I suggest that Joseph Smith's earliest direct encounters with God happened in mystical experience, or what is also known as altered states of consciousness.
David Bentley Hart (b. 1965) is described as "an American polymath whose work encompasses a wide range of subjects and genres. A prolific essayist, he has written on topics as diverse as art, literature, religion, philosophy, film, baseball, and politics. He is also a writer of fiction." Religiously speaking, he is a "convert from high-church Anglicanism [...]
Who was Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844)? He's been quite an enigma both within and outside of Mormonism since his death. Many Mormons see him as a deeply gifted prophet of God, in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and even Moses. He recorded and published new scripture, the Book of Mormon, just like ancient prophets. Many Mormons revere him as someone who restored Christianity in its purity, even the original Christian church and true gospel of Jesus. They believe he received true priesthood authority from God to perform real saving rituals, ordinances, and act as a "high priest" to bring others into the presence of God.
One of the last things we did at the seminar with Bernard McGinn this past weekend was read through and discuss Saint Francis of Assisi's poem and religious song Canticle of the Sun. McGinn considers this to be a very mystical text from Francis, as Francis seems to see God powerfully in and throughout the whole of creation, including in the sun, moon, stars, Earth, etc. McGinn noted that it is a kind of nature mysticism. Francis wrote most of it in the year 1224, and the last few lines in 1226 just before his death.
This weekend I had the fortunate opportunity to go to Fairfax, Virginia, to attend a seminar hosted by the Shalem Institute, an organization that fosters contemplative living and leadership. Their invited guest to present for their annual Gerald May Seminar was Bernard McGinn, who is Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and of the History of Christianity in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. McGinn is an American Roman Catholic Theologian and is considered one of the world's foremost expert scholars on the history of Christian mysticism. He has written seven volumes outlining the history of Christian mysticism, and may write two more, bringing the history up to the present time. This series is known as The Presence of God.
The word mystical is derived from the Greek mystikos meaning "secret," and muo meaning "concealed." Why all the mystery? Why is it concealed? Why do people keep it a secret? This seems like shady business. But is it?
"Some types of mystical religion come close to atheism in their understanding of God as unimaginable."
The following are excerpts from a discourse given by the Byzantine Christian monk and poet, Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022 AD), to the monks of the Monastery of St. Mamas.
Until we can get back to direct primary first-hand personal intimate contemplative mystical ecstatic experience of God in the lives of each and every human being, then God will increasingly become an abstract distant concept instead of a Living immanent reality.
At this time of year the Christian world celebrates the birth of Jesus during a holy day we call Christmas. This birth happened some two thousand years ago, which brought into the world a man who many billions of people today have come to adore and worship as both human and divine.