“How Near to the Angels,” the new poster said. “A movie on the Mormon concept of marriage.” Below the writing was the figure of a robed trumpeter standing on a sphere. I was startled with a feeling of recognition, but didn’t know yet what it meant.
As I passed the poster each dormitory mealtime, I felt a small surge of enthusiasm just looking at that curious figure with the trumpet. It looked like a wingless angel, and I wondered: Did Mormons believe in angels?
After several days of curiosity, I decided I would go see the movie on Friday. My roommate, Betty, agreed to go with me. That small surge of enthusiasm soon grew into a great swell of anticipation. I was nineteen and interested in all kinds of ideas about marriage. I also enjoyed studying unusual religions and decided that an evening on Mormonism would help to round out my religious background.
Then an addition to the poster announced a change in dates; the movie would be shown Thursday instead of Friday. Betty and I always enjoyed square dancing on Thursday nights, never letting anything interfere. On our next trip downstairs, we looked at the poster again and agreed it was too bad we couldn’t go—it might have been an interesting movie.
For the next day or two I passed the poster without looking at it. But a feeling of gloom settled over me that I couldn’t understand. A spark of excitement had gone out of my life. Finally it occurred to me that movies of this type were usually short. Perhaps I could see the movie and still go square dancing afterwards.
“You probably could,” Betty agreed. “But I don’t want to miss any of the dance. Why is it so important?”
“I don’t know—I just have to see that movie.”
Thursday night I chose a seat near the back of the hall and checked my program for the best place to exit quietly right after the movie. Then I noticed that the program was going to be a long one and that the movie would be last. How exasperating!
I was about to leave when a man came up the aisle, welcoming people with a warm handshake that matched his smile. He was so delighted I had come that I didn’t dare leave. With a long sigh, I settled back in my seat.
After the prayer and a song, an attractive woman speaker was introduced. “My Heavenly Father is very real to me,” she said. “I have prayed to him and felt close to him since I was a small child. When I was a teenager, I sometimes found it difficult to uphold the high standards of the Church, but I relied on the Lord and he helped me prepare myself for a temple marriage. Living these standards helped me find a young man who could lead me to God.”
“A young man who could lead me to God!” Her words electrified me! I had never met a young man who shared my deep interest in religion, and I was contemplating transferring to a college where ministers were trained. The speaker elaborated on dating standards and concluded with her testimony. I hated to admit it, but I was impressed.
Her husband spoke next and echoed her feelings with a powerful delivery. Here, I thought, is a man who knows exactly what he believes.
Having been touched by the talks and the musical numbers, I was now in a more receptive mood for the movie. It was well done, too, and I easily identified with the Latter-day Saint girl trying to decide whom to marry. Enthralled with the new ideas presented, I really wanted her to have that temple marriage. I wasn’t sure what the term implied, but I had gathered it was something noble and holy, the beginning of an eternal relationship.
For years I had been searching for some assurance that there was life after death. Night after night I would wake up in a cold sweat, trying to comprehend what it meant to be dead forever. I could not understand this; and I could not find satisfactory answers to my questions. There was no evidence of life after death, I had been told. But these Mormons obviously took eternity for granted.
The movie drew to a climax with the girl receiving her temple marriage. The last scene showed a spectacular view of the Salt Lake Temple with the camera moving up until the entire screen was filled with my “wingless angel.” I wondered what that figure signified and why I felt excited when I looked at it.
I checked my program for the closing song and found the words to “O My Father.” (Hymns, no. 139.) The lilting melody and poetic words called to me to enjoy this sweet experience. I fought the desire desperately. I was not part of this group. I shouldn’t sing Mormon songs. I was probably disloyal even to be here.
After a mighty struggle, I decided that tomorrow I would pick this program apart, but right now I would listen to that song—there was a message in the words that I must hear. I began to sing with all my heart:
In thy holy habitation
Did my spirit once reside?
“Oh, yes,” I answered to myself, “that’s true.” I had never been so moved by a piece of music. I felt as though I were actually lifted up and filled with light.
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered “You’re a stranger here”;
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.
I recognized that the angel and this song were indeed from a more exalted sphere. Why else the feeling that I had known them both before? The tears came freely as I sang, swept up in the beauty of the music. There were several verses, filled with answers to my many questions. Then we closed with prayer.
I left the auditorium that night disturbed and fascinated. A table by the door displayed free pamphlets and copies of the Book of Mormon for sale. I picked up an assortment of pamphlets but, after hesitating, passed up the Book of Mormon, telling myself that this whole experience would seem ridiculous by tomorrow. I made sure, however, that I had the program with the words to “O My Father.” I knew I would want to read those profound ideas again.
I read the pamphlets several times during the next few days and found the Joseph Smith story most upsetting. What a claim! If anything like that had really happened, everybody would know about it, I reasoned. But I felt the same excitement in reading the pamphlets as I had in looking at the poster. I wished I had bought a Book of Mormon. Finally, I called one of my church friends, Doug, hoping he could answer my questions, since he had previously lived in Salt Lake City.
“Well, I can’t agree with Mormon beliefs,” Doug said. “But the people are okay. If you want to research them, why don’t you go on over to the LDS Institute of Religion and talk to the director? He can tell you anything you want to know.”
I hesitated. I didn’t want any pressure.
“Look,” he said, “we’re only a few blocks from there. I’ll take you myself. Do you want to know, or don’t you?”
Soon we were knocking on the director’s office door. It was opened by the same man who had spoken at the movie. He gave me a Book of Mormon and asked me to read it and pray about it. The familiar angel graced the cover and I could hardly wait to get home and start reading.
I read whenever I could spare the time, but along with my fascination for the book came a terrible feeling of guilt and disloyalty to my own faith. Perhaps I should find out what other people thought of Mormons.
The college library had ten books on Mormonism, all shocking in their criticisms of the Church. These things deeply troubled me. If this was what people thought of Mormons, I could never be one. Besides, how could I change my whole outlook on life? How would I tell my family? My church friends would call me disloyal and unfaithful.
One day I thought I had found a simple answer. My church was very flexible, and its members believed a great variety of things. Why couldn’t I just draw from Mormonism the things that appealed to me and leave behind the social stigma and the problems of changing churches?
At my next meeting with the institute director, he pointed out the flaws in my reasoning. Could my church provide a temple marriage? Could it provide priesthood authority to perform any of the ordinances necessary to salvation? What about the Book of Mormon? Was it the word of God as it claimed, or was Mormonism a giant fraud, as the critics said? It was my responsibility, he continued, to find all the truth available and live by it. Sensing my hesitation, he turned to the back of the Book of Mormon and circled Moroni 10:4–5 [Moro. 10:4–5]. He read it to me and assured me that the Lord would help me make my decision if I prayed sincerely.
He looked right at me then and bore a beautiful testimony, asking me to try out this promise of Moroni. His spirit touched mine, and I knew I would have to give it a fair try. I thought, How wonderful if the Lord really would help me decide! After all, he was the one I must try to please, not my family or my minister or even myself—only the Lord.
When I returned to the dorm, both of my roommates had gone home for the night, leaving me with rare privacy. I spent the next few hours reading selected chapters from the Book of Mormon. By now, it was early morning and I knew the time for prayer had come. I read the circled scripture in Moroni again, trying to be sure every qualification was met. I was to pray to God in the name of Christ and ask if these things were true. That was easy enough, but the next part was harder. I must ask with a sincere heart, with real intent. Was I sincere? I examined my motives and decided I was honest and would live by whatever the Lord revealed to me. Last of all, I must have faith in Christ. This I also had.
I locked the door and knelt by my bed to pray.
My prayer was simple—just that I might know if the Book of Mormon was really the word of God. Seconds passed, and I waited fearfully. Then my heart felt as if it were growing large, and I remembered having just read in the Book of Mormon about the good seed swelling and growing in the heart. That feeling was followed by a warm comfort and a joy so great I could scarcely breathe. The experience intensified until my mind flooded with light and I found there a new assurance: “The Book of Mormon is true.” What had been a question only moments before was now an answer.
Later the next day I learned that lady missionaries from the Church were coming to visit me. I was surprised to find that they were girls only slightly older than myself—attractive, enthusiastic, and full of fun. They invited me and several other girls from the dorm to their apartment for a discussion.
As the lesson progressed, the testimony I had received earlier that morning glowed within me and must have shown on my face. One of the sisters stopped the lesson and asked me if I had something to say. I replied that I knew these things were true.
That night I had a long talk with the lady missionaries and assured them I wanted to be baptized—after spring vacation. During this time I would talk it over with my family. Meanwhile, I studied and prepared for baptism.
When I left for home, the sisters warned me that Satan would tempt me and I must pray often and remember that they were fasting for me. I was overcome with their love and concern, but felt uncomfortable with the talk about Satan. I believed Satan to be a superstition which educated people rejected. I went home filled with missionary zeal, sure that those I loved would see the light of the gospel, just as I had.
It was not that simple. By telling my family I knew the Church was true, I put them in the position of being either wrong or ignorant, and they were on the defensive. I was the oldest of five, and the younger children were upset. Some cried themselves to sleep that night. Mom suggested I should wait a year before making such a drastic decision. Dad didn’t say much, but I knew he was unhappy about my plans.
The next step was to tell my minister. I dreaded this ordeal, but he was kind and logical about it all. “Why not wait six months?” he asked. “At least until you have taken some philosophy courses and have a basis for such a decision. There is no hurry. After all, you’ve only known these people for six weeks.”
I left his office feeling like a traitor to family and faith. Depressed and lonely, I spent much of the week lying on my bed, crying or staring into space. Was I just being selfish to want something so much? How could it be right if it made my family so unhappy?
At the end of the week, my parents reluctantly signed my baptism card, but continued to press me to think about the decision some more. In my emotionally exhausted state, six months to think about it sounded just right, even to me.
Back at school I called the lady missionaries. In their apartment we knelt, and they called on me to pray. I prayed for strength, and almost immediately the light returned. I knew what I must do. I had promised the Lord to abide by the knowledge I received, and my prayer had been generously answered. There was no real reason to delay. Satan, I had discovered, could tempt you whether you believed in him or not.
I was baptized a few days later, and we all sang “O My Father” through our tears.
That was twenty years ago. Since then, my mother and three sisters have joined the Church, and I’ve been blessed with a temple marriage. I still enjoy looking at the “curious figure” on the Salt Lake Temple, though I know now that he really is an angel, and that his trumpet heralds the restoration of Christ’s gospel to all the world.