Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Details, Details

One of my pet peeves in religion is that many wonderful stories of miracles and spiritual experiences that people share are bereft of details, stripped of information that could be used to verify or falsify the story, leaving little more than blurry hearsay. Part of the problem is that some stories really are bogus, perhaps with a grain of truth when first told but retold, dressed up, and repeatedly mangled over the years into faith promoting error and fluff. Yet another problem is when those who experienced the miracle or blessing fail to record details--keep a journal, people! They then share the story from distant memory, obscuring their confusion by leaving out details, and then others share it from their memory, without anyone bothering to write down the little details that matter when we wonder about the accuracy and reliability of a story.

Well, it's nice to have some examples with abundant details. The miraculous coming forth of the Book of Mormon has such detail: a specific hill, exact dates, tangible plates with numerous named individuals and their lifelong witness of the reality of the plates, and, of course, a very specific and tangible text published for all to read. An example of a far less dramatic but still interesting spiritual experience is given by President Thomas S. Monson is his October 2011 General Conference talk, "Stand in Holy Places." He shares an example of following a specific spiritual impression that defied logic and yet proved to accurate and correct in a surprising way. Specific places, dates, events, and individuals are named. He must have recorded this information, allowing it to be kept fresh and available for sharing much later. I think this is a good example for all of us to follow in our own spiritual journeys. Here is his story from a 1987 temple dedication, involving the surprise appearance of Brother Peter Mourik from Holland:

One rather dramatic experience took place in August of 1987 during the dedication of the Frankfurt Germany Temple. President Ezra Taft Benson had been with us for the first day or two of the dedication but had returned home, and so it became my opportunity to conduct the remaining sessions.

On Saturday we had a session for our Dutch members who were in the Frankfurt Temple district. I was well acquainted with one of our outstanding leaders from the Netherlands, Brother Peter Mourik. Just prior to the session, I had the distinct impression that Brother Mourik should be called upon to speak to his fellow Dutch members during the session and that, in fact, he should be the first speaker. Not having seen him in the temple that morning, I passed a note to Elder Carlos E. Asay, our Area President, asking whether Peter Mourik was in attendance at the session. Just prior to standing up to begin the session, I received a note back from Elder Asay indicating that Brother Mourik was actually not in attendance, that he was involved elsewhere, and that he was planning to attend the dedicatory session in the temple the following day with the servicemen stakes.

As I stood at the pulpit to welcome the people and to outline the program, I received unmistakable inspiration once again that I was to announce Peter Mourik as the first speaker. This was counter to all my instincts, for I had just heard from Elder Asay that Brother Mourik was definitely not in the temple. Trusting in the inspiration, however, I announced the choir presentation and the prayer and then indicated that our first speaker would be Brother Peter Mourik.

As I returned to my seat, I glanced toward Elder Asay; I saw on his face a look of alarm. He later told me that when I had announced Brother Mourik as the first speaker, he couldn’t believe his ears. He said he knew that I had received his note and that I indeed had read it, and he couldn’t fathom why I would then announce Brother Mourik as a speaker, knowing he wasn’t anywhere in the temple.

During the time all of this was taking place, Peter Mourik was in a meeting at the area offices in Porthstrasse. As his meeting was going forward, he suddenly turned to Elder Thomas A. Hawkes Jr., who was then the regional representative, and asked, “How fast can you get me to the temple?”

Elder Hawkes, who was known to drive rather rapidly in his small sports car, answered, “I can have you there in 10 minutes! But why do you need to go to the temple?”

Brother Mourik admitted he did not know why he needed to go to the temple but that he knew he had to get there. The two of them set out for the temple immediately.

During the magnificent choir number, I glanced around, thinking that at any moment I would see Peter Mourik. I did not. Remarkably, however, I felt no alarm. I had a sweet, undeniable assurance that all would be well.

Brother Mourik entered the front door of the temple just as the opening prayer was concluding, still not knowing why he was there. As he hurried down the hall, he saw my image on the monitor and heard me announce, “We will now hear from Brother Peter Mourik.”

To the astonishment of Elder Asay, Peter Mourik immediately walked into the room and took his place at the podium.

Following the session, Brother Mourik and I discussed that which had taken place prior to his opportunity to speak. I have pondered the inspiration which came that day not only to me but also to Peter Mourik. That remarkable experience has provided an undeniable witness to me of the importance of being worthy to receive such inspiration and then trusting it—and following it—when it comes. I know without question that the Lord intended for those who were present at that session of the Frankfurt Temple dedication to hear the powerful, touching testimony of His servant Brother Peter Mourik.

Nice. A very small miracle,, but significant in preparing President Monson to listen and respond to the promptings of the spirit and in preparing him for the sacred office he now bears today.

While on the topic of details, could you help me in searching for the details from a more recent talk by President Monson? In the latest General Conference, he tells the touching story reported by a non-LDS journalist in a Hawaiian newspaper of seeing a wounded LDS soldier give a priesthood blessing to another man who should have died, and miraculously survived. His talk has a footnote for the story, but it's an LDS book, not the reference is to an LDS book, not the original newspaper article. I hope the book had the story right! Do any of you know the reference for the original non-LDS source of the story?


Depressed Mormon Mommy said...

Specificity is essential for truthful stories, I think that sometimes people leave them out in favor of the emotional details. You are right, though, this dilutes the story for later generations making it less and less applicable.

Anonymous said...

The historian Barbara Tuchman wrote:

Corroborative detail is the great corrective. It is a disciplinarian. It forces the historian who uses and respects it to cleave to the truth, or as much as he can find out the truth ...

-Abby Krug

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Openminded said...

Every miracle reported in the Gospels fall under this passed-down, unreliable hearsay you talk about.

All of Luke 24 (detailing Christ's first ressurection day) is a stunning example, being told from a distanced third person about a series of retold events whose details could be mistaken to be the retelling of a story of a man who "gosh, just must have been" Jesus Christ in the flesh.

Anyone agreeing with the premise of your post, Jeff, can clearly see that this story would've been better off with a personal journal entry instead of a passed-down retelling of a retold story

bearyb said...

I loved this story about Peter Maurik. It created quite a buzz in our family because he is the one who gave me and a couple of my siblings our patriarchal blessings about 6-7 years prior to this reported event. My father was in the US Air Force stationed at Spangdahlem Air Force/Army Base at the time. We were actually members of the Kaiserslaughtern Stake, but (for some reason I can't recall) our own stake patriarch was unavailable. So we traveled to Frankfurt where he gave us back-to-back blessings.

I have since gained a little more appreciation for how difficult and draining such an afternoon must have been for him, but from that story it is evident that he was and continued to be a willing and available servant of the Lord.

Thank you for reminding me again of that wonderful account!

Mark said...

Great Points Jeff! I know this is a problem in my life...recording details of events so we can share them later. I think alot of times, especially with strong spiritual experiences, the feelings we feel are sooo strong we dont think we will EVER forget what happened, but like you said, time definitely washes away many important details! Thanks for your insight!

Anonymous said...

I posted the first story of miracle in my spiritual experiences with to much details, and critism. This was the only time and the last time for me. I should have learned on my SLC mission when new converts were slaped down for exposing to many details of the things they experienced. I have obtained countless witnesses from the Holy
Spirit when members have told the miracles in there lives so my petpeev is don't reject a free gift from God.