Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Prayer Circle

Many early non-canonical documents point to events in history that would enrich our understanding of the gospel were they more widely known and considered.  Not all apocryphal writings are beneficial, but those who take the Spirit as their guide "shall obtain benefit therefrom" (D&C 91:5).

We have for instance, from various sources, accounts of Mary leading the ancient apostles in prayer after the death of their Lord.     

On one occasion when the apostles were met together, "Bartholomew . . . said to Peter, Andrew, and John, 'Let us ask [Mary] the favored one how she conceived the Lord and bore him.'" This was an embarrassing question, and no one was willing to approach Mary on the subject. "And Bartholomew said to Peter, 'You are the President and my teacher, you go and ask her!'" But Peter says Bartholomew himself should ask, and after much hesitation he approaches Mary on behalf of the other apostles, and she agrees to enlighten them.

They form a prayer circle, "and Mary, standing before them, raised her hands to heaven" and began to call upon the Father in an unknown language, a number of versions of which are given.

When she finished the prayer, she said, "Let us sit on the ground [or stand quietly, kathisomen, at the prepared place, edaphos—since it is plain that they remain standing]; come Peter, you are in charge. Stand at my right hand and place your left hand under my forearm; and you, Andrew, you do the same thing on my left side."

John and Bartholomew are instructed to support or catch Mary if she faints, "lest my bones fail me when I start to speak." This mutual support in the circle is necessary where some may be caught away in the Spirit and pass out.

In a variant version, when the brethren are met together on the Mount of Olives, "Peter said to Mary, 'Blessed one, please ask the Lord to tell us about the things that are in heaven.'" But Mary reminds Peter that as Adam has precedence over Eve, so it is his business to take the lead in such things. Having taken position in the circle, Mary begins to speak:

"When I was in the Temple of God [a number of early sources report that Mary served in the Temple, like Samuel, as a child]. . . there appeared to me one day a manifestation like an angel of unfamiliar aspect. . . . And suddenly the veil of the Temple was rent and there was a great earthquake and I fell on my face unable to bear the sight of him. But he stretched forth his hand and raised me up, and I looked up to heaven and a dewy cloud came and [lacuna] moistened me from head to foot; and he wiped me off with his stole (robe, shawl) and said to me, "Greetings, thou favored one, chosen vessel!" and he grasped my right hand. And there was bread in abundance and he set it out on the altar of the Temple [cf. the shewbread], and he ate first and then gave to me. And he put forth his hand from his garment and there was wine in abundance, and he drank first and then gave to me, and I beheld and saw a full cup and bread. And he said to me, "In three years' time I shall send to you my Logos and you will bear a son, and through him all the creation will be saved. . . . Peace to thee, my beloved, forever and ever." And suddenly he was gone from me, and the Temple was as it was before."

At this point the Lord himself appeared and commanded Mary "to utter no more of this mystery," while "the Apostles were sore afraid that the Lord would be angry with them" (Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, pp. 45-99).

The more you seek to understand Mormonism and the gospel you've inherited the more you should be asking questions about how to live your religion.  How is it that you are expected to prevail upon God?  What is the purpose of those things we learn in the temple?  

Why was a woman allowed to lead the prayer circle?  Why is it that only men can act as voice in our prayer circles?  Do we have any evidence in our own history that women have acted as voice?  We know that until only recent Mormon history, mothers and wives joined in circles to give blessings to their family.  What about leading prayers?  

Outside of the temple does your wife sometimes act as voice in the prayer?  Is it only appropriate for a woman to act as voice if it's not "real" or "true" prayer?  Why is that?

Why does Mary have Peter and Andrew support her forearms as she "speaks?"  Is it because she was too old to stand and speak to them, or another reason?  How old was Mary when this happened?

I'm not suggesting we should change the way things are done in the temple.  I actually think there is important symbolism in the way it's done.  I'm not concerned as much about that as I am about how I'm supposed to approach God.  Have you ever wondered what good it does you to learn a certain thing in the temple if it is never to be used in your personal life?  Can men tell you how you should and should not approach your God in prayer?  

We are more closed than we realize.  We are more fearful of men than we are of God.      

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