Is There Much to Mormon Spirituality?

Our Church is wonderful for many reasons and it does many things well. I have not found teaching spirituality to be one of them. Developing our capacity to understand things of a spiritual nature is an important aspect of our growth as human beings both on Earth and eternally, yet it is not uncommon to find examples of very intelligent and capable people in the Church expressing difficulty in learning how. Certainly there are those in the Church who have learned very well how to interpret spiritual things. But I doubt their skill has very much to do with any instruction they’ve received in the Church.

After all, it seems like we have to say on the matter is about 5 cliches that we recycle over and over again until they become almost meaningless: “burning in the bosom”, “calm, peaceful feeling”, and so on. Our descriptions of learning to recognize the Spirit have become the epitome of the term “vain repetition.” Admittedly, communicating with the Spirit is nearly wholly an experiential sort of knowledge, by which I mean it can only be understood by experiencing it first hand. Still, I wish we had better means of helping guide others through the process of gaining that experience.

Feeling the Spirit is seems to be an extremely important of our Church. Missionaries ask their investigators to ask for the Spirit to confirm the truth of the Book of Mormon, and we’re told that we can receive a spiritual confirmation of the things our leaders tell us. I think it’s safe to say that we put a great deal of emphasis on following the Spirit. Yet so many of us don’t really seem to know how to do so as well as we could. Looking back at my own mission, I now realize that I barely had any concept of it at all, and although I used plenty of those tried and true cliches at the time, I’m quite certain that many of those I baptized had hardly any sort of grasp at all on what it means to listen to the Spirit.

Personally, I feel like I’ve actually had good instruction and guidance in learning about the Spirit since that time. But that guidance has come mostly from sources outside the curriculum, scriptures, and teachings of the Church. For me, I’ve been fortunate enough to have two things. One of them is a mother who is not only great at understanding spiritual things but is also a fantastic teacher (having devoted her entire professional career and a PhD to that end). She has taught me to understand how to interact with the world in a spiritual way and how to understand how God communicates with us.

Also, I have found Buddhist teachings to be of much more practical assistance than our own. For example, our Church teaches that a person’s soul consists of both the body and the Spirit. But what in the world does that mean? The only relevance of that statement I ever seem to hear in the Church is that therefore sexual sins, which involve our bodies, also affect our souls. There may be something to that, I suppose. But through Buddhist meditation and yoga practices I’ve been able to experience in a first hand way how our bodies and spirits are indeed connected, how we can help them be in harmony with each other, and how powerful and spiritual it can be when we do so.

I don’t mean to say that I’ve got this spirituality thing down pat; there’s way more I need to learn. I do feel like I’ve got some solid groundwork laid, even though it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with things I’ve learned in the Church. But my real point in bringing all this up is to ask about others’ experience with spirituality. Of what does Mormon spirituality consist? Do we have some particular take on it as a church? Is there helpful guidance out there that I just didn’t happen to receive? I’d like to think that there is a lot our church has to offer in this area, but my own experience has found this not to be the case. So help me out. Do we lack as a church in this area? If so, why might that be?

Comments

  1. Bob Caswell says:

    Excellent post, Logan! To answer your original question (i.e. your title), no, I don’t think there is much to Mormon spirituality. The largest problem, which you indirectly addressed, is the fact that so much of our spirituality within the Church is based on the notion that it can just come out of us on call with the snap of our fingers. Obviously it doesn’t work this way, which makes us reconcile this difficulty at the end of home teaching (or whatever) with an attempt at a fairly forced I-know-this-Church-is-true ending to the message.

    Somehow, if we try, we feel like it still “counts” as a spiritual moment although I rarely actually feel the spirit at the end of home teaching visits (either on the receiving or giving end; I’m picking on home teaching because it’s what came to mind first, but it is not alone in the pool of awkward testimony sharing / spirituality moments). It’s not meant to be manufactured so easily, but yet, our Church does a pretty good job of making us feel like it’s supposed to be this way somehow. I’m not sure where I’m going with this… just that I share the same sentiment that you do but with little experience in other methods of spirituality. I’m always glad when I hear you’ve discovered more for yourself on how to be in tune with the spirit.

  2. I don’t think spirituality and the claim we have spirits are necessarily related. (i.e. I think we use the word spirit and its cognates to refer to rather different things)

    With regards to the practical significance of having a spirit it more relates to our living in a pre-mortal life and living between death and the resurrection. Those two doctrines are important for letting us know we chose to be here, that we had a goal in mind, as well as expanding our view of existence as beyond this life. That provides a larger context which can (and should) definitely affect our actions, desires and aims. The doctrine of a spirit world is important to give hope towards those who die without the gospel. It enables one to believe in Mormonism despite the limited exposure people have to it here in this life.

    With regards to meditation explaining the connection between spirit and body, I confess I’m not sure what you mean. I’ve done Japanese Zazen meditation and find it quite helpful. But it is more about harmonizing myself with my environment. I don’t see it having much by way of metaphysics.

    I think, however the biggest issue we face is harmonizing ourselves with the Spirit (big S). While I suppose Buddhist practice can help us with the general habit of harmonizing, it can’t help too much in terms of providing that connection to the Spirit in the way we ultimately need. Indeed, depending upon how one approaches it, it can cause us to miss it. (Although I hasten to add it need not do that in the least – but we certainly can look beyond the mark)

    As to what Mormon spirituality consists of, I think it is actually somewhat similar to Buddhist teaching. It is being in harmony with God. Of course Buddhists don’t put it that way. But it means we have to feel and recognize the Spirit and then act in harmony with it. Harmony is but a third of that.

  3. Sorry to speak in veiled terms, but I once asked a family friend, who is also a member of senior LDS leadership (very senior) what he did to “meditate”. The answer: yoga.

  4. Thanks, Bob. I think you’re right about people often saying they’ve felt the Spirit because that’s just what you say at certain times — not because they necessarily felt it. I don’t mean to say that that’s what happens all the time; I’m sure there are plenty of people who actually know how to feel and recognize the Spirit. But not everyone who says they do does. I think there’s some pressure to act as though we feel the Spirit when we may not.

    Clark, it surprizes me for you to say that you don’t think feeling the Spirit and having spirits are “necessarily related.” I guess I don’t need to hold on to that position to make my point, though, so I won’t spend too much time on that. But I will say that I call my “spirit” that aspect of myself that senses things spiritually. If it’s just coincidence that we have the same name for our pre-Earth life existences, fine. But that’s what I mean: our spiritual sensitivity.

    I don’t want to get too deep into Buddhist doctrine here, either. I do feel like I’ve read a lot of it, had some good teachers in it, and have experienced much of it firsthand, but I certainly make no claim to be an expert. That said, however, in Zazen meditation, the first “harmony” (as you call it) is between your mind and your body. Much effort is spent becoming aware of our body as well as our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. By bringing awareness of our body and mind together we can be at peace and receive powerful insights. I admit that what follows is my own interpretation: but I consider this to precisely reference the same concept as body + spirit = soul. Our true nature of awareness, or harmony, can most fully be experienced only by bringing our body and mind together as one. It’s remarkable the clarity — and what I perceive to be the ability to feel the Holy Ghost if that’s what you’re looking for — that comes when this is done.

    That’s the nutshell version of how Buddhist practices have helped my spirituality. But I’m more interested in your (and everyone’s) take on Mormon spirituality. You say things like, “harmonizing ourselves with the Spirit”, and “. . . that connection to the Spirit in the way we ultimately need.” Sorry to be difficult (and please correct me if I’m wrong), but those seem like only slightly more sophisticated reiterations of the same meaningless cliches we always hear. What does “harmonization” mean in the context of your description (you said you think the Buddhist way of thinking about it may not be the best one) and how do we achieve it? How do we “feel and recognize the Spirit and then act in harmony with it”? What is the “connection that we ultimately need”? These are the questions I haven’t heard answered in a very practical way in the Church. I’m not necessarily trying to have a philosophical discussion regarding what feeling the Spirit is, although I’m sure some of that’s highly relevant and necessary to my point. I’m more interested in the specific, meaningful, and/or practical ways the Church teaches about it.

  5. Ronan — that’s great to hear. Maybe I’m not so radical as I thought, utilizing Eastern practices to help my spirituality.

  6. Logan, great post. I was thinking about how limited our vocabulary and practice really are, but I wonder whether it’s just a question of time. We’re a pretty new faith, and we can’t really draw on the mainstream Christian traditions for exploring these issues. Give us a few hundred years, and we may understand the Spirit a little better.

    Of course, that places a responsibility upon us to lay the foundation for this new vocabulary. I wonder if our leaders are conscious of this duty.

  7. Bob Caswell says:

    Steve, I must confess that I’m not sure why our faith being really new necessarily means that we’ll have more of a chance of understanding spirituality in a few hundred years. I suppose there may be a connection between the age of a religion and its understanding… But I’d hope that this phenomenon is more of a coincidence and not something that we lean upon with the thought of “well, we ARE new, it’s not really our fault, future generations will have it better.” I guess that I feel like elapsed time is the last thing we should rely on for a better understanding of spirituality. For one, there’s nothing to say that it will improve with time. And secondly, it really doesn’t help someone like Logan (or me or whoever) understand how to improve in this regard. We care about the Church now, not as much a few hundred years from now.

  8. Logan,

    I think one of the greatest problems with spirituality or ‘feeling the spirit’ is that it is a lot like our testimonies. We cannot be given our own testimony. We can strengthen ours by sharing it and by listening to others’ but as the phrasology goes we cannot inherrit our testimony from our parents.

    Spirituality is very much the same thing. It is a very internal thing. We can teach people some of the symptoms of the spirit speaking but unlike modern language there is no translation guide for all the details. Learning how the spirit speaks is very internal.

    I for one applaud you on your use of yoga and Buddhism. I studied Eastern philosophy for a long time before joining the church and found in it a great teacher in those schools of thoughts to better understanding the spirit.

    I’ve used it in several of my EQ classes to better understand the nature of the spirit, prayer and so forth.

  9. Jonathan Green says:

    Logan, I can comment on a couple things you mention. First, you note that we don’t have an adequate language for talking about things of the spirit. This is true, but we’re not the first to grapple with it. A lot of the work of the medieval mystics was linguistic; after more than a thousand years of Christian tradition, they had to invent new ways to describe God and people’s experience of him. So you might be right that the passage of time won’t necessarily help. It’s still an open question if any degree of refinement in our language would be adequate, although that’s not an excuse to be content with a small stock of cliches.

    Another problem you mention is pedagogical, how people are taught in the church to have spiritual experiences, or not. It’s true we don’t have a tradition of spiritual exercises that lead to inspiration, but rather a list of actions that might prepare us to receive inspiration (fast, pray, read the scriptures, and all the rest). This corresponds reasonably well with my most important spiritual experiences, which have been unexpected, surprising, even shocking. Fasting and prayer help me feel like I’ve done what I’m supposed to for the day, but for me they have rarely functioned as triggers for inspiration. The absence of codified spiritual exercises from my religious experience is one reason I’ve found Grant von Harrison’s books so alien.

    There is, on the other hand, a lot of implicit instruction in church in feeling the spirit. Since the most important modelling of inspiration comes in testimony meeting, which is supposed to be spontaneous, perhaps it’s not too surprising that Mormon spirituality seems unsystematic.

  10. I have not posted on this board before, but felt the need to share my insights on this issue. I became a member of the church at the age of eight, following in the footsteps of generations of ancestors. It has taken me years of experience to realize that much of what is taught in the church about understanding the spirit is full of contadictions. For example, we are taught that we can know things for ourselves through the guidance of the spirit, but in the same breath told that if what the spirit tells us contradicts what ‘the brethren’ say or what official church doctrine teaches, it is not coming from the spirit. We are taught that we are children of God and entitled to the inspiration and communication that comes from such privilege, but in the same breath told that we would go astray without leadership of other, more intune persons. I think these contradictions stiffle our confidence in developing our own spirituality. I have come to feel that this type of teaching is more hurtful spiritually than a mere absense of dialogue. I have struggled a great deal to resolve conflicts from such contractions and have finally concluded that I must trust my relationship with God. I guess if opposition in all things helps us recognize truth, the church has helped me a great deal spiritually.
    I believe ‘vain repetition’ is part of the problem as well. Everyone’s experience with the spirit should be their own. We all have a unique way of finding that inner resonance with truth(the spirit).

  11. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Steve, I think you may have something about our newness affecting our lack of spiritual language. You’re especially correct when you point out that “mainstream” Christianity (from which much of the context of our church is derived) has little to say about the matter. Still, like Bob, I find little consolation in that idea. I sure wish our church were better at it.

    Charles: I agree. Spirituality can only be developed by experiencing it. And of course that’s a tremendous obstacle to helping others develop it. There probably aren’t any easy ways to go about teaching others to develop their spirituality. I just think it’s a shame for it to be so common for people who have worked so hard to develop their relationships with God to have difficulty knowing whether or not they feel the Spirit. I guess I’m falling into the complaining-without-a-solution category here, but I think it really is a problem and I wish there were something that could be done.

    Jonathan Green: thanks for your insight. You’ve given me some things to think about. (By the way, who’s Grant von Harrison?) And you’re right that the Church does do some things that help prepare people for the Spirit and implicitly instruct members. I don’t mean to sound too critical of common Church practice. I mean, there are plenty of Church members who have been able to develop a deep spirituality through Church teachings, so obviously there’s something there.

  12. Rachel, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I think I’ve experienced to a degree the same frustrations you’ve expressed, although I may not have put them together like that. You’re right about the contadictory nature of encouraging members to seek spiritual confirmation in some things and then telling them that there’s one right answer in some things.

  13. Jonathan Green says:

    Logan, that you have to ask who Grant von Harrison is (author of “Every Missionary Can Baptize” and “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven”) warms my heart. Have those books dropped off the map of LDS publishing?

    Mysticism isn’t my beat, but I know the medieval European mystics faced some of the same linguistic problems and ended up adding lots of abstract nouns to various European vernaculars. One of their solutions, interestingly enough, was embracing paradox and contradiction.

  14. Good riddance to von Harrison. Those books were all over my mission!

  15. Hey, Jonathan, don’t you have other things to do right now?

  16. I had a bunch I wanted to write but simply ran out of time. So instead here are some brief thoughts I may expand upon later. (Perhaps at my own blog)

    I suspect my real complaint is with the notion “senses things spiritually.” It seems to imply some unique spirit detector sense that is somehow independent of our body proper. I’m not sure I buy that in the least, if only because I think I am my body. Thus even things like sight aren’t independent of my past experiences or other senses. For instance when I see, I don’t have some vision sense that I then interpret. Rather I see a tree. I see my wife. That implies my perceptions are holistic in a very real sense. (Pardon the unintentional pun)

    I think this applies to spirituality as well. If recognize from past experience that some activity would hurt my wife’s feelings and I refrain from that, then that is to me as much a spiritual sense as having some prompting to do something. Certainly there are some experiences we characterize as “feeling the spirit.” But just as a feeling like “feeling in love” encapsulates many aspects of my being, I also think spirituality is the same.

    Hopefully that answers why I brought up the spirituality/spirit distinction as well.

    I think we typically err if we assume a concept like “spirit” or “spirituality” is fundamental in the sense of being a pure notion independent of other notions. You can see the problem if you try to translate the range of ideas covered by the Japanese word Ki (Chi in Chinese) into English.

    Regarding bringing ones body and mind together. I think that can be complicated and I don’t think, once again, eastern notions easily translate in an unambiguous way to western notions.

    However let’s take a different system, say Stoic mysticism from the middle Roman era. There the Stoics had some ideas not that far removed from a few eastern ones. (Well there were big differences, but they don’t matter too much for this discussion) The Stoics conceived of the universe as a whole as an intelligent organism whose body was spirit. This body filled the everything. Since it was the entire universe, our body, obviously was part of this larger body. The way a cell is part of say our whole overall body. Now the main body has intents, has reasons and so forth. For the Stoics, ideally one should act in such a way that one is doing ones part for the whole. i.e. ones acts make sense in terms of the whole.

    Now most people don’t do that. To the Stoics this is malfunctioning. Much like say a gear in a car has a role in terms of the whole. The aim of the whole (including driver) might be to drive to the store. However if you shift into second and the gear doesn’t work right, then things obviously aren’t working properly. Yet what it means to function right is in terms of the harmony with the whole. Thus Stoic mysticism (unlike Buddhist mysticism) is very much in terms of reason. Yet it also is in terms of acting in terms of the whole. Understanding the role one is in and doing it well.

    I think harmony in the spirit is like that. God has a plan and he works through us. Paul explicitly uses a lot of Stoic imagery in the scriptures. One metaphor we find (not necessarily Stoic, but there are parallels) is the body of Christ. Christ is the head and each of us is some other part of the body. It is up to us through study, prayer, practice, and listening to promptings, to find our place, and act as a part of God.

    That, to me, is harmony in terms of the gospel. When we don’t do this (and none of us do it that well) then we aren’t functioning right. We are so caught up in our limited vision and our person desires, that we miss the aims and goals of the whole. We don’t listen to the head (God) of this body.

    Hope that helps.

    Harmony in eastern though is more an artfulness in which one has practiced various things – ranging from martial art to serving tea. The rites have various practices yet are still in terms of the environment. So in martial arts it is the actions of ones opponent. The mind/body harmony is designed so that these performances happen intuitively and instinctively yet still harmonizing with ones environment. The aim is to do this with “no mind” or basically no conscious linguistic reasoning. Ideally in the gospel that happens a lot – but I also think reasoning is important, just as practicing ones rites in the various arts of the east is important. If anything, I think the east sometimes downplays reason too much.

  17. Clark, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    I don’t think I need to hold on to there being any “spirit detector sense that is somehow independent of our body proper” to make my point. I’m fine if we call it an aspect of our complete self that is less developed than other aspects. Is that easier to swallow?

    And fine — “harmony” may describe all the things you’ve said. But if so, then I really must point out that Zazen meditation is meant to develop much more than only harmony. Mindfulness, lovingkindness, and other insights are just as (maybe more) important when Zen Buddhists meditate. I certainly haven’t meant to say any of these things can easily “translate in an unambiguous way to western notions.” But I think that’s part of the beauty. Experiential knowledge by its very nature can never translate in an unambiguous way.

    You spend a lot of time talking about different philosophies, but what I really want to know is about the ways our Church helps (or doesn’t help) us develop spirituality. I think it’s great if you’ve learned a lot about spirituality through outside philosophical or religious sources. So have I; and I don’t mean to argue with you about what spirituality means to you. But that just seems to prove my point that the Church itself doesn’t seem to satisfy that need in us.

    You do bring up the “Body of Christ” example. It think that’s an interesting one, too. At the same time, I think you’re using a different philosophical tradition to give it meaning. Again, that’s fine — in fact it’s the same thing I’ve done with my examples — but I’m not sure that it’s the way spirituality is necessarily taught in the Church.

    Set me straight if I haven’t understood your points. Mine is that most of what I’ve learned about spirituality has come from sources outside the teachings of the Church, and I’m curious as to whether others have been more satisfied with Church teachings in this matter.

  18. This is a great subject that I think we would all do well to consider every day. I think it is important to have a spiritual experience everyday if possible. To me a spiritual experience includes a recognition and realization that we have a connection to something greater than ourselves. This is paradoxically humbling and, at the same time, a great source of strength (not that those are necessarily mutally exclusive). This can be a connection to our pre-existant life or a connection to nature and the world we live in. I have found that it is possible to invoke the spirit through deliberate effort as well as spontaneious experience. A lot of it involves memory or recall. Re-visiting spiritual experiences we have had in the past can often bring about those same experiences. As an example, while I served as bishop I wrote talks to be given in Sacrament or other meetings that included words that I never could have written myself. My position offered additional help in understanding the things that needed to be said. Those words have great significance to me (and hopefully to others who heard them.) And so I pull them up on my computer from time to time with the specific intention of recalling the feelings I felt at the time I wrote or spoke those words. And it often has the same effect. There are other methods for recall available as well. For me it involves listening to music. Music is such a powerful influence in my life. Listening to the same music that was part of a previous experience can often help me recall the same experience. At the same time there are those spontaneous experiences that sometimes don’t become evident to us until sometime, hours or even days, after they occur. But when we finally realize their significance we should hold on to those experiences and relive them as often as possible.

  19. Logan,

    I realized that all my rambling did not address your original question, “Is there much to Mormon Sprituality?” I think there is a great deal to Mormon spirituality because we teach of its importance in gaining and strengthening our testimonies. It may be true that we don’t do enough to help our fellow members learn how to experience a spiritual encounter but dicussions like this are very helpful and maybe it will spur us all on to have these discussions in formal church settings.

    I didn’t serve a mission and so I can’t speak to spiritual experiences “on my mission.” But I have served in many mssionary exchanges, especially in recent years, and I have felt a strong spirit on many occasions through those experiences. I have also felt the strenght of the spirit that accompnies new converts as they find their way into the church culture. I think we could do much more to teach about spiritual experiences but I think our church experience contributes to fostering the desire to feel the spirit.

  20. Thanks for weighing in, Lamonte. I’m glad you’ve found the Church helpful in teaching about spirituality. It’s nice to know that there are people who have good experiences in that way.

    And it’s entirely possible that many more people have had your experience than mine, Lamonte. Mine stems largely from the fact that at this point in my life when I’m becoming interested in developing and exploring my spirituality I’m living in a barely functional ward. It’s much more common for me to see new converts beaten down by the inability of my ward to welcome them than it is for me to see their strength as the work their way into Church culture (although that does happen sometimes). Any examples or sources of spiritual concepts come from people outside my immediate Church setting. My recollection is that I received very little help in this when I lived elsewhere and had other Church associations, but at the same time I wasn’t seeking the same things then either.

    But I’m happy to hear another perspective on this. I probably speak too strongly to imply that there’s little or nothing to Mormon spirituality, and I thank you for being a counter example.

  21. Lamonte John says:

    Logan, I sympathise with your involvement in a disfunctional ward with members, or leadership, who don’t have an interest in expanding their spriritual experiences. I know it can be frustrating but I think it reinforces the the notion that spirituality is very much an indivuidual thing. It can be contageous as certain individuals find the spiritual strenght, and with it the courage, to speak out when necessary to remind other ward members of their obligations to edify one another. This can be done in a totally appropriate way without offending anyone, except those that might need offending. Your personal desire to find that spiritual strength will hopefully result in greater understanding of how you can play a part in this awakening of the congregation. I know that sounds like an ominous task and certainly you don’t have a responsibilty to take on that task by yourself. But I believe that your honest desires will benefit you and those around you.

    Best of luck in your search for spirtual knowledge.

  22. Floyd the Wonder Dog says:

    Is there much to Mormon spirituality? It depends on whether we are talking about Mormons as a group or individual Mormons. As a group, I feel that we are more spiritual than others. Individually, or even some wards or branches, it varies quite a bit.

    I think that group spirituality chiefly depends the spiritual strength of the leadership and the quest of individual members to bring their lives in line with God’s will. The spiritual strength of a ward or branch, seems to most often depend on the ability of the leaders to encourage and welcome the spirit. The members must then be helped to recognize the spirit and how to access it (as someone previously posted).

    I have seen leaders who were focused almost exclusively on the administrative functions. The spiritual growth of the unit then suffers. We have had stake presidents that were focused almost entirely on improving statistics. In my opinion, the stake suffered. Our current stake president is focused on *rescuing and healing* and making Christ the center of our lives. The improvement in the stats follows the improvement in spirituality.

    On the individual side, unfortunately, many members are taught that the spirit guides them with feelings. As a result we see occurrences like the young man in our ward who was attracted to a young lady and interpreted that as the spirit telling him that he was to marry her. She on the other hand, could tell the difference and is marring someone else. This young man’s parents have expressed the feeling that their desires and thoughts are always guided by the spirit. Unfortunately, that has lead to some very strange cases of unrighteous dominion.

    One of the tasks required of us is to learn to correctly recognize the voice of the spirit and how to make ourselves receptive to it. Some above have discussed the difference between spirit and spirituality. It seems to me that it is similar to the difference between having a radio and tuning it in to the right station. We all have a spirit, but it requires work (a lot of hard work) to correctly tune it in to the Lord’s wavelength.

  23. Logan I’m really not trying to understand the ideas from other traditions. More trying to point out that the basic ideas can be found in most traditions.

    For instance a common Mormon discussion is how the “becoming one flesh” is to be taken on a kind of quasi-social ground. i.e. marriage is important because we learn how to function as a team, which is important for learning to be celestial and be one with God. Discussions of oneness and unity in the church are fairly ubiquitous.

    I discussed external traditions simply to show via a different way of thinking about it the same basic idea. What I think happens is that we sometimes hear simple messages, take them for granted, and then ignore it when we hear the doctrine. I think discussions of unity do that a lot. It’s unfortunate, but not that uncommon. When we look at a different tradition we see things in a new light and think they offer something our own tradition doesn’t.

    But I think the basic point of spirituality is simple and something we all taught on our missions and learned on our missions as a practical matter. Nothing particularly mysterious nor needing to hurt your ankles kneeling properly to meditate.

    You have to learn the will of the Lord and follow it. Part of that will isn’t just being told what to do but to learn God’s goals and act accordingly. Then we recognize our place and act as God’s emmissaries.

  24. It seems to me that “spirituality” is one of those things that you can’t consciously strive to obtain; you can’t wake up in the morning (IMO) and say to yourself, “I’m going to be more ‘spiritual’ today.” You can say, “Today, I’m going to try harder to render needed service to my fellow (wo)man, and to be more sensitive to his/her needs, and to try to act as Christ would act, to worry less about myself, and more about others.” I think spirituality is a byproduct of our actions, but I don’t think of it as something you can directly go after. I don’t think sitting around, in monklike solitude, pondering the best way to “be spiritual” gets you anywhere, but interacting with others, and trying to lift them to our current level of joy (and having a correct understanding of the plan of salvation should certainly make us joyful) helps make us spiritual. It’s no different from holding the Priesthood. Holding the Priesthood never did any individual Priesthood holder a lick of good; it’s only useful insofar as it is used to serve others and to bring them to an understanding of the truth of the gospel. If you want to feel the spirit, quit worrying about feeling the spirit and just go serve others.

  25. Clark, I feel like you’ve misunderstood my point. I have never meant to say that other practices “offer something our own tradition doesn’t” doctrinally. I do believe that our doctrines contain truths about spirituality. I just think other traditions have developed better ways of helping followers experience spirituality for themselves.

    Also, I’m afraid I can’t give you “But I think the basic point of spirituality is simple and something we all taught on our missions and learned on our missions as a practical matter.” I mean, maybe there’s some “basic idea” of spirituality that we have, but we aren’t all that great at putting it into practice. My firsthand understanding of spirituality was much weaker and less developed on my mission than it is now, and I think I was even more aware of it than many Elders were.

    Saying “You have to learn the will of the Lord and follow it” is a given. The trick is learning how to do that. I’ve brought this up because I’ve read what others have written in the Blogosphere and spoken with my friends and family and learned that understanding answers to prayers and what God’s will is is something that’s often very difficult for them. I myself have learned very little of a practical nature in that regard from Church teachings. You can quote scriptures all day long (“Body of Christ”, “couse your bosom to burn”, “I will tell you in your heart and in your mind”, etc.) that have true, true doctrine and still be no closer to experiencing it personally or helping others experience it.

    We tell people that they can receive spiritual confirmation of the truth of something and that they can receive answers to prayers. Teaching them how that works is, I still believe, lacking in the Church. This is my whole point. If you have had a different experience — specifically that there are effective ways of helping people know what the Spirit feels like in the Church — I’d love to hear that.

  26. Mark, I think you and I may be using the term somewhat differently. (Incidentally, I acutally think you can consciously become more spiritual, but that’s not really the point.)

    I think you’re absolutely correct about the right way to live and develop ourselves and become more like Christ. What you’ve described is the path that will lead us to our most profound joy in life, and I suppose that could rightly be termed “spirituality”.

    What I refer to more specifically when I say “spirituality”, though, is the ability to feel a confirmation of the truth of something (like our actions or the Book of Mormon) or to communicate with God and understand the answers to our prayers. That part is what I feel is somewhat lacking in the Church. We say it’s possible, but we don’t really say how. Certainly your spirituality and mine can and must go together, but this is what I specifically mean to talk about.

  27. Logan, the spirituality you’re addressing seems close to the concept of harmony — is that an accurate suggestion?

    If so, the best author I’ve read on this topic is Terry Warner, in his Bonds That Make Us Free. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it’s a great book about interpersonal relationships, the Spirit, and being honest with ourselves and others. Warner is very smart, and the book is very meaningful. He once said in an interview about the book:

    “One way or another we are reared with caretakers and often siblings, other people around us. And in this book there’s an explanation of how we come to mistrust other people, to take offense, to be anxious around them. And we do it because we violate our own sense of how we ought to respond to other people, and… to a divine spirit which is available to us all. When we violate that sense of how we ought to treat others—the welcoming and generous way we are to respond to others—then we have no choice but to begin to rationalize, to find fault with others, to lay blame elsewhere so that we won’t see ourselves as responsible. Now, when we start doing that with one another, we start really believing that we’re vulnerable and that other people are only looking out for themselves, and we have to protect ourselves. And one way to protect ourselves is to insulate ourselves, and everybody is on guard against what they perceive of being the ill intentions, or at least the selfishness, of other people. But all of that is something that we’ve created and responded to. Not the way we really are or must be—that’s the critical part. We create this enmity toward one another and then we react to it and it feeds upon itself and then we find it necessary to withdraw and defend and isolate ourselves. And it all doesn’t have to be. We could live in love.”

    I translate that to overall spirituality — we can harmonize with God, overcome this enmity that comes. Don’t know if that helps, but for me this was an interesting articulation of mormon spirituality.

  28. Logan, I must be misunderstanding you. Are you talking more about how we teach about spirituality in church? If so, then I’d probably agree in that I think the quality of teaching in church is one of the biggest problems we face. Very little of the teaching is focused on the practical and I honestly don’t think we get as much out of it as we could.

  29. “Our Church is wonderful for many reasons and it does many things well. I have not found teaching spirituality to be one of them.”

    Sorry, but the above is a typical example of the apostasy-mindset of the typical “progressive” (read “of the world”) LDS.

    To hear you speak, the temple endowment would be an example of “vain repetition.”

    I don’t know if it would ever occur to you, but you can have “repetition” that is not “vain.” Speaking of the “feelings” one may expect as the Spirit manifests itself is NOT vain, even though we might use familiar phrases to describe it.

    The real reason that people like you are ticked off is because you are burdened down with the need to get the approval of the world. “After all,” you think to yourself, “all those professors of humanties and ‘journalists’ at NPR can’t be wrong!”

    Well, they can. The great majority of people on this earth will not “get it” in this life. They will follow after all manner of false doctrines pleasing to the carnal mind.

    Buddhism won’t save you. Hinduism won’t save you. Islam will probably slaughter you and count it as a blessing from “Allah.”

    If you want to wander off the path, fine. You have your free agency. Just don’t expect the path to move around to make sure that it is under your feet.

  30. Bill, that’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day. thanks.

  31. Howard West says:

    This is an interesting discussion. When I was a Methodist, I had more time to spend on spirituality. Afterall, I was paying a big staff to handle the workload like visiting and praying with the sick. Methodists were also less busy because of the rather small families that they tended to have so they could spend much more time being spiritual. In other words, outside the church you can spend more time “being” instead of “doing”. The spiritual blessings of “doing” seem to be discounted in this article. Without the “doing”, I would have much more time to pursue spirituality. But, I wonder if I would be stretched appropriately without “doing”. Mormons “individually” tend to grow rather rapidly, Methodists tend grow much more slowly as they do not have the “doing” programs. Spirituality is certainly a worthy goal but it cannot be divorced out of hand from the doing.

  32. Is this a good example of the kind of “instruction” that is apparently lacking as Logan observed in his original post ? Check out this website:

    http://www.listening2god.com/

    Seems like the only way LDS could get instruction like this would be in an “Education Week” type setting. Certainly wouldn’t fit well squeezed into the middle of a 3-hour block.

    -B.

  33. I think the lack of codified instructions on how to feel the Spirit, is related to our relationship generally with Him. Remember, He is a free agent, a member of the Godhead. In the truest sense, we can’t summon Him at will, it just so happens that He’s rather eager to be with us. We remain the impediment to His companionship.

    I have to disagree with the original assertion that we only have 5 cliches about how the Spirit communicates. I’ve been involved in some very insightful Institute lessons on the topic, and one of my favourite Joseph Smith quotes talks about the Spirit as a “flow of pure intelligence” – I’d give the whole quote, but my copy of Teachings is in the bomb-site that is my room. When I find it, I’ll put it up. Ultimately though, descriptions aren’t much help until you experience it personally.

    This is the sort of thing that requires personal discussion, rather than codification. A major part of the reason for family scripture study/prayer is so that the children gain practise in preparing to receive revelation.

    If you’re in a struggling unit, I think that can really bring such questions to the fore, as spirituality is something that I think starts by the example of others. If the ward isn’t being very examplary, it’s harder to kickstart your own discovery.

    I think it’s something we should talk about as often as we can though, so I’ll share my latest insight. I’ve found that when it comes to something that can easily be swayed by emotion (ie something that I really want already), an emotion, regardless of what other feelings are associated with it, brings compulsion – it will try to force me to act. The Spirit, however, does not. He will impress the importance, gravity and truth of a particular thing, but will still leave me feeling free as to what to do about it. In ‘feeling’ terms, emotions make me anxious, the Spirit makes me peaceful, although both are very strong.

  34. This not right. I’m a student in South Africa, and yes i’m African. And I am dissapointed, and infuriated because of this discussion taking place amongst so-called members of the Church. It that you have forgotten the basics.

    You must try to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and stop complaining.The only way to do that is to read the standard scriptures and pray like Enos with real sincerity, and only then will you feel of the Spirit of God.
    Agian let us not lose focus here; Jesus Christ is Lord and the Son of God. on earth he has ordained a man to be his mouthpiece, even Gordon B. Hinckley. Those who are in tune with the Spirit accept him as prophet, seer and revelator, and recognise that without the Spirit of God he could not act such.

    Murmuring (like Laman and Lemuel) is a sure sign of apostacy. This kind of discussion on things that are outside the scope of the restored gospel are out of line.

    Saying that this is a new religion is also false. Remember that this is a restored Church. It (the Church) has existed from the beginning. Adam was the first man to believe in Christ. Consider going back and using all that has been authorized by the Church, there is so much to learn.

    And lastly, remember that we seek not for signs because only the natural man does so. I too felt have felt the of the Spirit of God and have experienced a peace that surpasses all understanding.

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