Are you a first-timer to LDS Perfect Day! If so, welcome!
Click here to see what this blog is all about and how you can get the most out of it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Enter the Presence of the Lord


A Modern-Day Prophet’s Invitation

Imagine, for a moment, the President of the Church getting up in General Conference and telling the general membership – if not the entire world – the key to opening the most secret, sacred doors through which we could pass into the presence of the Lord. 

Imagine the effect the knowledge of that key would have in every family, every man, woman and child on the planet.  Imagine the possibilities it would have in your own life.

Actually, such an announcement was made by the President of the Church, although it was in the Improvement Era in 1967, not a 2012 General Conference.  Still, the significance of his announcement is undiminished. 

Here, now, is what a prophet said on how he, we, you can enter the divine presence:

“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion.

In our worship there are two elements: one is spiritual communion rising from our own meditation; the other instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation.

Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord" (Pres. David O. McKay, “Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life,” Improvement Era, June 1967, pp. 80–82).

I want to emphasize that last sentence again:

"Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord."

Isn’t it interesting that almost 45 years later, his successor would briefly echo his comments by saying:

"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?" (Pres. Thomas S. Monson, "The Race of Life," April 2012 General Conference)

Pres. McKay said “I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion” (“Man May Know for Himself”, p. 22–23).  However, I believe it’s never too late for us – you and I – to not only pay attention to it, but to also experiment with it so that we, too, can enter the “most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”

I've read many, many conference talks and Ensign articles mentioning the word "meditation".   In almost all cases, "meditation" is considered synonymous with reflection, introspection, "profound contemplation" or "deep thought".  However, the words “ponder” and “meditate” often exhibit subtle differences.

Pondering

Pondering often involves deeply contemplating the words of God:

  • Moroni used the term as he closed his record saying, “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things … that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men … and ponder it in your hearts." (Moroni 10:3). 
  • When the angel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was to be the mother of Christ, Luke 2:19 says, "Mary kept these things, and pondered them in her heart."
  • Jesus said to the Nephites, “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand. …” (3 Ne. 17:2-3)
  • Nephi tells us of one such occasion, “For it came to pass," he wrote, "after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceeding high mountain. …” (1 Ne. 11:1)  Then follows Nephi's account of the great vision he was given by the Spirit of the Lord, because he believed the words of his prophet father and had such a great desire to know more that he pondered and prayed about them.  In fact, Nephi went on to exult: "My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them.... Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard." (2 Nephi 4:15-16.)  
  • President Joseph F. Smith tells us that "on the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the Scriptures. …” He had particular reference at this time to Peter's statement that Christ "went and preached unto the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19) while his body lay in the grave. “As I pondered over these things which are written," President Smith continued, "the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. …” The result: D&C 138.
Look at these accounts.  Connect the dots.  In each of these cases, the individuals were given the word of God, received and deeply contemplated them.
Meditating

Meditation, on the other hand, involves repositioning oneself away from the storms, turmoil, chaos, loudness and confusion of life to a solitary, peaceful environment to become better attuned to, and eventually enjoy the presence of, divinity.  Again, this involves minimizing one’s involvements with the physical world for a time in order to concentrate on something inner, on ideas and feelings (Chauncey C. Riddle, "Prayer", Ensign, Mar. 1975).

Christ filled his mortal life with meditative examples.  As soon as he was baptized and received the Father’s approval, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17) Jesus went to what is now known as the Mount of Temptation.  As Pres. David O. McKay stated,

"I like to think of it as the Mount of Meditation where, during the forty days of fasting, he communed with himself and his Father, and contemplated upon the responsibility of his great mission. One result of this spiritual communion was such strength as enabled him to say to the tempter: “'…Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.' (Matt. 4:10)" (Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 113).

In solitude, in communion, “he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12) – a necessary action he took before he gave his Sermon on the Mount.

He did the same thing after a busy Sabbath day, when he arose early in the morning, after having been the guest of Peter: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, Jesus went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” (Mark 1:35)  Peter undoubtedly found the guest chamber empty, and when they sought Jesus, they found him alone.

Again, after Jesus had fed the five thousand he told the Twelve to dismiss the multitude, but Jesus went to the mountain for solitude. The historian says, “when the evening was come, he was there alone.” (Matt. 14:23)

Relatable, Reproducible Meditation

Yet it was Joseph Smith’s spiritual journey which provides us a very relatable, and very reproducible, method of successfully pondering and meditating.  Even 191 years later, his example illuminates the way for others to follow his path.

We all know Joseph Smith’s recounting of the First Vision (here).  The thing that stands out to me, though, are some key words he used in his account.  These are, in many ways, spiritual breadcrumbs he left behind, so that we, too, could replicate his experience (a very “Joseph-like” thing).

I’m going to copy and paste some of what he said in Joseph Smith-History.  And with what you know (so far) about pondering and meditation, see if you can find the breadcrumbs, the indications that he engaged in true pondering and then meditation…

8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.
9 My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant…
10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
11 I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse…
12 I reflected on it again and again…
14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.

Now, your results may have varied from mine somewhat, but here’s what I discovered:

Joseph pondered

  mind was called up to serious
     (amidst) great confusion and strife
  Greatly excited mind
     Great and incessant cry and tumult
10 war of words and tumult of opinions
     often said to myself
12 reflected on it again and again…

Joseph meditated

14 determination
     retired to the woods
     the morning
15 retired to the place where I had previously designed to go
     found himself alone
     kneeled down
     offered up the desires of his heart to God

Joseph’s journey progressed from pondering (verses 8-12) to later meditating (verses 14-15).  And we all know what happened next.

And now, it’s your turn…

In the next blog post, we’ll start to walk this same path that Joseph walked.  We’ll follow and experiment with his breadcrumbs of pondering and meditating carefully, deliberately and thoughtfully – all of which (at least, in Joseph’s case) culminated in an inevitable result…

…the same result Pres. McKay mentioned we could have:

Entering the divine presence.

Are you up for the challenge?

4 comments:

  1. I will be very interested to see what you have to say on meditation. I feel very confident in my ability to ponder but not so much with meditation. Praying out loud is easy for me...I stay focused and have many wonderful experiences. When I think of meditation, I think of sitting in silence...I lose focus easily. Kinda like when I pray silently...my mind wanders off course too easily. I feel very insecure about how to approaxh this whole topic of meditation because I am not sure what I am supposed to be doing or accomplishing exactly, so I am very glad you are going to discuss it.
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think it's interesting that Joseph Smith's blessing from his father, it mentions the word "meditate." I look forward to learn more about meditation.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have often wondered what Jesus did for forty days and forty nights. I have contemplated such a period for myself, and have concluded I'd spend the time in the scriptures and praying. I wonder, though, what Jesus did, since in all likelihood he did not have a copy of the scriptures. Maybe I am wrong, but I get the impression that copies would have been prohibitively expensive and so the synagogue was the only place to read them. What did he do for 40 days?!

    ReplyDelete