Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Borders of Testimony

I wrote the other day of testimony, and suggested that for Mormons it is what we know and how we know it, that is, what spiritual experiences may have led us to our religious convictions.

I listened to a speaker years ago who suggested an interesting puzzle with testimony. Testimony is about what we know, and one might think that the more one knows the stronger one's testimony becomes. And in some sense that it true.

But, the speaker suggested, we might think of testimony as a circle. When the circle of testimony is small, and it may only concern the very most basic elements of truth, the circumference of that circle is also small. As our testimony grows, however, the circumference also grows. If one acknowledges that the circumference of the circle is the border between what we know and what we don't know, then there is a certain risk in a growing testimony, namely the more we know, the more we know we don't know.

For me, there are several approaches I've seen to this apparent dilemma. One, of course, is simply to refuse to learn any more so that the border stays small. While this approach might work for children, it certainly didn't work for me. It has been too energizing for me to learn new things along the way.

Another approach might be to grow the border as quickly as possible, trying to cover as much ground as possible with our testimonies, perhaps in some hope that we might finally transcend borders. The image this approach conjures in my mind is from Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning", in which the speaker suggests that the lovers to be separated have a love that is like gold, which can be pounded ever flatter to cover more and more distance between them. My own worry in this approach is that my gold would wear too thin somehow. (Perhaps I need help in my unbelief; See Mark 9:24.)

And so I find for myself that I tend to make trips from the center to the border and back regularly in my own testimony. I often return to those things I know, particularly when confronted with something I do not know or understand. It is not that I retreat completely, but more like a toddler who grasps for the familiar waiting arm of his parent as he learns to walk. In time, I find my footing and can move more steadily forward toward the border, and often extend it.

But I am not comfortable hanging out at the border all the time. There are others who may prefer that approach, but I yearn for the familiar and comfortable as well as the new and uncharted.

I imagine that my friends of other faiths who learn about Mormonism may be like me; they may feel a desire to learn more, but also yearn for the comfort of what they know (or at least believe). I hope that they will also continue to probe the border and to push that circumference out, even if just a little.

- Paul

1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard that analogy before, but I like it. Both the analogy and your trips between the center and to the border resonate with my personal experience.