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Mormon Scholars Testify: R. Collin Mangrum - "How Many Moments of Light Does It Take?"

TitleMormon Scholars Testify: R. Collin Mangrum - "How Many Moments of Light Does It Take?"
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsMangrum, R. Collin
Access Date2 April 2018
Last Update DateOctober 2010
PublisherMormon Scholars Testify
KeywordsAdversity; Blessings; Book of Mormon; Charity; Jesus Christ; Miracle; Prayer; Prophet; Service; Smith, Joseph, Jr.; Testimony; Trials

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R. Collin Mangrum

How Many Moments of Light Does It Take?

A Vicarious Testimony

My young wife Barbara appeared in tears when I arrived home. She uncharacteristically did not want to talk but I knew something was on her mind.

She answered my inquiries, with a question: “I am not sure whether I am allowed to speak of what I have learned, what I have experienced.”

After further questioning she explained to me that she had been reading the Book of Mormon and had come across a passage that she wondered about. As she wondered she became filled with the Spirit and knew with a perfect surety an answer to her prayer. She had received a special answer, a special insight and a burning testimony that the Book of Mormon was true and could teach us light and truth. As she prayed for some confirmation she was filled with the Spirit and heard the audible words in a voice not her own: “Then believe it, my little one.”

As she heard these words and received the Spirit, she understood the light and truth of God and the light and truth of the Book of Mormon. She reluctantly conveyed this experience to me with a prayerful petition that I never reveal the contents of the answer to her prayer without prior confirmation of the Spirit that it was appropriate to reveal. I have never revealed the answer to that prayer except to our children many years later when they were ready and the Spirit confirmed that it was time.

I wondered, “How many moments of light does it take?”

Joseph Smith is a Prophet and Witnessed Christ and our Eternal Father

When I graduated from Harvard we owned a small Toyota Celica. My wife Barbara and I packed our small car to the brim, loaded our precious six-month-old baby Charmian into the car, and began our journey to our new home and law school. We decided to drive through the night when Charmian would sleep most peacefully. Around midnight, as we were driving through Utica, New York, our car heated up and white steam plumed from our exhaust. I knew enough about cars to understand that we had blown the head gasket on our engine, and the car rolled to a stop. It was Friday night. Barbara and I uttered a humble prayer that we would know what to do. Fortunately we were by an exit so I pushed our car about a mile, and rolled down the exit ramp to the outskirts of Utica. As we drifted down we could see a Toyota car dealership about a mile from the exit and we knew our prayers had been answered. We sat in our car waiting for morning and praying for assistance.

As the sun came and people began to scurry about, no one came to the dealership. We decided to walk to a nearby gas station to get some information.

I asked the attendant who was changing the oil of a car up on the rack, “Do you know when the Toyota dealership will open?”

“Monday morning,” he answered abruptly.

“I blew a head gasket on my Toyota, do you know of anyone who could fix it here in town?”

“Not until Monday. That is the only way to get any Toyota parts.”

Dejected, I started to walk away, not knowing what to do. The owner of the car that was being serviced answered, “Wait a minute. I may be able to help. As soon as he is finished with my car I will be with you.”

A few minutes later he drove us to his house. “I am a banker, and I provided the loan to the Toyota dealership, perhaps I can help.”

As we arrived at his home and opened the door, on the wall facing the door was a large unadorned picture of Christ. When I saw the picture I was filled with light. I felt as if He looked right into my soul and whispered, “I am with you, fear not.”

The Baptist family welcomed us into their home. The banker called the owner of the dealership and, after suffering through a few grumbles, he agreed to meet us at his dealership to provide the part. After finishing with the dealer the banker called a service station owner who also was his customer. After telling him I could run his station while he fixed my car we were off. As I was busy attending to the car, the family hosted a block party for my wife and beautiful daughter. They enjoyed a barbecue, a pool party, and a celebration of their unexpected visit.

Late in the afternoon I finished with the car, unsuccessfully tried to pay the mechanic for his repair services, and returned to the home to find a celebration going on in our behalf. Tears filled my eyes at the tenderness of the family who had never met us before and whom I would never see again. I knew with certainty that they had been sent to us by our Savior who had heard our fervent prayer. They begged us to stay the weekend in their home, rather than leaving so late in the afternoon, but I insisted that we needed to be on our way, that they had already done too much.

We drove to Palmyra, entered the Sacred Grove all alone at dusk and kneeled to offer a humble prayer of thanksgiving. After kneeling for some time, both of us looked at each other, arose, and reverently left for the parking lot. Both of us had been filled with the light of His love, but neither of us felt worthy enough to utter a prayer in so sacred a place. Instead we kneeled in the parking lot and uttered our prayer that we knew that Christ wanted us to know that He lives, that He knows each of us personally, and would be with us in our hour of need if we would but call on Him with faith in His goodness and love. We also understood more perfectly that Joseph Smith had indeed been given an answer to prayer at that very spot so many years ago. Our experience had not been accidental or coincidental. It was a tender mercy of our Lord.

How many moments of light does it take?

A Teaching Moment and the Love and Prophecy of President Kimball

While attending law school I had the opportunity to serve in the Salt Lake Temple. I would always pick up 85-year-old Sister Blackburn between 5:00 and 5:15 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. session. Every morning she would have a question for me related to temple theology. For more than a year I thought I was teaching her, but I had to admit that her questions always made me stretch spiritually to provide an answer. One morning she asked me a question and a flash of light filled my heart and soul. I understood by the Spirit something I had wondered about for years. I also understood for the first time that Sister Blackburn had been teaching me, not learning from me. I smiled as I realized she had been teaching me by her well considered questions.

In 1974 or 1975 I had the blessing of attending a solemn assembly for all temple workers held in the upper rooms of the Salt Lake Temple. Hundreds of workers crowded into the large room to hear President Kimball speak. When my Prophet arose I was filled with light when I heard him prophesy that, within the lifetime of many in attendance that night (the average age of the audience was probably 70), the number of temples in the world would double, triple, and even quadruple. He also prophesied that the Lord would prepare ways we could not even imagine to provide genealogical records to fill the scores and scores of temples that soon would be built all over the world.

I was so touched by the light of truth that enveloped me that, after the meeting, I worked my way down to the front of the hall to shake the Prophet’s hand. I did not want to bother him, but I felt compelled to touch him and feel of his love. When I finally arrived at his side and shook his hand I tried to quickly pull my hand away to give others a chance to share in his light. Before I could pull my hand away, he put his other hand on top of my hand and would not let me withdraw. He looked straight into my eyes to the bottom of my soul and smiled an understanding smile. His gaze filled me with light again and I knew that he loved me deeply and somehow knew exactly who I was and could be. I understood at some level how those touched by the Savior must have felt when he touched them and cleansed them from trouble, disease, and sin. I knew without a doubt that he was a prophet of the restored gospel, a messenger from my Savior.

How many moments of light does it take?

A Testimony of Christ

While attending Oxford University to obtain a graduate degree in law, I had the blessings of an International Rotary fellowship. It not only paid for my schooling and my expenses, it also gave me many opportunities to speak at various Rotary gatherings. On one occasion as I mentioned my faith and how it anchored my life, a Methodist Circuit Minister asked me if I would attend and speak about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at an annual dinner on comparative religions they had for their ministers. I agreed and on the appointed evening I arrived as I had promised. I thought that many religions would be included, but I learned that I was the only speaker; my church was the only religion that would be compared that night.

I spoke for a few moments attempting to give an overview of my testimony and the essentials of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I then opened it for questions. I answered the expected questions about polygamy, the gold plates, about genealogy, temples and work for the dead. The questions seemed evenly split between sympathetic questions evidencing respect and hostile questions demonstrating contempt.

What shocked me was an accusation that our church was not Christian, that we worshiped Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon rather than Christ. I explained that our name was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They discounted that title, claiming that it was used as a form of deception, but that we really did not truly believe in Christ. I tried not to become angry at the suggestion that our claimed belief in Christ was superficial or, even worse, deceptive of the real truth. For the next two hours (the last hour and one-half in the parking lot with those who stayed after the circuit minister had asked us to leave the building because of the late hour and my apparent willingness to talk about Christ into the wee hours of the next morning) I spoke nothing more than of our understanding of the majesty, glory, and honor we have for our Savior and Redeemer. I asked them to compare in their hearts all they knew of His majesty and to compare it with our restored understanding.

I started chronologically from the beginning to the eternal life we will enjoy with Him and our Heavenly Father: (1) Christ accepted His role and responsibility in pre-mortal existence and we each accepted Him as our Savior and Redeemer; (2) He created the earth and other worlds without end; (3) Adam was taught about Christ when he was driven out of the Garden of Eden and built an altar to offer sacrifice unto the Lord; (4) Christ is Jehovah, Messiah, Yahweh, or Lord of the Old Testament; (5) Christ had a miracle birth; (6) Christ lived a perfect life without sin and provided the example of how to live and sacrifice for others; (7) Christ established His church, ordained apostles and seventies, and extended priesthood authority to act in His name; (8) Christ atoned for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary; (9) Christ was resurrected and redeemed us from the dead; (10) following His death, Christ visited other sheep, including descendants from Israel in the Americas, as recorded in the Book of Mormon; (11) following His crucifixion Christ established a ministry to the dead to enable all to receive the benefits of the atonement, dependent upon their acceptance of Christ in post-mortal realms; (12) Christ restored the true gospel in these latter days to Joseph Smith, including the sealing powers to enable all to return unto Him; (13) we believe Christ will yet come again in glory and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is the Christ; (14) we believe that Christ will reign in a millennial glory; (15) we believe Christ will judge all with perfect judgment; (16) we believe we will call upon the Father in the name of Christ forevermore; and (17) we celebrate these truths of Christ by baptizing, administering the sacrament, and performing temple ordinances in His name with His authority.

I ended by quoting a scripture from the Book of Mormon, a book they had suggested was not of Christ: “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26). I asked them not ever to suggest we did not believe in Christ again.

How many moments of light does it take?

A Song of Inspiration

On a Sunday morning in 1978, while we were living in Oxford, I arrived at a small community building in Banbury, England, which doubled as a meeting place for the small congregation of Saints that attended from the area. I arrived early enough to clean up the beer bottles, open the windows to clear out the residue of smoke, and sweep the hall from the Saturday night party at this community hall. I had come to the Banbury branch as a high council representative to visit this tiny congregation. Soon everything was clean and the eight or nine priesthood members of the branch arrived for priesthood. I foolishly thought to myself, “I wonder why they keep this branch open. They are such a tiny branch and almost none of the members have any leadership experience in the Church. How can they function week to week, meeting to meeting?” The meeting began and I immediately had my inquiries answered by the Spirit.

They did not have a piano, but someone stood in the front to conduct the opening song a capella. I wondered if anyone, out of the ten of us there, would sing. Boy, was I surprised. Every one sang out with full voice, nothing withheld out of self consciousness or concern for the fact that most were singing off key. They sang as if the words of the song came from the bottom of their newly converted souls. They sang as if they truly believed all that they had been recently taught was true.

I remembered my moment in the Sacred Grove and I listened to the words of “Oh How Lovely was the Morning” a little more closely than I had ever before. The dingy, dirty room we had just cleaned up suddenly became a place of light and truth. I knew by the Holy Ghost that Joseph had indeed offered a simple prayer, from his humble fourteen-year-old heart. I knew that he had seen and talked with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. I also knew Joseph Smith had seen an angel, translated the Book of Mormon, and restored the gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew with the same perfect knowledge anyone filled with the Spirit knew, that the gospel had the capacity to bring us to Christ in humility, even in a humble social hall with beer stains and cigarette butts covering the floor. I knew that Christ held me close to His heart and that all would be well, come what may.

An Unexpected Death and An Answered Prayer

When my wife died suddenly on December 7, 1978, it seemed as if all the light of my life had been extinguished in one moment. I began to live for my children only. I longed to be with her in the eternities, but for my three tiny children who needed me to be strong for them. I prayed intently as I had never prayed before to be able to talk with her from her spiritual home, to know that she continue to exist, and was still aware of our plight. I wanted to feel of her Spirit and know she remained my eternal wife. I prayed and prayed and prayed with seemingly no answer.

About two weeks after her death I changed the focus of my prayer. I asked intently that, if I could not see her for whatever reason, my oldest child, a daughter of six years old, would be allowed to have a confirming dream to know that her mother still existed and still had her in mind. I prayed fervently for hours before falling asleep.

I awakened to the sweet sound of my daughter’s voice: “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, I met Mom last night in the Salt Lake Temple. She came to me and she was so beautiful; she was filled with light. We hugged and she told me that everything would be fine for our family. She told me that she would always love me and that she would always be with me when I needed her most. She told me to tell you that she will love our family forever.”

As she spoke these words to my wounded heart, I knew with perfect clarity that my prayer had been answered. I knew that the gospel was true, that Christ loved me and my children personally, and that all would be fine, despite the temporary loss of my wife and the mother of my children. I knew I had not been abandoned by my Savior.

How many moments of light does it take?

Ann: Another Answered Prayer

I kneeled in prayer trying to understand whom I should marry, who should become the second mother of my three children. I had been widowed for more than a year, had dated, but could not decide between two daughters of Zion, each of whom was more righteous, more loving, and more perfect than I would ever be. As I prayed in my bedroom the Spirit bore testimony to me that if I got off my knees and walked to the telephone in the other room, I would receive a call from my future bride. I was startled at such an unexpected answer, but I had prayed for an answer and I did as I had been prompted. As I walked down the hall toward the phone, I wondered if I had imagined this answer; I doubted for a moment the answer to my prayer. As I reached for the phone it startled me with its ringing. I hesitated for a moment, appreciative that the Lord cared for me enough to answer my prayer so specifically. I knew by the Spirit that the phone call was an answer to prayer. I picked up the phone and Ann answered in her humble voice. “I apologize for calling, but for some reason I wanted to talk with you for a moment.”

I answered, “I am happy you called. I am happy you listened as well.”

We married a few months later. Elder Neal Maxwell performed the sealing. As he gave us counsel, he talked of the pre-mortal agreement between Barbara and Ann to share in different roles in the nurturing of our unified family. As he spoke, the Spirit filled me with light and whispered to me the truthfulness of his words and of the love of the Savior for each of us. I knew that our marriage was meant to be and that our family had had pre-mortal roots and would flower throughout the eternities together forever.

How many moments of light does it take?

Healing Power

One of my home teaching sisters, Joyce Bore, called me one Saturday afternoon. She explained:

Michael, my grandson, needs you. My daughter took him to the public pool and left him and his brother while she went who knows where. I am sure it was for no good. His brother told the life guard that his brother Michael had not come up from the bottom of the pool and that he was scared. They emptied the pool and found what appeared to be his lifeless body on the bottom. They know he had been there for more than three to four minutes and were sure that he had drowned. They brought him to the hospital because he still showed signs of life. They told me he that he would either die that day or if he revived he likely would have severe brain damage.

In her tears she told me, “He needs the priesthood; he needs a blessing form you.”

I called a close friend, Blaine Blad, and we hurried to the hospital. As we arrived and received permission from the physicians (who shook their heads with their certainty that nothing could help), we entered the room and anointed his head, and I gave him a blessing. To my astonishment I pronounced with perfect confidence that he would recover from the episode and would have no residual problems. As I closed my prayer I knew that I had been filled with light and that my words had not been of my making.

We sat by his bedside with his grandmother and his brother for a few minutes. Suddenly he opened his eyes and looked straight at me with a smile and understanding. I asked him, “Michael, do you know who I am and what we have planned for this weekend?”

He answered with calmness and certitude: “You are Brother Mangrum and I am going to be baptized next Saturday because I am eight now.” He closed his eyes went to sleep and went home the next day with no problems from his apparent drowning.

How many moments of light does it take?

The Mount of Olives and our Savior

During the summer of 2008 I had the blessing of teaching a course on comparative law and religion at Hebrew University in a summer law class sponsored by Touro University Law School. During that summer my wife and I experienced countless tender mercies of the Lord. One tender mercy occurred as we were visiting the Mount of Olives near the area where the Garden of Gethsemane must have been. My mother, brother, and a niece and a nephew had come to visit, and we were absorbing the spirit of that sacred place. I leaned against an olive tree that was supposed to be hundreds of years old and wondered if it had been on the Mount when Christ had suffered all things in the Atonement. I sensed that even the trees knew how special it was to have shared the soil of that sacred space. I understood by the Spirit that the Savior’s love had made the Atonement possible.

I was impressed that I needed to obtain some olive oil to consecrate for future priesthood blessings from that sacred location. I had no idea where I could obtain the oil. I told my family I would return and I started off up the adjoining road. At the same time a local inhabitant in local attire began walking up the same road. He did not seem interested in talking, but I tried “Shalom” to see if he would respond. He answered “Hello” and, hearing a familiar accent, I asked, “Are you an American?”

He answered, “Yes, but I have lived here on the Mount of Olives for more than thirty years. I have a shop in old Jerusalem. I normally would be at my shop by now, but I was delayed this morning.”

I asked, “Where in America are you from?”

He answered, “You would not know it; it is a small city in the western United States.”

I answered, “What is its name?”

He answered, “Ogden, Utah.”

I asked, “I am originally from Utah. Are you a Mormon?”

He answered, “Oh, no, but I grew up with the Mormons. They were the friends of my childhood. I have never forgotten them.”

He asked me, “Where are you headed?”

I answered, “I need to purchase some olive oil, hopefully from this area, but I do not know where to go.”

I answered, “I will take you.”

He took me to a shop at the top of the hill and in Arabic told them what I needed. They pulled out a bottle of olive oil produced from the area and as I tried to pay for it, my guest purchased it for me and would not allow me to pay. He also showed me the spot on the Mount of Olives where his home was located and invited my family to visit any time I was in the area. As I thanked him, he hurried off late to open his own shop. I returned with an understanding from the Spirit that he had been specifically sent to aid in my effort to obtain some holy oil from that sacred mount. I returned and we consecrated the oil and made it holy through the priesthood as it had been made holy from the sacred soil from whence it sprang.

How many moments of light does it take?

It is Enough for Me: I Believe

I have been trained about rational skepticism at Harvard and Oxford. I have written about and lectured regarding the testimonial infirmities of hearsay and I have taught many students the art of cross examination and the flimsiness of many untested stories. I do not know how many moments of light it takes to overcome training in doubt and despair, but for me it has been enough. I have experienced many, many tender mercies attesting to the truth, light, and love of my Savior and Redeemer, as well as the restoration of His church in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have experienced enough moments of light, and I believe.


R. Collin Mangrum holds the A. A. & Ethel Yossem Endowed Chair in Legal Ethics at the Creighton University School of Law.

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard University in 1972; his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Utah School of Law in 1974, where he was Associate Editor of the Law Review; his Bachelor of Civil Laws from Oxford University in 1978; and his Doctor of Judicial Science degree from Harvard University in 1983. He was in private practice in Salt Lake City from 1975-1977, was Rotary International Foundation Fellow in 1977 and in 1978, and joined the Creighton faculty in 1979. He received a Visiting Scholar appointment to the University of Edinburgh in the fall of 1986 and held an appointment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the summer of 2008.

Dr. Mangrum has written articles for Creighton Law ReviewDuke Law JournalUtah Law ReviewBYU StudiesInternational Perspectives on Church and State, the Enyclopedia of Religion, and the Journal of Mormon History. His book Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1830-1900 (written with Edwin Firmage; University of Illinois Press, 1988) won the National Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award for 1989. Mangrum on Nebraska Evidence (2003) and Mangrum and Benson on Utah Evidence (2004) have been updated and republished every year since their initial publication dates.

Professor Mangrum teaches Advanced Trial Practice, Church and State, Evidence, History of American Legal Thought, Jurisprudence, and Scientific Evidence. He has been admitted to the state and federal bars in Utah and Nebraska, as well as to practice law before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of the United States.

Posted October 2010