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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Before my wife moved from South Africa to the states to marry me, she was a devout Mormon.  However, soon after we were wed in June of 2001, she left the church for various reasons, one of which was to spend more time with me since one of my days off was Sunday.

 

HILL CUMO

I am a non-religious person, preferring a non-denominational spiritual approach to my faith and although I made my opinions of organized religion known to Lou before we were married, I encouraged her to continue in her faith and to continue her involvement with the Mormon religion. Even though I have problems with organized religion, I believe that the religions of the world play a very important part in sustaining and in strengthening the moral fabric of our world. Individually, in most cases, I believe that religions can actually save souls. The evil that lurks out there in the world is very real and if you turn your head away from your moral compass, even for a few seconds, it can suck you in- and kill you.  I know this all too well because my wife lost her way, took the wrong path, and it lead to her death. The details of the tragic end to her life is not important to the context here but what is important is my very strong belief that if Lou had continued to practice her faith, instead of walking away from the church, she would be here today and our marriage, which also ended, would have survived.  Since her death in 2012, I have struggled through despair; anger and I have lost a good amount of trust in others.  It has not been an easy road for me but in time, I reached a better understanding of what happened to Lou and above all else, I was able to forgive her.  We were married for ten years, I loved my wife, and I cherish the good times we had. Therefore, to honor my wife and our life together, I wanted to do something special for her that she would appreciate, especially if she had continued in her faith and remained with the Later Day Saints.

Since moving back to New York State last July, I have thought about visiting the Hill Cumorah region in Palmyra New York. It’s the sacred place of where Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion, lived and received the golden plates from an angel, which he later translated into the book of Mormon.  Lou’s very good friend Susan, who lives in the Netherlands, also encouraged me to go to the site after she worked hard, through the Temple, to have Lou’s spirit reunited with the church.

On June 3, 2016, I headed off to Palmyra.  As I drove on the New York State Thruway toward Palmyra, I kept thinking about Lou and wishing she were with me. I knew she would have been excited to be traveling to see this sacred place.  My thoughts were also drifting back in time to my last visit to Palmyra in 1973. My friend and I were on a bicycle ride to Niagara Falls when we stopped off at Hill Cumorah for an early afternoon break.  I was awed back then by the peaceful beauty of that hill and surrounding countryside. I knew it was a religious place but knew little about the religion and history of the hill or the nearby town of Palmyra.  It wasn’t until after I married Lou that I made the connection to “the hill” and her religion.

As I drove along on a beautiful sun drenched morning, I was excited about returning to the place that had captured my soul back in ’73.  Susan had suggested that I “keep an open heart” about what I might experience there, especially when I walked through the sacred grove, which is where Joseph Smith had seen a vision of Jesus and his Father in 1825, right before he received the gold plates at the top of  Hill Cumorah.  Even though I do believe in the existence of God and Jesus, through faith- I do have a very strong healthy dose of skepticism running through me even when I hear of biblical events such as the story presented by Joseph Smith.  It can be very frustrating to be so skeptical when dealing with matters of faith but I believe that the answers are there, if anyone takes the time to connect their heart and mind to any question they may have.

As an example: As a paranormal investigator for the past six years, I have experienced some very interesting and spiritually uplifting events but I have also learned that you also have to be a bit of a skeptic if you’re going to come close to an honest conclusion.  In addition, I have also developed a sense of empathic awareness and at times, this ability to feel another person’s feelings can be a bit overwhelming when emotions of a past or present event come flooding in.  It can happen in an instant.  Feelings of sorrow, horrible crippling grief, and other emotions can present themselves to me in seconds, even while I’m in an emotional state of joy, comfort, or happiness. Being in a place, with no one else around, can also trigger it. While this ability is relatively new to me and while I have questioned the validity of some of these experiences that I have had, there are times when I’ll pick something up so quickly that I won’t even question the reality of the experience anymore. I also believe that this ability isn’t or shouldn’t be categorized as “paranormal”.  I believe all of us have developed this ability naturally, to some degree.  Other names for this or a similar phenomenon are sometimes called “a gut feeling” or “instinct”. It’s a feeling that you pick up on, whether it’s derived from our five senses or a sixth sense, which better helps you to prepare yourself for some kind of a response. I knew better than to think that this empathic ability of mine wouldn’t interfere on this day spent in Palmyra- which is why I’m mentioning it here.

Being empathetic to other people’s struggles and to their right to practice their faith openly, without persecution, is what this country was built on. Being open to all the experiences that one may face in life is important if we are to reach a true understanding of what it really means to be human and to be alive.  It doesn’t mean that we have to agree or even believe in someone else’s faith or religion, but we should respect their right to their religious freedom.

My hope, for this trip, was that I would at least recapture some of the peace that I had experienced in ’73 and that I could share some of that same peace with Lou’s spirit.  Aside from the religious aspects of this trip, I was looking forward to learning about the history of the town and it’s people.  At the end of the day, I came away with a lot more than I expected.

Palmyra is a town and village of approximately 8,000 people and its geological location is twenty miles southeast of Rochester, New York right off of the thruway on route 21.  As I turned onto route 21, I looked off to my right and immediately recognized the hill.  “Beautiful” I muttered to myself as I pulled into the visitor center parking lot.  Hill Cumorah, at first glance looks like an impressive ski slope, except this beautifully maintained property has three tiers of paved walking paths that lead to the summit.  At the top, a monument marks the spot where Joseph Smith received the golden tablets from the angel Moroni.  I decided to stop in at the visitor center first before climbing the hill to the monument.

The visitor center, like most buildings and grounds dedicated to the Mormon religion, is a beautiful work of architecture.  It seems that every little detail is attended to, from the polished marble floors, to the ornate door handles, everything is in its place; as if a breath of divinity had been prayed into it. It really is no stretch to say you can “feel God here”. As soon as I stepped into the lobby a young lady who identified herself as “Sister Bennett” greeted me with a very warm and refreshingly sincere smile.  I introduced myself and briefly mentioned why I was visiting, which included my story about Lou.  Sister Bennett went on to explain what I could explore as I stepped into each room of the visitor center.  There were beautiful paintings on the lobby walls, depicting the many stories related to the prophet Joseph Smith. In the next room I entered, I encountered a beautifully laid out time line of the events that took place in Joseph Smith’s life.  There were short videos at some of the time line stations, which explained what I was looking at.  Probably the most impressive exhibit was that which showed a replica of the gold plates that Joseph Smith received from the angel Moroni.  Not far from that station was an equally impressive large round table, which displayed copies of the book of Mormon, translated into all of the languages of the world.   After spending time in this room, I went into another room where I watched an hour-long movie depicting the life of Joseph Smith and the history of the town that surrounded his stories.  The movie was absorbing, well acted and I left feeling excited about learning more as my morning turned into a wonderful early afternoon.  Sister Bennett and a few other brothers and sisters of the Mormon religion thanked me for visiting and wished me well as I stepped back out into the sunshine.  One thing that can be said about Mormon’s, whether you subscribe to their religion or not, is that most everyone of them is “kind” and they will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. It is more than just talk and kindness- there’s a total feeling of sincerity when greeting and visiting with them.   In one word, it’s refreshing.   This world, especially these days, is way too short on kindness.

MONUMENT TO THE ANGEL MORONI

It was now time for my trek to the summit of hill cumorah to view the monument.  As I climbed, I noted the fresh summer air and the exceptional serene beauty of the countryside.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like back in 1825 as Joseph Smith made his way up this hill to this very sacred place. The hillside back then, no doubt, was probably populated by a lot more oak, ash and pine trees but the unusual calmness of peace and tranquility must have permeated the place just as I was experiencing it now.  I wondered, as I stepped closer to look at the inscriptions on the towering stone monument: Are these feelings of peace and well being just a naturally manufactured response of being in a beautiful place like this or is there really something much more special and heavenly to it all?  Sometimes I can be too analytical about my experiences. Sometimes one should just let go, and enjoy the moment without all the introspection and questions.  I decided not to pollute the moment with mind meanderings. It was way too awe inspiring for that.

Breath in. Breath out. I smiled. I felt Lou’s spirit with me. It was nice to be in this place with her.

THE SMITH FAMILY CABIN

Finally, I made my way back down the hill to the parking lot and drove to the Joseph Smith Homestead/Farm, which was less than two miles away.  There, I entered the welcoming center where I was greeted by a couple who were closer in age to me. Brother Martin and Sister Carson sat down with me next to a window that looked out onto a field of high grass and crude timber fencing that surrounded acres of property.  Just to the left of the window, inside the fencing, stood a one story small wooden structure.  It felt like I was looking back into the early 1800’s and that is exactly what the intent was.  Brother Martin and Sister Carson explained, and told the story of what it was like for the young child Joseph Smith and his family as they lived on this farm and in that small cabin. The cabin I was looking at was an exact replica of the original and Brother Martin took me on a tour through the inside of it.  Aside from the religious aspects of this place, the historical artifacts and adventures of this town were enormously interesting.  Just a little ways from the cabin, down a stone paved road, another larger house is seen.  It’s where Joseph Smith and his family lived in his mom and dad’s later years.  This house is 85% original and to walk through it is like actually

SMITH FAMILY 2ND HOME

stepping back into time.  All of this was a prelude to the final visit of my tour-, which was a long walk through the sacred grove.

As I walked along, on a stone and dirt path that lead up to the tree line of the grove, it just felt good to be out on such a beautiful day. The birds were chirping and everything just felt fresh and, nice.  There wasn’t anything heavenly or spiritual surrounding me at all.  It was just a stroll among nature.  Entering the path, where the trees began, I felt the heat of the sun begin to leave me but the temperature was still very comfortable.  I must have walked about ten yards in when I noticed something a little different but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was until I looked up.  The leaves on the trees were barely moving and the singsong of the birds was constant and beautifully hypnotic.   I was walking on a path of soft dirt and it was about then that everything went totally quiet, except for the sound of the few birds who continued to chirp their song. Nothing in eyesight or earshot moved or made a sound.  It was as if I had just entered some sort of a tranquil void. I was in a peaceful wonderland and the feeling that came over me was that nothing that existed beyond the grove mattered much anymore or matched the grove’s importance. I felt like I was being given the privilege to know a secret. I have walked in woods before but it was nothing like this.  All of a sudden, I felt a peace and happiness come over me that I haven’t felt in years. It was like a calming wave slowly and steadily began to roll over me. Consequently, what did this fool do?  Instead of taking it all in and just experiencing it, I began to analyze what was happening-again. Old habits are hard to break. There really wasn’t a lot of time spent trying to figure it all out though.  I was having another abrupt empathic experience.  Was this happiness and peace that I was feeling about me, or was it something related to the place or an event that took place here almost two hundred years ago?   I surmised that it could be about me, the place, and the event all at the same time.  As I looked up through the leaves, I saw the rays of the sun streaming down to the earthen path where I stood and I imagined what it must have been like for Joseph Smith as he stood here, bathed in a beautiful light with a message from the heavenly father and his son.

THE SACRED GROVE

I continued with my walk and I began to think about my life and all that I have lived through and I thought a lot about Lou and where she was while I walked along.  I knew she was with God and that she was at peace.  I also knew that some day I would be at peace and with God too.  As I left the path, after a good thirty minute visit, I realized that no church building that I have ever entered has given me the peace and comfort that I received in that sacred grove of trees.

The lesson I learned that day was exactly what Susan told me:  Keep an open heart (And mind) about what others may experience in their own faith and belief systems.  There should be no doubt that Joseph Smith worked tirelessly to build a religion around his experience and faith. Really, we must ask, what could move a person to do all that he did and to stick by his convictions and faith even as people worked to dismantle all that he stood for? People should respect his efforts just as all people should respect all of the religions of the world. Joseph Smith made claims that went beyond our earthly knowledge and he was ostracized for it.  I’m not sure if all that he experienced was divine intervention, but who am I to say it wasn’t?  What I am sure of is strictly coming from my own experience and I would say “something extraordinary happened in those woods” at some point in time, and the only word that comes even close to what I was experiencing and feeling is “divine”.

The rest of my day was spent touring other areas of Palmyra, including the  print shop where The Book Of Mormon was printed.

It was an amazing and spiritually uplifting day.