[This article first appeared in April 2010 on the “Mormon Scholars Testify” website created and edited by Dr. Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU. Other testimonies from throughout Mormondom may be found at mormonscholarstestify.org. It is reprinted here with permission.]
So … when did the dew form on the leaf?
When I can answer that age-old question, I’ll give you an answer as to when I obtained a testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the re-established original Christian church, and that Christ – Jesus of Nazareth – is indeed the Son of God.
Did it grow from logic? Yes.
Did it grow from feelings? Yes.
Did it grow from something even deeper than that? Unequivocally yes.
But it was years before I could adequately articulate it even to myself, and I still can’t demonstrate it conclusively to a person who chooses to view all things through his surface intellect alone.
In short, it’s something that has to be experienced to be understood.
My Stanford Days
Even though I had served a mission for the Church and had graduated from BYU, it took five years in graduate school at Stanford for me to recognize how deep my testimony had become.
Those were wonderful days, surrounded and challenged by 23 bright fellow students. I loved the mental tussles and the invigorating debates – which are easy to come by when you’re the only Mormon, the only Republican, and the only conservative in the department.
But it all played out on a shallow plane. Something was missing.
Feelings? Spiritual stirrings? Impossible in an intellectual setting, pal. Can’t be objectively dissected, measured, demonstrated – you know the drill.
Despite it all, I knew that I understood things that defied an objective proof – and that intellectual prowess by itself was insufficient to explain it.
There had to be more to us than our logical brain. Or even our emotional brain.
There had to be a deeper intellect at work.
Whence, Why, Whither
I don’t recall the first time I heard that God is the Father of our spirits – that He created us spiritually (yes, arms and legs, head and feet … and brain) before we were sent to earth to inhabit a mortal body. All I knew as I grew up was that I knew it was right. It was familiar to me and it made sense. And knowing where we came from is a pre-requisite to working through the questions that have occupied philosophers for centuries – why we’re here and where we’re going.
I mulled those concepts a lot. If we lived with God before we were sent to this earth, what did we do all day long? Play on our lyres? Skip stones on some celestial pond? Bounce from cloud to cloud?
No, we were learning. Conversations for sure. Maybe classrooms. Progressing. Trying to emulate our Father.
And then, we Mormons believe, a curtain was drawn across our memories of that pre-earthly existence, so that this earth life, intentionally designed so things would go wrong, could be a test.
Hmmm. So if we had 13+ billion years of learning, where might all that knowledge be stored today? Back upstairs in some safe-deposit box?
No. We brought it with us, somehow imprinted on our spiritual DNA.
Connecting the Dots
Can we tap into that trove of knowledge here? Absolutely. But it cannot be done with our surface intellect alone.
Some neuroscientists have distinguished between the rational brain and the emotional brain, and have demonstrated that the emotional brain can recognize patterns more quickly than can the rational brain – the quarterback who senses more than he can articulate that it would not be wise to throw to his tight end, or the British sailor in the first Gulf War who felt that the blip on his radar was a Silkworm missile and not a friendly returning A-6 and shot it down, thus saving the battleship USS Missouri, because things “didn’t feel right.”
So if there is a more discerning emotional mind behind the rational mind, what might be behind even that? And how deep does it go?
My experiences convince me that we have at least three levels of intellect – a logical brain, an emotional brain, and a spiritual brain. We discover truths at each level by connecting the dots, by recognizing patterns that coincide with other patterns we have previously satisfied ourselves are true.
While the workings of the logical brain allow us to objectively demonstrate to others what we deduced to be true, truths at the emotional and spiritual level must be experienced. They cannot be objectively proved to an outsider who has not experienced the patterns or connected the dots for himself.
In my own case, why did new statements and claims strike me as familiar when they had never been grist for my rational mind? Why did certain patterns almost scream, “True, by dang” even before I could explain why? Why did statements, principles and insights strike me as things that I have always known? To use an overworked word, why did they resonate?
It is because they were patterns I had already seen in another sphere.
They came with me to this frail existence, and though they are buried on the spiritual side of my three-and-a-half pound hunk of gray matter, they pop through often enough to tell me that there is so much more truth waiting to be learned (actually re-learned) if I push beyond today’s intellectualism, as it is currently championed.
Aristotle said that an eye for similarities is the mark of genius. It necessarily follows that anyone can become a spiritual genius by learning how to recognize the eternal truths that are already inside us.
That’s the beauty of intellect in the spiritual dimension; a high traditional IQ is not a pre-requisite.
We use the word logic to describe the process of the rational brain.
We use the word feelings to describe the process of the emotional brain.
But neither word does justice to the product of the spiritual brain. The best word for this intellectual process is comprehension.
Logic, feelings, comprehension. All appropriate in their sphere, but in the eternal scheme of things I describe them as the puny, the interesting, and the deep.
When dots get connected on this deep intellectual spiritual plane, words and even symbols are rarely the transferring mechanism, but rather a silent wholesale transfer of knowing as if in a flash of inspiration. One minute, comprehension eludes us, and in the next minute the vistas of eternity on the topic of our inquiry are opened to us. We see, we grasp, we discern, we sense, we feel … we know. Some have even used the word taste to describe it. We simply comprehend as spirit connects with spirit – as what was learned in the spirit world is manifest to our understanding in this world.
Learn it there, comprehend it here – the things the finite mind alone cannot wrap itself around.
To my intellectual friends of high mental megahertz: You assume that the logical mind is man’s dominant power. In reality it is only the beginning of the power of learning and comprehension that the whole man – mind, feelings and spirit – can possess.
Sadly, too many of you are comfortable staying on the finite plane and never invest the effort and purity of thought that are necessary to progress to the infinite plane.
You have been here for a few decades and have accomplished noteworthy things with your brain. You have read, studied, discussed, debated and manipulated concepts until there’s bovine migration, all of which have led to insights and discoveries. This is good and laudable as God intended. Congratulations.
But you cannot stop on this surface plane, no matter how interesting you may think it is. If you haven’t experienced the spiritual-intellectual process, you’re in for a treat – which may be the reason why Mormons with advanced degrees will be more religiously active and faithful than similarly educated men and women in other religions.
The God of this universe expects you and me and all of His children to go beyond the rational and emotional minds and deepen our intellectual efforts. God invites us to work on this profound spiritual-intellectual plane so that someday we may achieve His goal for us – to comprehend all things, past, present and future, just as He does.
It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, it’s challenging and it’s amazingly satisfying. Once you experience it, you’ll never again condescendingly view the spiritual as inferior to your brand of intellectualism.
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Ó Gary C. Lawrence