Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Why I believe"

The following is an excerpt from the testimony of Clayton M. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School. I think this is a remarkable and inspiring story of personal conversion -- and beautifully and poignantly written (I really recommend reading his entire talk).

...I was born into a wonderful Mormon family, and as I grew up I found few reasons to disbelieve the teachings of the church.  My parents had deep faith in its precepts, and their example and encouragement were powerful – I believed in my parents, and I knew that they believed the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was not until I was 24, however, that I came to know these things for myself. 

I had been given a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England.  After I had  lived there for a few weeks, far away from the supportive environment in which I had been raised, it became clear that adhering to Mormonism in that environment was going to be  very inconvenient.  In fact, doing the sorts of things I described in the first part of this essay within the Mormon congregation in Oxford would preclude my participation in many of the things that had made Oxford such a rich experience for prior recipients of my scholarship.  I decided, as a result, that the time had come for me to learn for certain and for myself whether Mormonism was true.  

I had read the Book of Mormon before – seven times, to be exact.  But in each of those instances I had read it by assignment – from my parents or a teacher – and my objective in reading it was to finish the book.  This time, however, my objective was to  find out if it was a true book or a fabrication. Accordingly, I reserved the time from 11:00 until midnight, every night, to read the Book of Mormon next to the fireplace in my chilly room at the Queen’s College.  I began each of those sessions by kneeling in verbal prayer.  I told God, every night, that I was reading this to know if it was His truth.  I told Him that I needed an answer to this question – because if it was not true I did not want to waste my time with this church and would search for something else.  But if it was true, then I promised that I would devote my life to following its teachings, and to helping others do the same.  

I then would sit in the chair and read a page in the Book of Mormon.  I would stop at the bottom of the page and think about it.  I would ask myself what the material on that page meant for the way I needed to conduct my life.  I would then get on my knees and pray aloud again, asking the Lord to tell me if the book was true.  I would then get back in the chair, turn the page, and repeat the process, for the remainder of the hour.  I did this every evening.

After I had done this for several weeks, one evening in October, 1975, as I sat in the chair and opened the book following my prayer, I felt a marvelous spirit come into the room and envelop my body.  I had never before felt such an intense feeling of peace and love.  I started to cry, and did not want to stop.
I knew then, from a source of understanding more powerful than anything I had ever felt in my life, that the book I was holding in my hands was true.  It was hard to see through the tears.  But as I opened it and began again to read, I saw in the words of the book a clarity and magnitude of God’s plan for us that I had never conceived before.  The spirit stayed with me  for that entire hour.  And each night thereafter, as I prayed and then sat in that chair with the Book of Mormon, that same spirit returned.  It changed my heart and my life forever. 

It was as if I had been looking out as far as I could see toward the horizon, and had been quite satisfied that I could see everything that there was to see.  When I undertook to read the Book of Mormon in that manner, however, I discovered that so much more beauty and truth about who we are and what God has in store for us, lies beyond that old horizon.  I did not know what I did not know.

I love to go back to Oxford.  As the beautiful, historic home of the world’s oldest university, the town is filled with students and tourists.  To me, however, it is a sacred place.  It is there that I learned that the fundamental message of the Book of Mormon is in fact true – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  It is there that I learned that God is indeed my Father in Heaven.  I am His son.  He loves  me, and even knows my name.  And I learned that Joseph Smith, the man who translated the Book of Mormon and organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a prophet of God in the same sense that Peter and Moses were prophets.  I love to return to Oxford to remember the beautiful, powerful spirit that came to my heart and conveyed these messages to me. 

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