I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.
(1 Kings 3:7)
I held my daughter in my arms in the quiet darkness before her bedtime. My wife and I sang lullabies to soothe away the excitements and frustrations of the day. We mostly drew our lullabies from the Children’s Songbook, a collection of simple songs with gospel themes for children. With love in my heart, I softly sang songs with words like this:
I know my Father lives and loves me too.
The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true,
And tells me it is true.
This scene was repeated almost every night of my daughters’ lives as we put them to bed.
When my daughters were born, their helplessness called out to me to protect them and provide for them. Their dependence on me inspired me to live up to their needs. Here in my arms were two wonderful children who needed their Daddy to be kind, loving, strong, capable, wise, and honest, to guide them in navigating their way on the unpredictable waters of life. Their arrival to this world set in motion something deep within me.
Their vulnerability slowly focused my attention on something that I had ignored for a long time. As I sang to them about Heavenly Father, I began to remember my long-suppressed doubts about His existence. By assuming the façade of certainty, I was lying to these innocents who would take my word as God’s truth for the first few years of their life. I was imprinting on their minds a falsehood: that I knew that God lived. I believed that that God existed, but to say that I was sure about it was a lie. My daughters’ absolute innocence brought this into sharp focus. I could not continue to abuse their trust in me with such a fundamental betrayal, making a mockery of their dependence.
I resolved in my mind to do whatever it took to receive a firm witness of the truth. I turned to the scriptures for help in learning how to gain faith in God, to a scripture that Mormon missionaries often share with those they meet:
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
This passage provides a formula whereby we are told that we can receive a witness from the Holy Spirit of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. As I read this scripture again, the phrase “having faith in Christ” made me ponder. I didn’t have a firm faith in Christ. Perhaps my lack of faith was why I had always failed to receive a convincing witness, I reasoned.
Then it dawned on me. Moroni was asking me to exercise faith in order to gain a witness. I was seeking a witness in order to make my faith more sure. I was being asked to pull myself up by my own spiritual bootstraps.
In searching the scriptures for an answer to my dilemma, I found little to help me. Everywhere that I turned, the scripture writers assumed that I had faith in God. Only a few passages spoke even remotely to the godless. The truth of God’s existence was self-evident for them. But it was not for me.
One group of passages imply that faith is a gift of God. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom;… To another faith by the same Spirit;…” (1 Corinthians 9:9, Moroni 10:11) I mused that I could wait for God to grant me this gift of faith, but what would I tell my daughters in the meantime? I was uncomfortable with saying the truth: that I thought that God lived and loved us, but that I wasn’t sure about it. I held faith up as a virtue. Admitting my doubt made me feel weak and unworthy. Also, if faith is a gift of the Spirit, and I needed faith to receive the Spirit, I might be left with the same bootstrapping issue.
The scriptures also say that the creation denotes a Creator. (Psalm 19:1, Alma 30:44) When Alma argues against Korihor’s atheism by saying “all things denote there is a God”, it always felt like a weak argument to me. When I look out over the beauty, complexity, and wonder of creation, I could see a good reason to think that someone put it there. It seemed a gigantic leap to further say I should believe specifically in the God of the Hebrews based on this same evidence.
The only reasonable recourse that I could find to get me out of this rut was the experiment upon the word as described in Alma 32:26–27:
Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
This idea that faith could grow out of a desire to believe gave me some hope. John 7:17 also supported this idea of experimenting by doing God’s will. My hope was tempered by the realization that I had been doing this experiment for most of my life, and it had proven inconclusive so far.
One final scripture influenced the future course of my life. In D&C 88:118, we are told to study out of the best books to overcome faithlessness. It made me think back on my experience with Yoga. Perhaps I could find more answers outside of the Church, more gospel truths to help me find God.
Several influences came together to direct my path. Among those influences was the Chassidic Jewish man who introduced me to Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical path. The mystic’s search for an experience of God offered me some hope. Perhaps there was something valuable in mysticism that could help me grow within Mormonism. The Jewish flavor of Kabbalah was too exotic for me, so I looked for something with a more familiar flavor. Perhaps there were other Mormons who had more experience with mysticism, who could help me discern truth from error and integrate mysticism within the framework of Mormonism. I found exactly what I needed: Mormon+Mystic.