Some things too sacred to share

Too sacred to share. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days as I readied a post on my faith-science blog that for a long time fell into the category for me. I changed my mind. There was some discomfort with it because we run across the words ‘too sacred to share”, but I’m not sure what they mean. Here are a couple of uses I pulled up on a search on the Church’s web site:

From James E. Faust:

    My faith continued to grow as building blocks were added to the cornerstone, line upon line and precept upon precept. There are far too many of these to be chronicled individually; some are too sacred to utter.
    James E. Faust, “A Growing Testimony,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 53–54, 59

Richard Nash:

    5. Be cautious about sharing personal spiritual experiences.
    “There are some things just too sacred to discuss,” says President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Such experiences should not be shared, but “harbored and protected and regarded with the deepest reverence”
    Richard Nash, “Telling Personal Stories,” Ensign, Sep 2002, 49

Linda Magleby:

    Invite the children to gather in small groups around their teacher. Have the teacher share his or her experience with prayer, and invite the children to share their own experiences, if they have some. (Remind them that some experiences are too sacred to share.)
    Linda Magleby, Sharing Time: Heavenly Father Hears and Answers Prayers, Friend, July 2006

It seems from these quotes that we will know when and where we should share. But I wonder if we’ve become too shy. Some of the deepest stories from the scriptures are deeply personal and sacred.

This Sunday during Sacrament meeting someone shared a deeply spiritual experience about a visit from the other side. I haven’t heard things like that for a long time. It almost seemed out of place, but I was so moved I found myself teary eyed and blessed by his sharing. We seem to keep our visions to ourselves these days.

Reasons? I think, in part, because they often expose weakness and need in us. They often come because we have been torn asunder and needed putting back together and we don’t want people to see this part of us. The context of our sacred experience comes in moments of darkness—times of blindness, doubt, and fear. Death and darkness. Yet maybe it’s those times and events we most need to share. I don’t really care about the Ensign version of you life. I want to hear how you climbed from the darkness or if you haven’t. Admitting we were/are in fear, doubt, and despair is hard.

Another reason? Perhaps, we believe that it only applies to us. Often visions are for us alone, but who’s to say others might not benefit? My ‘vision’ of whales changed everything about me. Is there anything there for you? Are there things in your visions I could at least learn from, if not embrace?

The scriptures contain the profound spiritual experiences of others. I’m glad Paul didn’t say, ‘I had an experience on the road to Damascus but it was too sacred to share.’

What if Jared had not shared with us his doubts about crossing the water in the dark? What if Joseph had withheld the vision of the Sacred Grove; his doubts about which church to join. Note, also, that that was a deeply personal event, or at least he interpreted it that way at first, yet we’ve all been blessed by it.

When you see that I had a vision of whales I don’t expect you write this down in your Doctrine and Covenants. It’s not to give you truths about the world. It’s to share with you something about why something matters to me. About something that had a profound effect on me. Maybe you will find value in it. I risk you calling me weird. Am I afraid you will cast my perils before swine? Yes.

Too sacred to share. It’s not that I doubt such things exist. The ordinances of the temple come to mind. But I think as a people there are stories being lost that are part of the Gospel’s power and movement in the lives of people. We’ve become shy about the sacred. What if others had visions of whales? What if you were inspired to do something a little wacky to save your teenager like buying him comic books? What if something happened that would never, ever be put in the Ensign yet saved your neighbor’s soul?

And can we allow for differences in our visions? What if a member in a Japanese fishing village received a vision that told him where to hunt for whales? What would I do with that? Would that say something strange and uncertain about the Lord if our visions seem ‘uncorrelated’ or would we be blessed with a sense of the diversity of operations? Or a sense of the individual nature of God’s dealing this his children. Just a thought, because I’m trying to sort this out. Maybe we need a website called, MyMostSacredExperiences.org. Open to abuse? Certainly, but then that’s always the risk isn’t it. So what things are too sacred to share (please submit samples so that we can assess if it really was too sacred to share: just kidding I don’t want sacred experiences here, just a discussion on what the concept “too sacred to share” means and an exploration what its risks are?)

Comments

  1. Good questions Steve. I fear that by erring on the side of not sharing, we also begin to weaken our ability to articulate spiritual experiences, and we in turn are unable to effectively communicate testimonies and really moving moments because our language is broken.

  2. Do you think this counsel of “too sacred” is deliberate? That perhaps the goal is to reduce the sharing of ecstatic and/or visionary experiences?

  3. You have it exactly right with ‘uncorrelated’. I for one am very glad that we can tell our sundry nutjobs that some of their experiences are ‘too sacred to share’, when really we mean that we hope they never share them again because when they do, the rest of us want to hide under a rock.

  4. I’m with Ann—I wonder if some of this could be traced to Joseph’s early struggles of containing (not the right word…) the revelations of others.

    On a side note, whenever the BoM states that someone’s words were “too marvelous to be written,” I always think it means that no scribe could quite remember how it was said, but I know some people who think it means “too sacred.”

  5. I think the times that I have been most moved by the spirit is in hearing sacred experiences. Steve, the story of the Whales that was posted on your blog was remarkable. It leads to many insights. I think sharing personal and sacred experiences help strengthen others.

    Here is an interesting question to me. What about those experiences from those belonging to another religion? I personally have been touched by many people’s personal testimonies. Would that be considered the same?

    Great post, Steve!

  6. 1. Members share sacred experiences all the time. From promptings to answers to prayers, we share many personal revelations. There is not a lack of true powerful spiritual stories.
    2. Sometimes we shouldn’t share our experiences with everyone. Sometimes its something that is just for me, just for my family. My children when they are older, or need to hear it. A friend perhaps.
    3. We are ALWAYS encouraged to write down our spiritual experiences……just as Paul did.
    4. I have been present when someone has spoken of an incredibly spiritual experience and it felt like they shouldn’t be sharing it because I didn’t know them, or their dead grandfather, or because I am busy doing something else.
    5. I have had experiences that I feel would not be honored by sharing them with everyone and anyone. They don’t know me, they don’t know my circumstances, etc. I couldn’t possibly explain everything. It isn’t necessarily fair to them to try to make them believe something extraordinary, or fair to me to feel that they don’t really care, or don’t really believe me, or think I’m crazy (because when others have shared things I have had those reactions).
    6. Many of us are not gifted with being able to tell a good story or put difficult things into words.

  7. Perhaps it’s an effort to silence some of the outright strange things people tend to say. Just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard some “sacred” experiences in testimonies, talks, and lessons that, while they may be true, are just so bizarre, that I wish they would have kept those experiences to themselves. Very akward to have to sit through some of those.

    Maybe we should just write these experiences down and let some future prophet decide if it’s appropriate to share.

  8. I think that we are diminished as a people by not sharing our experiences. As one who struggles with personal testimony, I bask in the spiritual experiences that others share. A testimony of “I know the church is true and that Pres. Monson is a prophet” are almost meaningless to me. What I want to know is WHY you know that. What experience(s) have you had that moved you in the direction of belief?

    In 1 Nephi 5:1-3, Sariah complained about Lehi’s visions. She wasn’t fully on board. But then in verse 8 of the same chapter things changed for her. What was it? — her boys came back safe from Jerusalem. That helped her believe. There are many of us in the Sariah category of not being the ones who receive the visions but want to believe. It is helpful to hear about specific experiences to know why you believe even if you haven’t received a vision.

    D&C 46:13-14 says that to some its given to know and to others it is given to believe on their words. As one who is in the second camp, I really hope you’ll share your experiences because otherwise I don’t have words to believe on.

  9. I am torn on this, and not really in a good way. On the one hand, I wish I had more, or ANY experiences that I would consider too sacred to share. I could really use some of those.

    On the other hand, I am weirded out by most experiences like that. Is that a modern thing? I cannot help, against my better judgment, in spite of my belief in God, angels, and prophets, thinking that heavy interaction with the supernatural is goofy and fake.

    So, I’m sort of grateful for being shielded from hearing more of them, and also wistful, kind of wishing I heard more of them.

    I don’t think I’m alone in this.

  10. Steven P,
    Great post, I agree. I loved the line about Paul on the road to Damascus.

    But, I don’t share much anymore, not because it is to sacred, but because of reactions like Alex’s that I have witnessed when others share. It seems anyone with an intense experience who isn’t a returning missionary is suspect.

    Many of today’s saints would have a hard time sitting through the testimonies given in the JS and BY years.

  11. How do you measure a level of sacredness? I’m not sure I know what “too sacred” means, exactly. I think that any experience that seems visionary, or miraculous, or unexplainable could potentially be “too sacred”. Perhaps the best test is whether sharing the experience will benefit those you share it with. I think most of the time that yes, it will.

    Perhaps those experiences that really are “too sacred” are accompanied by an understanding that it falls in that category. I know of two similar experiences my father had that could be considered “miraculous”. One has been related many times in church and family settings. The other was told to no one but my mother and, eventually, myself. I think my Dad just knew that the second experience was not for general consumption.

  12. 10. “Many of today’s saints would have a hard time sitting through the testimonies given in the JS and BY years.”

    JSJ had a hard time sitting though some of the testimonies during his time. That’s one of the reasons for the instruction to keep sacred things to yourself.

  13. Larry the cable guy says:

    I have found that most Pecan Mudslides are way too sacred to share.

    Also, for reasons I don’t understand, I have had varied personal reactions to sharing a spiritual experience. Most often, there is a confirming effect (the way to a testimony is bearing it, right?), but I can still remember the deflated feeling that has come to me once or twice as I let go of something very personal and release it to a room full of people. I chalk the latter up to the probability that most listeners are likely to:

    a)superficially process the account or be tuned out
    b) overzealously remember and repeat the account (we have to get our folklore somewhere)

    but I guess that sharing has more to do with those who have ears to hear.

  14. To me the phrase “too sacred to share” refers to being selective about when and with whom we share experiences. I agree that spiritual experiences are not given solely for one person’s benefit, but also to bless and strengthen others. Some experiences I share frequently, but with other experiences I feel a sense of constraint that I should be much more careful about describing them to others.

    I don’t know exactly why the Spirit keeps us from sharing in some instances, but I think it is similar to why we don’t openly discuss the temple ceremony or our patriarchal blessings in every setting–some knowledge requires personal preparation to fully receive, understand, and be accountable for it, and some knowledge is intensely personal and specific to an individual.

    But certainly I agree that we should be more open about sharing personal experiences if the feeling holding us back is a fear of vulnerability rather than constraint of the Spirit.

  15. I wrote a post on this a few years ago, defending the idea somewhat.

    http://www.millennialstar.org/2005/05/18/revelation-and-keeping-your-mouth-shut/

  16. Token Average Member says:

    There are a few things I would not be comfortable with sharing except on a one-to-one basis, however the knowledge I received regarding the specific principles involved in those experiences is something I can testify about. If someone came to me after the meeting and said ” but how exactly did you learn this?”, I would hope to follow the Spirit and share more details if moved to do so.

  17. I’m pretty much at the point where I think truth is simultaneously subjective and objective. That makes the existence of “things too sacred to share” a trivial case.

    Stated another way — Miracles are real. Something can be made true for me without requiring its truth for you.

  18. In a sense all of testimony and communication with and from heaven is sacred. So there is obvious nuance to this issue, which, of course, is the purpose of the post.

    My thought on this is that Alma 12:9 gives us some guidelines.

    It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

    If we have experiences that go beyond doctrine that is taught generally, we probably ought to be careful. If it is something highly unusual, we probably ought to be careful. If it reinforces known truth and doctrine and the Spirit guides us to share, then I think we can be strengthened by the sharing.

    There is a BY quote that says that the Lord would share more with us if we were better at keeping a secret. It’s for our sake as much as anything — if we want to have God unfold things to us, we had better be able to discern what should or should not be shared.

    I think the bottom line is that the Spirit can help us discern whether and when to share certain things.

    That said, I don’t think we should compare ourselves to prophets who have had the role and authority to communicate sacred truths. I don’t think we should assume that just because Paul or the brother of Jared or others who were commanded to write for scripture shared things means that we can or should, too.

  19. I have had some amazingly personal experiences, and I have had some amazing experiences. There is a big difference. In the latter case, I share them generally without hesitation; in the former case, I share them rarely and with real hesitancy – only when I feel compelled to do so. For me, it usually has more to do with the idea of “casting your pearls before the swine” than with any other way I can explain it.

    My deeply personal experiences have an added layer of intimacy than my other experiences. I have an intense desire to avoid having them ridiculed or mocked, so I almost never share them.

    This reaction reminds me of Luke 2:17-19. The shepherds broadcast their experience widely, but Mary reacted VERY differently. With regard to my own deeply personal experiences, I feel much like I imagine Mary felt when this passage says, “(She) kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

  20. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear…
    1 Peter 3:15

    “It yields solid satisfaction to hear men testify of the truth of the Gospel. It is always peculiarly interesting to me to hear the Saints tell their experience. It is to me one of the best of sermons to hear men and women relate to each other how the Lord has wrought upon their understanding, and brought them into the path of truth, life, and salvation. I would rather hear men tell their own experience, and testify that Joseph was a Prophet of the Lord, and that the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and other revelations of God, are true; that they know it by the gift and power of God; that they have conversed with angels, have had the power of the Holy Ghost upon them giving them visions and revelations, than hear any other kind of preaching that ever saluted my ears.” Brigham Young, JD 1:90-91

    As usual the prophets teach both sides of the issue. In one place we find them warning us not to share spiritual experiences, and in another place, as above—teaching we should share scared experiences. The do’s and don’ts can be confusing until we understand that in some instances sharing experiences is correct, and in others it is wrong. It requires discernment.

    For some, sharing a spiritual experience is wrong because they do so with pride, for others, not sharing is the equivalent of hiding their talent. Both of these are offensive to the Lord and can be sin.

    When a follower of Christ’s main reason for sharing scared experiences is to lift and encourage others to greater faith then this is certainly acceptable to Heavenly Father. The gifts of the Spirit are given“…for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts. D&C 46:9

  21. Don’t have anything to add. Great post, Steven P.

  22. I think Ray nailed it (#19). There is a vast gap between personal spiritual experience and public spiritual experience and the discernment to know the difference requires a great deal of judgment.

    If you are unsure, or find yourself wondering if you should share an experience, generally it is wiser to avoid sharing.

    How many experiences have I NOT shared on blogs and other sites because I have felt that they were personal in nature, rather than public? Many. Are there others that I felt were more appropriate? Yes.

    If you are given a personal experience the Lord is trusting you to keep your mouth shut unless told to share it. Violate that trust and it will be a while before you have any more personal experiences. This I know. It is NOT a comfortable feeling. The prophets, I rather suspect, know even better. It’s a lesson that you MUST learn at some point, and the Lord will purposely give you small things at first to let you gain confidence in keeping small things sacred.

    Are some things too sacred to share? Only with the general public. In the right setting, under the influence of the spirit, and at the right time, most any experience may be shared. Even the brother of Jared shared his vision of Christ with the world eventually, yet I doubt he did so right away. Enoch’s vision was recorded.

    Nephi didn’t immediately share his visions of the tree of life with his family (even though his father had), but eventually he did record them. It’s a matter of timing and appropriate detail, I think. I’ve shared the nature of some of my experiences with some people, but the details of certain things are mine alone. And that’s as it should be.

  23. “If you are unsure, or find yourself wondering if you should share an experience, generally it is wiser to avoid sharing.” Usually, I don’t feel any spiritual direction. I’m curious though, I think most people would agree that they take the cautious route. I’m curious why that is the default.

  24. #22 “How many experiences have I NOT shared on blogs and other sites because I have felt that they were personal in nature, rather than public? Many. Are there others that I felt were more appropriate? Yes.”

    That’s what I love about the bloggosphere–(near) total anonymity! It’s one thing for me to get up in the ward and state that I felt prompted to take all of the Laurels as spiritual wives–everyone has to see me again the following Sunday, after all. But on the Internet, I can contribute to (or creep out) conversations as I please, because most of you don’t know me in real life.

    Joking aside, I have been able to hold good online conversations about otherwise very personal things because of Internet anonymity. And I’m convinced that more good (for me, at least) than bad has resulted from that.

  25. Ray and Steve’s advice makes sense to me; amazingly personal experiences vs. amazing experiences and when in doubt, don’t.

  26. I’m still not sure why we should privilege our doubts about sharing the experience. What are the risks of having shared something other find strange? What are the risks to the church if we share too much info? To ourselves? To the Lord’s purposes?

  27. If nothing else, more sharing will result in more FABULOUS testimony meeting stories…

  28. SMWater #8 summed up my feelings pretty well.

    The missionaries and members of the Church are taught that the most powerful means of spiritual persuasion is to “bear testimony”. In todays culture that generally means some common iteration of the “I know…” statement. Outside the Church in either religious or secular contexts a testimony is a statement of fact from experience. For example, were you to ask a born again for their “testimonial” they will usually tell you of their experience with becoming born again. “I used to be a terrible sinner, but then…”. The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith follows this pattern with his telling of the First Vision, yet today “testimonies” sound more like a statement of belief than anything else.

    I don’t mean to personally “trample of pearls” here, but as one who is supposed to be persuaded by testimony, the “I know…” doesn’t get alot of mileage. While no telling of spiritual things would probably ever be the final convincing for me, or anyone, hearing the personal experiences of others would give a lot of credibility to the “testimonies” they bear. I think that becomes more of the case for the leaders of the Church, neither Paul, Enoch, Nephi, etc hesitated to bear witness to their visions, even at the expense of being called wild men. Parenthetically, I would caution how loosely and to whom we tend to apply the “swine” analogy.

    There is of course the risk that being more open generally about spiritual experiences could expose the Church to some risk. Then again thats the challenge with making the types of claims the Church makes in the first place with Prophets and revelation. If we truly believe these things though, we should be more confident that the truth needs no protection.

  29. Thanks for your comments Cowboy. It is nice to know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  30. My husband and I disagree on this.
    Apparently he has a few experiences that are too sacred to share (with me or anyone) and thinks that we all should.
    I find that sharing my most sacred experiences (with close friends, my husband, etc) helps me better understand them, put them in context, and make changes in my life.
    I kind of resent the teaching about “too sacred to share” because I feel like I’m missing out on learning about my husband and his relationship with God.
    I imagine there are some revelations where the Spirit says, “Don’t ever share this.” But, for most, I think it’s the teachings “too sacred to share” that prevent some from helping others learn when they might have otherwise shared.

  31. I once shared something in a RS meeting. We were speaking about Spiritual Gifts, and I thought “hey, why not? I have a Spiritual Gift.” The Spirit didn’t necessarily prompt me to do it, but neither did I feel it was wrong. So, I shared with the sisters my gift, many thanked me, it was a beautiful meeting, life was great and wonderful, etc.

    And then the gift was taken away from me. From that very hour. Seriously.

    It took months of prayer (and some fasting) to get even a tiny bit of that particular gift back; something I have had for most of my life but never mentioned to anyone until that day. (Which just happened to be this last year).

    It reminded me of this quote by President Packer:
    I heard President [Marion G.] Romney once counsel mission presidents and their wives in Geneva. ‘I do not tell all I know. I have never told my wife all I know, for I found out that if I talked too lightly of sacred things, thereafter the Lord would not trust me.’

    I learned this the hard way. But in a way, I’m glad, because I’ve always been one to “bare all” and this lesson as convinced me not to “trifle with sacred things.” I’m a little more aloof now –I’m more careful.

  32. Wow, Cheryl. Thanks for that comment. It really puts things into perspective. Maybe people just know what they should share and shouldn’t.

  33. I think its good to have an enviroment in where the sharing of such experiences are kept to almost nonexistant for 2 reasons:

    1)It forces those who would lie about such things to such up.

    2) It helps people keep their eye on proper priesthood channels of authority. Why do I say that? If Joe EQ 1st Councilor tells us about the wonderful time in which he had a personal interview with Moroni, you run the risk that people will pay more attention to him than the Bishop who has never experienced such a thing.

  34. Cherly,
    I had a similiar experience.

  35. “If we have experiences that go beyond doctrine that is taught generally, we probably ought to be careful. If it is something highly unusual, we probably ought to be careful. If it reinforces known truth and doctrine and the Spirit guides us to share, then I think we can be strengthened by the sharing.”

    I wanted to paste that there just so it’s harder to miss. We shouldn’t:
    - teach doctrines that haven’t been shared with general membership
    - tell about spiritual experiences to boast about them (this is very important)

    I know two people pretty well who have had extraordinary experiences. One talks about them all the time and expects to be taken as an authority on a lot of things because of these experiences. The other shares sparingly and never pretends having authority to declare doctrine – doesn’t come off as boasting.

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