verb (used with object), knew, known, know·ing.
1. to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty
2.to have established or fixed in the mind or memory
3.to be cognizant or aware of
4.be acquainted with, as by sight, experience, or report
5.to understand from experience or attainment
What do you know for sure?
My entire life has been driven by this question. KNOW… the most powerful word that exists in mormon culture. When I say or even think this word, I hear the definitive crack of a slamming of a gavel. It is done.
I left my faith because of the misuse and abuse of this word.
As a mormon girl, I ached to know. I wanted it so much, the need swirled, undefined and cloudy within me until unmet, it settled itself into my bones. Infused itself into my muscles and fibers and tissues.
“I know the church is true.”
“I know the scriptures are true.”
“I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.”
These declarations of truth are scratched into my psyche. Imprinted. The desire to make those words my own drove me to the brink of despair. I followed all of the mormon formulas, but the words were not mine to profess. To be surrounded by people with such concrete proclamations burrowed a deep well of failure inside me.
Once a month, mormon worship includes holding an open mic testimony meeting, where members of the congregation go up the pulpit and declare what they know is true.
[tes-tuh-moh-nee, or, esp. British, -muh-nee] Show IPA
noun, plural tes·ti·mo·nies.
1. Law. the statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court.
2. evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.
3. open declaration or profession, as of faith.
4. Usually, testimonies. the precepts of God.
Although there is no script, the conditioning that begins in the preschool years leads to the inclusion of certain key phrases that most people use while “bearing their testimony.” It almost always begins with
“I’d like to bear my testimony…I know the church is true.”
There is no age restriction, so usually the open mic hour will begin with children in the congregation. Parents will lead their toddlers and preschoolers up to the mic, hoist them onto their hips, or let them stand invisible behind the thick wooden lectern. They whisper the words to their tiny children. The little ones must hold their breath with the strain of listening to their mom or dad’s sentences, which they repeat in a breathy burst.
I know this church is true…
I know the scriptures are the words of God…
I know Heavenly Father loves me.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Then the adults get up. They will often tell a story to illustrate their “knowing.” They often cry. I remember my mother’s soft hands, twisting tissues around her fingers, dabbing her eyes. She is moved to tears with ease. My father, sitting straight and attentive, was less emotive. Neither of my parents brought me to the pulpit. I never felt their lips and their breath tickling my ear, feeding me their words to declare. They did not pressure me as I got older to participate in this public ritual. I felt weak with relief that they never required it of me. But, the opportunity to “bear your testimony” was presented with great regularity throughout my upbringing. Sunday school, scripture studies, youth activities, church camp, and family gatherings. I have witnessed my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, mentors and friends all tearfully bear their testimony throughout my life.
My best friend through middle school and high school was not a mormon girl. She was delightfully agnostic, and her life was not an internal storm of powerful statements and concepts (God, testimony, truth, sacred, salvation, purity, modesty, worthiness). She came with me to a youth overnight camp for teens ages 14 + when we were juniors in high school. It was one of the few times I ever invited her to a church activity. At the end of the overnight trip, there was a testimony meeting. I sat next to her, feeling as if I might erupt with expectation, as one by one, my peers and friends got up and declared their testimony. My friend began elbowing me, urging me to get up and do it. “Go. Go.” She prodded after each teenager sniffled their way back their seat. She wanted me to do it, she wanted to hear what it was that I knew. I shook my head in refusal, and finally, I turned in my seat and caught her eyes. I let her see it, for just a brief flash…the devastation I felt in not knowing.
I decided to give the mormon church one last chance when I was a young student teacher, writing to a mormon missionary whom I felt I was falling in love with. I wanted the door to be opened to me… the door that seemed to close me off from the knowing that my family and peers all spoke of so reverently… I had been knocking until my knuckles bled, and the mantle of shame, being shut out of this special place, was crushing.
I read the Book of Mormon. It took a while, because every few verses I would be overcome by doubt. I would read a passage and feel resistance. I would drop to my knees every few minutes and plead with Heavenly Father to release me from the doubts, to open my heart. To let me in. A steady stream of tears dripped from the end of my nose onto the flimsy pages of text. I finished the whole book this way, reading, weeping, pleading, praying.
I waited for the affirmation that what I read was “true.” I waited for the burning in my heart, the warmth and knowledge that had been declared to me by everyone I loved. It was a knowing I would not be granted.
It could not be formed out of my desire.
Over the weekend, Rick and I watched the fifth Harry Potter movie with my girls. In the story, Harry has to write “I must not tell lies” on a sheet of paper with a magic quill. As he does this, the words are painfully etched into his flesh. When he asks how many times he must write the words, the professor responds, “Until it leaves a mark.”
There did not need to be a magic quill like Harry’s to wound me, only the continual and absolute declaration of truth and knowledge by everyone important to me…and their insistence that my inability to join them was my own retched failings. The etched over words “I know this church is true” were not a delicious imprint, but a searing scar I carried.
They had left their mark.
I was never allowed to shape my own personal testimony. There is only one answer to arrive at… the church is true. How is a child supposed to explore and come to their own ideas about God, spirit, worthiness, sacrifice, scripture, and prayer, when the answers are whispered into their ears, etched into their souls since infancy, and kept there with the fear of losing their culture, their identity, the acceptance of their people? The notion that what one knows to be personal truth should also be accepted or can be experienced as universal truth is limiting, damaging, and confining. People need opportunity to explore who they are free of shame and fear. Children must not be spoon fed what we feel is our truth. It is our job to be witnesses to the unfolding of their own knowing. To present all the possibilities we can and watch with fascination as the differences and similarities emerge.
What do you know? What IS knowing?
I have known things. That knowing came in a flash of recognition, the way a deep breath fills your lungs and then is carried into every organ, every tissue, every cell, through your beating heart.
When I comb through my life for the most significant moments, KNOWING are the shimmering stones on my pathway. The moments I KNEW. They vibrate with tension and energy…. The moment I knew I would marry Rick. The moment I knew I was pregnant. The moment I knew the force of a mother’s love. The moment I knew that I must look for my own knowing. The moment I knew I must reclaim myself.
The only thing that we can truly know is ourselves. Knowing oneself is a work that spans a lifetime of inquiry and analysis and forgiveness and fortitude, and what I believe, is the purpose of our life.
To know oneself, is to know God.
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Laozi
Beautiful writing,Megan! Knowing is an on going life experience!
I fled the Mormon church a few years ago after studying things like the story about the Book of Abraham papyri. It really bothers me now to look back on how the word “know” is used within Mormonism. Little children paraded up in front of hundreds of people, repeating whispered words in their ears. A five year old child does not “know” the church is true. But by repeating it enough times throughout their childhood, they will eventually believe that they “know” it.
Now I revel in not knowing. I love the mysteries of the universe as science slowly unravels them. I enjoy being able to respond to something “I don’t know”. It’s invigorating and honest.
Thanks for reading… I agree with the deliciousness of not knowing. I love the mystery. It doesn’t scare me, it’s means there is always something more to discover! The world became so much brighter, more animated, and more beautiful to me after we left.
Thank you for this post. It’s so nice to find that someone else “knows” how it felt to me when I came to the same conclusion, that there was something wrong with me because I was raised in the church and did not have a “real” testimony that it was true. And how it felt when I realized that it was all right NOT to “know”. 🙂
Very good points. Since any time you “know” something there is no more room for discussion, this approach is completely at odds with actual searching and learning. It’s just the opposite of a “sincere heart” and “real intent”. If you already “know” the answer then why ask? The church tells you the correct answer but then tells you to find it yourself. So you’re in a position of saying “hey dad, I already know the answer to this question is yes, could you confirm that I’m right please?” if dad says ” no son you’re not correct in your assumption” I have to come back later and ask the same question again and on and on and on…..UGHH!!!! So I’m curious to know more about your decision to leave the church. Does this include formally removing your name or just personally leaving behind your former beliefs? I relate to all of this and have thought and wrote about it many times (writing without an audience for my own sake). Have you written about your process in coming to the conclusion to leave? I’ve left emotionally, meaning I casually attend more to not disrupt my wife and kids too much. I have 5 kids ages 5 to 19. The 19 yr old hasn’t wanted anything to do with it since 8 yrs old (incredibly insightful person) but the others are good obedient children that are doing what they think is right, because thats what we taught them. I’m not totally sure how to undo what I’ve done in raising my kids in the church up to this point and a lot of it I don’t want to undo. It’s not all bad. It’s not as simple as I’d like it to be. My wife and older kids know my beliefs and feelings about the church but they are still Mormon, riddled with all that I’m sure you know so well. Most people just don’t think much about it and don’t want to. I actually believe the principles at the core of the doctrine, but the church screws it all up. The claim to authority and keys etc… Is where it all becomes weird, wrong and dangerous IMO. These claims ultimately require a trust / faith in men which is clearly always wrong even according to the church’s own doctrine. Oh the irony!! Anyway, I really like your blog and am just wondering if you’ve taken on this topic comprehensively yet or if you are considering it. Would love to hear your experience. Sorry for the long somewhat random post.
Oops…sorry,just found the rest of your blog…:)
I am sorry for the delay in responding… I am glad you are exploring the rest of my blog. I am planning on writing much more, and hopefully finish my first book. I don’t have an interest in writing with a lot of detail about mormon history and the problems in the church from an academic perspective. There is so much out there to read about this. I just want to write from my own emotional view point. Not about the issues, but how they made me feel. About how what it is like to completely lose your sense of self, to the extreme, in adulthood. Leaving the church was like witnessing my own death. I felt almost shocked that I continued to exist at all. And then there is the hard work of exploring one’s self with new eyes. It has been like weeding a huge piece of land, pulling up all the parts that will overgrow and choke the beauty that lies under the thistle. After ten years, I am still pulling weeds, but I also have more flowers. As a parent, I am relieved that we left before my children we old enough to know. I was raised in a home with a father who behaved like a very orthodox mormon, but didn’t truly believe it. He did help me by talking to me about spiritual matters. He gave me books to read, not about mormonism, but books that demonstrated that spiritual life can exist and evolve outside the doctrine. He never actually told me much about his real beliefs. And I wish he had. I wish he would have just sat me down and told what he thought…. I plan on writing more about this… anyway, good luck on your journey and feel free to reach out if you ever want to discuss something.
I actually think your response was pretty timely. I appreciate your comment about wishing your dad was more open about his beliefs. I’ve started being more bold about mine. Part of the issue is figuring out what it is that you do believe I think. I really want my kids to be honest with themselves and me which means I should be the example. I’m curious if you’ve ever read a book called “oneness” by a woman that goes by the name Rasha. I know it’s a random question but reading it was life changing for me and others I’ve recommended it to. It’s about spiritual concepts I can tell you’ve read from some of your posts but it’s incredibly unique from anything else I’ve read as well. Random I know. Thanks for your reply.
I have not seen that book… I just checked it out on Amazon and added it to the cue – it looks interesting. I know that spiritual questions are hard to answer when we don’t feel like we have answers for our kids… I have started most of my answers by saying “I really don’t know.” Because it’s honest. I’m excited to read “Oneness.” THanks for the recommendation.