Monday, March 02, 2009

My Faith Firsts

Here's a different sort of meme...I got this one from Jaquandor who tagged me with it over on facebook.

Memes are usually fun little diversions for giving brief list type answers, not really something for serious reflection. But this one strikes me as something worth exploring a bit here goes.

1. Who gave you your first Bible?

My maternal grandmother gave me one for my eighth birthday. I don't remember Grandma ever being particularly religious. I never saw her pray or go to any church. But yep, she gave me my first scriptures that were my very own. I still have it.

I have always been a King James Version reader, and in recent years exclusively have read the LDS version that has full footnoting to our other "Standard Works", Bible Dictionary and Topical Guide. I've read bits and pieces in other versions, but the modern ones just don't connect with me like KJV.

2. When and where did you receive your first Communion?

I was raised LDS and we don't do that.

3. What was the first prayer you were taught?

While I certainly did learn about the Lord's Prayer, we don't do memorized rote prayers. Our prayers are more a spontaneous conversation with a loving Father in Heaven. When I was a kid I WAS taught a special formula to know what to pray about. I was told to use my hand as a reminder of how to pray:

1) Thumb is closest to you - so pray for your family and friends, the people close to your heart

2) Index finger is the pointer, pray for your teachers and church leaders who show you the way

3) Middle finger is the tallest - pray for world leaders that they will make good decisions and lead us righteously

4) Ring finger is the weakest - pray for those that are weak, anyone sick, poor, lost - all the sad people who are crying and need God's love

5) Pinkie finger is smallest - but your hand would not be whole without it. Even when you feel small and unimportant, know that in God's eyes you are very special and that Christ's atonement and sacrifice were not just for the world - it was also for you is a specific, personal way. Pray for yourself, for what you need, for what you are thankful for, for whatever concerns you may have.

I honestly don't remember who taught me that little piece, but I remember the lesson and used it for years.

4. What was the first church you attended?

My parents converted to the LDS faith the year before I was born, so that is the church they took me to as a baby and young child. By the time I was old enough to form solid memories my dad had dropped away from church activity and never again went to any organized religion. My mom continued to go as much as she could manage with her five wild kids in tow.

In the summers all of us kids went to Vacation Bible School at the nearby Four Square Gospel church - I think just to give our poor mom a break. It was close by and it was free, it involved bible verses and songs about Jesus so she figured it was a suitable place to ship off her brood so she could get some peace and quiet for a bit.

When I was in my teens I got rebellious and quite going to church with my mom. Later I did a bit of church shopping, alternately attending various faiths with my friends. I was intrigued, but none of them really fit for me. I took comparative world religion class in college and that led me to doing quite a bit of reading about eastern religions. Still, from about 18-25 I was a hard core agnostic.

I came back to the LDS faith when I met my sweet husband who came from a family of Utah Mormons with ancestors who had walked across the plains. I had no desire to get involved at first - just started out doing some reading to learn about it so I would better understand him. I considered the LDS faith my mother's church but really didn't think it had anything to do with me. In no way did it feel like renewing something that had once been my own. I had a little bit of background, but no true understanding of it. Initially I approached it with rather jaded, cynical eyes.

Somewhere along the way, however, I had some key experiences, some answers to prayers, some witness of the Holy Spirit that shifted my views. I developed a testimony of the LDS faith that continued to grow over the years and I have been active now for nearly 28 years.

I still occasionally will go to other churches. I plan to attend Pascha services with my Orthodox friends again this year. I have attended other services with different friends. But I am very, very seriously committed to my own faith.

5. What was the first Bible passage/story that became meaningful to you? There was a lady who lived next door to us who used to help me memorize scriptures for Primary. I still remember her helping me learn several different scriptures that were assigned, so some of them dance in my head. But the fondness I have for those passages is based more on my memory of that time with her than it is focusing on the scriptures themselves. As an adult, a scripture that has been powerful for me is from the Book of Mormon Mosiah 27:29 - My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more."

I guess I can relate to that one because like Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah, I went through a dark season when I was making choices that cut my life of from light of Christ. Then some stuff happened and my life completely shifted for the better. I was not struck down by an angel, but I did have some very powerful experiences that entirely changed my perspective on faith and life in general. I became converted in the true meaning of the word, in that I experienced a mighty change of heart. I am ever so grateful for knowing what I now know.

6. What was the first miracle you experienced?

This is very personal, very sacred to me and not something I readily share in public.

7. Where and when were you baptized?

I was baptized in Flagstaff, AZ at the age of eight, which is considered the age of accountability in my faith.

I could never understand why other faiths would baptize little babies. I was always taught that baptism was an outward symbol for washing away our sins, and I don't believe babies are capable of sin. They can't repent or develop faith at that early age, so baptising infants has always felt just weird to me. More recently I've come to understand it better - how for some faiths baptism of infants is more a matter of the parents making a commitment to raise the child in the faith, it's sort of like dedicating the child to God. But for those that believe the child will not be accepted back into the full presence of God if they should happen to die without baptism just feels wrong to me.

One of the things I'm wrestling with in my own faith right now is the challenge of understanding my obligation to share what I believe with others. I am quite open to answering questions regarding my faith if asked or to share my experiences with anyone who indicates they are interested. However, I am not one to try to open doors to conversation about my religious beliefs with others unless they clearly show it would be welcome.

In principle I believe in Missionary Work, but in practice I lean heavily on the 11th Article of Faith which says: We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

I do believe the truth I have been taught is precious and that it is important that I share that truth with others. Yet I also respect that other folks believe other things and I am very sensitive to not being too intrusive. However, lately I'm wrestling with trying to sort how much of that is really sensitivity or respect for others beliefs, and how much of it is just plain fear because I don't want people to think I'm weird or pushy.

Sometimes it feels arrogant to me for me to presume that what I believe is more correct and therefore superior to what someone else might believe. I tend to take the policy of saying "this is the spiritual path that fits for me and I find it very meaningful. But if you have a different spiritual path, or even no spiritual path at all, I can respect your choice." I've internalized a huge dose of cultural relativity over the years, accept that different people have different ways of living, believing, thinking and presuming that's just fine.

But if I honestly believe what I say I believe...well, then baptism by those who are in authority IS essential for EVERYONE. If I don't share that knowledge with others unless they ask about it first, what does that say about me?

Our ward has an "Invitation Sunday" coming up that all of are being challenged to invite someone we know to church. We've been counselled to make a list of all our friends and associates and prayerfully consider who on that list we can invite. I have been prayerfully considering this, but am struggling with it more than I care to admit. I think in some ways it would be easier to knock on doors and talk to strangers about the gospel than it is to try to share with my non-member friends.

Part of what holds me back is fear. I don't want them to reject me. I also resist because I pre-judge, saying to myself "Oh, he wouldn't be interested" or "she has her own beliefs and is not open to changing them" without ever trying to broach the subject in even the most general of terms. So maybe a first I could add to this list would be

Who was the first person you introduced to your church?

We've had missionaries in our home teaching people before, but that's always been someone who was already an established investigator. It would be something very different to be able to introduce someone I know to my faith. We'll see how that goes...


Mimi said...

I didn't realize you were cradle LDS. Fascinating reading, thank you.

Grandma Pat said...

I liked the 5 finger thing to remind you what to pray for. Never heard of that before.

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