The brother offering the opening prayer in my Sunday School class today prayed that the message of the lesson “would guide us here on Earth.” This got me reflecting on Mormon ticks.
There’s nothing wrong with the sentiment, and quite a bit right with it. But it struck me that it is an expression that I have never heard in any religious setting other than an LDS one, making it distinctively Mormon. It is also slightly idiosyncratic, when you think about it, in a way that unconsciously reveals something about the Weltanschauung of the Mormon offering the prayer. A Mormon tick.
What this tick reveals about the Weltanshauung of the person offering the prayer is the sense that we are visitors here. We came from somewhere else and we’re only here temporarily. This is, of course, perfectly sound Mormon doctrine: We believe that our spirits came from God, and will return to God when we die. Furthermore, we believe that our spirits already had an individual identity and relationship with God prior to coming here. This seems to be a distinctively Mormon doctrine. While I’ve heard individuals of other faiths express a belief in such a thing, I can’t recall hearing it as a formal dogma of any other religion, except possibly certain branches of Judaism, and even then with very significant differences from Mormon belief.
One of the favorite ways of mocking Mormonism, among those comfortable in larger and roomier intellectual surroundings, is to make Mormonism sound like bad science fiction. This is possible because Mormonism puts a much smaller gap between God and His creation, which seem almost coeval in Mormon theology. And once you tie physical realities to spiritual ones, and understand miracles to be accomplished through higher physical laws we do not now understand, you’re awfully close to what Arthur C. Clarke said about any sufficiently advanced technology. Perhaps, too, this is a conscious riff on Scientology on the part of some of the mockers. Perhaps with others, it’s a riff on the original Battlestar Galactica, which I actually kind of liked (better than the new one, anyway) but which did make me cringe at times with some of its borrowings from Mormonism. The Mormon prayer idiom, “here on earth”, could probably be misused in this way.
But the idea of the Saints as strangers and pilgrims on the earth is a solidly Christian concept, well developed in Hebrews 11, the great lecture on faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” We take it rather literally — as with many scriptures, too literally for the comfort of our critics.
It is one with this idea that we speak of a group of Saints meeting in the temple as a “company.” As in, a company of pilgrims. We are all making this journey from eternity past to eternity future together. It’s a perilous pilgrimage, too, through a hostile world, as the temple teaches us so well.
So, to my brother’s prayer, I can only say Amen.