authority resides in the Prophet and Apostles

Seeking Revelation

In mindfulness/contemplative practice, we sometimes talk about the Buddhist concept of “emptying,” and while this is not an exact representation of that concept, I think it is a variation that can benefit Latter-Day Saints.

When I am really, really serious about seeking personal revelation, these are the kinds of things I pray:

If I am not prepared for revelation, please help me to prepare.

If I am not asking with a sufficient level of real intent, help me to develop that level of real intent. I am willing to act on answers I receive, and I am willing to bear witness.

If I have not done the work necessary to understand this issue, help me to understand what that work is and find the strength to do it.

If there is a different question I should be asking instead, please point me to that question. I am willing to accept that guidance and adjust my priorities.

If this revelation is to come from interaction with another person, please guide me to that person or guide that person to me.

If in my searching I come across information that seems right but is contrary to the truth, help me to understand the motives, assumptions and methods of those sources so that I can see their views for what they are.

If this revelation is to come through people that I view with suspicion or resentment, please grant me strength in Christ to trust and to fully forgive.

Is this process going to require more patience than I have? Do I need to apply myself and fast and pray and work at this for months or years? If so, help me to be patient. Help me to recognize and appreciate the value in this process as time goes on. Help me to rejoice in little signs of progress.

If the answer to this question requires more faith than I possess, help me to develop that faith. “Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). If there is an emotional dimension to my questioning that prevents my receiving an answer, please school my emotions and help me to prepare my heart for revelation.

If I am holding on to erroneous ideas that would prevent an answer, help me to identify those ideas and abandon them. If I am stubbornly envisioning a narrow set of possible answers, help me to throw the doors of my mind and heart wide open to receive more possibilities.

If the revelation I need is outside of my mental horizons, please place things in my environment to expand and inform my thinking.

If the answer I receive is only meant for me, help me to understand that so I can keep it to myself.

If there are problems in my relationships that would prevent an answer, help me to identify those problems and seek reconciliation and forgiveness.

If I don’t have the capacity to comprehend the answer I am seeking, please expand my capacity to comprehend, or point me to answers that are at my level.

“And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut if off…” (Mark 9:43) I am willing to sever influences that impair my ability to receive revelation, or that would cause me to question any answer I receive. If people or other influences in my life are causing me to stumble, help me to identify them and have the courage to sever my interaction with them in the most constructive way possible.

If pride, anger, or cynicism are preventing me from receiving an answer, help me to abandon them and develop a spirit of humility, love, and meekness.

My ability to perceive revelation is not perfect, and there is a chance I will make mistakes in this process. If so, please help me to not get discouraged. If I fall, please reach down and help me back to my feet so I can try again. If I ever feel like giving up, send angels.

Radical Orthodoxy and Alternate Voices

This is part of an ongoing project to articulate and clarify the principles described in the Latter-day Saint Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto.

Speaking in the 1989 General Conference, Elder Oaks referred to “alternate voices” as:

those voices that speak of God, of his commandments, and of the doctrines, ordinances, and practices of his church…. without calling or authority.

This might sound like a bad thing, but in his talk, Elder Oaks stated that the Church is not opposed to alternate voices. As he put it, 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices. Its approach, as counseled by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is to teach correct principles and then leave its members to govern themselves by personal choices.

Not only that, but Elder Oaks also made it clear that while some alternate voices have nefarious designs (such as the pursuit of power or money or the intent to deceive), there are also positive alternate voices:

Some alternate voices are those of well-motivated men and women who are merely trying to serve their brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion. Their efforts fit within the Lord’s teaching that his servants should not have to be commanded in all things, but “should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

This describes the intent of those of us who are participating in the LDS Radical Orthodoxy movement. We are not seeking to displace, supplant, subvert, or supersede the Church, but to “serve [our] brothers and sisters and further the cause of Zion.”

These efforts are no less needed now than they were three decades ago. Speaking to the FairMormon Conference in 2019, Elder Craig C. Christensen thanked that group in particular and said that, when it comes to defending the Church, the Restoration and the Gospel, “we need your voices.” He stressed “the importance of faithful members engaging online.”

Another important point conveyed by both Elder Oaks in 1989 and Elder Christensen in 2019 is that the Church has to maintain a clear distinction between its own, formal pronouncements and the freelancing of its well-intended members. 

“The Church does have a responsibility to point out what is the voice of the Church and what is not,” Elder Oaks said. “Members of the Church are free to participate or to listen to any alternate voices they choose,” he went on, “but Church leaders should avoid official involvement, directly or indirectly.”

Not only is the separation between the Church and friendly, alternate voices necessary to preserve the clarity of the Church’s official teachings, as Elder Oaks stressed, but it also allows alternate voices to work more effectively. Elder Christensen pointed out that, although the Church works in tandem with formal groups like FAIR, Book of Mormon Central, and the Interpreter, “If you look like an extension of the Church, you wouldn’t have the power to do what you need to do.” 

Radical Orthodoxy is not a formal group like those just listed. It’s a rallying point for a decentralized group of Saints–many of whom do contribute to those groups–and one of our goals is to encourage greater enthusiasm and coordination among these alternate voices. 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that Elder Christensen told the Fair Conference attendees was that, according to senior leadership within the Church, the vast majority of the faith-affirming messages on the Internet need to come from alternate voices: “partners [like Fair] and other individual members engaged in the conversation.”

Our hope for the LDS Radical Orthodoxy manifesto and the movement as a whole is that we will be able to help build a supportive, creative, proactive community of alternate voices. We will have diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and interests. We will not agree on every point. But we can be unified nonetheless in our discipleship of Christ and our fervent support His Restored Church.

Does Revelation Need To Be Original?

Some of the most vexing questions for students of scripture have to do with 1) the nature of relationships between texts, and 2) the relationships between texts and the environment and worldview of the people who produce them.  As an example of the first problem, it is common for Latter-Day Saints to approach the Book of Mormon text with the assumption that the word translation connotes an exact rendering of a set of words and phrases in one language into a corresponding set of words and phrases in another language.  Operating with that assumption, we might be dismayed to see commonalities between the King James biblical language and passages in the Book of Mormon, or confused by Royal Skousen’s characterization of the Book of Mormon text as a “creative and cultural translation of the Nephite record.”  Skousen’s characterization finds support in Doctrine and Covenants 9:8, where the Lord specifies that the translation of the Book of Mormon required one to “study it out in your mind,” an imprecise process in which the mental building blocks of the translator (including cultural forms of expression) would be formed into an approximation of the intentions of the original authors.

The field of historical criticism of scripture exemplifies the second problem.  Historical critics who operate with a naturalistic worldview, point to factors in a scriptural author’s environment (or hypothesize additional authors) as alternative explanations for the phenomena of prophecy, revelation, and miracles.  So the creation narratives in Genesis are assumed to be derived from the Enuma Elish and compiled during and after the Babylonian exile; the story of Jesus’ resurrection is framed as a concoction of the early Christian community to ameliorate their cognitive dissonance; prophecies in the latter half of Isaiah are assumed to be later additions to the book, and so forth.  All of these ideas deserve to be challenged, and the worldviews informing these scholarly theories need to be brought to light.  In some situations, we as believers might need to adjust our paradigms; in other situations, we can justifiably dismiss scholarly theories as examples of human beings’ ability to marshal elaborate and sophisticated evidence in support of theories that fit their overly narrow paradigms and plausibility structures.

Either way, confronted with these ideas, believers might be upset and conclude that their cherished scriptures do not rise to the level of revelation, or as Article of Faith 9 characterizes them, “the word of God”.  I propose a twofold response to anyone with those thoughts and feelings.  First, we should be very cautious in asserting “plagiarism” or even a more mild charge of “borrowing” when we see commonalities between texts.  Second, the process of revelation very often includes the recognition and incorporation of resources found in our immediate environment.

An Example from Biblical Scripture

In the field of Biblical studies, there are endless arguments and debates about intertextuality, or the relationship between passages of text in the Bible.  Seeing these relationships, scholars try to properly characterize them: When looking at Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3, scholars debate the strength of the correspondence between the verses, and whether they should be characterized as direct copying from one author to another, whether one author was merely alluding to another, whether they were using some shared source material, or some other explanation.  Illustrating this challenge in Old Testament studies, scholar Richard Schultz points out that 

It is by no means the case that every striking verbal parallel was automatically labeled a ‘quotation’. Rather than attributing all similarities in wording to one prophet consciously citing another, scholars have proposed numerous alternative explanations—coincidence, unconscious imitation, divine inspiration, formulaic, proverbial or cultic language, oral transmission, mutual dependence on unpreserved material, similarity of background and circumstances, redactional glosses. Although some of these alternative explanations no longer may be considered viable options and not all of them would apply equally well to a given passage, nevertheless, progress has been made in determining what influences might have produced a verbal parallel if it is not a quotation. However, completely reliable criteria for identifying what is (or even may be) genuine quotation have yet to be discovered. Part of the problem is terminological: Is ‘quotation’ clearly synonymous with ‘literary borrowing’ or ‘conscious imitation’? The other part is syntactical: given the absence of clear indicators, such as introductory formulae or quotation marks, determining dependence remains little more than an educated guess.

Richard L. Schultz, The Search for Quotation: Verbal Parallels in the Prophets, vol. 180, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 58.

We face similar questions when we see similarities between the Book of Mormon and a variety of other materials like King James Bible, Septuagint-based Bible translations, The Late War, and other sources.  In these debates, I often suggest that the best way to understand Joseph Smith and his thought process is to first ask more generally how prophets operate: the better we understand how Isaiah and Jeremiah thought and how they responded to the world around them, the greater will be our ability to understand Joseph Smith.  Likewise, to understand Joseph Smith’s thought processes toward the nature of scripture, we would do well to look to Biblical prophets, scribes and compilers.  The Book of Chronicles, for example, provides an interesting case study that is in some ways analogous to the Joseph Smith Translation and its adaptation, revision, and expansion of sacred source material.  And in a 2016 Maxwell Institute conference,  Phil Barlow correctly observed that the Book of Mormon “offered the world not a series of deductions, not a scholarly theory about the redacted components making up the Torah, but an overt depiction of a process resembling what the Documentary Hypothesis imagined.”

In that spirit, when I see commonalities between the Book of Mormon and other texts, I am often reminded of one of my favorite examples of textual relationships in the Bible: Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34.  Looking at the two chapters side by side, it is evident that there is a strong relationship between the two texts, of a kind that in our modern sensibilities we might call “plagiarism.”

Jeremiah 23Ezekiel 34
Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord.

Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord.

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. 

And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord.

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.


But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.
And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?

And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.

And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.

And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it.

In the case of these two passages, who borrowed from whom?  We know that Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began before that of Ezekiel, so it’s fair to assume that Ezekiel is borrowing Jeremiah’s language in his own prophecy against the leadership of Judah.  Biblical scholar Moshe Greenberg agrees: “The influence of Jeremiah, both in the image and in the terminology, on both components of this oracle is patent. It is plausibly accounted for by the assumption that Ezekiel had access to the words of his older Jerusalemite contemporary.”

But what does that prophetic borrowing look like, exactly?  Did Ezekiel have a thought to produce a prophecy against the religious leaders, and then find a similar passage in a Jeremiah scroll, selecting specific passages to borrow for his own prophecy?  Looking at the table above, it’s easy to conclude something along those lines.  The problem is, the table is very misleading.  Here is the full text of the two chapters, with those same corresponding passages highlighted:

Looking at the very uneven distribution of the corresponding verses between the two chapters, and also the significant difference in content and emphasis, it is more reasonable to conclude that at some point Ezekiel had internalized these written or spoken words of Jeremiah, and when he had the impression to produce a prophecy against the religious leadership of the House of Israel, some of the mental building blocks he employed in the production of that prophecy came from his memory of Jeremiah’s teachings.  In this model of prophetic revelation, the production of scripture does not always happen in the form of a stream of original thoughts from God to the prophet; rather, it often involves the recall of existing concepts that the prophet has “treasured up” (D&C 84:85) over time through pondering scripture and other resources.

Scripture: What Prophets Bring to the Process

In an article on Biblical inerrancy, Robert Millet says of the process of revelation:

In most instances, God places the thought into the mind or heart of the revelator, who then assumes the responsibility to clothe the oracle in language. Certainly there are times when a prophet records the words of God, directly, but very often the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) whispers to the prophet, who then speaks for God. In short, when God chooses to speak through a person, that person does not become a mindless ventriloquist, an earthly sound system through which God can voice himself. Rather, the person becomes enlightened and filled with intelligence or truth.

…Nothing could be clearer in the Old Testament, for example, than that many factors impacted the prophetic message—personality, experience, vocabulary, literary talent.

Experience, vocabulary, and — I would add — particular ways of expressing certain concepts, are all heavily influenced by our engagement with the written (including scripture and other kinds of literature) and the spoken word.  It is to be expected that revelation will always reflect these influences in its form, style, and wording.  This is evident in the words of Hebrew prophets like Ezekiel, and it is evident in the words of Joseph Smith.

Revelation in the World Around Us

The second question for us to consider is the relationship between texts and the environment and worldview of the people who produce them.

Despite its frequent excesses, the field of historical criticism of scripture is a very valuable framework for figuring out a scriptural author’s mindset and intentions.  This way of analyzing scripture differs from the devotional mode of reading scripture, where the goal is to derive important life lessons and even personal revelation.  But when it comes to scriptural exegesis (drawing out the meaning of a text), historical criticism is only one of many possible approaches that deserve a seat at the table.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI issued a papal exhortation entitled Verbum Domini, which contains some valuable tools for thinking about scripture.  One of my favorite sayings about scripture, cited in this document, is Pope Gregory’s saying that Viva lectio est vita bonorum: an ideal (“living”) reading of scripture is found in the lives of good people (or in a Catholic interpretation, the saints).  Where purely historical critical approaches to scripture can help us think in the abstract about questions of historical context, a more personally relevant and useful approach to scripture involves our seeing relationships between scripture and the lives of real people.

I would propose that Latter-Day Saints extend this idea further, and approach questions of the provenance of scripture — the process by which it is produced — with an eye toward the lived experiences of real people sitting with us in church.

We sometimes assume that the revelatory process by which scripture comes to us is of a completely different order than the revelatory processes we experience in our daily lives as believing and practicing Latter-Day Saints.  Why do we assume that?  One reason is that we know that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon involves plates and angels and seer stones, which are foreign to our everyday church experience.  But when we see the relationships between scriptural texts like in the aforementioned example of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, or we see relationships between Joseph Smith’s revelations and things in his environment like freemasonry, revelation seems to involve identifying, gathering, and incorporating existing resources as much as it is a process of receiving new ideas from heaven.  Do we have anything that we can point to in the lived experiences of ordinary Latter-Day Saints that can help us understand this mode of revelation?

A Model of Revelation: God as Logistician

Logistics is a discipline that is employed in business, military and other environments, to move resources to environments and situations where they are needed.  For example, if a company has a workforce that works primarily from their homes over a large geographical area and each of their employees is doing extremely time-sensitive work requiring a company computer with company software, the company might hire a logistics manager to ensure that some amount of spare company computers are in locations near employees.  That way, if any employee’s computer were to fail, the employee could resume work on a replacement computer with very little downtime.

I would suggest that much or possibly even most of the revelation that we experience in the church follows a model where the ideas and resources we need are placed into our environment (think of God as the logistician), and the revelatory process involves identifying those things and then incorporating them in ways that make them usable for the Kingdom.  Again referring to the example of Ezekiel 34- when Ezekiel had a prompting to produce a revelation challenging the Judean leadership, that revelation was not formed ex nihilo, or out of nothing. His approach to this revelation and even some of its core concepts and wording, had already been placed into his environment through his exposure to the work of Jeremiah.  Revelation does not need to be original in its provenance, its content, or its wording for it to be scripture, a text ordained of God for the blessing of His children.

Outside of scripture, we can point to many examples of this model of revelation in our lived experiences.  I recently wrote about a personal example in my younger years:

When I was about 15 years old and our ward scout troop went on a 45-mile hike over Glen Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. At the end of the hike we were dirty and sweaty, and next to the parking area where our cars were, we found a path leading to a clear, cool river. We unlocked the SUV and van we had brought, put our packs into those vehicles, and jumped in the river.

After we were done cooling off, we went back to the cars and got ready to leave, but the adult leader who had brought the van could not find its keys. We searched everywhere to no avail, then gathered around for a prayer. We prayed that the Lord would show us where the keys were, then went back out to search…again, to no avail. We repeated that process with the same dispiriting outcome, and then decided that we would go to a lodge up the road and call for a locksmith to drive into the mountains to where we were, to get the van started for the 4-hour drive home.

I went with our YM leader in the SUV and we drove up to the lodge. He went in and after a minute or two, he came walking back out with a stranger. Our leader related that he had gone in to the front counter of the lodge and told them he needed help getting a blacksmith to start the van, and there was a man at the counter who overheard the conversation. He inserted himself into the conversation and asked what the make and model of the van was, and when our YM leader told him, the man said that in his job, he had helped to develop the ignition system for that specific model of Dodge van.  We drove him back to our van and opened the hood, and within a minute or two he had started the van.  He was someone with very specific resources to offer us, and had been placed exactly where he was needed to answer our prayer for revelation.

In this situation, we as a group had fixated on a direct-communication-from-heaven model of revelation, but our prayer was answered in a very different way, in the form of a logistical miracle.  Direct communications from heaven are possible, and they do happen among believers on a regular basis.  This is especially true among mystics, people with a gift of extraordinary spiritual sensitivity.  But it would be a mistake for us to assume that direct communications from heaven are the only or even the primary form of revelation.

Another example was presented in Bishop Dean Davies’ October 2018 conference talk “Come Listen to a Prophet’s Voice”, where he talks about the process of President Hinckley finding (or we might say recognizing) the right location for the Vancouver temple.  I’ve added emphasis to the relevant points in the narrative.

A beautiful site with religious zoning adjacent to the Trans-Canadian Highway was found. The property had excellent access, was dotted with beautiful Canadian pine trees, and enjoyed a prominent location which would make it visible to thousands of passing motorists.

We presented the site with pictures and maps in the monthly Temple Sites Committee meeting. President Hinckley authorized that we place it under contract and complete the necessary studies. In December of that year, we reported back to the committee that the studies were complete, and we sought approval to proceed with the purchase. After hearing our report, President Hinckley said, “I feel I should see this site.”

Later that month, two days after Christmas, we left for Vancouver with President Hinckley; President Thomas S. Monson; and Bill Williams, a temple architect. We were met by Paul Christensen, the local stake president, who transported us to the site. It was a little wet and misty that day, but President Hinckley jumped out of the car and began walking all over the site.

After spending time on the site, I asked President Hinckley if he would like to see some of the other sites that had been considered. He said yes, he would like that. You see, by looking at the other sites, we were able to make a comparison of their virtues.

We did a large clockwise loop around Vancouver looking at the other properties, ultimately arriving back at the original site. President Hinckley said, “This is a beautiful site.” Then he asked, “Can we go to the Church-owned meetinghouse about one-quarter mile [0.4 km] away?”

“Of course, President,” we responded.

We got back into the cars and drove to the nearby meetinghouse. As we arrived at the chapel, President Hinckley said, “Turn left here.” We turned and followed the street as instructed. The street began to rise slightly.

Just as the car reached the crown of the rise, President Hinckley said, “Stop the car, stop the car.” He then pointed to the right at a parcel of ground and said, “What about this property? This is where the temple goes. This is where the Lord wants the temple. Can you get it? Can you get it?”

We hadn’t looked at this property. It was farther back and away from the main road, and it was not listed for sale. When we responded we didn’t know, President Hinckley pointed to the property and said again, “This is where the temple goes.” We stayed a few minutes, then left for the airport to return home.

The next day, Brother Williams and I were called to President Hinckley’s office. He had drawn out everything on a piece of paper: the roads, the chapel, turn left here, X marks the spot for the temple. He asked what we had found out. We told him he couldn’t have picked a more difficult property. It was owned by three individuals: one from Canada, one from India, and one from China! And it didn’t have the necessary religious zoning.

“Well, do your best,” he said.

Then the miracles happened. Within several months we owned the property, and later the city of Langley, British Columbia, gave permission to build the temple.

In this instance, the exact location of the Vancouver temple was not revealed at the outset.  The location was eventually revealed through a process of recognition, as President Hinckley was brought to the environment and given inspiration in interaction with that environment.

Many Latter-Day Saints can point to an instance where they were confused about a specific subject, and they reluctantly attended a church meeting only to find that someone in the meeting had a breakthrough insight to share, that helped to resolve the confusion.  Church leaders often run into situations where they have a gap in understanding on an important issue like mental health, and at a moment of crisis, a new member moves into the ward and this individual happens to have recently been immersed in professional research on that specific problem.  Church history contains examples of this as well: in 2020 we are amazed at the church’s excellent financial resources, but it was not always so; for many decades the church was constantly burdened with debt, until N. Eldon Tanner — the right person in the right place when he was needed — led a turnaround in the church’s financial situation during the 1960s. The scriptures similarly point to people being “raised up” for God’s purposes; this phrase means that specific souls are given unique resources and understanding, and placed in particular environments, that allow them to exercise their gifts to further God’s purposes (see D&C 101:80).  Thomas Edison once remarked that “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  I would paraphrase that excellent quote and say that revelation is unrecognized by most people because it is often dressed in humanity and looks like experience.

In our thinking about the provenance and content of scripture, we would do well to take seriously this profound insight from the Catholic tradition, that one of the most valuable approaches to questions of scripture — and I would add that those questions can include provenance, content, meaning, and more — is to look at the lived experiences of Latter-Day Saints.  Doing so, we can understand that when we see indications of Joseph Smith and other prophets incorporating resources and ideas from their environment into scripture, this is very much a normal manifestation of what D&C 9:8 refers to as studying it out in our mind.  And the process of producing scripture is likely far more relatable to the ordinary Latter-Day Saint’s lived experience than we sometimes assume it to be.

Marvin J Ashton and Spencer W. Kimball

In the 1985 Priesthood Session of General Conference, Elder Marvin J. Ashton gave a talk called “Spencer W. Kimball: A True Disciple of Christ.”

We Latter-Day Saints are often criticized for hero worship; we revere leaders of the past and we even sing hymns and primary songs about prophets in the present.  In recent years, we have rightfully engaged in introspection regarding these tendencies and their unhealthy extremes.  As more mature historiography has brought to light a litany of personal failings and shortcomings among church leaders and other prophetic figures of the past, many have found the gap between their previous cherished perceptions and their new uncomfortable awareness to be an insurmountable challenge to faith.

Some of the most vocal critics of the church have engaged in constant accusation and even asserted that in the governing councils of the church, there is a conspiratorial consensus that the whole of church history and all of our claims to authority are an elaborate fraud.

In this, I suggest that our critics have done us an enormous favor.  We can point to numerous examples of revelation among church leaders past and present, but critics will always find ways to dispute that witness testimony.  A much taller order for the skeptic, though, is the question of whether church leadership are good.  That question is a core element of scriptural tests for the authenticity of prophetic callings.  In Matthew 7:16, the Savior says of prophets that “You shall know them by their fruits…”. What are the fruits of living the restored gospel and applying oneself to consecrated service in the church for 50 years or more?  What kind of person emerges from those life commitments? These questions are not hard to answer. And if it can be demonstrated definitively that church leaders are good, while critics insist that they are bad people, then what does that indicate about the methodologies and motivations of critics?

Elder Ashton’s April 1985 portrait of Spencer W. Kimball sheds light on this question, and in my response here, I’ll provide additional material to supplement Elder Ashton’s talk.

Elder Ashton begins his talk with stories of President Kimball’s humility and graciousness, which were extraordinary.  He then moves into the story of President Kimball’s visit to the Utah State Prison, which has been deeply impactful to me as I have read it numerous times over the years.  I’ll quote it here in full:

One day a few years ago President Kimball said, “Marvin, I’d like you to take me to visit the Utah State Prison.” He remembered that when I was in charge of the Social Services programs for the Church I had had the responsibility for prisoners.

I said, “President Kimball, I don’t want you to go to the prison. I am afraid for your safety. There are some men confined there who would do anything to attract attention by embarrassing, injuring, or insulting you. I just don’t want you to go.”

That was once when I felt I couldn’t grant his request. He took my advice, and we didn’t go.

However, about two months later, D. Arthur Haycock, President Kimball’s personal secretary, phoned me and said, “Elder Ashton, President Kimball wants you to go to the Utah State Prison with him.” The next day we went. My delaying tactic had lasted only a few weeks.

I called Warden Morris and said, “May we come and visit you? We do not want anyone to know of our visit. Could we just meet in your office and not go through the minimum, medium, or maximum security places? Perhaps you could invite two inmates with whom President Kimball could visit in your office. Later we could look around the grounds and talk with others.” He agreeably made the arrangements.

We traveled to the institution, where about a thousand people are incarcerated. Soon into the warden’s office came two prisoners. I was impressed with how hard the convicts looked—how mean, how sullen. After they were introduced and sat down, I broke the silence by saying to President Kimball, “Would you like to say a few words to these two men?”

He said, “Yes.”

They both looked steadily down at the floor. President Kimball waited, and finally when one raised his head up a little, President Kimball looked directly into his eyes.

Let me just pause for a minute and set the stage. One prisoner had been convicted for murder and the other for manslaughter. Here is a prophet. Here were two hardened criminals. What do you say? What do you do? Do you say, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? What a waste for you to be in such a place as this”? Those are things that might cross your mind and mine.

As I mentioned, as President Kimball caught the eye of one of them, he looked at him with a penetrating stare and said, “Tell me about your mother.”

This inmate looked up and told him about his mother. Tears came to his eyes as he talked in detail about his mother.

When that was over, President Kimball looked at the other one, who was now paying strict attention. He said, “Young man, tell me what your father does for a living.”

The prisoner said, “I do not know where my father is. I never hear from him.” And he went on and on talking openly about his family.

I won’t tell you the details, but what a lesson in counseling, interviewing, and kindness was being taught by this great prophet. I learned more about interviewing in those fifteen minutes than in any similar period in my life. No condemnation. No judging. Only displaying a real interest in the person and his circumstances.

Before our interview was over, somehow the press found out that President Kimball was there. They were at the door and wanted to get into the warden’s office for an interview and a picture. I remember one of the inmates said, “Mr. Kimball, could I have my picture taken with you?”

President Kimball responded with “Why don’t I stand between the two of you, and we will take all three of us at once.”

I did not feel very comfortable with President Kimball standing between those two men in this setting. I had the responsibility for his safety. I had tried to talk him out of it. But he is a disciple of Christ and holds on to the words of God: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: … Naked, and ye clothed me: … I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:35–36.)

After the pictures were taken, President Kimball looked at one prisoner and then at the other and said, “Thank you for letting me have my picture taken with you.” Is there any doubt we love him? He loves everyone. He teaches us the real meaning of Matthew 22:37–40:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

“This is the first and great commandment.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matt. 22:37–40]

Let this sink in: a president of the church insisted, against the objections of his advisors, that he needed to visit a prison.  While there, he spent time with two hardened convicts in an interview that brought them to tears, then afterward thanked them for the opportunity to take a picture together.

Who does that???

Spencer W. Kimball.

I also loved this insight into President Kimball’s meetings with the Q15, more relevant now in our modern contentious world than ever before:

Each week after the Twelve and First Presidency have met in the temple to take care of current business, we take turns reporting where we have been and what has been accomplished in the way of stake divisions or reorganizations, or missions visited, regional conferences attended, and so on. One week I remember among the Twelve we had been almost everywhere around the globe. President Kimball listened to all of us and then gave his report: “I spent Saturday and Sunday visiting the sick and the homebound.” The rest of us who thought we had had a busy and productive weekend realized that a man of God had again taught us a lesson.

Has our prophet taught us anything through his prayers? Very often the Twelve and the First Presidency pray together. When President Kimball takes his turn to be voice, he generally includes this phrase in his prayers: “Bless our enemies. Help us to understand them, and them to understand us.” He doesn’t ask for vengeance or retaliation, just for understanding so differences can be resolved. Perhaps family differences and neighborhood problems could be resolved if we would follow our prophet’s example and pray for patience and forgiveness.

Elder Ashton follows with a final few glimpses into the soul of President Kimball:

Have we learned the power and the need of unconditional love? He even shows love to his enemies and many become friends. He has no time for envy, hate, ridicule, or evil speaking. Do we?

Two or three weeks ago this great teacher gave me motivation to try even harder to follow his example. Each Thursday morning after the Twelve have met for two hours, we are joined by the First Presidency to take care of our joint business. When President Kimball comes into the room on the fourth floor of the temple, one by one we go by and shake his hand.

President Kimball, now worn from long years of service, has a difficult time seeing, hearing, and speaking, so when it was my turn, I said, “President Kimball, I am Marvin Ashton.” He took my hand, paused, and then finally said softly, “Marv Ashton, I love you.” That is all he said to me. What else do I need?

Elder Ashton’s talk demonstrates that while yes, we sometimes do have an unhealthy tendency toward hero-worship, it is also true that there is an amazing amount of value in knowing that living the restored gospel and serving in the church produce beautiful souls who are profoundly humble and compassionate.

What follows is a collection of excerpts from various sources; consider it a long addendum to Elder Ashton’s wonderful April 1985 Conference talk.

From Jeffrey R. Holland, The Inconvenient Messiah (quoting from the biography Spencer W. Kimball):

Do you recognize this struggle? The date is July 14, 1943:

“No peace had yet come, though I had prayed for it almost unceasingly. … I turned toward the hills. I had no objective. I wanted only to be alone. I had begun a fast. … “My weakness overcame me again. Hot tears came flooding down my cheeks as I made no effort to mop them up. I was accusing myself, and condemning myself and upbraiding myself. I was praying aloud for special blessings from the Lord. I was telling Him that I had not asked for this position, that I was incapable of doing the work, that I was imperfect and weak and human, that I was unworthy of so noble a calling, though I had tried hard and my heart had been right. I knew that I must have been at least partly responsible for offenses and misunderstandings which a few people fancied they had suffered at my hands. I realized that I had been petty and small many times. I did not spare myself. A thousand things passed through my mind. Was I called by revelation?…

“If I could only have the assurance that my call had been inspired most of my other worries would be dissipated. … I knew that I must have His acceptance before I could go on. I stumbled up the hill and onto the mountain, as the way became rough. I faltered some as the way became steep. No paths were there to follow; I climbed on and on. Never had I prayed before as I now prayed. What I wanted and felt I must have was an assurance that I was acceptable to the Lord. I told Him that I neither wanted nor was worthy of a vision or appearance of angels or any special manifestation. I wanted only the calm peaceful assurance that my offering was accepted. Never before had I been tortured as I was now being tortured. And the assurance did not come…

“I mentally beat myself and chastised myself and accused myself. As the sun came up and moved in the sky I moved with it, lying in the sun, and still I received no relief. I sat up on the cliff and strange thoughts came to me: all this anguish and suffering could be ended so easily from this high cliff and then came to my mind the temptations of the Master when he was tempted to cast Himself down—then I was ashamed for having placed myself in a comparable position and trying to be dramatic. … I was filled with remorse because I had permitted myself to place myself … in a position comparable, in a small degree, to the position the Saviour found Himself in when He was tempted, and … I felt I had cheapened the experiences of the Lord, having compared mine with His. Again I challenged myself and told myself that I was only trying to be dramatic and sorry for myself.

“… I lay on the cool earth. The thought came that I might take cold, but what did it matter now. There was one great desire, to get a testimony of my calling, to know that it was not human and inspired by ulterior motives, kindly as they might be. 

How I prayed! how I suffered! How I wept! How I struggled!”

——————-

From Vaughn J. Featherstone, Charity Never Faileth:

Some time ago I had the privilege of attending a stake conference in the company of President Spencer W. Kimball, before he became president of the church.  Elder Kimball worked tirelessly holding one meeting after another until late Saturday night.  On Sunday we held a meeting with bishoprics and high councilors at eight a.m.  This was followed by the general session, a meeting with the seventies quorum, an interview with the patriarch, and the dedication of a chapel, with a talk to seminary students in the evening.  We went to the stake president’s home about nine o’clock to wait for our plane, which did not leave until nearly eleven.  The stake president’s wife wanted to fix us dinner, but Elder Kimball said,

“Please, all I need is a bowl of milk and some of your homemade bread to break up in it.”

——-

A few years ago while on a stake conference assignment I visited and spoke to Latter-Day Saints in the military service at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  There I met Chaplain John Cooper, who told me that his father had been a stake president in Logan, Utah, for something like fourteen years.  During those years the father had kept a guest book, and after he passed away, that book was given to his son.  Chaplain Cooper asked me to sign it.

I did so, and and then I thumbed through the pages.  There were the signatures of the Brethren from the days when two of them would travel to each stake quarterly conference, then when one visited each conference, and then when one visited every other conference.  Most of the General Authorities had signed the book.  As I went through it, I saw President Spencer W. Kimball’s name.

Date: 1954.

Name: Spencer W. Kimball.

Position or Title: Apostle.

Hobby: I love people.

I thumbed through many more pages and then I saw President Kimball’s name again.

Date: 1964.

Name: Spencer W. Kimball.

Title: Apostle.

Hobby: I love people.

——————-

From Barbara Morgan Gardner, The Priesthood Power of Women

My parents met at Brigham Young University. My mother had been an active member of the Church all her life, although by the time she reached adulthood, her mother had become inactive. My dad was raised in an inactive home. His mother died by suicide when he was a young teenager. Due to the circumstances of his youth, he determined at a young age that he would raise his family differently from how he was raised. My dad basically raised himself as an active member, thanks in great part to the support of wonderful friends and Church leaders. He served a mission for the Lord in the Eastern States, and, to make a long story short, after he returned from his mission, my parents eloped to the Salt Lake Temple, where they were sealed. None of their parents attended. After their marriage, my parents continued their education at BYU. My mom graduated in elementary education and used her degree to teach school while helping my dad get through school. (She would continue to use her degree throughout the rest of her life, especially in the raising of her children.) 

While still in school, my mom gave birth to their oldest daughter. Four miscarriages followed, and the doctors put my mom on bed rest, as she had become quite weak with these pregnancies. The doctors tried to convince my parents to not have more children, and even to abort their current unborn baby, but they both felt strongly that they wanted and were inspired to have more children. Now, with my mom pregnant for the sixth time but extremely weak, my parents decided that it would be best for my dad to drop out of school and my mom to leave work for a while so they could move to Michigan, where my mother could receive help from her family. Not having enough money for all of them to fly, and aware of the danger a long drive would impose on my mom and the baby, my parents sold everything they had: musical instruments, car, clothes, and so on, to get my mom on that airplane with my sister. In fact, my dad had thirty-five cents extra in his pocket that he gave to my mom in case she needed it. 

Knowing that money would be tight for him, and his drive longer than her flight, she snuck the money back into his coat pocket, just in case. The plan was for my dad, in his junker car, to drop my mom and sister off at the airport and then drive all day and night and meet them in Michigan. All went as planned until the pilot announced that, due to weather, the plane would have to make an emergency landing in Chicago. Having been instructed by the doctor that she couldn’t hold anything heavier than a loaf of bread, and having no money, no extra change of clothes for her or her daughter, no extra food, and no extra diapers, my mom got off the airplane with my sister. Hours went by, and there was no indication of when they would be leaving. My mom was exhausted and concerned. Finding no available seat, she eventually slumped down against a wall with my sister cradled in her lap. 

In this position, she prayed and pled for help, hoping not to lose this baby and wanting to relieve the burdens of her young daughter. Within moments, a kind, elderly man came and knelt by them on the floor, assessed the situation, and began offering help. He immediately picked up my soaking wet and sobbing toddler sister and wrapped her in his arms. Carrying my sister, the gentleman went to the desk and, with some type of persuasion, got my mom and sister on the next flight to Michigan. Although my mom did not recognize the man, she later reflected that she should have been more embarrassed for their circumstances, as my sister soaked his suit with her dripping wet diaper and she herself was in a horrible state. But, in the moment, she was overwhelmed with gratitude for the kindness of this elderly gentleman. 

Months later, after giving birth to a healthy boy, my parents were at a fireside being broadcast from Salt Lake City. When President Spencer W. Kimball began speaking, my mom immediately recognized him as the man in the airport. She immediately wrote him a letter, thanking him for his service. He responded that he would never forget that day in the airport and thanked her for her service as a wife and mother. My mom was cautious in speaking of this story, never wanting to bring undue attention to herself, always stating that it was President Kimball’s story. In many ways it is. But for me, it’s also a story of how the Lord uses His priesthood to bless His righteous disciples: President Kimball as a priesthood key holder, and my mom and dad, both endowed with priesthood power and authority for their own family. President Kimball, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, held all the keys of the kingdom of God on the earth in this dispensation. Because of this priesthood authority, he literally could act in the name of God in all things. Because of his righteousness, he was blessed with incredible priesthood power. My mother has mentioned on a number of occasions that, during the time President Kimball was helping her, she literally felt as if he were blessing her—healing her, in a sense. In fact, after this experience with President Kimball, my parents were blessed to have ten more naturally born children, adopted another, and also raised my dad’s nephew, whom I know only as my brother. Their ability to rear thirteen children was clearly a miracle and defied all the odds previously pronounced by the doctors.

——————-

From Edward Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride:

A young man attending BYU–Hawaii fought off any suggestions he go on a mission and let his hair grow to express his rebellious feelings. He tucked his long hair into a cap when he went to class. He felt unloved. One day President Kimball was on campus to speak to the students. Later, the young man sat on a bench by the temple, musing. He saw a cluster of people gathering around the temple entrance, and President Kimball emerged. The first thought that came was anxiety that President Kimball would discern his rebellious spirit and chastise him for having long hair in violation of school rules. As the prophet came nearer, he left the group and walked directly to the youth, who later recalled, “A feeling of shame engulfed my soul and I wanted to run. When he reached me, he threw his arms around my neck, kissed my cheek, and whispered, ‘I love you.’ I could not dispute it—he loved me. I actually felt it. I cried. I couldn’t control myself. I went behind the temple and continued to sob as his pure love melted away my anger and bitterness.”

——-

When Thomas E. Brown, a stake president and Church employee, had occasion to confer with the President, Spencer would have him sit beside him. During their conversation, Spencer would hold his hand and tell him how much he loved him. Brother Brown remembered with deep emotion: “I would have climbed any mountain, swum any sea, crossed any desert for him. I believe he was the first man to ever say that he loved me; I never remember my father telling me that.” 

As they both sat on the stand in their home ward sacrament meeting, Spencer took Neal Maxwell by the hand and whispered, “Do you know that I love you with all my heart?” The next week Spencer renewed the sentiment: “Do you remember what I said to you last week?”

——-

Spencer’s charity extended to everyone but himself. He frequently chastised himself for being “weak,” “limited,” “incapable,” and “insignificant”—though he was the only one who thought so. His concern may have stemmed from worry that his inadequacies would reflect badly on the Church. In that vein Elder Packer commented, “If he’s ever uncomfortable, it’s around people that might be termed ‘prominent.’”

——-

In June 1978, Janet Brigham, the Ensign’s news editor, went to Nauvoo to report the dedication of the Relief Society Monument to Women. From a distance she observed President Kimball was always surrounded by an entourage and people crowding in to shake his hand and talk to him. She hung back, collecting quotations and fighting off mosquitoes, feeling puzzled by a powerful desire to tell President Kimball that she loved him, particularly because of the recent revelation on priesthood. She thought of writing a letter but doubted it would get past his secretary. She felt so strongly about this impulse to speak to him that she even prayed about it.

The next morning right after one of the public meetings, she received instructions to take the Ensign photographer and hurry to Joseph Smith’s red-brick store, where President Kimball was going. But at that moment the photographer was in a plane taking aerial shots of Nauvoo, so she decided to use her own camera and do the best she could. 

As she drove up across from the store, she saw a cluster of dignitaries around the President and dreaded being in yet another situation where important people would treat her as invisible. But as she started to cross the street, Spencer looked in her direction, broke away from the group, and walked over to greet her. She introduced herself and said, “You know, President Kimball, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you.” She saw a slight look of apprehension on his face, as if he had heard more advice than he wanted, but he nodded politely and asked what that might be. She said, “I’ve wanted to tell you I love you.” She then explained how deeply touched she had been by the announcement of the priesthood revelation. “Somehow I felt it was important for you to know that.” A tear came to his eye, and he held her hand for a long time, saying, “Thank you” and expressing appreciation for the love of Church members. She felt that just as his humility enabled him to be the messenger for the revelation, so his humility allowed him to receive the love of the Saints. Although she had been much in evidence as a reporter, of all the dignitaries only he spoke to her that day.

——-

A young woman in Spencer and Camilla’s neighborhood was excommunicated after confessing serious misconduct. For a month, every night after their supper, Spencer and Camilla walked down the street to her house to visit and comfort, setting an example for their neighbors. Elder Boyd K. Packer mused, “A lot of people like things clean and comfortable. He’s always been willing to go out to where the people are and he . . . really relates to people, especially to the children.

——-

Adan Gutierrez, a father who was very troubled about his rebellious son, dreamed that he was in the temple. President Kimball, dressed in white, hugged him and said three times, “Everything is going to be all right.” A few days later, his priesthood quorum asked for volunteers to work at the temple. Brother Gutierrez volunteered and had a strong impression that he should arrive early, though he did not know why. As he entered the temple, the temple president met him and asked, “How would you like to meet the prophet? Look behind you; there he is.” President Kimball put his arms around him as in the dream. No words were spoken, but Brother Gutierrez felt the words “Everything is going to be all right.” Shortly after that, the son accepted a mission call.

——-

In July 1974 Spencer flew to Spokane to speak at the World’s Fair, “Expo ’74.” At a banquet sponsored by the Spokane Stake, the young women of one ward served as waitresses. Instructed to act professionally, they lined up along a far wall to wait until the guests were all seated. A receiving line of dignitaries had formed to meet President Kimball when he arrived. As he entered, the room quieted. He was ushered toward the receiving line but veered away toward the young women. A hand at his elbow redirected him until he said in his hoarse voice, “Excuse me, I have some important people I need to greet first.” He walked across the stake center floor to the young women waitresses and spoke to each one as the people in the receiving line waited, surprised.

——-

Just before the last session of the [Bolivia] conference, as the General Authorities waited in a room behind the stage, President Kimball told them, “Before we leave tonight I would like to shake hands with and express my appreciation and love to all the Lamanite people here at the conference.” Thinking of the number in attendance, President Romney urged, “President, I don’t think that is very wise. When we announce this we will have a real problem with security. We will have a problem with discipline. People will be stumbling over each other in order to shake your hand. You are already tired and have been on the road all this time. You need your rest.” 

President Kimball sat silently for a few moments, then, without responding to President Romney’s objections, simply repeated that he wanted to touch the people. His advisers repeated their advice. Again he was silent. They looked to Dr. Ernest Wilkinson for help. “Doctor, how do you feel about this? Do you think he is up to it?” The doctor said it was unwise, considering all the recent travel, the altitude, his fatigue at the end of a long day, and the security problem. Again President Kimball sat silent a moment, then repeated his wish.

The others, realizing finally that he had made up his mind, yielded. As President Kimball concluded the conference, he announced, “I want to shake the hand of every person here.” An audible gasp came from the crowd. After the prayer, pandemonium ensued. Many of the crowd could not believe he would shake everyone’s hand, and they wanted to reach him before he quit. But once they realized he was serious, they stayed in an orderly line. They came—humble people, the well and the crippled. Some smiled, some wept, many gave him an abrazo. Some got in line a second time. President Kimball freely poured out his time and energy to greet each one, despite the altitude, his fatigue, and his old heart. The other five General Authorities lined up with him while Dr. Wilkinson, Earl Jones, and Arthur Haycock stood by anxiously.

At one point, Dr. Wilkinson quietly approached and asked whether he could stop soon. Barely glancing at him, President Kimball said, “If you knew what I know, you wouldn’t ask me that question.” The only help he would accept was from Elder McConkie, who stationed himself just beyond the President. As soon as a member had shaken President Kimball’s hand, Elder McConkie would reach out, take the person’s hands, and pull him or her along with his own greeting, lest the person stop to talk to President Kimball and make his promise to greet everyone impossible.

——-

Dr. Ernest L. Wilkinson Jr., Spencer’s personal physician during the 1970s, sensed the President’s dedication when, sitting next to him during the sacrament prayers, he heard Spencer say under his breath, “I do love thee. Oh, how I love thee.”

Revelation as Remembering

In April 2020 Conference, President Oaks said the following:

In the Council in Heaven, all the spirit children of God were introduced to the Father’s plan, including its mortal consequences and trials, its heavenly helps, and its glorious destiny. We saw the end from the beginning. All of the myriads of mortals who have been born on this earth chose the Father’s plan and fought for it in the heavenly contest that followed. Many also made covenants with the Father concerning what they would do in mortality. In ways that have not been revealed, our actions in the spirit world have influenced our circumstances in mortality.

That last sentence struck a nerve with a lot of people, because the doctrine of the preexistence has in the past been misused to promote racist and ethnocentrist religious ideas.  But I’d like to propose a better way of seeing that statement, informed by our personal experiences.

A quick scavenger hunt. I would suggest to understand President Oaks’ message, first watch and/or read Truman G. Madsen’s talk On How We Know.  Pay special attention to his discussion of remembering the preexistence.  Especially this quote from Joseph F. Smith:

But in coming here, we forgot all, that our agency might be free indeed, to choose good or evil, that we might merit the reward of our own choice and conduct. But by the power of the Spirit, in the redemption of Christ, through obedience, we often catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul, which lights up our whole being as with the glory of our former home.

Second, go to Facebook and watch Darcy Warne’s testimony.  Listen to what she says at the :55 mark about her experience of coming to belief: “you’re going to believe it, almost like you’re remembering it.”

Third, go to YouTube and watch Eric Samuels’ conversion story on Saints Unscripted.  At the 20 minute mark, listen to his characterization of his response to the missionaries’ teachings, especially beginning at 21:13 “And the more I learned about preexistence…things just started clicking..I was like ‘I feel like I remember some of these things…maybe I’m going crazy, but it feels like there’s things I remember or things I already know.’”

In light of the testimony of those two credible witnesses, go back and reread President Oaks’ statement quoted above.

Finally, my contribution to the discussion.

Early in my mission, I had a companion who was obsessed with the preexistence. He used to read about it and speculate about it constantly, and talk about promises we made there, relationships we developed there, and so forth. I was always eager to change the subject, because I figured those things were not knowable.

On the very last day of my mission, before I traveled to the mission office to head home, I baptized a woman. I had been in that area for 7 months, and this woman had been attending church every week during my time there. In fact, she had been attending church every week for 22 years. Over those years, countless pairs of Elder and Sister missionaries had taught her and challenged her to baptism, and she gave us all the same answer: “you are not the right one.” Her decision to be baptized had nothing to do with the principle itself; she had been waiting for a particular missionary to come to teach her. She couldn’t describe this missionary in any way; she just insisted that she would recognize him or her when the time came.

26 days before the end of my mission I got a new companion (also from California), and he bore his testimony that Sunday in church. After church, our eternal investigator came up to me and said “He is the one.” We went and taught her the discussions again, and she accepted every principle and every commitment. She told my companion that she recognized him from some time in the past, even though they had never met.

Maybe you have experienced a connection with a particular person after you met them for the first time, where you felt you had known each other and played a role in each other’s lives somehow. You might have also sensed that you were reliving conversations you had before, and influencing each other in positive and healing ways that you had before. If someone has taught you the gospel in a very particular way that seems very uniquely compatible with and familiar to your spirit and helps you see things with clarity, then there is a possibility that some form of that teaching happened before. My mission president taught us that the war in heaven was a war of teaching and persuading, and the only thing that has changed is the battleground.

Anyway, I have had experiences like this that have led me to believe in the preexistence, and how things we did there have influenced our lives here. Elder Richard G. Scott said in October 1999 Conference:

The Lord has placed currents of divine influence in your life that will lead you along the individual plan He would have you fulfill here on earth. Seek through the Spirit to identify it and carefully follow that direction that the Lord has put in your life. Align yourself with it. Choose, willingly, to exercise your agency to follow it.

I wonder if those currents often lead us to people we have known and taught and influenced before, and returning to Pres. Oaks’ statement, maybe that is how our actions then affect our circumstances now.

Aside from being a viable doctrinal context for President Oaks’ remarks, I think it illustrates a very important model of revelation that is fully unique to Latter-Day Saints: it’s revelation in the form of remembering things that we have known since preexistence.

p.s. after telling that mission story recently, a convert friend responded with the following:

I remember the first time I saw the missionary that stood in the font and baptized me. As soon as I saw him, I thought “I KNOW this guy from somewhere, but how could I? He’s from Utah.” I didn’t say anything but I felt like I knew him for years. He then looked at me—don’t forget that this is our first lesson—and he said “I don’t ever tell people this, but I feel prompted by the Spirit to say this.” I won’t go into too much detail, but he went on to tell me that he felt we knew each other before we came here. Needless to say, my entire body had chills. I then told him what I was thinking. I have no doubt the three of us—those two missionaries and I—knew each other well before we came here.

Finally, one of our best-known examples of remembrance as revelation is found in Eliza R. Snow’s poetry that forms the hymn O My Father.

O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near thy side?

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.