This past Sunday, Ann and I spoke in church. I hate the process of preparing the talk and anticipating getting it done, but I don't mind actually spouting off from the pulpit, once I get up there. In the days before a talk, I'm actually pretty miserable about it, and it's such a relief to finally put it behind me.
A few years ago, I typed a chapter on premortality for a book proposal for HarperSanFrancisco that they did not accept. I've never really been able to use this material anywhere else yet, so when the bishopric guy asked me what topic I'd like to do, I said premortality. Then I took 2-3 hours to go through and adapt parts of that old chapter into a talk.
When I stood up to the pulpit, I had a word-for-word manuscript of what I wanted to say, but of course I reworded stuff, added chatty asides, and ended up not saying half of what I wrote. But anyway, here are some interesting snippets from the typed version:
When the doctor called to report that my chest x-ray had revealed some “shadowing,” I was not alarmed, even when she told me I needed to get a CAT scan. Well, before long that “shadowing” had become a “thickening,” and then a “growth,” and then a “mass about as big as your fist.” Before long, I was undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease.
Now, there were times during this process when I didn’t know what I had, and one nurse even warned us that most people with a mass that big in their chest ended up dying before long. But throughout it, I felt a sense of peace and calmness. I’d even go so far as to say it felt inevitable or even somehow familiar.
I’ve come to believe that I was prepared in advance for that trial I went through. By “in advance,” I mean perhaps even during premortality. We’re taught that during our premortal life, we learned and prepared for earth life, and I believe that means we did some specific preparation for certain trials that Heavenly Father knew we would experience during mortality.
The Greek mystics believed that the spiritual nature of man descended from the Milky Way into material existence. Socrates wrote, “Our souls must also have existed without bodies before they were in the form of man, and must have had intelligence.” An Egyptian mystic whose name I can’t pronounce taught, “We must not shrink from saying that a man on earth is a mortal god, and that God in heaven is an immortal man.” In a sense, the Hindus believe that humans are gods who have always existed and have forgotten who they really are.
I served my mission in Australia, and even the Australian Aborigines have some beliefs about premortality. During what Aborigines call the Dreamtime, which could be another word for premortality, creative beings formed the land’s physical features, and some of those beings became human to safeguard the creation. Many Aborigines believe that spirit children wait at certain fertility sites for a suitable opportunity to enter a womb. In one group, spirit children are small, dark-skinned personages who have always existed. When one of them wishes to become human, it enters a camp and whispers to a sleeping man, requesting to be escorted to his wife.
Even some of the early Christians believed in the doctrine of premortality. The third-century Christian writer Origen of Alexandria believed that human spirits were judged for their premortal conduct before coming to earth. He wrote, “The concrete and individual human mind descended into the body from the choir of aerial souls, having lived earlier lives and bringing with it the qualities and a nature which it had acquired by its conduct.”
However, in A.D. 543 the Roman Catholic pope officially outlawed belief in premortality as too speculative, unscriptural, and pagan. So the concept was essentially lost to mainstream Christianity. Even as late as 1329, however, a monk was excommunicated for teaching that the human soul is uncreated and uncreatable.
The novelist Marcel Proust wrote, “Everything in our life happens as though we entered upon it with a load of obligations contracted in a previous existence, obligations whose sanction is not of this present life, [which] seem to belong to a different world, founded on kindness, scruples, sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one, a world whence we emerge to be born on this earth, before returning thither.”
In the name of Jesus, amen.