Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition

Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition

Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition

Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition

Excerpt

Mormonism sprang forth in upstate New York into a world of religious upheaval and rebirth. It was the period of the Second Great Awakening, when men and women voiced dissatisfaction with the impersonal churches that kept God at bay, sequestered behind rigid hierarchies of the clergy. Many disaffected Christians searched for a religion that would reflect the new freedoms and powerful potential of individuals in a new country of seemingly endless opportunity and possibility. Between 1790 and 1840, the Second Great Awakening swept through New England and the Eastern Seaboard, promising a more personal connection to God, as well as a restoration of the gospel. When Joseph Smith emerged in 1830 with the Book of Mormon, he was met with an audience primed for his message of a restored gospel and the promise of personal revelation for every faithful member of the church.

From the beginning of the church, personal revelation has been a cornerstone of the Mormon faith. LDS scripture confirms its central role. The first chapter of the Doctrine and Covenants avows: “The voice of the Lord is unto all men” (D&C 1:2). The Doctrine and Covenants is LDS scripture consisting entirely of revelation, the bulk of which came to Joseph Smith to help him organize the new religion. Because Joseph Smith was prophet of the church, most of his revelations were not personal but rather derived from his calling as prophet and leader and were relevant to all followers of the faith. Yet like his faithful peers, he received revelation specific to his own life as well, personal guidance in spiritual and temporal matters. While his First Vision of God and Jesus is foundational to the church and serves as canonical scripture, it came in answer to humble prayer, a divine answer to a man in search of spiritual truth. This revelatory vision was an example of personal revelation and serves as an Ur-form for conversion narratives of personal revelation of modern-day Saints; it is an experience rarely copied but often referenced (Eliason 1999).

Personal revelation also appears in sacred church history, lying just outside scripture but verging on canonical. Church leaders and publications regularly retell the story of President Wilford Woodruff’s prompting by the Holy Ghost to move his wagon just before lightning brought an oak tree down in the exact spot where it stood moments before. There is also the story of the voice that warned a . . .

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