Step Two: scripture study

In a previous post, I discussed increasing prayer times during the day. There, I briefly mentioned to read scripture. By scripture, I mean the Bible (Old and New Testament) for mainline Christians, and additionally, The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants for Latter-Day Saint Christians. One must develop a relationship to God and what better way than to immerse yourself into the texts of and about God and Jesus? In academia there is much debate about what texts comprise the cannon, how accurate the texts are, what are the meaning and intent of the books and of individual verses and words? All that I will lay aside because the ‘truth’ can be revealed directly from God by way of the Holy Spirit who, scripture says, reveals all truths. 

There are many ways to read the bible: in order presented, chronologically, by topic, church liturgical schedules, etc. For my first foray into the bible, I may read the New Testament in book order. It presents the words and teachings of Jesus Christ and of his apostles. Moreover, it is not long and easy to read. Unfortunately, some Christians stop there and never read the Old Testament. In my opinion, this is a mistake. Jesus quotes or alludes to characters in the Old Testament. Also, it is challenging to understand to understand how God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow if one does not get to know the God of the Old Testament. Sadly, people believe they are not the same being. I mean, the Old Testament God was cruel, vengeful, a lawgiver whereas Christ seemed to be the opposite. Yet, Jesus himself says I have not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Interesting, but what is The Law? The saga of the Old Testament fills in those gaps. Think of it as God’s dealings with a chosen yet quite rebellious Israelite people. He aids them, they turn their backs. He gives them rules, they break them. Not picking on the Israelites. Because they are a metaphor for all of humankind.

For LDS and non-LDS, I would then read the Book of Mormon. Before I joined the LDS church, I was very wary and skeptical of that book. We have the Bible so why would we need more. Remember, I said how scholars and atheists are challenging the veracity of the Bible’s message? Well, that is why another witness of Christ was needed: that is the Book of Mormon. I did not know that nearly 4000 references to Jesus and his litany of titles exist in its 500 pages! Furthermore, the Christian doctrine (gospel) is expounded on those pages. I also love the wisdom found in the Book of Mormon and how so much is cross-referenced with the Old and New Testaments.

Lastly, the Doctrine and Covenants are a collection of revelations given primarily to Joseph Smith in response to personal inquires and those of others. The Lord speaks points of doctrine so clearly that arguments over biblical vagaries are put to rest. For example, the sacrament (Eucharist) allowed substituting water for wine due to attempts to poison the early saints [..You shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies DC 27: 3] When I was a non-member, I was impressed by the scoldings the Lord gave to Joseph Smith. Usually, cult leaders never present their failings or God’s harsh criticism of their actions so for Joseph Smith to have these out in the open demonstrate to me humility and transparency so unlike charismatic cult leaders. I think as a reader, we can empathize with these flawed individuals of the Doctrine and Covenants. God is always trying to teach us, to love us, to guide but not coerce us back towards him.

When I was introduced to Cistercian ways, there was a huge interest in Thomas Merton, a 20th century monk, writer, and artist at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. I, too, was drawn to his early spiritual writings with such deep insights directed by his life as a monk. I wondered, if such deep wisdom could emanate from one with only the Bible (yes, Catholics also follow ‘tradition’ or the magisterium for additional teachings), how much more would a latter-day saint be capable of with additional light and knowledge of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants? Imagine, over 800 extra pages of text about God, Jesus Christ and the gospel—so many more spiritual mysteries upon which to meditate and contemplate. I truly believe that reading the sacred texts is the launch to greater revelation. We are promised to know the mysteries of God “To whom he [God] grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves” D&C 76:117
 
 

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SEEKING GOD

Why would I spend my time seeking God? As some sort of intellectual exercise? To test whether God exists? To escape my personal problems? To avoid ‘reality’? None of these. Simply love.

I have a strong desire to draw closer to my Creator. God, my creator and Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ my redeemer and advocate. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3 To know is not merely a matter of belief, of faith, though it may be at the beginning of the journey. Rather I am suggesting experience no matter how fleeting with The Divine. Knowing in a way that cannot be expressed through reason nor even expressed in words. William of St Thierry expressed it well, “Reason cannot see God, except that he is not…”. Pennington, A School of Love.   Pretty deep stuff but, really, open to all who seek.

As with any journey I start with the guidebook: the road map and rule book if you will. Those would be the Holy Scriptures: The Old and New Testaments, and additionally for Latter-Day Saints The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Our church Sunday School curriculum this year focuses on the New Testament so that will be much of the basis of my personal scripture study.

Next I will seek out the wisdom and writings of modern-day apostles and prophets to frame my journey within the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  In addition, I will consult former and current contemplatives from the Cistercian tradition and consider incorporating certain practices into my life as a lay person. I feel that my physical limitations preclude activity typical to Latter-Day Saints ie children and family life is the focus. My life situation, however, suits the life of prayer akin to contemplatives.

In the coming weeks and months I will be simplifying my worldly activities, social media involvement, downsize material possessions, and create a home environment of love, beauty and simplicity.   At the same time I will increase consistency and frequency of prayer and scripture time. Sounds idealized and impractical. Not suggesting to pull up a dumpster and toss the entire contents of my home into it (though attic stuff could probably qualify), and live on bread and water for the rest of my life. Merely saying that as I mature I feel I can live with less stuff and fewer worldly commitments. Moreover, physical impairment limit activities I can do with any regularity.  So why not turn limitation into a spiritual journey without limitations? We are all invited to “…lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better” Doctrine and Covenants 25:10

 

Without God, life would end at the grave and our mortal experiences would have no purpose. Growth and progress would be temporary, accomplishment without value, challenges without meaning. There would be no ultimate right and wrong and no moral responsibility to care for one another as fellow children of God. Indeed, without God, there would be no mortal or eternal life.

Robert G Hales, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ” Ensign, October 2009.