An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘answers to prayer’

Faith to Move Mountains

Originally posted 12/31/09

Driving by the former Point of the Mountain dividing Salt Lake and Utah Counties, I realize that power shovels and dump trucks are as capable of moving mountains as faith. More so, I guess. I’m not aware of any mountains that have been relocated through faith—unless you count Hanuman flying the mountain of herbs from the Himalayas to provide healing to Ram’s army in the Ramayana legend.

 When I was growing up, church lessons routinely featured stories of Apostle Matthew Cowley’s miraculous healing of Polynesian members in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Even without the visuals used in contemporary church lessons, those stories flamed to life in my mind. I saw the dying man lying on a woven mat on the sandy floor of his grass shack. His wife and children weeping. No medical help available. A runner bursts through the doorway. An apostle from the Church of Jesus Christ has just arrived on the supply boat. Minutes later, Elder Cowley enters the hut and looks at the dying man. The Apostle hesitates to administer to such a hopeless case, but the man whispers, “If you bless me, I will live.” A sacred hush envelops the hut as Elder Cowley lays his hands on the man’s head and administers a priesthood blessing of healing. Witnesses barely open their eyes before the man sits up and asks for something to eat. His faith has made him whole.

My heart thumped at the conclusion of each story. If I had the undoubting faith of these Polynesians, my prayers would be answered like theirs. Yet, other church lessons emphasized God answering our prayers according to His greater knowledge. For our own good, sometimes the answer is no. Which was it—faith works miracles or God might say no?

BYU tilted my faith system to the miracle side. When our first child was born, I believed that, in answer to sincere fasting and prayer, God would provide total guidance for raising this precious child. A three-week bout of colic demonstrated that not even fervent prayers guaranteed trouble-free child-rearing. Faith and parenting were both more complex than I’d anticipated.

Faith can provide comfort, but faith can also postpone action. Ray, a good man in our ward, was diagnosed with liver cancer. He received medical treatment, priesthood blessings, and a ward fast. Ray ran a construction business and his wife begged him to put his business affairs in legal order, just in case. Ray refused. In his mind, planning for the possibility of his death demonstrated lack of faith in the Lord’s power to heal. For Ray, death preceded the miracle. Relying on prayers and blessings left his business in a costly mess.

The D&C tells us “To some it is given to know . . . To others, it is given to believe . . . .” (46:12-13) No one “knows” about spiritual things in the empirical sense, but many believe—some strongly. Others can only hope or, less optimistically, wish. Maybe faith encompasses more than belief in God. Maybe faith includes belief in our own capacity to act. And maybe the faith to move mountains refers to the human capacity to design, build, and operate earthmovers.

Swearing Off Fast and Testimony Meeting

Last Sunday, members of our ward were handed a list of instructions for bearing testimonies and the meeting I used to enjoy nose-dived. Now, I agree with some of the instructions—testimonies should not be prepared lectures. I don’t relish hearing Brother Feermonger admonish us all to get our two-year supply of food, fuel, and ammunition to prepare for the havoc the Obama administration is bringing upon our country. But I rather like travelogues. I know they’re self-promoting—“I just can’t pass up this opportunity to share our family’s trip to Israel”—but experiences beyond our ward boundaries add  interest. I also like realistic accounts of dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. When Brother Forchanat describes the strength he received from the Lord and the support of family and ward members as he struggled for his life and limbs following a near fatal electrocution at work, I am moved to tears.

Restricting speakers to testifying that they “know” God lives, Jesus is their Savior, Joseph Smith was a true prophet, the Book of Mormon is true, and President Monson is our living prophet gets pretty tedious after 45 minutes. And how does one evaluate which personal experiences are testimony building? Some of the choices shared last Sunday struck me as more odd than uplifting.

The counselor in the bishopric started us off with his reflections on family members who have “fallen away” from the church. He doesn’t understand how they could  have lost their purpose in life and no longer understand their individual worth. I wanted to ask him why he believed only active Mormons have a purpose in life and understand their individual worth, but testimony meeting does not include a Q & A session.

A good sister shared her experience of answered prayer last week. It seems her kids found a stray dog in their yard. They brought it in the house, fed it, and wondered how to find the owner. The mother’s solution was to pray for the owner to come to their house looking for the animal. After prayer, they stayed up until 10:30, waiting for the owner. Finally, the dog went to the door and they opened it just as the owner was walking past their house. Heavenly Father had truly answered their prayer. The dog had to pee just as the owner came by. Of course, they could have fed the dog, left it on the front porch, and not had to bother Heavenly Father, but that would have invoked common sense rather than faith and not been worth sharing at church.

Obviously, I haven’t the spirituality necessary to see me through F & T meetings—especially with the new guidelines. I can attend with a look of martyrdom on my face or stay home and make everyone happier.

Lies or La La Land?

Recite your vows in the temple for a happy marriage. Serve a mission and succeed in life. Keep yourself pure and be rewarded with a devoted spouse. Fast and pray and receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost in your decisions. Pay tithing and prosper financially. Read the scriptures and receive inspiration. Obey the Word of Wisdom and receive good health. The list of commandments to obey and blessings attached to them—not to mention negative consequences for not obeying—is nearly endless for Mormons. Living gospel principles assures direct access to God for help throughout life. Primary children learn in the song, “Follow the Prophet,” that “When we really try the Lord won’t fail us.”

Most Mormons wax philosophical when promised blessings refuse to materialize. We create escape clauses: “The time is not right.” “I’m being tested.” “The Lord has an even bigger blessing in store for me—just around the corner,” or even, “Since our prayers to sell our house haven’t been answered, Heavenly Father must want us to stay here.”  All of these are relatively healthy, although not necessarily useful, responses to disappointment.

I perceive that the Church hierarchy has backed away from guaranteeing specific blessings for obedience in recent years, but that hasn’t filtered down to the rank and file yet. My visiting teacher read me a lesson on receiving personal revelation this month and bore fervent testimony that preparing ourselves with fasting and prayer, then visiting the temple will bring a sure answer from the Holy Ghost to any question or problem. I’m glad that works for her, but I know people who have made really bad decisions following a prayerful visit to the temple.

Again, most Mormons don’t take lessons and talks quite that literally, but some do. If a person is promised specific blessings for obeying commandments and doesn’t receive them, even after doing everything possible to make herself worthy, she has two choices: Blame herself or blame the church. Blaming ones’ self can result in a hair-shirt mentality as a person strives ever harder to merit God’s help.

It’s probably personally healthier and more realistic to blame the church—or at least the mis-interpretation of principles. I think we all know former members who left the church because of disillusionment: The person who married a returned missionary in the temple only to have a miserable marriage. Persons struggling with chronic disease for which priesthood blessings have been ineffective. Converts who suffer severe depression over loss of family relationships after their baptisms. Loss of jobs, the list goes on.

The real world is a complex place. While I wouldn’t term exaggerated claims for blessings and miracles lying, the practice is not harm free.  A more realistic approach is to offer gospel principles as a guide to a good life style, but not a panacea for every problem. The leader of my Zen meditation class was asked, “What has meditation done for you?” His answer: “Not a thing!” Obviously, he was kidding, but I respect him for not trying to proselytize us with promises of achieving Nirvana from our practice. I like the Buddhist admonition to try for one’s self any principle taught. True principles don’t need hype.

Faith to Move Mountains or Maybe Molehills

Driving by the former Point of the Mountain dividing Salt Lake and Utah Counties, I realize that power shovels and dump trucks are as capable of moving mountains as faith. More so, I guess. I’m not aware of any mountains that have been relocated through faith—unless you count Hanuman flying the mountain of herbs from the Himalayas to provide healing to Ram’s army in the Ramayana legend.

When I was growing up, church lessons routinely featured stories of Apostle Matthew Cowley’s miraculous healing of Polynesian members in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Even without the visuals used in contemporary church lessons, those stories flamed to life in my mind. I saw the dying man lying on a woven mat on the sandy floor of his grass shack. His wife and children weeping. No medical help available. A runner bursts through the doorway. An apostle from the Church of Jesus Christ has just arrived on the supply boat. Minutes later, Elder Cowley enters the hut and looks at the dying man. The Apostle hesitates to administer to such a hopeless case, but the man whispers, “If you bless me, I will live.” A sacred hush envelops the hut as Elder Cowley lays his hands on the man’s head and administers a priesthood blessing of healing. Witnesses barely open their eyes before the man sits up and asks for something to eat. His faith has made him whole.

My heart thumped at the conclusion of each story. If I had the undoubting faith of these Polynesians, my prayers would be answered like theirs. Yet, other church lessons emphasized God answering our prayers according to His greater knowledge. For our own good, sometimes the answer is no. Which was it—faith works miracles or God might say no?

BYU tilted my faith system to the miracle side. When our first child was born, I believed that, in answer to sincere fasting and prayer, God would provide total guidance for raising this precious child. A three-week bout of colic demonstrated that not even fervent prayers guaranteed trouble-free child-rearing. Faith and parenting were both more complex than I’d imagined.

Faith can provide comfort, but faith can also postpone action. Ray, a good man in our ward, was diagnosed with liver cancer. He received medical treatment, priesthood blessings, and a ward fast. Ray ran a construction business and his wife begged him to put his business affairs in legal order, just in case. Ray refused. In his mind, planning for the possibility of his death demonstrated lack of faith in the Lord’s power to heal. For Ray, death preceded the miracle. Relying on prayers and blessings left his business in a costly mess.

The D&C tells us “To some it is given to know . . . To others, it is given to believe . . . .” (46:12-13) No one “knows” about spiritual things in the empirical sense, but many believe—some strongly. Others can only hope or, less optimistically, wish. Maybe faith encompasses more than belief in God. Maybe faith includes belief in our own capacity to act. And maybe the faith to move mountains refers to the human capacity to design, build, and operate earthmovers.

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