Imagine you are a scientist. You’re in a room full of fellow-scientists holding an important meeting. In this meeting, each scientist stands and shares his or her latest experiments, how he or she applied scientific principles in those experiments, and what each scientist has learned as a result of those experiments. The purpose of the meeting is to share this acquired knowledge and experience with fellow-scientists, so that:
- the scientists gain additional insight into how they can further apply reliable scientific principles – perhaps in ways similar to that their peers – or perhaps in new circumstances suited to new phenomena, albeit with familiar principles; and, so that
- the scientists build a community with like-minded people working toward the same goal – to acquire knowledge and experience to better themselves and the world.
If you can create a fairly clear picture of this type of meeting in your mind, then you’re not too far off from the intent of something called fast and testimony meeting in the Mormon tradition. Basically, fast and testimony meeting is a monthly Sunday service where, after the sacrament (bread and water) has been passed to attendees, members of the congregation can stand and share their testimonies – or, in other words, how they’ve applied gospel principles in their lives and what truths they’ve learned in the process.
Here’s a real life example from my ward’s fast and testimony meeting this last Sunday, 9/29:
- Our lay bishop stood first and described how, when he first became bishop of our ward last year, he had a very busy work schedule, traveling across the country every week. That cramped little space on the airplane, it turns out, became “sacred ground” for him, because it’s where he opened his scriptures, read, thought about the needs of ward members, and received insights into how to best help certain individuals. As his life became busier, he explained, he grew so tired that he began falling asleep the second his head hit the back of that chair. As a result, he lost that sacred ground that for so long helped strengthen and sustain him. He felt that absence in his life and resolved to do something about it. Knowing he also needed adequate sleep (and that his seat on the airplane provided a pretty good setting for that, too), he created more time each morning and each evening in his hotel room to have that same contemplative, quiet time to study the scriptures and seek a spiritual center. The principle he learned (or relearned) was that we each need “sacred ground” in our lives to pray, read God’s word, and internalize gospel principles. If we make that time and create that sacred ground, we will draw closer to God, have a greater portion of His Spirit, and will not be “tossed, to and fro” with the challenges of life.
Others in the ward shared the joy they’ve felt as they’ve worked and served with one another in their responsibilities, even in the relatively mundane tasks – and especially in the more significant efforts, such as delivering meals to a new mother, preparing for a funeral, or visiting the sick and afflicted.
In this way, our scientists are ordinary people – some of them are well-educated, others dropped out of high school. Some are married and have children. Others are children themselves, while others are single, divorced, or widowed. Some struggle quietly under the weight of tremendous burdens, while others’ lives seem full of joy and relative ease. Their backgrounds, life stories, and current circumstances are all unique, but their principles are gospel principles, and their experiments are their daily lives and interactions with others – full of encounters, observations, and experiences as they strive to apply Christ’s teachings, the words of his prophets, and live the commandments.
This process of “experimenting” is even enshrined within our scriptural canon. The same prophet Alma, whom I wrote about the other day, taught this to a group of people:
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 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 (Alma 32:27)
The promise Alma makes is that if I experiment upon the words of the prophets (what he calls “planting the seed”), I will know for myself whether their words are good, because those words will “enlarge my soul…enlighten my understanding…[and become] delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). Based on my experience, I can say that those experiments are worth attempting. As a very ordinary type of scientist, I’ve learned that those experiments yield light, goodness, and yes, a testimony of true principles. A good place to start is to carve out some sacred ground to assimilate those principles and plant the seed.