2—How it all began: teenagers looking for religion.
4—I discovered the Book of Mormon and studied that strange religion that drew me in. I WAS Confused but aware it met my expectations.
France, July ’95—It was late. I had to get some sleep. I could continue to read in the morning before my friends picked me up to get out of town for the weekend.
I had just started to read passages from the Book of Mormon. While that was where most investigators started, I had wanted to know about the religion first: its history, its theology, its practices.
The Book of Mormon was not a sequel to the Bible. It was more like a spin-off that ran parallel to it. The spin-off started with Lehi’s family, forewarned around 600BCE to leave Jerusalem and told in visions and revelations to travel through desert and seas to a new promised land—the American continent. The records continued as a series of chronicles that lasted until around 421CE, when a prophet called Mormon abridged and compiled them.
I remember the deep confusion that brought me down to my knees that summer night.
As the Bible was a collection of books documenting the dealings of God with mankind in the Middle East, the Book of Mormon was a parallel collection documenting the dealings of the God of Israel with the chosen people in the New World. The epilogue explained that God commanded Moroni, the last writer, to bury the records—with the promise that they would come forth in the ‘latter-days.’
I had read in the library books that over a thousand years later, in the late 1820s, Joseph Smith claimed he unearthed those sacred records, which the spirit/angel Moroni showed him in a vision. Then, through the power of God, Joseph purportedly translated the ancient text into biblical English.
When the translation was published in 1830, Mormon posthumously gave his name to it. Those who believed in it were nicknamed ‘Mormons.’ It caught. And it soon became the unofficial name of the religion Joseph Smith expounded.
My eyes were burning. I realised it would take time and patience to read the whole book.
While I got ready for bed I reflected on how the acceptance of the Book of Mormon was one of the major differences between Mormons and (other) Christians. While Christendom insisted the Bible was the complete and definitive Word of God, Mormons believed in this (and other) additional Scriptures—and the cannon remained open.
I was open to the Book of Mormon. After all, the Bible was not one book but a collection of disparate books, written over millennia, which—after much debating about which books to include and which books to reject—were put together together to form one volume.
As a truth-seeker I tried to keep an open mind. But I remember the deep confusion that brought me down to my knees that summer night.
Back then, I did my own thing. Everyday I would pray—kneeling or prostrating—and read the Bible; I often burned incense; every now and then I fasted like my Muslim friends did; I once had a Roman Catholic cross on my bedroom wall. I guess you could say I was devout in a somewhat original kind of way, which incorporated various forms of worship and a combination of beliefs. It was indeed a syncretism of religions I had been exposed to.
It was 22 years ago but I will never forget that prayer.
I had read about Joseph Smith’s experience in the woods. ¹ How he asked God and had a visitation. I was not asking for a similar divine manifestation, but needed to ask. Besides, the Book of Mormon claimed you could know the Truth if you “read these things,” pondered about them and asked God with a sincere heart, he would “manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” And I had read; I had pondered a lot. So now I could ask. ²
I remember the exact words I uttered in the dimmed light of my bedroom. It was 22 years ago but I will never forget that prayer.
I started by telling God that I was such a fool; that I did not know which religion to choose and that I had now added yet another option. I told Him that I needed His help. I wanted to embrace one religion, to know the Truth, and to honour and worship Him in a correct manner. And I told Him that I felt frustrated and a lost too. I begged of Him to show me if those teachings I’d been reading about were true; and if not, to guide me, so I could—finally—join the right Church.
My bedroom windows were wide open into the summer night. I could not feel the breeze but it carried distant sounds—muffled noises inaudible during the day: cars on the motorway; the train and even nocturnal animals. I was not distracted. I was focused but aware of my surroundings while waiting for God to give me an answer, to make me feel His Spirit.
I had felt it before. Many times. When I prayed. When I asked God to bless ‘my enemies’ and actually meant it. I often felt the Spirit pouring inside me—and it was the sweetest thing ever. There was nothing any better than what I called ‘Grace’ back then.
I waited, down on my knees, then I went to bed and shut out the light. I would have to figure out what my next steps were going to be. I fell asleep quickly, though.
That night I asked God… And nothing happened.