Unbreakable

praise-you-god-i-give-it-all-to-youWhile everyone’s journey into faith is unique, there are often archetypal threads and motifs that wind through our stories, drawing us together into a unified chord- stronger and richer for our unique contributions to the whole. I came into the church backwards. When I asked to become a member of the church, I wasn’t even sure I believed in Jesus as the Christ, but I suspected God was real and I had felt both the burning and the whispering of the Spirit- in fact, I had felt it all my life, in different moments and times, but hadn’t the language to give it a name.

One of the things I found perplexing as a new member of the church was the dialogue around the Spirit. Frequently, I heard people talk about how the Spirit would flee, or how the Spirit couldn’t be present in the face of anger or other unpleasant emotional responses. I observed it to be almost like a pet notion; whatever a particular person found distasteful or unsavory might often be labeled offensive to the Spirit. This indictment might be genuine, but it also seemed to be used to subtly manipulate others. Our common vernacular tends to treat the Spirit of God as a fleeing, flighty thing- subject departure should someone utter a blue word or snap in frustration.

I call BS. The Spirit of God is not a Victorian dowager whose stays are laced too tightly and in need of smelling salts. The Spirit is not a fragile teacup we can break. The truth cannot be broken.

Before I knew Christ, before I knew God, I knew the Spirit.

The Spirit I knew was unafraid of the dark. The Spirit I knew was unafraid of the darkness of the world, and unfazed by the darkness inside of me. The Spirit I knew was next to me in the times of my life when I was most lost, in the company of people most Mormons would use as cautionary tales. The Spirit whispered to me when I cursed God and doubted His existence. There were pools of light punctuating a lost path, whispering directly to my heart that God knew and loved and was aware of struggle and pain, even among his lost sheep.

And there was nothing I could do to change that. Just as the grace of Christ is a gift without end and without qualification, so too is the light of the Spirit. I could choose to look away. I could curse and cry and rage, but the Spirit never turned away, never flinched. If there was an away, it was mine. It was through testing this, much like a child, that I finally learned to trust God. The brief but incandescent glimpses of the divine, granted regardless of worthiness, but simply because I looked and asked, was what taught me most deeply about the nature of God, and his Spirit.

That trust is what enabled me to have the oil in my lamp to find my footing on what was a dark path, and gingerly move towards the light of Christ. While the Spirit might happily dwell in peaceful homes where kind words are uttered and appetites are moderate, I testify that the Spirit can just as easily illuminate the divine even for people who have never yet considered Christ their savior, and whose edges are ragged and rough-hewn.

I laugh now, quietly to myself, when people at church whisper about things from which the Spirit will flee. In the hearty and ravaged lands where God sent His Spirit to find me, that light was unwavering. Spirit is unbreakable; the truth is unbreakable. The fainting couches and smelling salts are for us.

Comments

  1. Amen, Sister. A-freaking-men.

  2. sctaysom says:

    unbreakable. unbroken. Always.

  3. Tracy, So moving. Thank your for this today.

  4. Beautiful, Tracy.

  5. Nice, Tracy. Thanks for this.

  6. Like a rock.

  7. ::clap, clap, clap::

  8. My earnest prayers have aways been answered and his spirit has sought me out in my darkest places, many times lost of my own making. Always. By his spirit he’s sought me, found me, slung me over his shoulders and brought me home rejoicing, over and over again.

  9. Tremendous, Tracy, simply tremendous.

  10. Tracy, this is just so much awesome. I actually read this while coincidentally “She talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes played in the background. It intensified the spirit of the message that we are all worthy of the Spirit even in our darkest hours we will be found. A member of the Godhead is not easily swayed from their errand. So brilliant.

  11. I love this. We like to frighten ourselves into obedience, but the the secret is that the spirit can actually dwell in unholy temples and even better, holy-ifys them. It’s kind of awesome.

  12. Beautiful. Thank you.

  13. Indeed it is B.S. and when one buys into that B.S. it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The spirit will minister to ANYONE able and willing to listen both sinner and saint alike! The spirt has ministered to me while I was watching porn and drinking a beer. The interesting thing is these folklore platitudes are typically uttered from the pulpit buy those who given their callings likely lack any practical experience with it and given this B.S. is B.S. it obviously isn’t revelation from God so who is it that makes this stuff up? Is it the result of elevating faith promotion above truth bias as in it’s wrong to criticize the brethren even when the criticism is correct? Is it the result of lowered expectations of spiritual manifestations today than in the past? Is it a manipulation aimed at obediance? Is it an attempt to trademark and broker? Is it just ignorance packaged in clokes of authority? My conclusion has been that the people asserting this B.S. can’t really know the spirit.

  14. Howard, if my point means anything, it’s that the Spirit isn’t dissuaded by any mortal failing. Yours, mine, the junkie, the nun, or the leader from the pulpit.

  15. Mark Brown says:

    I imagine God laughs His butt off at some of the things we think are His kryptonite.

  16. I’m puzzeled by your explanation Tracy M. Do you see me somehow in disagreement what that?

  17. Thank you so much, Tracy. This was so comforting to me today. Deep down, it’s what I’ve always believed. And the spirit I felt reading this confirms to me that Heavenly Father, Christ, and the Spirit have always been there with me, even in my times of sin, doubt, and struggle – perhaps especially then. I wish the lessons and talks I heard in church were more like this. If they were, I think I’d always want to go.

  18. I don’t think any of us get to say whether another person knows the Spirit. That will be manifest differently in each of us, unique to what God sees we need. I guess don’t see any difference between claiming leaders who say things I find not useful don’t feel the Spirit, and the prim and proper leader saying me, with my ragged edges and sailor’s tongue, that I can’t feel the Spirit.

  19. Publius says:

    Your Saturday Firestorm:

    “. . . the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you . . .” Alma 34:35

    ” . . . the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples . . .” Helaman 4:24

    “When my sweetheart and I were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, Elder Harold B. Lee gave us wise counsel: ‘When you raise your voice in anger, the Spirit departs from your home.’” Robert D. Hales

    “. . .yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight. Another principle is to be cautious with humor. Loud, inappropriate laughter will offend the Spirit. ” Richard G. Scott

    “. . . we must never do anything to drive away that Spirit. Specifically, we should avoid pornography, alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and always, always avoid violations of the law of chastity. We must never take things into our bodies or do things with our bodies that drive away the Spirit of the Lord . . .” Dallin H. Oaks

    “They can . . . drive away the Spirit.” David A. Bednar

    “The Church opposes pornography in any form. Indulgence in pornography damages individual lives, families, and society. Such indulgence drives away the Spirit of the Lord.” Handbook 2

    “Young people, please don’t listen to music that contains ideas that contradict principles of the gospel. ‘Don’t listen to music that promotes Satanism or other evil practices, encourages immorality, uses foul and offensive language, or drives away the Spirit’” H. David Burton

    “Often the world makes these dangers look harmless—even exciting and interesting. But petting such snakes fills the mind with poison—poison that drives away the Holy Spirit.” David E. Sorensen

    “And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.” D&C 1:33

    “The gift of repentance is extended to men as they humble themselves before the Lord; it is the testimony of the Spirit in their hearts. If they hearken not unto the monitor it will leave them, for the Spirit of God strives not ever with man.” James E. Talmage

    “Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.” D&C 19:20

    “I learned a sobering lesson as a mission president. I was also a General Authority. I had been prompted several times, for the good of the work, to release one of my counselors. Besides praying about it, I had reasoned that it was the right thing to do. But I did not do it. I feared that it would injure a man who had given long service to the Church. The Spirit withdrew from me. I could get no promptings on who should be called as a counselor should I release him. It lasted for several weeks. My prayers seemed to be contained within the room where I offered them. I tried a number of alternate ways to arrange the work, but to no avail. Finally I did as I was bidden to do by the Spirit. Immediately the gift returned.” Boyd K. Packer

    “During the conversation I expressed my opinion a little too forcefully, as if I knew the answer and there didn’t need to be a lot more discussion. I immediately felt the Holy Ghost leave the room.” Henry B. Eyring

    “Do we do things that offend the Holy Ghost? Do we allow influences into our homes that drive the Spirit from our homes?” Joseph B. Wirthlin

  20. In my experience communication with the spirit increases with practice and experience. You know your spouse in much greater depth than than you do a telemarketer.

  21. Btw, Tracy by implication didn’t you and I both called B.S. Publius’ quotes???

  22. What are you trying to say, Publius? Generally, mass-quoting GA’s as a blog comment is bad form. I’m aware of all those quotes, and I stand by my OP.

  23. Samson’s hair was somehow related to God’s power manifest in him. Not so with me. All I know is that I’ve often felt the influence of the Spirit in otherwise dark places. Sometimes it’s told me to flee and sometimes it’s ministered to me right there in the darkness and squalor and sometimes it’s brought me home. I’ve also had experiences like those described above finding myself constrained and in a stupor of thought as it were, and the only exit being the one that I finally acknowledge is illuminated. I’ve done things that have made it feel like somehow offended and it’s influence feels to have left me, I’ve also been in situations that suddenly turn wrong and I interpret what I feel as a fleeing of the
    Spirit. I guess I just don’t think we can put God or the Light of Christ or the Spirit in a box of complete human understanding, they do what they want, and sometimes it’s what we expect and sometimes it is not.

  24. Angela C says:

    Great post. I take the quotes about the spirit ceasing to strive with man to be about the intents of the person – when one is deliberately ignoring the spirit – not that the spirit actually is offended or faints away but that because we ignore it, we become past feeling.

  25. I think these two ideas are being defined too narrowly. Of course the spirit can be anywhere and be powerful anywhere. I have no doubt of that. When leaders speak of driving away the spirit I view it more that we can choose to ignore spiritual things.
    Since everyone is unique, but we only know our own experience, it is easy to think that what we experience is universal. Many people find it easier to listen to the spirit and think about spiritual things if they avoid sin and harsh, evil environments.
    As my children get older, it is easy to see how very, very different people are in how they view spiritual things, how they learn spiritual things. I can be ok with that.
    What does it mean to feel the spirit? FOr some people it means feeling a feeling of peace and sense of rightness. This can be hard for them to feel when they are angry, hurting someone, being selfish, etc. Feeling the spirit can also be knowing something spiritual, this can be very clear even if someone is surrounded by darkness, evil of their own or of others’ doing.

  26. If Jesus ministered to the outcast and those whom others viewed as sinners and enemies (including someone taken in the act of adultery), I have a hard time believing the Spirit runs away from those same people – or us – or anyone else – in disgust and offense.

    Our God is not a thin-skinned God.

  27. jks, I think Tracy’s post addresses and rejects the idea that there is a universal withdrawal of the Spirit whenever we sin – so I’m not sure you are disagreeing with her.

  28. I am not disagreeing with her. I am agreeing with her, as well as trying to explain what I think the people who claim that “the spirit will flee” really mean. Of course they should say what they mean, but when we say “the spirit” everyone means a slightly different thing.

  29. Got it. Thanks.

  30. I really struggled with some quotes going the rounds twenty years ago that a depressed person lacks the Spirit. However I heard a man who had been a strong Church member confess that as he committed adultery he physically felt the Spirit leave him. This post tells me to use my own discernment on such matters.

  31. marginalizedmormon says:

    Very well done. Finally.

    Thank you.

  32. Doug Evans says:

    Thank you for such wonderful words!

  33. Thank you Tracy! You put into words what I have often felt.

  34. Antonio Parr says:

    Christendom’s greatest living writer, Frederick Buechner, wrote:

    ~~Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. ~~

    It is hard to imagine a more welcome gift that one can give than to listen closely to one’s life and then to share our stories as honestly and authentically as we can.

    I see Tracy M trying to do this very thing with her post. Thanks for the gift.

  35. Chris Kimball says:

    I appreciate the OP. Thanks, Tracy M.
    “Spirit withdraws” is sometimes used in an attempt to reconcile what otherwise looks like the Spirit testifying differently to different people.
    Marriage: I prayed about it and the answer is that we should get married. “I prayed about it too, and the answer is no.” So one of us is a sinner in such a way that the Spirit has withdrawn?
    Church membership: The witness of the Spirit to me is that I should take that path. “But that’s the wrong way, so you must be without the Spirit.”
    I’m happy with different paths for different people, but these situations trouble people who cast about for some way to resolve.

  36. MDearest says:

    Fainting couch indeed. Ten GA quotes, 4 scriptures, and one handbook citation notwithstanding, I think the Lord prefers to see us gain personal experience with the Spirit rather than rely entirely on others’ exhortations. And I’m sure he likes to see us share our experiences with each other for the edification of all. Although Publius has done me a worthy and basic service, Tracy has given me a rare jewel which I’ll treasure with the rest of her essays. A personal testimony from a great heart is a most natural vehicle for the Spirit. That’s one small thing I’ve learned.

    Thank you, Tracy.

  37. Powerful, Tracy. Let the church say amen!

  38. melodynew says:

    Thank you, Tracy. Amazing and honest. And true to my experience as well.

  39. The honesty and sincerity of your writing speaks to my soul. I understand that your purpose in writing is not to disagree with church policy or doctrine, but to shed light on a different way of looking at how the Spirit works within each of us. Thank you for helping me see how the Spirit has helped you along the path to the love of God.

  40. It seems the rhetoric around a number of concepts in Mormonism is changing in ways that allow us to see them differently and more productively engage them. That’s what this post feels like to me–inaugural thoughts on the robust nature of the Spirit. For me Tracy’s thoughts are super helpful in conceptualizing an all-loving God.

  41. Kevin Barney says:

    I especially loved the last line.

  42. Antonio Parr says:

    (Notwithstanding my appreciation for the thoughtfulness and candor of the OP, the Sacrament Prayer, which is at the heart of LDS worship, teaches us — rightfully, I believe — that it is in taking upon ourselves the name of Christ and remembering Him and in keeping His commandments that we find His promise to always have His Spirit with us. To that end, while I believe that the OP expresses an important truth, there is something also to be said for those who recognize the covenantal nature of the Sacrament Prayer.)

  43. Jason K. says:

    I, too, greatly appreciate the OP, especially its point the “if there was an away, it was mine.” I think that Tracy is saying, and I agree with her, that we flee the Spirit more than it flees us, and that the Spirit tries to reach us even when we flee. That tastes good to me. Ours is a God who never gives up on us, no matter how lost we may seem to be, and I, too, have experienced this. But with Antonio we can probably all agree that the Spirit is generally stronger with us when we don’t flee. Since most of us do both, the overall news here is good. (And since Tracy also seems to be saying that we should be really hesitant to judge whether a person is fleeing or not, let me register my agreement on that point as well.)

  44. melodynew says:

    Covenants are made in all sorts of prayers. And the spirit abides in every prayer. Some of my most powerful spiritual experiences have come while I was engaged in what I would call “angry prayer” – those times when I was overcome with pain and rage and sorrow, and I shouted to heaven, to God, about it. The opening of heart that occurs in such moments is an invitation, albeit reflexive, for the spirit to respond.

    I would argue that not only does the spirit abide with us always, but that it intensifies during times when our ragged edges are apparent to the outside world, when others may feel we least “deserve” it. We come to know God in our extremities, be it rage or hopelessness or confusion.

    Tracy, this piece is a work of art. Thank you for pouring your soul onto the page. Your words are a wonderful beginning to sabbath worship for me today. God bless you.

  45. I have to agree with melodynew on this point. The times when I have felt the Spirit most strongly, and the love of Heavenly Parents so keenly were those times of greatest distress when I too have yelled and lashed out in anger at God.

  46. Wonderful post, Tracy

  47. Thank you for this post Tracy. You put into (beautiful) words what I’ve always felt in my own life.

  48. small s steve says:

    Great post Tracy, you crystalized the thoughts of many of us sinners. Jason K. summarized my thoughts quite well, so I won’t belabor the point. The only thing I will add is that I think we get off the path to God when we conceptualize the Spirit as an anthropomorphized being. We have been taught since Primary that the Holy Ghost is a man with a physical body whose presence can be felt anywhere. I think the Holy Ghost is better defined as the “mind of God”, “spirit of God” or “will of God”. As such, it is a transcendent power shared by God, Jesus Christ, and any and all who seek truth and righteousness. When viewed this way, it’s easier to see how we can choose to “tap into the Spirit”, rather than some metaphysical being withdrawing his presence.

  49. I would like to think that Jesus (and his spirit) can be found in the darkest corners of our lives. Can we drive Him away? Sure. Can we ignore Him? Of course. But as soon as we recognize Him, there he will be. To deny that goes agains the religion I hold dear, as the presence of a living Christ, and His interest in finding me (and my brothers and sisters) in sin, is the essence of my testimony. And I believe His gospel. Thanks for this.

  50. Leonard R. says:

    Another example of why Tracy is my favourite blogger in the Bloggernacle. Your combination of personal, raw testimony combines with deep theology is inspiring. Thanks again.

  51. For the past several years now I’ve been a little amused at the contrast between this notion (the idea that the spirit is so easily “offended”) and the notion that taking offense is a choice (together with the implication that it is always the wrong choice).

    I once said in an Elder’s Quorum meeting when we were discussing Elder Bednar’s talk, “if being offended is always the wrong choice, then the Holy Ghost has some serious explaining because that guy gets offended at EVERYTHING.” It got a few laughs, but most of the group didn’t like it.

    Personally, the way I reconcile these two teachings is that (1) yes, being offended is a choice, but sometimes, when somebody does something truly offensive (I’m thinking, like racist B.S., for example), it is the right choice to take offense, (2) taking offense doesn’t mean holding a grudge, (3) the Holy Ghost, like anyone else, has agency and can choose to take offense and leave, or can choose not to, depending on the situation, and (4) we can’t control the Holy Ghost to deny his agency to either take offense at something we think is innocent, or to choose not to take offense that something we think is offensive, as he thinks appropriate, after all, “the wind bloweth where it listeth, ” not where we want it. Or as Lewis would have said, “he is not a tame lion.”

  52. You seem to believe that the Spirit enjoys our company under every circumstance. I’m not so sure that is the case, especially with the more extreme cases my overactive imagnination can conjure up. If Jesus bled from every pore, a manifestation of the spiritual pain he experienced as he bore the burden/experience of mrotal sins and tragedies, then I suppose that members of the Godhead feel negativity and pain in their dealings with unrepentant mortals. And some of us are bigger pains than others!

    I believe, and Terryl Givens seems to suggest in “The God Who Weeps,” that our God feels the tragedies and horrors of mortality, that the Father and Son have both wept for us. He even suggested that temples are separated from normal mortal conditions as a haven and refuge for our sensitive, loving God. What an interesting concept!

    I think it would be more accurate to say that the attention of a personage of the Godhead does not flee, but His presence/attention may not be needed or accepted. He leaves. A member of the Godhead does not engage in futile efforts. And His message can certainly change based upon our circumstances.

    I have felt love and approval (which I believe is what most members refer to) from the Spirit, but I have also felt warning, chastisement, hurt and anger directed at my decisions, attitudes and actions. I sincerely believe that I have heard the Spirit laugh with great joy, especially when I am teaching a primary class. The Spirit is offended by my failure to search for eternal truth and seek to love one another. He chides me to do better. I believe what the Brethren refer to as the Spirit “fleeing” is that eternal silence we feel when we have when we have taken the wrong step. Heaven is withdrawn for a time to remind us that God will not be mocked.

  53. Old Man, I’m having a hard time seeing where I suggest the Spirit “enjoyed my company under every circumstances”. I did not write that- what I wrote, very carefully, and what I still stand by is my thesis statement: “The Spirit I knew was unafraid of the darkness of the world, and unfazed by the darkness inside of me.” That doesn’t imply enjoyment or approval- it’s is directly saying that despite my human failing and the fallen nature of being in the flesh, the Spirit of God was aware of me, and came to find me, God’s lost sheep. His strength shined an unwavering, never-ending light for me to find my way back to God.

  54. Does the spirit abandon violent murder victims as they are being killed? How can he be easily offended if he attends those scenes? Dose he close his eyes and cover his ears as he comforts the dying victims so as to not be offended by the murder’s act? Did the spirit tell Nephi to kill Laben? Was the spirit with Abraham as he contemplated sacrificing Isaac?

  55. annegb5298 says:

    Wow. Totally agree.

  56. This is the truth of my soul.

  57. Thank you! Thank you!

  58. I happen to agree with op but I’m imagining trying to make this point in Sunday School, and I think someone might make the argument that what op was feeling was “the light of Christ” which we all have as opposed to the “spirit” which may come or go?

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