Subsequent discussion made reference to a passage in D&C 46 that has haunted me for most of my life, particularly these strange words:
To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they might also have eternal life if they continue faithful.
How many people I know and love and respect and admire, who live upright and moral lives and who grace my life with their kindness and generosity to whom, evidently, it has not been given to know. The depth of devotion, the desire, the unrequited love, and the profound loneliness Lost describe speak to me deeply. And yet the terrible irony is that my problem is the opposite. With fear and trepidation I am forced to confess that to me it has been given to me to know. I utter that word which has, perhaps rightly, been called into such question in our secular and skeptical times in awe and humility and unworthiness, thinking of the piercing reach of God’s grace into my life on occasions more real than anything else I have ever known with my eyes, my mind, even my heart–a direct experience of a truth at once so intimate and so utterly beyond me that it has changed everything.
I sometimes read in places like Sunstone and FMH that the Mormon claim to knowledge is profoundly illogical, or even smug, self-deluded, and infuriating to others. I can understand such concerns, I think. I certainly don’t want to be smug or self-righteous. I don’t want to claim to know more than I do, and such knowledge as I have been granted has been the basis for far more questions than answers, and often for more pain than peace. And it has come to me so unmerited, often in the moments of my life when I was least worthy of it. And yet for all that I simply cannot dishonor what I’ve experienced by calling it anything other than knowledge, a knowledge that throws into shadow every other knowledge I have ever known.
This knowledge has often been a source of pain. In so may ways, on so many levels I am ill-suited for this Church, in my blunt, fierce, unfeminine and chronically sinful nature, in my solitary and prickly ways, and in my unconventional life. Other than my brother and sisters I have no close friends who are Mormon; I’ve almost always found my deepest emotional connections outside the Church community, and I’ve found much within it that leaves me by turns miserable, exasperated, and cold. Maybe hardest of all over the years I’ve watched so many people I care for, the people I really love and respect and who are vital to my life, the people who feel like my people, the people who matter most, leave one by one. I have come to a place where heaven, specifically the Mormon heaven of family and community, is empty for me. Too many people I love will not, evidently, be there–and the people who are set to arrive are often not people I can see myself associating with for eternity. And so I have to struggle to do the good for other reasons entirely, having no hope of heaven and little fear of hell. I have to love the good because it is good and for no other reason. Because for me it sometimes seems there no longer are any other reasons. And even so there is something in that empty heaven that calls me, forces me to learn to love the good here on earth, now, the only time and place over which I have any power, and to love it utterly without ulterior motive. Perhaps for me honoring the call of the empty heaven is the more profound fidelity.
And so, while I don’t want to presume to understand Lost’s or anyone else’s experience, I sometimes wonder if I haven’t ended up in a strangely parallel place to the legions of closet doubters who seek refuge on the Bloggernacle. For so many it seems that everyone around them, everyone they know knows. They feel largely or utterly alone in their doubts and disbelief. Some long for, seek after, pray desperately for spiritual confirmations, for months, for years, that never seem to come. For me the spiritual confirmations have come. And yet everything in my life seems to conspire to pull me away from them, and they become the tortured and undeniable extremities of my life which, for all my sorrow, I can never let go.
For some doubt is a deeply lonely place. For some, like me, faith is the place of loneliness.
I have no idea to what extent faith is a choice, although I confess I’m skeptical of the model John C. offers. But more importantly, I have no idea whatsoever why to some it is given to know, to others to believe, to still others, it would seem, to suffer long periods of doubt. But this I do know: that in this life we all suffer, whether in and for our knowledge or in and for our disbelief, and that the nature and depth of our suffering is rarely, if ever, apparent to the casual observer.
Lost says, “People like me aren’t supposed to exist, so they have to invent some theory to explain us away.” Heartbreaking comments like this remind me of other fundamental truths of human and of religious existence: that we are all so different, maybe ultimately incomprehensible to one another, and yet also somehow the same in our need for one another’s mercy. Such little knowledge as I have, real and true as it is, is not the end but the beginning. Let that knowledge, frail and imperfect and ultimately transitory as it is, never impede the pursuit of charity, which is, after all, the eternal virtue. Instead let it call me to exercise more faith, faith in the reality of others’ experiences, however different they may be from mine, and to seek more knowledge, above all that indispensable knowledge of another’s heart.
- 29 February 2008