I’ve been talking with people and thinking recently about God and how we can come to *know* God (as we are told eternal life is). I feel like this should be a pretty basic, fundamental aspect of Mormonism? And probably most religions to some degree. Obviously there’s the whole contingent of ‘God as unknowable’ that complicates that.
Perhaps because I struggle with the idea of knowledge generally and feeling like I know people that I interact with frequently, but I don’t know what it means to know God. Or how to go about doing that. I have some thoughts and some things that I have felt and experienced and others that I want to (or maybe have, but forgot or rejected or otherwise don’t count). I’ve got five general areas/ideas, some of which might seem old hat, but hopefully somewhere there’s something new and useful (that I can do or you could try). Otherwise, if you feel like you know God really well, maybe lemme know how you got on such good terms with Him/Her/Them?
- Scriptures. So, this is pretty standard. But I figure if you’re going to try to get to know God, you should probably look to examples of other people interacting with Him/Her/Them? Or at the least, their attempts to do so. This would involve reading texts and taking them at their face value—recording what the scriptures say explicitly about God (“God is love” for example)—but also looking to how these interactions take place and trying to figure out what we can learn about God and the other person based on these interactions, reading between the lines as it were. I’m not afraid to potentially reject things I learn from doing this, but I think it’s a good place to start and might be how I reinvigorate my scripture study? I dunno. We’ll see. I also probably define scripture more loosely than many others (or more expansively to frame it more positively)—including films, literature, poetry, artwork, etc. in my scriptural canon (I should make a list of Conor’s Canon, huh?).
- Prayer. So, yeah. Prayer. That conversation with God, bringing our will to align with His/Hers/Theirs. Honestly prayer in the traditional sense is really hard for me (which I’ve expressed before). I still try to bless my food and say some sorta ritualistic prayers, but for me, I’ve come to think of writing and talking about spiritual ideas to be a far more enlightening and powerful method of prayer. However, I don’t know how much that has helped me come to know God. I get that prayer is meant to be this conversation, but I feel like I typically end up imagining God’s half of that dialogue (and then I’m like literally “playing” God and that’s dangerous, or so I’m told), rather than actually hearing/feeling God’s part. And maybe that’s normal? But why talk about it as a conversation if it’s usually a monologue? Perhaps I’ve been doing it wrong. Or maybe trying to get in God’s headspace is the point? As I engage in this hypothetical conversation and imagine the possible things that God would say in response I am coming to know God like I would be if I did the same thing for a conversation with my parents. All that said, I have had a handful of powerful experiences directly related to prayer that are my touchstones for who God is/are. And those are largely based around feelings that I’ve had, or at least things that I have felt (and those two may or may not be the same thing).
- Feelings. I’d say that my knowledge of God is almost exclusively based in feelings, or experiential things that I have felt. Sure, I can talk forever about who I think God is and why certain things are or aren’t of God, but that’s largely based on what I have mentally constructed from things I’ve read, been taught, and how I’ve filtered all that through the experiences that I have had. The first and most foundational I’ve talked about before and is when I was 16 and prayed about whether God loved me and felt this overwhelming, enveloping warmth that felt like it was some outside presence, like a hug, but filling all of me? I’ve felt something like that on a few occasions since, one was due to praying about the Church’s position on LGBT+ issues, which all I felt was sorrow for the pain that my fellow LGBT+ brothers and sisters feel and that same sense of love for them. Based on those feelings/experiences, I conceptualize God as a God of Love. I try to analyze and process anything that is from God from that lens and if I can’t make it work, I generally think of it as not of God. Feelings are a tricky thing to use to base a relationship off of, but also, would it be a true relationship/connection if there was no felt/emotional component? This feels vital and important to me, but could definitely use some refinement.
- Thoughts/Pondering/Thinking. I obviously think about theological, and specifically Mormon, stuff quite a bit. That helps me and is a productive/powerful experience for me. I don’t know if it is necessarily the best way to a pure understanding of God, but I think it forms an integral part of that process. If I don’t think and ponder about what I’ve read or been taught or experienced, then how am I supposed to make sense of it? Especially when all the interactions I have with deity are intangible? If I can’t hold onto it or point to some physical thing, it seems like the mental processing is even more important than it is under normal circumstances. I’m not sure how much weight to place on this versus the other categories, but this is sort of like my synthesis of everything else. Where I try to put everything together into some unified picture (not necessarily one that is always consistent, but that feels real and human, but more than human. I don’t know. Something that, as a good friend often says though about herself and not God, shows God “containing multitudes”, which given some of the conceptualizations of God I have is very appropriate).
- Writing. I’ve touched on writing as helping me sort through my thoughts and function as a kind of prayer, where I feel like I’m in some sort of communion with the divine, but I want to talk about something else here. Something maybe riskier. But I think, valuable, and I think, that I want to do far more of. A short time ago, I wrote a speculative profile of Heavenly Mother (which you can read here). It was one of the most profound writing experiences that I have had in quite some time. I felt like I was building a connection and relationship with Her as I was writing. I tried to imagine what She is like and how I would have interacted with Her and might still. That act of imagining was powerful. Maybe that’s the best way I have for getting to know God—to write a bunch of semi-fictional, creative pieces (Christo-fictions to steal a phrase from Adam Miller, that I think he lifted from someone else). Exploring different possibilities—the multitudes of God as it were—and how I relate to God in each of them. Yeah, it’s risky and I’m trying to capture God in my own, far from perfect prose, but I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
God is love. God is plural (maybe? Probably? A couple? A council? A trinity?). God is good, I think and want to believe. God knows me. God wants to work with me, I think to get back to Him/Her/Them. God is snarky and enjoys my pious irreverence (or at least, I sure hope so). I want to know God better. I feel like we’re strangers. God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost all blur together into some conglomeration of goodness and I want to know each of them individually. And please, if things have helped you really build a personal connection with God, tell me what they are. I feel like God right now is that professor, who is intimidating and you think liked you and always said to keep in touch, but you really only stay in contact when you need something and you feel bad about it, but you’re not quite sure what to do for that power-dynamic to not be a part of the relationship. Here’s to knowing God a little better (because, hey, how doesn’t want eternal life?).