Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Who Knew? The Liahona Works For People Like Me

I’m going to be pretty personal in this post about some aspects of my life.  I’ve hesitated doing so, in large part because I know that I will expose myself to criticism, whether or not expressed, from either end of the “MoHo” spectrum (i.e., “faithful” LDS at one end and atheistic former LDS at the other).  But I’m willing to subject myself to that criticism because I feel that I would like to, and need to, express these thoughts.

I guess you could say that I have considered myself a “spiritual” person for most of my life, in that there has always been something inside of me that was drawn to what are commonly referred to as “spiritual” things.  I am deliberately choosing not to use the word “religious,” both because that word carries even more baggage than “spiritual” and because that word doesn’t accurately describe my feelings.

After I joined the Church, I delved into the scriptures and, over the next ten years or so, read scores of “church” books.  However, I realized early on that I was not an “Iron Rod” Mormon; I was a “Liahona” Mormon.*  Many of you will be familiar with these terms from Richard D. Poll’s landmark essay (written over 40 years ago), “What the Church Means to People Like Me.”  If you haven’t read it, it’s readily available on the Internet, and it’s worth a read.  But to provide a gist of the difference, I quote a few passages from Poll’s essay:

“The Iron Rod Saint does not look for questions, but for answers, and in the Gospel--as he understands it--he finds or is confident that he can find the answer to every important question. The Liahona Saint, on the other hand, is preoccupied with questions and skeptical of answers; he finds in the Gospel--as he understands it--answers to enough important questions so that he can function purposefully without answers to the rest …

“To the Iron Rod a questioning attitude suggests an imperfect faith; to the Liahona an unquestioning spirit betokens a closed mind. Neither frequent association nor even prior personal involvement with the other group guarantees empathy. Indeed, the person who has crossed the line is likely to be least sympathetic and tolerant toward his erstwhile kindred spirits.”

This post isn’t about Iron Rod vs. Liahona, however.  I simply wanted to point out that, even though I was an extremely active member of the Church for 25 years of my adult life, I always considered myself a “Liahona.”  The voice of the Spirit was always more important to me that the dead letter of and slavish obedience to the law, and I could describe dozens of experiences to illustrate this.  But I’m not going to do that.  I want to get to a point about what’s going on in my life today.

After the first 15 years of my membership in the Church, my reading of the scriptures slacked off and my reading of “Church” books virtually ended.  As far as personal prayers, well, let’s just say I wasn’t the most faithful pray-er in the Church – at least not in terms of getting down on my knees on a clockwork basis.  That said, however, I often carried a prayer in my heart and in my mind.  In this regard, I have always remembered and cherished a line uttered by Walter Pidgeon as he played the Welsh minister, Mr. Gruffydd, in the movie “How Green Was My Valley”:  “Prayer” he told young Huw Morgan, “is only another name for good, clean, direct thinking.”

In the last few years, conventional daily scripture reading and prayer simply didn’t happen in my life.  Now, there will likely be some who read this who may think, “Well, look what happens when you don’t do these things (this being a reference to what has transpired in my life during the past 4-6 months).”  My response to this assertion:  Bollocks.  (If you don’t know what that means, look it up.)

I never was one of these members of the Church who view such things as habitual scripture study and daily (ritualized) prayer as an “insurance policy” that somehow transforms one into a spiritual giant, ready to do battle on a moment’s notice with dark forces that slither, Death-Eater-like, around and about us.  Spirituality, in my view, is not the product of a mathematical equation (i.e., 15 minutes daily scripture reading + twice-daily kneeling prayer = Spiritual Giant).

Having said this, I will freely acknowledge that, for some, daily scripture study and regular prayer are sources of spiritual insight and power.  But such people would, I am confident, be the absolute last to condemn or criticize others for failing to adhere to such practices.

My intent is not to criticize those who make it a point to read their scriptures daily and pray formally on a consistent, regular basis.  It is, however, my intent to contradict those who maintain that it is impossible for God to bless, lead, guide and love those who do not participate in such practices, let alone those who do not “keep the commandments” and/or have chosen a path in life that is not in compliance with “the Way.”

Now, I’m going to cut to the chase: I have had more “spiritual” experiences in the last six months, as I have come to terms with my identity and embraced my gay nature, than I had in the previous six years, probably longer.  I did not ask for these experiences; they came, unbidden but welcome – as the dew from heaven, nourishing, refreshing – and wholly unexpected.  I’ve written about this before: once I hung a hard and fast left off the straight and narrow path, I fully expected that I had left God behind on the turnpike.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that He was not only following me, but leading me. 

My most recent experience with the Liahona of personal guidance came this past Saturday.  I wrote about it yesterday, when I described telling our teenagers about our impending separation and divorce.  As I was telling them that they shouldn’t worry when they hear lessons about temple marriage, families are forever, etc., etc., the thought came as clear as a bell, and I knew that it wasn’t my thought: we will always be a family.  Not the same kind of family, but a family nevertheless and a much happier, healthier family. 

This, of course, is inconceivable for most Mormons: to believe that a person in my situation could possibly (a) receive inspiration, let alone (b) receive inspiration that God approves of something other than a traditional temple-sealed Mormon family.  To conceive of such a thing would shake the foundation of many a Mormon testimony built from the rocks of absolute obedience and undeviating adherence to a one-size fits all “plan of happiness,” apart from which there is neither salvation nor happiness.  To many such people, the belief that they are in the right, whereas others are in the wrong, is the mortar that holds such a testimony together.

I am not trying to tell anyone how to live.  I am simply stating what has been my experience.  Who knew?

* For those reading this who may not be Mormon, these two symbols are taken from the Book of Mormon.  The iron rod is an image that conjures up strict adherence to the teachings of the Church so as to prevent one from being led astray by the philosophies of men.  The Liahona was a miraculous instrument that provided guidance and direction to the Israelite families that were called out of Jerusalem and across the ocean to establish colonies in what is now the Americas.  If the families were not faithful, however, the Liahona stopped working, i.e., ceased providing direction as to which way they should travel.


  1. I really appreciate this post. I've always been told that the "Sunday School" answers are the best and if I'm not reading, praying and attending my meetings valiantly then I will never receive my joy. Well, like you, I have realized how false that is in the past six months. I also no longer believe that my family will combust in the afterlife. We will be together! I have no doubt. We are good people and we're trying to do the best we can. God is not in the business of tearing apart families. A good friend told me that once and it's stuck with me. It's true!!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. i was never an "in-the-box" thinker. rules are regulations for those who cant think for themselves. well, that's how i view it.

    as i've gotten older i began to realize that we need both (or multiple ways) to view and see the world. we are individuals with unique traits and attributes. It is beautiful and healthy to see the same things differently. However, it is when we seek to place our views above others and seek further to create unjustified social constraints on others and state that their choice is unholy, unnatural and unGodly... wherein we sin.

    once again, thanks :) i enjoy your thoughts and today i really, very much enjoyed the eye catcher :)

  3. With this post about the Iron Rod Mormon vs the Liahona Mormon, I completely understand your perspective. I think that's one of the reasons why my daughter, after staying with my sister for a few days, came home and commented that we weren't as Mormon as my sister's family. I agree with the idea that you suggested that spirituality doesn't necessarily follow a mathematical formula.

    That was one of my complaints that I aired at an Evergreen meeting when one of the facilitators commented that we just needed to pray, read scriptures, and pay tithing to deal with SSA. At that point, I spoke up and said that trying all of those things is what got me to where I was. And that none of it resolved any of my issues. There had to more to it than that. It aggravated me.

    Anyway, I agree with you that it applies to other aspects of life as well. And the idea that one has to slavishly do all of those things to have a happy life seems like an unreasonable burden. The church-prescribed requirements for a happy life have not necessarily lead to that for me. In fact, much of it has lead to misery for me. I don't want to dismiss the good things that it has brought to me, but to argue that it is the only way to happiness and any deviation (excuse the term) from that plan leads to misery is offensive. And ultimately untrue.

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughts.

  4. Wow! Mr. Pilgrim... this is basically the way i have chosen to live my life; and happily so! Ah, to live with the narrowing blinders off and the heart and soul wide-open - very risky but truly wonderful!
    Thanks for your post(s)!!!

  5. Thanks friend for always sharing your heart, and for always stepping across the "lines of Christendom" that often divide, to show that our paths toward the grace of God are indeed similar!