Joseph Smith was the founding prophet-mystic of Mormonism, whose initial spiritual awakening in 1820 in Palmyra, New York, is called the “First Vision.” There is a mystical detail in that vision that I think may have more meaning than has been traditionally considered in Mormonism.
In the best known account of 1838, Joseph wrote that he saw two personages, presumably a theophany of the Father and the Son:
One of <them> spake unto me calling me by name and said (pointing to the other) “This is my beloved Son, Hear him.”—”History, circa June 1839–circa 1841 [Draft 2],” p. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed May 19, 2020, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-circa-june-1839-circa-1841-draft-2/3
It is the “pointing,” inserted in this account as a parenthetical aside, that I think is particularly interesting. We usually think this just means a literal hand gesture, one person pointing to the other person, the Father at the Son. But I think there is more to it, a different way of interpreting this pointing.
In a later account, Charles Walker wrote in his journal of hearing John Alger tell of Joseph recounting his visionary experience:
…that God touched [Joseph’s] eyes with his finger and said, ‘Joseph this is my beloved Son, hear him.’ As soon as the Lord had touched his eyes with his finger he immediately saw the Saviour.—https://archive.org/details/AnAnalysisOfTheAccountsRelatingJosephSmithsEarlyVisions/page/n31/mode/2up; See also https://rsc.byu.edu/exploring-first-vision/significance-joseph-smiths-first-vision-mormon-thought
Was this a literal touching of God’s finger on Joseph’s eye? I don’t think so. I think God metaphorically “touched” the eyes of his understanding, opening his mind/consciousness to greater wisdom, as in D&C 76:12, 110:1, 138:11, Eph. 1:18, Acts 26:18, etc. One can suddenly “see” what was previously veiled, or that to which one was previously blind. They “see the Light.”
What was the nature of this new understanding?
I suggest that the “pointing” in the 1838 account may be the same as the “touching” in the later account. Both directly preceded God’s “talking.” It may have been God “touching” his eyes, essentially “pointing” at Joseph himself, indicating that Joseph was the “Son” that was God’s “Beloved.” This would also align with the earliest 1832 account where God first said, “Joseph my son.” It was only after Joseph was “pointed” at, and his eyes were opened, that he “saw the Saviour.”
I think these are all clues that Joseph saw the Savior in himself, he realized Christ living in him, not as an external person, but as One in him, like Paul who also realized Christ “living in him” (Galatians 2:20). It was Joseph’s spiritual awakening to the divine nature in himself. I suggest God was introducing Joseph to his true divine Self, his Oneness in God, which Christians call the “Christ,” not as an external person, but as his own deepest being, his deepest nature, his own fundamental consciousness at-one with all things.
The realization of our Oneness or Nonduality in the Ultimate or Absolute is this Christ Consciousness (aka Buddha-nature, Krishna Consciousness, Atman, pure consciousness, al-Insān al-Kāmil, Zhenren, etc.), an overflowing abundance of Love, Peace, Light, and Joy. When God “touches” our eyes, opening our understanding, stripping away the veil of our ego-self identity, we too realize the Christ living in us, that Christ is the living consciousness within us, the very Life in us at-one with nature and the cosmos, that our consciousness is One in God or Ultimate Reality, an expression or manifestation of that very Reality. It is our realization of this Divine within us that opens our eyes and heals our spiritual or existential blindness. We then know our true Self, our essential Self, our true nature. It is the One.
Jesus meant it when he prayed that “that they may be one as we are one… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:11, 21-23). Joseph realized Christ “in him,” just as we may so realize it. And this is not something that becomes an actuality, or comes into being at some point in time, but rather it is already there, here in us right now, as the very nature of our consciousness and being itself, we just don’t know it (see John 1:26; D&C 38:7).
As the neoplatonist Plotinus once noted:
God is not external to anyone, but is present with all things, though they are ignorant that he is so.-Plotinus
But we can awaken to this reality within us. We can wake up to our true nature at-one with the cosmos. We can become conscious of our deepest and most fundamental identity. We can know that we are the cosmos itself manifesting itself. We don’t have to remain “ignorant” of this existential truth. This is awakening. It is the One. It is Love.
Saint Augustine realized:
He who is filled with love is filled with God himself.-St. Augustine
Joseph Smith noted at the end of his earliest 1832 account, “and my soul was filled with love…” (see also 1 John 4:7-21).
The painting above is Christ and the pauper. Healing of the blind man. 2009. Canvas, oil. 100 x 55. Artist A.N. Mironov.