While 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.