TW: Steve continues to wallow in sentimentality.
Lately I’ve been feeling some nostalgia for the Steve of yesteryear, an irritatingly earnest missionary who was was unquestionably vested in spiritual matters. What happens to us as we grow older, more distant from those innocent testimonies we used to feel? There’s an interesting passage in the Book of Mormon where the prophet Alma (Junior) is performing a reform throughout the church, a sort of revival where he calls each congregation to repentance. Speaking to the congregation in Zarahemla, he asks:
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
Many times I have found myself asking myself these same questions. Can I feel that same song of redemption inside of me that I used to feel? Where is the spiritual strength I used to have?
- A cynical answer is that I’ve grown out of the naivete I once had. That I’ve grown up and no longer need to have the juvenile approach to religion that I once adopted. After all, I’ve lived a lot since then, read a lot of books. Heck, I’ve even had kids. I know more now.
- A self-comforting answer would be to say that my spirituality has simply evolved, become more rooted in lived Mormonism. That I no longer rely on scriptural intricacies to find a sense of meaning, but rather I can spend time with my family or with my ward members and feel a far deeper connection to God.
- Finally, I guess I could say that I squandered that testimony, neglected it with shallow prayer, with decreasing church activity and less temple attendance. If I can no longer feel that same song of redeeming love, it’s because I stopped listening.
I have to say, participating in internet Mormonism and the Bloggernacle have at times steered me towards the first answer, the cynical one. It’s popular among post-Mormons and ‘progressive Mormons’ to look back with embarrassment on the earnestness of missionary testimony, to rationalize away the burnings of the heart that you feel when you’re young and deeply immersed in a semi-monastic LDS existence. I feel embarrassed by lots of things I did when I was that age, but I can’t feel embarrassed about having such a firm testimony of the Church. I remember with vivid clarity the wave of warmth that came in answer to prayers as I knelt by my bed at the end of a long, fruitless day in France. I look at my old highlighted scriptures and smile at the notations, at times completely missing the point of a passage but seeing divine connections throughout the standard works. I refuse to betray that memory by explaining away the power of those spiritual experiences.
It’s true that I know more about Church history now. I know more now about how the Church organization functions, and how wards operate. I see now how the sausage gets made, so to speak. I don’t harbor the illusions I once had about the interplay between Christ and His church. For some, that disillusionment results in disaffection and distance from the body of Saints. I can understand how that happens. I’d be lying if I said I never felt some of that distance. But like the Tripledent Gum jingle, that song of redeeming love comes back to my head once in a while.
No, it’s obvious that in some (many) respects I am definitely less spiritually powerful. I have fallen off the wagon in terms of my scripture study and prayer. If missionary Steve could see me now, I don’t think he’d approve of how lightly I take these important things. I’m not a complete train wreck but I could be much more than I am. I suppose that is the sort of haunting specter that follows most adults their entire lives, but does everybody really feel this way? I ask myself. What your past self would think of you now — is that a proper means to evaluate your life? Sometimes, I hope not.
I’ve said before that I’ve felt that God hasn’t let go of me, despite my best efforts. Let’s be clear: I’m a sinner, and I’m not offering that up in some self-effacing jokey sense. I’ve talked lightly of Him, ignored Him, used spirituality as a means of manipulation, worn religion as a mask while treating women and minorities poorly. I’ve hidden behind my faith to avoid the discomfort of seeing those who think differently. I use the past tense here, but my hands are still unclean. I’m still a sinner and I still do some of that crap. But despite this, I have been blessed with abundance and with love. I know I don’t deserve it. God has chased me down. Like Sufjan says:
He will take you
If you run
He will chase you
He will take you
If you run
He will chase you
Because he is the Lᴏʀᴅ
Why this weak sauce confessional? Because echoes of that song of redeeming love keep playing in my head. It won’t let go. To Steve of yesteryear, I say: sorry man. You did what you could. Life got hard and complicated, and I know those are just excuses, but I haven’t forgotten what you’re feeling. I can still get it back.