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Terryl Givens made a comment at a Book of Mormon seminar that startled me. He said that we have domesticated the dialogic revelation that is common in scripture and have reduced it to a burning in the bosom.
God once spoke directly and interactively with people. Now we have reduced His messages to nice feelings.
Think about God’s interaction with people in scripture. We are only six verses into the Book of Mormon when a pillar of fire appears to Lehi and “he saw and heard much.” In that same sacred book, there are multiple occurrences of people entering multi-day trances in which they are taught by heavenly messengers. Angels appear regularly. The Spirit and an angel taught Nephi about the tree of life (1 Nephi 11). Right at the beginning of his book, Moses was shown a vision of God’s creation and shown how he fitted into God’s plan (Moses 1).
Truly, as Terryl Givens has said, the Restoration collapsed the sacred distance. At least the distance was collapsed for the inhabitants of scripture. Heaven was interacting with scriptural characters often and powerfully.
Unlike the characters of ancient scripture, we moderns tend to assume our heavenly communications will be subdued and respectable. Domesticated.
Maybe we live beneath our privileges. Maybe, in a time of enlightenment, we limit the ways we will accept heavenly participation in our lives. A modern who entered a three-day trance would be sent to a facility. One of our contemporaries who told of angelic visits would be thought an eccentric.
Yet one of the concluding messages of the Book of Mormon insists on vibrant messages from eternity:
Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain. (Moroni 7:36-37)
The scriptures are packed with invitations for us to experience the Divine. Of course ordinary saints do have not the authority to claim revelation on behalf of the church. But, if we take the scriptural invitation seriously, we must wonder if we missing out on a lot of heavenly guidance on our own behalf.
The brethren continue to invite us to encounters with heaven. President Eyring offered “soul-searching questions, asked in our own hearts, such as these: Have I ever felt that the heavens have been opened to me? Would anyone use the phrase “ministering of angels” to describe my priesthood service? Do I bring the “power of godliness” into the lives of those I serve? Have I ever broken a mountain, defied an army, broken someone’s bands, or subdued worldly powers—even if only figuratively—in order to accomplish God’s will?” (April 2017, “Walk With Me”) That is a lofty vision!
Finding My Own Way to Connect
God offers many ways for us to interact with Him. As I have sought more heavenly guidance in my life, I have found connections that have been meaningful for me.
Some years ago, I sorted my great-grandfather’s papers and studied his missionary journal. As I traveled his life with him, my love and appreciation for him grew. Though he died 18 years before I was born, he became one of my best friends.
I yearned to talk with him and learn from him. But I didn’t know how to make a connection with immortals. Then a word from Alma’s great message to the people (Alma 5) jumped out at me: “Imagine.” I felt invited to travel mentally into Ben’s world. I even wrote a letter to him in a time of his missionary loneliness. Much to my surprise, I felt his response. Though I never saw him with my eyes nor heard him with my ears, I felt him. I became a witness to his life and a friend to his journey.
Later, as I studied my Grandma Goddard’s life, I again felt the yearning to participate in an ancestor’s life. She died when I was but a baby yet her history told of a vibrant and talented woman who traveled widely testifying to the young women of the Church as a counselor in the general presidency. When I was sorting her papers and found an invitation for her to speak to a group of young women in Cache valley, I felt that the Spirit inviting me to sit as a quiet witness in that gathering. I felt that I was not allowed to intrude on the occasion but was welcome to be a witness. I felt that I could hear her voice, her testimony, her message. Oh! How it increased my appreciation for my grandmother!
Neither of these experiences is like the heavenly dialogues in scripture. Yet they are the very things for which my soul hungered. They were the heavenly gifts I craved. Thus they were the gifts granted to me. I have come to think that we should be more attentive to the yearnings in our soul. They may lead us to the experiences that will perfectly bless us.
They may also teach and guide us. At one time I was making difficult career decisions. I felt quite lost. I wished I could sit down with my beloved Dad and get his counsel. But he had died some months before. Finally, in desperation, I found a private place and spoke to my dad. His wise and comforting counsel came clearly to my mind and heart. Dad taught me.
As a result of my experiences, I have made a list of places in history that I would like to visit. I am less interested in seeing the big historical events than in seeing tender moments in our family’s history. I want to be a part of Grandpa Wallace’s life. I want to hear Grandpa Goddard tell mission stories once more. I want to connect with the people who gave me life and a love of the Gospel.
Heavenly ministrations are not sent to entertain us. They are sent to help us in our journeys. Most of us have many experiences in which we feel the influence from the other side of the veil. But we soon forget them. We treat them lightly.
All of us have been blessed by various heavenly interventions. Maybe, if we appreciated and recorded that help, we would receive far more help. “He that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
My guess is that you are feeling invitations in your soul even as you read this. You hunger for answers or support. You yearn for connection with loved ones long gone. You crave to more clearly hear God’s messages for you. How might you respond to those invitations in your soul to better connect with Heaven? I remember the Prophet Joseph’s counsel: “If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 226).
In this season of gratitude for God’s beautiful creations, I recommend my new children’s book, God’s Trophies. Some of the reviews:
“What a lovely book. I highly recommend it. Would make a wonderful gift to a child or family. It is a book about gratitude and the things that God has placed everywhere, all around us, to delight us.”
“A touching book that does a great job of teaching children of all ages (and adults too) about God’s love.”
“Beautifully written book with amazing illustrations! The story captures the love that God has for each of his children, no matter the greatness or simplicity of their contribution. All readers will feel valued. “
“This book is a sweet, heartfelt read that my children love.”