Der Heilige Geist: Part One

What does it really mean when Mormons say they “feel the Spirit”? According to this thread, “feeling the Spirit” equates to positive emotional reactions to bad art. If this is true then the Spirit is particularly adept at pulling heart strings. Let’s call this “feeling the Spirit” via a lump in the throat.

Something about this leaves me cold. It’s not just that I’m a cynic, it’s also a resistance I have to reducing the workings of the Spirit of God to something so, well, saccharine. Any old fool can pull off the trick of emotional manipulation.

It also seems to be terribly unpredictable. On another bloggernacle thread, one commenter noted that a certain film left him “sickened…I felt a complete absence of the Spirit.” This comment puzzled me because the exact same film had filled me with a love of Jesus so deep I was left speechless. I was sure I had “felt the Spirit.” But we cannot both be right. The Spirit cannot utterly condemn a film to one person and testify to its truth to another. Therefore, one of us is misreading this thing we call “feeling the Spirit.”[1]

So, allow me to briefly explore what we mean by the Holy Spirit and how he (or she in Hebrew)[2] works in the human sphere. I’ll begin with the Old Testament.

The “Holy Spirit” that appears in the OT is more accurately described as “the Spirit of God.” (The term “Holy Spirit” — ruah qadosh appears only seldom and late. “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” are synonyms; I prefer the latter.) The Spirit of God is basically God’s Spirit abroad in the world (and not a separate “being” despite occasional metaphorical personifications).[3] God’s Spirit appears as a driving force in Creation, brooding over the waters in Genesis 1, is a saving power (Exod 14:21), and acts as a bringer of destruction (Hos 13:5). Here’s a real beauty: the Spirit (or a “spirit from God”) can also be an agent of evil (Judg 9:23, 1 Sam 19:9, 1 Kgs 22:23).

Here’s how the Spirit works on humans: it chooses and magnifies leaders (Judg 3:10, 1 Sam 10:1-13) and acts as an agent of prophecy. According to Hosea, a prophet is a “man of the Spirit” (Hos 9:7) and Micah says that he is filled “with power, with the Spirit of the Lord” (Mic 3:8). In the eschatological age, the Spirit will be poured out upon all people and be the means through which people will hold to righteousness (Isa 59:21). Late texts speak of the Spirit offering wisdom, revelation, and guidance (Wis 7:7, Ezek 2:2).

So, for the OT the Holy Spirit acts as God’s divine force on nature and as the power that leads and inspires the righteous (setting aside the mischievous spirits — an interesting topic for sure). Alas, I don’t think the Old Testament is able to help me decide whether the Spirit can lead me to cry at a movie, or, if he/she/it can, how to know for sure, especially when a co-religionist claims the opposite effect.

Next time, the New Testament Holy Spirit…


1. Another option is that the Spirit has nothing to do with it and that these are just visceral reactions that have to do with taste and worldview.

2. Don’t get excited, feminists. This is just the quirk of language that makes “breath, spirit” mostly feminine in Hebrew.

3. The case of the evil spirits brings up a complicating factor, however. Is there one “Spirit,” or different “spirits,” or both. In the case of God-inspired mischief, we prefer to read, “God placed an evil spirit” not “God’s Evil Spirit.” Big diff.


  1. Good, post, R. Though I think I’ll side with your coreligionist that _Animal House_ is not a spirit-filled movie.

    I believe a major problem both in current descriptions of the Spirit and in criticisms of them is that they have failed to distinguish a human response to a divine force from the divine force itself. A human may shudder and be overcome with emotion on encounter with the Spirit. A human may have the same response to a Hallmark commercial, a wonderful meal, a highly charged church meeting, an urban legend, or simply an encounter with another human being.

    This does mean that not everything that shudders and weeps is the Spirit, true, but it does not mean that encounters with the Spirit cannot cause one to shudder and weep.

    I think of the Spirit as a moment of communion with God, and this can happen in many different ways to many different people and can simultaneously happen and fail to happen to people sitting next to each other.

    Regarding the OT tradition, I’d be interested to see a sustained comparison of shekinah and ruah qadosh.

  2. As you know shekinah is rabbinic/targumic and refers to the Divine Presence, relating back to God’s Presence in Exodus. It’s God’s shine/sheen/halo. I see it as different, because as far as I can tell, it doesn’t do anything. The Holy Spirit is an active force.

  3. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Um, what do you mean by that comment about the Holy Spirit (I prefer that term too) being seperate from God? What about the first article of faith? “We believe in God the Eternal Father, in His Son, Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost.” If Joseph Smith said they were seperate, I’d be inclined to believe him.

  4. PDoE,

    I’ll get to the “Mormon” Holy Spirit doctrine in a later post. It’s just that if all we had was the Old Testament, it is my view that we’d say the Holy Spirit was simply God’s Spirit, i.e. that part of him that operates on the earth. With a bit of thought, Trinitarianism and perhaps even Mormon views aren’t as far away from this as they seem, but again, I’ll get to that.

    In the meantime, a question for you: when Genesis says that the Spirit of God moved upon the waters, what is it referring to? The (Mormon, separate personage) Holy Ghost, or something else? How we unravel that may be the key to fitting OT conceptions into our own doctrine, if indeed that is what we wish to do. (I’m not convinced it is: certainly the Hebrew Bible is in many ways certainly not a proto-Mormon gospel.)

    But thanks for the question. It’s an important one.

  5. I have been thinking about the statement about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed off and on for several weeks now:

    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.

    Sometimes, I think we give the Holy Spirit short shrift in our worship. I think the Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, probably isn’t what’s making me cry when the primary kids sing in sacrament meeting.

  6. Jeffrey Royal says:

    Dear Ronan,
    My comment is a sort of restructuring of one I left in another post. Your question is simply of religious experience. Mystics, prophets, Brahmans, Buddhas, and so forth have claimed to receive revelation from “the One” and become one with this higher power. Each uses their religious experience to frame a divine reality. The difficulty is deciding how to objectively inquire as to the truthfulness of any experience. Look at works by George Mavrodes on this subject; we seem to exchange one questionable experience for another. Furhtermore, many mystics define their experiences as ineffable, or incommunicable, further making this task difficult. And if you’re a fideist, like Soren Kierkegaard (or better said one of his pseudonyms), trying to understand their experience by reason may be insufficient altogether and may enter into the realm of faith. To be objective in such circumstances is a nice ideal, but as William James pointed out, where on this green earth does it (objectivity) actually exist?

    To address some of your questions: this feeling of the spirit, is indeed a subjective term. It generally is referred to as a feeling of “sugar, spice, and all things nice” a la Galatians fruits of the spirit. Of course, that verse has nothing to do with how the spirit feels, but rather the effects of following it in your life, but it is applied this way. Hence, wading away from this spiritual sensationalism and evangelism, being touched by the Spirit ought to be less a striking of chords on one’s spiritual strings and more referred to as a mental illumination. It involves a specific communicable and pragmatic message from God that involves guidance through one’s life or an impression to do something for another person or make some decision. If this doesn’t come, one might question if they are indeed experiencing God’s illumination and not just indigestion, or a personal bias or fear which keeps them from accepting something which is quite fine in the eyes of God.

    In regards to your first statement, I am afraid I disagree with you. God could use any film or art form to communicate to people in a variety of different ways: it may communicate to you the love of God, it might communicate to me the evil of mankind, to another the errors of pride and greed, and another might focus on the gruesomeness of human suffering and therefore be upset, not finding any message at all. None of you could be wrong.

    Second, you’re use of the Holy Ghost is ambiguous. You’re taken a post-canon interpretation of God’s spirit, which appears to suggest it is only part of one God. Pseudopigraphical works will disagree with you from the same time periods. This view of God could easily have been an anti-Christian tactic as used by the Jews against the emerging sect of the Nazarenes. In NT times, there obviously was an idea of the HG as suggested by both John and Jesus. Its abilities are mainly as you stated in your survey of God’s spirit as one of his specific powers. Some differences may be the HG’s ability to supply Christians with a variety of spiritual gifts.

    Furthermore, I disagree that you feel the Spirit of God only inspires the righteous and doesn’t aid you in everyday decisions. Agreed, I don’t think God may care if you purchase Chef Boyardee (sp?) or Campbell’s soup, but he make care when you want to decide when’s the right time to have children, your life’s occupation, how to treat someone in a time of their struggles. Hopefully, the spirit will also lead people away from temptation and from evil. Otherwise, God’s spirit is worthless; it’s not pragmatic.

    As to Mormonisms similarities to Trinitarianism I quite disagree. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, materialism began to attack idea of immaterial spirits dwelling in man or in an immaterial God. Some religions, like Muggletonians, some Unitarians, and Mormons, as wells as religious thinkers like Joseph Priestly and even John Milton, suggested a material God dwelling within a material universe. Joseph Smith, visualized a universe very similar to Lodowick Muggleton, with a material God and material spirits filling his revelations and sermons. In 1833, Joseph received a revelation regarding the divinity and humanity of Christ, included a disquisition on the eternal nature of matter and how the elements were God’s dwelling place. In Nauvoo, he expanded this doctrine and explained, “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” He directed these teachings towards the nature of God in 1843, claiming the Father and the Resurrected Christ dwelled in bodies of flesh and bone. However, the prophet’s views finally crescendoed in his King Follett discourse, where man’s consciousness or intelligence was co-eternal with God’s. Furthermore, he declared:

    God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible,-I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form-like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God…

    Now this sounds fine and dandy, but where does God’s spirit fit into this. Well, theologians found materialism a difficult force to deal with, so they argued against theomorphites on different grounds. They demanded explanations to scriptural passages, which appeared difficult for a corporeal God to fulfill, such as those regarding omnipresence. Materialists answered along the same lines as their opponents. As immaterialists explained anthropomorphic scriptural passages as figures of speech to communicate God’s being, theomorphites viewed them as metaphors referring to his powers and influences. Joseph Smith gave his explanation of these powers in his “olive leaf” revelation, where he postulated God’s radiating influence penetrates through the remotest areas of space like light, and aided by devices, time manifests itself to Him. The Mormon apostle, Orson Pratt, offered an alternative possibility: “…the Holy Spirit that [is] through all things… [is a group] of intelligent atoms the same as God is composed of. There [are] some of these Atoms [of the Holy Spirit] combined in all the mineral, vegitable, & animal Kingdoms…” Hence, God does have a spirit that enters into the realms of space in Mormon thought to explain his omnipresence, but this is not unique to him, the same would be said of all celestial beings, including the Son and the Holy Ghost. So in this way, your points are similar. But to say that the Holy Ghost is not a separate entity because of this is in no ways the conclusions. Mormonism’s religious pluralism is far from any Protestant or traditional Christian thought.

    Lastly, if the Holy Ghost or God’s radiating influence or his very being was upon the waters in Genesis 1, it really doesn’t matter. If God’s influence, then his spirit is “brooding” everywhere, though I suppose it could more concentrated in one area. If the pre-existent Christ or the Holy Ghost, it could fit too. There are the seven spirits of god in the book of revelation too; maybe it’s one of them. This doesn’t influence the validity or philosophical structure of Mormon doctrine, nor does the truth of the Hebrew Bible.

  7. #1, I remember as a teen trying to discern what it meant to feel the spirit. There’s the scripture in D&C about the burning in the bosom. I came across folks that said, “Yep, absolutely how it feels” as if it were the only way to experience it. Others described the “tinglies.” I believe Pres. Monson said that Satan can mimic all feelings except peace. I interpreted that as meaning that only peace can be a true gauge of “feeling the spirit.” As an eighth grader, I had somewhat latched on to the notion of the tingly sensation as being evidence of the spirit’s presence. As a result, I was a bit confused when AC/DC played at a school assembly elicited the same response.

    I have a background in math. Early on I learned that the logical statement, “if A then B” never automatically means
    “if B then A.” I see people stating A implies B and then using it over and over to suggest B must imply A.

    So, when A is “feeling the spirit” and B is “human response to spirit” There’s a clear case of A implies B, but B does not imply A.

    For me a big concern is that folks will often mistake the human response for feeling the spirit when really they’re just being emotionally manipulated. I’m also concerned about folks needing “to feel the spirit” before doing anything as well as using the phrase “I felt the spirit” to justify attitudes/ideologies that the spirit may not support.

    The great prevailing difficulty is that each individual seems to have different responses to the spirit prompting them. So as folks join the church or grow up in it and try to learn what it means to feel the spirit, we point at the human response and say, “I feel _______ when I feel the spirit. If you feel the same, you must be feeling the spirit”

    So for me, truly “feeling the spirit” has almost always meant clarity of thought partnered with the sense that the thought was not my own. Otherwise, I tend to be overwhelmed by emotion and tear up a lot.

    How then do we help ourselves and others learn to differentiate between promptings of the spirit and emotional response (be it fear, adrenaline, excitement, love, etc.)?

  8. Ronan, you raise an interesting point by showing your preference for “spirit” over “ghost.” Spirit in English refers to many things, e.g., “Team spirit,” with cheerleaders etc.; the spirit of the message; etc. In English “ghost” is much less flexible of a word.

    In German “geist” seems to have the flexibility of “spirit,” e.g., heilige geist and zeitgeist. Does the Hebrew share this flexibility or is it more like the English “ghost”? If it does or doesn’t, how does that effect the OT interpretation of God’s spirit?

  9. Ronan, you raise an interesting point by showing your preference for “spirit” over “ghost.”

    Yeah, you’d think that since he eats meat and speaks German Ronan would be all about the stark connotations of Germanic Geist instead of the wilting ethereal qualities of Old French espirit.

    Regarding usage in the church, I think it’s interesting that the combo Holy+Ghost is as kosher as the day is long while Ghost by itself, as in “I really felt the Ghost strongly today during Brother Jensen’s talk,” would surely raise the two or three eyebrows in the congregation paying attention.

  10. I disagree with your assertion that both responses to the movie can’t be correct (one feeling the spirit, the other the absence.) While on my mission I heard Elder Oaks give a speech on the nature of revelation in our church. He started with the idea that we believe that both the canon and heavens are still open. He then argued that our real purpose in studying scriptures and most aspects of our worship is to receive such direction. He pointed out that this frequently can occur when a verse catches us completely out of context from the author’s intent and argued that this sort of guidance is a natural extension of our beliefs regarding continuing revelation. If we accept that the same scriptures can provide a variety of responses depending on the questions we are asking I see no reason to think a movie couldn’t do the same.

  11. I really felt the Ghost strongly today during Brother Jensen’s talk

    I dare someone to use this sometime.

  12. Herodotus,
    It’s just that in Mormon speak, “complete absence of the Spirit” does not infer a neutral reaction, it suggests a negative one, as if the Spirit is in fact saying (by saying nothing), “this movie is evil.” Plus the commenter said he felt “sickened.”

    Jeffrey and AC,
    You’ve given me the blog equivalent of a full English breakfast. I need time to digest the fried bread.

    I don’t have my Hebrew books with me and I can’t remember if there’s a Hebrew word for “ghost” as opposed to “spirit” (ru-ach), but FWIW the “disembodied essence” (I don’t want to prejudice the translation) of Samuel that is conjured up by the Witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28 is called a “god.” Someone help me here…

    Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that the word ru-ach also means breath and wind. If we went around translating “God’s Spirit” as “God’s Breath” or “Wind from God” it would change the theology a bit, don’t you think? (Wind from God sounds akin to the Mormon “Light of Christ” and the “radiating influence” that Jeffrey talks about.)

    Anyway, to anticipate a future post, I do wonder whether the Mormon “bachelor-God/Hermes” Holy Ghost requires some further thought.

  13. (Random, irrelevant point: I guarantee that if Mormons had artistic representations of the separate-personage-Holy Ghost he’d be beardless.)

  14. Jeffrey Royal says:

    (Random, irrelevant point: That’s only because they only want Mormons to be beardless! Joseph Smith often had a light beard, but do we see in pictures of him with them! They’re going for this priesthood missionary fashion)

  15. (Yes but the Father and the Son remain mit Bard in Mormon art!)

  16. I still see no reason to think that the movie couldn’t provoke both responses. I think it depends on the internal dialogue that the movie stimulated.

  17. Eh, let me just add that I’m unaware of the specifics of the situation that spurred this discussion. I’m speaking to the generality rather than the specific.

  18. Jeffrey Royal says:

    In regards to I really felt the Ghost. The Ghost in my opinion (which you don’t have to take for a straw, I hardly do!), connotates the direct personage of the Holy Ghost, while the Spirit refers again to the radiating influence. Mormon materialism bounces back and forth as to if the Holy Ghost can truly dwell within us, so the neutral terminology “the spirit” keeps us from any decisive term. Clayton recorded the 130 scripture quite differently (the original source) that the Holy Ghost cannot dwell in us. Leo Hawkins, however, in compiling and including it within the D&C, made the change. This is similar to Jesus saying that he dwelt in the Father and the Father in Him. Obviously, this is not a literal metaphysical oneness. This is a fulness of love and faith, and of course as John points out again and again, of grace and truth. Whether this grace and truth is an extension of the radiating influence and comes from God or the Holy Ghost, I cannot say.

    I am under the opinion that the Holy Ghost cannot dwell in us. It seems to go against the materialistic views of Joseph Smith. He gives the Holy Spirit a direct personage dwells in one position point in time-space. To suggest that he needs to enter bodies to be with them and influence them creates a very weird being, who is unable to communicate with almost all mankind. Furthermore, I’ve never heard of possession of the human body by the Holy Ghost, like being possessed by evil spirits. Not that I rule it out, and there does seem to be some OT scriptural warrant for such views. Look at Saul. However, I feel there’s a definate problem with this view and libertarian free will. Anyway, following Joseph’s materialistic conception of reality and deity, “the spirit” allows us to refer to the Holy Ghost’s radiating influence.

    Of course, this makes us wander down a different alley. If it is only a radiating influence, and God and his Son both have radiating influences as well that penetrate all space, (i) How do I know I’m receiving information from the Holy Ghost, and (ii) what’s the difference between the Holy Ghost and the pre-existent Christ (besides persay on order of birth in the creation)? With (i), perhaps it doesn’t matter which source it comes from, but we seem to suggest the HG has exclusive responsibility for our “spiritual promptings.” But then one has questions of logical necessity: If God is omnipotent what need does he have for the Holy Ghost if he can do it himself? Personally, I think the omnipotence of God is often poorly defined. In a Mormon world view it regards the existence of co-eternal laws, which can limit God’s powers (for instance, God cannot create ex nihilo; frankly, if this was one of his powers, he would be responsible for all extant evil in the world), and co-eternal spirits, which have their own free will. Hence, God may be unable to prevent evils that are (iii) unpreventable absolutely, (iv)preventable, but not by God (for instance, the decisions each of the conscience agents of the universe make) or (v) preventable, but not prevented to create a greater good. Hence, He can very literally can do more with man and the Holy Ghost than by himself. With regards to (v), perhaps it is for the benefit of the Holy Ghost. This would go in with other of Joseph’s statements, though of dubious credibility, which also key in with (ii).
    But then we have to accept the HG’s ability for new experiential knowledge. This may conflict with some people’s perception of the Godhead’s omniscience. It does not with my own.

    Hence, in conclusion, I feel saying I feel the spirit is an appropriate terminology, while Ghost would not. It would hold strange metaphysical views otherwise. Really, we’re saying we feel divine illumination from the Almighty; if it comes from one specific member of the Godhead, I do not know.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    For Hebrew conceptions of “spirit” see the first four pages of my essay “On Preexistence in the Bible.”

    On the distinction between Ghost and Spirit, I too prefer Spirit, in my case largely to avoid American cultural spillover into the concept (the very reason we will say “the Spirit” but never “the Ghost” unmodified).

    IIRC there is a minor trope in Mormon thought that seeks to distinguish the Holy Ghost from the Holy Spirit, as if they were two separate things, not appreciating that they are simply synonyms for each other. But I can’t remember offhand what the nature of the supposed distinction between them is supposed to be.

  20. Jeffrey,

    I think all your questions would be answered if we saw the “Breath of God” as God’s “radiating presence” in the world and not as a separate personage. (And by God I mean God/Jesus).

    I do not see Nephi’s experience with the “Spirit of the Lord” as problematic as he/she/it only appears in the “form of a man” not necessarily meaning that he is a “man.” Nephi’s pre-exilic view of the ru-ach YHWH would not have been one that envisaged a separate personage. Who knows if he felt that his experience in 1 Ne 11 changed this view.

    I freely admit that the most basic reading of D&C 130 kills all this though.

  21. Jeffrey Royal says:

    The Father and the Son are placed with beards because of traditional Christian paintings of them as bearded, and Jesus’ probable “beardedness” as a male of 30 years old in Jewish culture. There’s a strange view of God looking just like Jesus in every way, which I feel is a perversion of a scripture, which states Jesus is the express image of God. I hope he looked something like his mother Mary too. God the Father hence is bearded, and the other reason, is become he is often painted as the Ancient of Days as is mentioned in Daniel. These representations of deity of course are somewhat continued in Mormon art. The Holy Ghost was often typified by its poetic descent upon the Son of God directly after his baptism or fter a prayer after his baptism if you take Luke’s account. Joseph taught against the Holy Ghost’s dove transformation, and so Mormons are left to recreate this personage of the Godhead in visual mediums. I am surprised it has not yet been done, and if it has been done, I would be interested in taking a look at it. Perhaps I’ll make a drawing of it for fun! Now that I think of it, I think there is a painting of the supposed interaction between Nephi and the Holy Ghost in the Book of Mormon. And yes, the Holy Ghost/Angel/Pre-existent Christ is unbearded in this painting. I say supposed, because there are mixed views as to if this occasion was an interaction with Holy Ghost and not someone else. I wonder about this too, since I don’t know if Joseph had yet conceived the corporeal nature of the Holy Ghost.

    Last thought, isn’t it interesting that angels are rarely (if ever, I only so rarely because perhaps it has been done) bearded. I guess this is to symbolize them as virgin, holy creations of God, and distinguish them from man. Of course, resurrected beings are bearded in Mormon art that were bearded in life (John the Baptist, the three apostles, but I’m referring to those angels of whom we have no background).

  22. Kev,

    I think Jeffrey’s hinting at this trope. I mean we have:

    1. The Light of Christ
    2. The Holy Spirit as a kind of Light of Christ/divine radiating influence
    3. The Holy Spirit as Breath of God = God’s spiritual presence on the earth
    4. The Holy Spirit as Holy Ghost, a personage of Spirit and separate member of the godhead.
    5. The actions of the Holy Spirit = warm and fuzzies (low brow), pure intelligence (high brow)
    Of course, I know what you’re all wondering. Will the Holy Ghost get a body and get married… :)

    (A deliciously Mormon folk belief!)

  23. Jeffrey Royal says:

    Your breath of Hebrew goes straight in hand with the Greek pneuma, which can also be a wind. I imagine this duality arises from a comparison of their features. Look at the Savior’s use of pneuma in John 3 with Nicodemus: he lets him decide if he going to accept the earthly conception of the term or the heavenly. As a side note, Jesus also refers to God as a man which is in heaven in this chapter.

    Overall, I feel no need to reduce the Holy Ghost down to a spiritual medium that God communicates to us through. Joseph encouraged the idea if the Holy Ghost was righteous in his state of probation, he would be able to do things more important things for the worlds in the universe. He definately view the Holy Ghost as a separate deity. I believe we all will have such radiating influences, of course to minor extents. We have spirits within us, material that have extension. But they can perhaps radiate and have influence too. I believe we all co-exist eternally with God. To suggest he created us out of nothing makes him responsible for our natures, and we are therefore not accountable to God for our sins.

  24. Jeffrey Royal says:

    A good summary. As to the nitty gritty specifics of each postulate, I will not comment. As to HG’s marriage and body, I don’t really care. I don’t see why he couldn’t get one, if that’s what you mean. Though I laugh at the idea of a married God, married Son, and a bachelor HG! I wonder if he would get jealous (j/k). Maybe Jealous is his name too!

  25. Jeffrey Royal says:

    Last comment on receiving spiritual insight: some people want more mystical experiences, just to feel God’s oneness and love, not wanting to hear any message from God. I don’t know what to make of us this or the “warm fuzzies.” All I suggest is that such views of warm fuzzies as to make substantial decisions in your life ought to be taken with large grains of salt, and could easily lead to deception. I’m not into putting words into God’s mouth; if he wants to be silent, that’s fine with me. But if he never talks, we have another problem. Intelligent communication where there is a definate “I and Thou” and a message, should be clarified to be more of a “prophetic experience” than a mystical experience. See Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets for information on this.

  26. Kevin, that is a great paper. Thanks for passing the link along.

  27. Great topic Ronan. I’m fascinated by the evolution of man’s understanding of the Godhead (including the revelation that there was a Godhead).

  28. Ronan,

    RE #13, I have to disagree with you on this one. Excuse the minor threadjack, but I think it’s the beard that helps us feel the Spirit. :-)

  29. UnicornMom says:

    I love this post – it got me thinking. Perhaps I am not spiritually in tune, I’ll establish that possibility from the start.

    I have found it interesting when people say they have felt the Spirit. Take sacrament meeting, for example. I find, that after the most cookie-cutter, “This is My Life Up ‘Til Now When I’m Going on a Mission” sacrament meetings, where very little of spiritual import is shared, someone in Relief Society invariably mentions how strongly they felt the Spirit. Is it just a standard thing to say? Would anyone ever say “I really didn’t feel the Spirit in sacrament today”? What does it accomplish for them to say that? I’m generally afraid to say “really, I didn’t. What made you feel the Spirit?” What, exactly, is the function of the Spirit? I also find that feeling the Spirit is equated to tears in the eyes. There is one brother in our ward who almost visibly turns on the tears when he speaks. Because of all this, I’ve ample reason to doubt my own ability to feel the Spirit.

  30. #29,

    I used to equate the tearing with “feeling the spirit” and would find that I’d seek it out when sharing experiences and giving talks as if it validated what I was doing somehow. I suspect there was some portion of feeling the spirit, though I noticed that it was rare that the GAs teared up when giving talks. the last time I spoke I noticed that I had a choice in tearing up and in delivering the talk I prepared. I decided as I was giving the talk that I was better off focusing on sharing what I had prepared. That said, I find that I like Elder Eyring the best because he will tear up ocassionally.

    As to not feeling the spirit in sacrament meeting, I’m reminded of an idea I’ve heard attributed to Spencer Kimball. More or less: “It’s your responsibility to get something out of a lesson/meeting” I don’t think that comment would have been made if lessons/meetings didn’t generally suck, thereby providing the opportunity to take responsibility for “getting” something from them.

    I have a brother who will take the topic of the lesson or talk and prepare/give said lesson/talk in his head if the current one is being poorly done. I’ve opted not to attend said lessons/meetings.

    I’ve also been one to challenge people when they said, “I liked your talk,” by asking “What specifically did you like?” You could always ask the sister in RS, “what truth did the spirit witness to you?” Hopefully they’ll be able to answer you in specifics.

    Just because there are a bunch of folks that do the classic tearing up doesn’t mean that you are incapable of feeling the spirit because you don’t (or because you are turned off by the weepies). Most of my strong spiritual experiences of years past were not experienced in the 3-hour block. They were in response to “at-wits-end prayers” or during discussions in small groups, generally where folks were discussing Christ/atonement or feelings about Christ/atonement.

  31. #28 I have to agree. The beard acts as a fine filter of things spiritual. It helps them coalesce around our heads/mouths, allowing us to be “spiritually fed.” Beards: the spiritual flavor saver.

    I have found it interesting that there’s a trend for bearded folk to seek each other out in wards. After arriving in our current ward, a gentleman approached and asked my name, saying, “we bearded folk need to stick together”

  32. UnicornMom says:

    #30 – Thanks for your comment. It helps to know how others deal with similar problems. That comment by Spencer W. Kimball always has made me feel like it’s my fault for not feeling the Spirit – that if I had been in tune enough, or righteous enough, I would have found something that would touch me with that “burning.” I’ve tried to find something, and more often than not, I fail.

    To be blatant, this is one of the things that has contributed to my feeling less and less a part of the Church.

  33. Had a conversation with a schizophrenic woman about feeling the spirit once. She was very insightful, seeing how feelings and voices so often betrayed her. She distrusted the emotional content of the spirit intensely.

    I do not know what the spirit is, but, following her lead, I am inclined to distrust emotional queues for the spirit. I like feeling the upwelling of emotion, but, like she said, it can not be trusted.

    When we feel the spirit differently, we are inclined to kill each other.

  34. UnicornMom says:

    Most of my strong spiritual experiences of years past were not experienced in the 3-hour block.

    Thank you. That is immensely reassuring. I keep feeling like I”m supposed to be feeling the spirit at church – isn’t that partially why we go?

  35. UnicornMom, I have interpreted pres. Kimball’s statement (or the one attributed to him) as an invitation not to sit on our duffs and expect others to do the work for us (though I’d rather sit on my duff and criticize those that don’t do the work for me, I’m a bad mormon). I’ve always thought of my brother’s example of teaching himself a lesson. I doubt he feels the spirit witness to him about something the talking head at the front of the room is saying. However, I suspect he may have had times of enlightenment as he used the time as an opportunity to think about the topic (and generally ignore what was being “taught” in the lesson/talk).

    I’ve also heard it reinterpreted as, “if the lesson/talk sucks, pray for whomever is giving it”

    I’d love for someone smarter than I (here I go eager for someone else to do the work), to start a thread on why we go to church. I personally can’t stomach much of it, though I find the basic doctrines appealing. Ultimately, I suspect I got weary in well-doing and quit.

    Why do folks go to church? Hmmm….

    there’s the verse in Mosiah about getting baptized and bearing one another’s burdens. Maybe one of the burdens to be borne is incompetent EQ instruction or sacrament speaking. One of the most difficult aspects of church attendance is being patient with folks as they work out their own salvation at their own pace and in their own way, trusting that God will work with them and nudge them along. With that patience is putting up with the less than stellar meetings that don’t inspire “feeling the spirit” I suspect that at the end of the day, people go to church to serve and be served. Hopefully it balances out. I think Sam MB’s post today was about which choices we make is apropos.

    my great-gpa used to say something to the effect of, “we move forward in darkness in memory of light experienced in hope of light to come”

    beware of the oughts/shoulds/supposed to’s they are a dangerous trio. if guilt isn’t motivating change, then it isn’t productive. I’d stop and try and figure out why you feel like you are supposed to have a discernible spiritual experience each sunday (compared to a general level of spirituality that leaves you open for prompting at appropriate times).

    another thought is king benjamin and his speech on everything having its opposite. the opposite of “feeling the spirit” is “not feeling the spirit” so we have to have those times of light/spirit and dark/not feeling the spirit. we can then enjoy feeling the spirit in those special moments when it comes and treasure up those moments for later.

  36. UnicornMom says:

    AC – Thank you for that post. It’s given me something to think about. Why do I go to church? (I don’t think this hijacks the thread too much.)

    I suspect it’s because
    1) I’m supposed to. (I know, dangerous trio.)
    2) I keep hoping something will change back to how it used to be. (I used to feel the Spirit and/or learn something almost every week.)
    3) I know that the Spirit can manifest in church, and that church attendance can bring blessings. I want to set a good example for my husband & daughter.
    4) Habit. (Ignoble, but true.)

    The primary motivating factor is probably #2. I can’t give up the memory of light, as you said, and walk in hopes that I’ll find it again some day. I used to enjoy daily commune with the spirit, and now I am left alone, probably because of my own actions. I just wish I knew which of those actions contributed to it. Finding it difficult to attend church/temple, read scriptures and pray regularly are all symptoms that exacerbate the problem, but they didn’t cause it to begin with. If I knew why I could change it, and invite the Spirit back into my life.

  37. I go to church because I hope I can help someone else there…

  38. can you hijack an airplane that’s landed and consumed its fuel and is scheduled for decommissioning?

    I think the standard response (which I assume is true, but haven’t bothered to test), is to just read your scriptures and pray whether you want to or not.

    my mom (I have a panoply of wise relations) said that one of the greater struggles is perserving. “how do you change when nothing else around you is? finding the will to reinvent yourself is difficult.”

    in youth, there were innumerable changes and so feeling new and revitalized wasn’t hard. in college, the faces all change from semester to semester. on mission, at least one face changed every two months and I shifted cities every 3. post mission brought more college (with its diversity). now I’m at a point in life where it’s a long trudge to retirement (house is the same, kids are the same, job is the same, commute is the same, coworkers don’t change, …)

    I think this is where we get back to treasuring up past experiences with the spirit. maybe you could research and write part 2 or part 3 of this article. what roles does the spirit have and how does the spirit manifest itself in mormon doctrine/theology.

    having your husband and child go to church w/o you causes awkward questions from the child. I wouldn’t give up unless you are ready to deal with your child seeing the inconsisten behavior between mom and dad.

  39. UnicornMom says:

    I used to, but other members have made it abundantly clear in multiple ways and times that they don’t want my help.

  40. I;m sorry to here the UM. I obviously can’t know your full situation, but If you have a problem with Local Members, I would take the issue to your Bishop, unless he is the problem, then I’d discuss it with the Stake President.

    I hope this doesn’t seem like a dumb “obvious” answer.

  41. To continue the “why I do/do not go to church” discussion, I wonder if attending church and expecting someone or something to make that experience meaningful is almost inevitably going to leave us unsatisfied. Personal spiritual development is part of church attendance but it is not the only reason and I would argue that it is not the most important.

    Setting aside partaking of the sacrament, which is really the only required element of worship and is very personal, the purpose of the rest of the meetings should be to progress as a congregation/group toward becoming a Zion people. We have the rest of the week to focus on our personal and family spirituality but for those three hours we should be focused on building up everyone around us. I think the two aims are complementary not competing. Does this mean sitting through lessons that are ill-prepared or delivered by someone who really shouldn’t be in front of people? Or cloying talks from newlyweds whose testimonies seem to revolve around how in love they are? Unfortunately, this might be the cross we have to bear.

    Not to sound like an grumpy old man but the “church does nothing for me” mindset reinforces the stereotype that people in a modern, affluent society are too self-absorbed . As summed up in the words of a general authority of another kind: “Here we are now, entertain us!”

  42. I’ve met a few people that have taken the tack, “this is my church and there is nothing you can do to drive me away”

    I know of at least one person that loves to work in primary because then he doesn’t have to deal with the stupid lessons. If there’s a nursery in your ward, there’s a good chance that it’s understaffed.

  43. UnicornMom says:

    By saying what I did (#39) I didn’t mean to indicate that I was going to stop going to church because of it, simply that I couldn’t use that as a reason to go to church any more (which I had tried to do for years.) It wasn’t an isolated experience with local members, but was a series of experiences across several wards that led me to believe that my help was neither desired nor appreciated by the membership in Utah in general.

    I think when you base behavior off of someone else in whatever way, you run a definite risk. I still go to church, but not because I believe I can help someone. I also don’t go because I feel the spirit there. Unfortunately, I have tried (and still try) the “get what I can on my own” approach, but it rarely works. I also think that I shouldn’t feel guilty for not feeling the spirit when I have tried what I can to do so.

    Sometimes you don’t get apples from an apple tree. Sometimes they’re all wormy. That doesn’t mean you should cut down the tree.

  44. Unicorn Mom:

    Amen to that. your perserverence on the bumpy road is admirable.

  45. I had a friend who, after having lived in UT for a few years and then leaving and living elsewhere, loved to quote this to me: “Mormonism is like manure. You spread it around and it does a lot of good. You pile it up in one place and it just stinks.”

  46. UnicornMom says:

    AC – The imagery from that has made my day.

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