Spiritual Presence

In October 2000, Elder Oaks spoke to the Church about the difference between doing and becoming. He said many Church members treat progress in the Church as a spiritual checklist with the goal being to mark off each spiritual task in succession. His address was, for me, anyway, enlightening—it changed the way I live the Gospel. Specifically, it changed the way I view my day-to-day activity in the Church.

I fear I too often view my Church responsibilities as “stuff I gotta do;� by doing so, I rob myself of many of the blessings that flow from engaging in the spiritual life. After all, if I attend sacrament meeting only out of habit, does it really benefit me? If I experience an endowment session only because my temple recommend has come to rest behind my student ID, two credit cards, and my café rio frequent dining card, is it really worth going?

Importantly, the answer to both those questions is “yes.� Going out of duty does benefit me and going, no matter the reason, is worth it. I believe partaking of ordinances or engaging in Church service is self-valuable: just being in the presence of the divine changes us, little by little, almost regardless of our motivations. There is also something to be said for doing the right thing for the best reason you can think of until you can do the right thing for the right reason.

Still, we surely miss something when we engage in spiritual endeavors only out of duty, vague guilt, or any other half-hearted reason. Such sub-par motivation deprives us, I think, of the blessings of spiritual presence.

Spiritual presence means being entirely engaged in the spiritual moment. It means that, when I partake of the sacrament, or participate in an endowment session, or watch a baptism, or listen to a funeral, my mental and emotional faculties are entirely dedicated to the experience now about me. Emerson talked about how presence can affect the way we experience nature:

“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,–no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed in the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”

Emerson’s description may require me to squint and tilt my head a bit; certainly his language is unusual for describing LDS religious experience. Still, his core ides rings true: such complete unity with the Divine is possible when we immerse ourselves in spiritual moments. Inspiration and testimony are most forthcoming when my soul is fully engaged in spirituality. The practical question, then, is: what can we do to more fully engage ourselves in spirituality? It is, I think, more a question of “how� than “what.� How can we approach spirituality so it will impact us more deeply? How can we more often make Mormon sacraments a transcendental experience?

73 comments for “Spiritual Presence

  1. August 23, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Interesting thoughts. Last night I attended a class at Education Week where the instructor defined the following:

    Testimony: to know and to feel
    Conversion: to do and to become

    I had never heard these two terms defined so succinctly before. Doing and becoming are closely related, yet as you allude to, the importance lies in becoming (like Christ), not just doing things and fulfilling tasks.

  2. August 23, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Nice post Tyler.

    How can we more often make Mormon sacraments a transcendental experience?

    Concerning the weekly sacrament: I, for one, will have to wait until my daughters are a few years older. As of now, I attend sacrament meeting out of duty and the desire to instill the same sense of duty in my children. I almost always am uplifted by someone’s talk, the hymns, or prayer; but the real sacramental experience for me is not what it could be due to the necessity of hushing my two-year-old from talking/screaming during the ordinance.

    Also, I think it is our common lack of introspection that prevents us from real spiritual experience. I think we are too concerned about how we are perceived in the eyes of others and thus don’t understand who and what we really are. This stifles the spiritual presense.

  3. Adam Greenwood
    August 23, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    I spend the sacrament talking to my two-year old about the sacrament in terms she can understand. She’s a remarkably good kid, so she listens, even responds a little. It’s been pretty amazing.

  4. Tyler
    August 23, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Connor,

    I like the definition your teacher gave. Real conversion allows us to more easily become spiritually present Both conversion and presence help us become more Christlike.

    Wade and Adam,

    As you both allude to, helping others appreciate spiritual things helps us be more present for those experiences ourselves. Certainly missionaries can be more present to the Gospel while helping others understand spiritual principles. Though, as you both also point out, sometimes pressing concerns do not leave time for presence–we have to seek a balance.

  5. August 23, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Adam:

    Yes, I have tried doing the same thing with my 5-year old and it has worked very well. She understands the purpose is to remember Jesus etc. But I’m curious to know what “terms” you use with your two-year old? I’ll try talking with her, but I’m skeptical that she will grasp anything. Both my girls are pretty good kids; but I have to distract them most of the time or they will end up making too much noise. However, I’m from the old-school and can’t stand parents who let their kids make noise in sacrament meeting.

  6. August 23, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Daniel speaks of partaking of a Sacrament (meeting) during the last days with the Savior present. Can you imagine the feelings that will well up within you as you look towards Him while hearing the sacred words of the Sacrament Prayer.

    Transcendental, Sublime, Awesome.. *sigh*. Language is so flawed and weak

  7. Mark Butler
    August 23, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    I believe that in order to feel the Spirit, one must pay attention, and concentrate on what you imagine the Lord’s commentary would be about everything being said or done. Not one’s own opinion or feeling about everything said or done, but the Lord’s opinion and feeling about everything said and done. The most valuable part of any meeting is often an unspoken obligato.

  8. gomez
    August 23, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this a little lately. I think in the church we often think of works (scripture study, tithing, prayer) as the end themselves. This is apparent when a question that requires the pat answers is asked, eg. how can I increase in charity? Out comes the list of answers. This fails to recognize that charity is a gift. We don’t receive because we have prayed for x number of hours or done x number of endowment sessions. Works are not the end, only a means to the real end, which is to receive the grace of God. Like Elder Oaks said, if we only do things so we can tick them off on a spiritual checklist we miss the true purpose of doing.

    How do we receive grace through our doing? That’s a difficult question as grace is a very difficult property to measure, so its hard to know what works and what doesn’t. But I think it requires that we approach doing (prayers, partaking the sacrament, scripture study, etc) with far greater thought and seriousness, than at least I usually give. I think the casual nature with which we approach our sacraments/duties is the greatest hindrance in converting our doing into becoming.

  9. Tyler
    August 23, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    Adam,

    Some people, at least, very much appreciate your efforts. I have a Catholic friend who, accustomed to the solemnity of cathedrals, goes crazy coming to Mormon meetings (which she does often) because of the hubbub that often buzzes beneath the talks.

    Ryan,

    No question that would be an experience without words. Even the thought, the image, would probably bring us closer to appreciating the sacrament.

    Mark,

    “Unspoken obligatos” can be very beautiful. It seems to me the real effect of the spoken or sung word comes not with its creation but with its reception. In other words, the same sermon may have different meanings and different depths of meaning for different listeners because, as you point out, the meaning we derive is directly proportional to the devotion we present.

    Gomez,

    Your comments are profound. Your insight about charity is, I think, often over-looked. Mormon clearly teaches, however, that we cannot summon charity from within ourselves, we can only “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” that He will bestow the gift upon us.

    I very much like your question about receiving grace through doing. Let me bring up an idea over which I’ve often mulled. Could ordinances, especially but not only the required ones, be touch-points between the Divine and the mortal–portals where we receive special endowments of grace. Some of our mainstream Christian brothers get up in arms over the idea of a list of necessary ordinances (or sacraments), but isn’t it possible that these are simply the way God has prescribed for us to receive His grace. It actually makes sense to me that such an important transfer of divine power, so to speak, would be overseen by an authorized servant of the Lord. Moreover, anyone who has attended the baptism of a converted and eager new member can testify there is some ineffable divinity there present; similar feelings exist at the endowment of a member who has spent a long time away from the fold, longing to return but searching for the will to do so. What do you think?

  10. Kaimi Wenger
    August 23, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    Tyler,

    Your thoughts on the hubbub-versus-reverence balance, I think, gets to a key issue. We choose our place on the noise meter. We aren’t as noisy as some faiths, and we’re willing to shush people and apply our social norms to achieve a certain amount of reverence. On the other hand, we’re also not as fanatical about peace-and-quiet as some faiths.

    As a result, there will be people who think we’re too noisy, on the one hand, and people who think we’re too uptight about reverence, on the other.

    The challenge is constructing an environment that is, on the one hand, welcoming to all. And which, on the other hand, does not drive out the peacefulness which most of our people benefit from.

  11. August 23, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    Tyler,

    You speak of the blessings of spiritual presence, but what are they? Why does sacrament need to be a transcendental experience at all? Can’t we choose to be more like Christ with or without them? I suppose my real question here is, are their any unique blessings to spiritual presence?

  12. Tyler
    August 23, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    Kaimi

    I agree the balance is important. Creating an environment that is both welcoming and reverent is imporant.

    Eric,

    I think there are unique blessings to spiritual presence; Gomez begins to describe what they are. C.S. Lewis observed that a committed Christian will one day arrive at the point where he realizes that, despite his best efforts, he simply cannot cannot do, or become, enough to merit salvation. As Gomez points out, such is the case with charity–it is a gift, not a trait we can muster from within ourselves. While our all is certainly necessary, it is ultimately insufficient–by grace we are saved after all we can do. I think transcendental spiritual experiences are the places where we receive both grace and testimony. These experiences can happen anywhere, not just during official church functions, but it seems to me they are more likely to happen when we are fully engaged in spirituality–when we are, if you will, present.

    Let me give one example. Attending a baptism can be a powerful spiritual experience; the power, however, is dependent on our engagement with ordinance. If I attend a baptism but I spend the 45 minutes mentally reviewing cranial nerves for my next exam, I am not likely to grow spiritually from the experience. If, on the other hand, I engage my mind and my heart is what I am doing, if I ponder the symbolism of the ordinance and attempt to understand its significance and importance, I am more likely to hear the whisperings of the Spirit, receive a testimony of the ordinance, and grow closer to the Savior. This example relies, of course, on extremes, and we often find ourselves choosing between alternatives that are more subtly different. Still, I think this illustrates the value of presence.

  13. Mark Butler
    August 23, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    There is no question that to receive of the Lord’s grace or a portion of his Spirit, one must be doing the right things for the right reasons. However, I think the sacramental understanding of ordinances is misleading. The grace that one receives through most ordinances is found not in the participation in the formalities per se, but rather in the keeping of covenants. In fact the standards of action and holiness are what God truly ordains thereby. The ceremony just opens the gate.

  14. gomez
    August 23, 2006 at 8:13 pm

    Tyler,

    I tend to agree with Mark. I think that it is the covenants associated with the ordinances that are the key to power.

    One other thought. I think humility is the key to much of what we want to become. The imagery associated with humility is being emptied or stripped of pride, personal ambition, etc. Humility or emptiness is a preparatory state. When we are empty we can be filled, whether that be with grace or charity or faith. To whatever extent we are humble we are prepared to receive of God’s grace made manifest to us in the things we do.

  15. Tyler
    August 23, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    Mark and Gomez,

    I agree that covenants, more than the ordinances per se, matter. Let me ask you this, though: why such an emphasis on ordinances in our teaching and practice? Our vast mission to redeem the dead rests, after all, on ordinances. Beyond that, we all grew up learning that ordinances are the stepping stones to salvation (most of us have probably seen a diagram with literal “steps” leading to the Temple, the steps being baptism, confirmation, etc.). We emphasize covenant keeping as well, but help me to understand what unique blessings ordinances bring to us if not unique endowments of grace. I am really not disagreeing, in fact I think I agree with you, just help me to better understand these ideas.

  16. Tyler Johnson
    August 23, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    A couple other things.

    Mark,

    Help me understand this sentence: “In fact the standards of action and holiness are what God truly ordains thereby.”

    Gomez,

    I agree about the importance of humility. Likewise, Elder Maxwell taught God sometimes uses sorrow and suffering to empty us–there seems to be unique preparatory power in suffering, something along the lines of the Martin handcart company survivor who stood up and taught that, though he and his friends had paid dearly to know God, it was a small price to pay.

  17. manaen
    August 23, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    I also found, and continue to find, Elder Oaks’ talk in 10/2000 GenCon to be life-changing.
    .
    A pivotal paragraph for me has been:
    .
    “[…]we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts–what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts–what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.â€?
    .
    #1 & #4 that distinction between testimony and conversion come from the same talk, see the last paragraph in this excerpt:
    .
    “We qualify for eternal life through a process of conversion. As used here, this word of many meanings signifies not just a convincing but a profound change of nature. Jesus used this meaning when he taught His chief Apostle the difference between a testimony and a conversion. Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?’ (Matt. 16:13). Next He asked, ‘But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven’ (Matt. 16:15-17).
    .
    “Peter had a testimony. He knew that Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah, and he declared it. To testify is to know and to declare.
    .
    “Later on, Jesus taught these same men about conversion, which is far more than testimony. When the disciples asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, ‘esus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 18:2-4; emphasis added).
    .
    “Later, the Savior confirmed the importance of being converted, even for those with a testimony of the truth. In the sublime instructions given at the Last Supper, He told Simon Peter, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22:32).
    .
    “In order to strengthen his brethren–to nourish and lead the flock of God–this man who had followed Jesus for three years, who had been given the authority of the holy apostleship, who had been a valiant teacher and testifier of the Christian gospel, and whose testimony had caused the Master to declare him blessed still had to be ‘converted.’
    .
    “Jesus’ challenge shows that the conversion He required for those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 18:3) was far more than just being converted to testify to the truthfulness of the gospel. To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to be “converted,” which requires us to do and to become. If any of us relies solely upon our knowledge and testimony of the gospel, we are in the same position as the blessed but still unfinished Apostles whom Jesus challenged to be “converted.” We all know someone who has a strong testimony but does not act upon it so as to be converted. For example, returned missionaries, are you still seeking to be converted, or are you caught up in the ways of the world?â€?
    .
    And how does one know when he is converted? I like Pres. Romney’s answer:
    .
    “It would appear that membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Being converted, as we are here using the term, and having a testimony are not necessarily the same either. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost gives the earnest seeker a witness of truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith; that is, it induces repentance and obedience to the commandments. Conversion, on the other hand, is the fruit of, or the reward for, repentance and obedience. […] [Someone] may be assured of it when by the power of the Holy Spirit his soul is healed. When this occurs, he will recognize it by the way he feels, for he will feel as the people of Benjamin felt when they received remission of sins. The record says, ‘ . . . the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience…. ‘ (Mosiah 4:3.)â€? (10/1963 GenCon).
    .
    I’ve tasted this. After being caught in sin, this kind of joy from healing is amazing.

  18. Mark Butler
    August 23, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Tyler,

    The literal meaning of ordinance is what is ordained, or in context what God has ordained. And what has God ordained? A broken heart, a contrite spirit, and obedience to all the commandments of God. So when we abide within the covenant, we are keeping his ordinances.

    Now we usually use ordinance in a narrower sense – the actual making of the covenant, and not the keeping of it. I understand that the making of the covenant is null and void, if we do not keep the covenant. God has not ordained just a set of sacraments, he has ordained a pure life and a godly conversation. A righteous person who has yet to receive the ordinances will be received into heaven before any wicked person who has.

  19. August 23, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    I am at a different season of life than many on this list. My youngest son is fifteen. I have an 26-year-old daughter and two grandkids. And Tyler’s subject is something I’ve pondered a lot–especially since one of my sons has chosen to distance himself from the Church, and one of my daughters sometimes feels so pressured to be perfect that she has come to resent some aspects of church activity. (And she periodically blames the Church for the times it takes my husband out of the home.) So, facing the often excellent questions my children ask, I have boiled the gospel down to the laws of love–which embrace all of the commandments. I have talked to my children at length about the scripture, “Have you received His image in your countenance?” and periodically pointed out someone I find particularly radiant. They know that that scripture is not exclusively geared to Latter-day Saints as far as I’m concerned, and that I see the image of Christ in many people of various faiths. A book I just read called _On Religion_ (I forget the author’s name) starts with the question, “What do I love when I say I love God?” and ends with “HOW do I love when I say I love God?” It’d a question I ponder often. When I think of the person I want to become, I see an image, not a list. I see an expansion of my power to love and forgive transcendently. In my daily life, of course, I struggle to keep from phrases like, “I told you so,” “I am so disappointed in you,” and “Do you realize how stupid that decision is?” (When my son announced that he had decided it was not a good idea for a couple to live together before marriage [this after experimenting with that arrangement for six months] I managed NOT to say, “DUH.” I let him talk and congratulated him on his remarkable insights.) Despite my many failings, I am a woman of faith, and my children know that. They know that I genuinely believe the gospel. And, thank God, they know that I love them. That final point is perhaps the most important. It is so easy to want to control our children’s lives, to be contemptuous of their choices when they run contrary to our counsel. But such is not godly. I love what C.S. Lewis says about controlling mothers: “She lives for her children. You can tell by the hunted looks on their faces.” BECOMING a true Latter-day Saint implies open arms, open hearts, open minds. Indeed, we are asked by implication to expand our hearts “wide as eternity” (Moses 7:41).

  20. manaen
    August 23, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    thank you, Margaret!

  21. August 23, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    Beautiful thoughts, Margaret, and so beautifully expressed. The oldest of our four daughters is still only ten, and the rebellious adolescent in her is only beginning to peak out, so I know that a lot of difficult (though hopefully also rewarding) years lay before us. I pray I can show half the equaminity and faith and love that these comments of yours demonstrate when I get to the stage you’re at!

  22. Tyler Johnson
    August 23, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Yes, Margaret, thank you.

    Your comments remind me of Rex Skidmore, who was quite old, almodt dying, when I met him at the age of eight or so. He had been a Bishop, Stake President, Temple Sealer, respected professor, honored author, and important administrator; from speaking with him, however, you would know none of that. His demeanor beamed humility, love, and care, but nothing or pretense or pride. I interacted with him just enough to know how deeply he lived his motto: “build, don’t bruise.” I will never forget his funeral. While the Prophet and other general authorities sat on the stand, the chapel was filled to overflowing with people of every hue, persuasion, and ilk–it was one of the most astounding and diverse multitudes I have ever seen anywhere, let alone in an LDS chapel.

    My father loved Rex Skidmore and looked to him as an example; I got to the point where I would often ask myself “what would Rex do?” My father started crying when he came to fetch me after my mission in Mexico and, completely unaware and without thinking, I prayed, “Father, help us build, not bruise, as we interact with our brothers and sisters today.”

  23. Adam Greenwood
    August 23, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    Mr. Wade,

    Our conversation goes something like this: “Look, here comes the Jesus bread. Jesus said, eat the Jesus bread and you can be good like Jesus. You ate the Jesus bread! Did you like it? [“Yeah.”] Good. Now you have the Jesus bread in your tummy. Where’s your tummy? [points]. Good. You have the Jesus bread in your tummy. That means you can be good like Jesus. You’re good, just like Jesus! Do you want to be good just like Jesus!? [“Yeah.”] Good. You are good, just like Jesus. Jesus was good. He loves you, Emma. He was so good and he loved you so much. He said, I can have owies if it helps Emma. He did have owies, Emma. He wanted to help you, even if it gave him owies. The owies hurt Jesus. [Yeah.] But he wanted to help you. He wanted you to be happy, like Betsey. [I’m happy.] Oh look, the boys in white shirts are going up front again.

    You get the idea.

  24. August 23, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    Tyler, this is an excellent post, as the comments it has generated prove. But it raises a genuine question for me, one I don’t have an answer to: given our understanding of God, what are we talking about when we talk about “spiritual presence” or “divine presence”?

    I know the experience. That’s not my question. But can we say what that experience is an experience of? Is it the presence of the Holy Ghost? That can’t literally be true, can it? Is it his influence or perhaps the influence of the Father or the Son? If “presence” means “influence” in these discussions, what do we mean by “influence”?

    We adopt the vocabulary and grammar of the rest of Christianity when we talk about these experiences, but they can’t mean the same to us that they mean to them, since their God is unembodied and omnipresent. In their terms, to experience the presence of God is to be attuned to God’s presence in every thing and moment. But we can’t really talk that way, can we? With Paul and Alma, I can see God in everything, in his creation, but that isn’t the same as experiencing his presence, at least not in the way that most Christians speak of experiencing his presence.

  25. August 23, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Adam

    I thank you for being so candid and willing to share your experience and ideas with me. You are a man of wisdom. I will attempt to bring the conversation with my two-year old to the level you suggest–I’m excited to try it out.

  26. Mark Butler
    August 23, 2006 at 11:14 pm

    If we refer to D&C 97:8 there are two parts to being accepted of God – first we have to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and second we have to obey our covenants by sacrifice, yea every sacrifice which the Lord shall command. The first part is a matter of who we are, the second part is a matter of what we do. Neither part in and of itself is sufficient to be accepted of God. Compare Paul’s discourse on charity. Is charity an action or an attitude or both? No doubt the Apostle James would say both together.

    The promise is beautiful, by the way – if we do these things and acquire these attributes the Lord will cause us to bring forth bring forth as a fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit.

  27. Mark Butler
    August 23, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    Jim F.,

    I know many do not appreciate physical explanations, but I believe quantum mechanics provides more than ample means for God to distribute his presence (or at least his influence, the Light of Chirst) throughout all space.

    As I mentioned recently on lds-phil, quantum mechanics is an irreducible non-local phenomena. So says J.S. Bell himself. What non-local means is that certain influences travel much faster than the speed of light, indeed all evidence we have to date indicates they travel instanteously. For example every single electron in the whole universe is “spiritually” coupled with every other electron in the universe. They share the same “spirit” or wave-function in a 3*N dimensional configuration space, where N is the number of particles in the whole universe.

    That means that provided there is a way to disturb electrons from quantum equilibrium, every electron may potentially be used to pass signals instantaneously to every other electron in the universe, provided they have been properly phase correlated. That sound a lot like the underlying medium of the spirit to me.

    In my experience of the spirit it seems like every electron in my body is jumping for joy, to the degree that I radiate excess energy, and feel chills due to the loss. Or occasionally it feels like basking in the warm glow of others. Now that would be nothing remarkable, if it were not for the intelligence communicated at the same time. As Joseph Smith said, the Holy Ghost is a revelator. I cannot comprehend an effective administration of the kingdom of God if the spirit has to plod along at the speed of light. The virtually instantaneous response one feels to certain thoughts and actions is excellent evidence that the spirit is not so restricted, but rather something more like what I described.

  28. August 23, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    Tyler,

    I agree with what you say in #12. Perhaps I misinterpret what you speak of, but I’m very glad that our church places very little emphasis on transcendental spiritual experiences – as opposed to, say, Pentecostal churches which focus almost exclusively on experiencing such connections with the divine. I think that in many cases focusing on the spiritual experience actually detracts from the greater goal of changing our character and becoming more like Christ.

    What matters, I believe, isn’t the type of spiritual experience we have at all, but whether our hearts have been humbled. When I ask if such experiences offer any unique blessings, I mean to say that I think our hearts can be humbled in simple ways just as much as in transcendental spiritual experiences. Either way it is the same, what matters is who we are in the end.

  29. MLU
    August 24, 2006 at 12:11 am

    Wade’s and Adam’s sacrament meeting experiences don’t seem like distractions from the topic to me. Bringing young people slowly into an understanding of very old coventants and practices seems as profound an immersion in spiritual realities as we are likely to find.

    I attend the same ward I attended growing up. Then it was noisy with children. Now, the ward is very small and the majority are elderly. There isn’t work for young people here, and they leave and don’t return.

    So it’s a little easier to concentrate on what the speakers and saying and upon the sacramental prayers, but I find my meditiations in church often revolve around how little meaning this world has when there are no young people.

    Teaching children to be reverent in sacrament meeting–quite a profound way of becoming, I think.

  30. Thinker
    August 24, 2006 at 1:14 am

    Jim F (re: 24):

    Given the understanding of the Light of Christ as described in the opening verses of D&C 88 I wonder just how accurate it is to say “We adopt the vocabulary and grammar of the rest of Christianity when we talk about these experiences, but they can’t mean the same to us that they mean to them, since their God is unembodied and omnipresent.” It seems to me that in spite of the fact that the usage of terms like divine presence or immanance in traditional Christianity is based upon an understanding of God/Trinity quite different from LDS notions of embodied divine individuals, the Light of Christ is still an aspect of God even if it isn’t God ‘in sich.’ In other words, while the referrents might be somewhat different, I think the two vocabularies (God vs Godhead+Light) are compatible enough to begin to make sense of terms like presence in an LDS context.

    On the other hand, I would tend to agree with what I see in Jim’s question that alludes to the fact that there is a tendency among LDS (myself included) to be somewhat sloppy in our usage of all the related terms (Holy Ghost, Spirit, Power of the H.G., Light of Christ, etc.). I really don’t know if/how it can be avoided, but frankly it becomes very difficult and confusing at times to know what is involved, with whom, and when. I know some would want to say that it’s all God, or that whatever is happening is so intimately intertwined with God that in the end it doesn’t really matter, but to me it does.

    When, for example, I read of prayers being uttered ostensively to the Father, and then someone other than the Father responds (e.g. Ether 3), I’m often a little perplexed about what’s going on, and why we’re told to pray to the Father to begin with. How do I develop a relationship with the Father when I haven’t the slightest clue when it is He that is personally responding to my plea (or whose presence I am experiencing)? Furthermore, if every member of the Godhead is embodied, what is the significance of the fact that the Holy Ghost apparently needs a body that is devoid of flesh and bone? In other words, given that even he is bound by spatial limitations, what does it mean to say that he is a “companion” to every worthy member of the Church? I really think D&C 130:22 is somewhat misleading on this, and should have never been altered (i.e. in what way can He, as an embodied individual, possibly “dwell” in every one of us?). Additionally, what does it mean to say that He (or His “power”) operates as a sort of spiritual testator to anyone willing to open the channels of communication with the divine? Does He have a distinct spiritual emanation other than the Light of Christ that allows him to be omni-influent? If each member of the Godhead is infused with the Light, again, aren’t they all omni-influent/present? I occasionally wonder, therefore, if the use of imagery like “companionship” ultimately serves to obscure or clarify?

    As much as we’d like to think we’re leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to God-talk, I think we all have a long way to go before we really begin to understand the Godhead (both the individual members, as well as the indwelling unity) and their simultaneous transcendent and imminent relation to being(s)-in-the-world. I know this may be sounding like a thread jack, but to me they are all connected to the extremely challenging aspect of Jim’s question: what’s really going on when we use language of divine presence, who’s communicating with whom, and what sorts of things are actually going on? What does our talk of divine presence, communication, and subsequent transformation finally come to? Is it, in the end, like Elder Packer has said, trying to communicate to someone what salt tastes like? Is there finite language adequate to this task? Perhaps not, but threads like this do at least help us all to prod, poke, and push ourselves a little further in the direction of seeking greater understanding.

  31. Tyler Johnson
    August 24, 2006 at 7:10 am

    Jim F. et. al.,

    The questions you raise and discuss are fascinating and I’m sure I don’t have the answers. I’ve sometimes pondered scientific/spiritual answers such as the ones Thinker raises, though my meager understanding of biophysics in general and quantum mechanics in particular limit my ability to formulate very cogent answers along those lines.

    One idea, Jim, concerns our belief that many entities are eternal. Since all matter is eternal, it would make sense to me that there are certain natural “frequencies” (note to those who do understand quantum physics: I am grasping at terms here but do not mean to imply any techinical scientific meaning) to which some part of our matter naturally resonates. In other words, just as Emerson refers to the “currents of universal being,” there is some element in the universe–perhaps present in all matter, like electrons–which can respond to divine experience, which can thrill in the presence of divinity. What, exactly, is that divine presence? What touches us? I agree with Thinker that even describing the experience is like telling about the taste of salt–it is the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost. Perhaps, though, God can manipulate unseen matter in such a fashion as to confirm truth to us, or perhaps truth naturally resonates on “good” frequencies. I, obviously, do not know.

    In a sense, of course, it is recognition, not explanation, that matters right now. Still, illuminating the connection between divine and mortal is ultimately important–right? On that note, let me ask a question, brought up by the synthesis of a number of comments in this thread: what is the unique benefit of ordinances. Most Christians can answer something like this: baptism is the way we demonstrate our submission to Christ. While we would certainly agree, I don’t think that answer sufficiently acknowledges the importance of ordinances in our theology. I certainly agree with Mark Butler that ordinances without subsequent faithfulness are meaningless, I still don’t know that ordinances are only validated by future living–in other words, my understanding of our theology indicates that ordinances are, per se, valuable. As I indicated earlier, I believe this could be the case because ordinances help us become in unique ways–that is, they transform us in ways necessary to gain exaltation. I do not mean to put undue emphasis on ordinances, but if something like what I suggest is not the case then why the immense work to ensre every person who has ever lived receives all the ordinances? Am I off the mark in my understanding of the importance of ordinances? Does their importance reside in some aspect I am overlooking completely?

  32. Adam Greenwood
    August 24, 2006 at 8:16 am

    “Teaching children to be reverent in sacrament meeting”

    MLU has seen through me. I didn’t start talking to my daughter to teach her, or to make the sacrament more meaningful, but to keep her from running around and hollering. I first tried holding her, but she’d cry and whine, so I started whispering to her to keep her entertained. Its turned out pretty spiritual for me, though.

    There’s more accidental good from bourgeious concerns about keeping up appearances than we imagine.

  33. Mike
    August 24, 2006 at 10:26 am

    “How can we more often make Mormon sacraments a transcendental experience? ”

    I find Sacrament meetings extremely boring. I have tried to do many of the things suggested above. I’ve been through the small children stage and am currently doing the teenage stage. But most of the time it isn’t working for me. A lot of what is written above just doesn’t connect to my experiences in Sacrament meetings. Most of the people around me seem equally bored and right after the meeting, they don’t seem to be wiping their spiritual faces as if after a hearty spiritual meal, to say the least. Who are we kidding?

    I see a distinction between internal motivations, things I can do within myself and external motivations, things that can be done outside of myself to help me (or hurt me). If the focus at church is entirely on internal, then why church? I can go sit by the lake in the woods and focus on the internal. If the reason I feel so empty at church is primarily internal to me and most everything at church is internal then is their any little hope for me? Why not sit in the woods and contemplate? I need a church that inspires me, maybe even kicks me in the ass once in a while.

    My job requirtes me to miss church at least once a month, perhaps a bit more often. When I think on it each Sunday that I drive home from work, I really have to wonder what I missed. I have a couple of friends who attend LDS meeting out of a sense of duty, but then they immediately slip off to other church services to get their “Jesus fix” as one calls it. I have attended quite a few other churches and they seem to be doing a better job uplifting and inspiring their people, although how does one measure such a thing? I have considered going elsewhere almost all of the time, but the Mormons are my tribe and I feel like they are my people. And what about the kids?

    A couple suggestions:

    First, fire the High Council speakers. They should be setting the standard and teaching the rest of us how to give inspiring talks, by their example. They are a church wide joke, with a few exceptions. I can’t tell you how many times I have imagined during some truely horrible HC talk, that I was the Bishop and that I would stand up after about 5 minutes of their drivel and firmly ask them to take a seat. Then I would call on some other capable speakers to come forward from the audience. I imagine a subsequent conversation with the Stake President telling him not to send any more such dolts to speak in my ward, or they might receive worse treatment. I suppose there are many responsibilities that a Stake High Counciler might have that don’t require good public speaking, but from the viewpoint of the back row, speaking in Sacrament meeting is the most visible. They need to be among the best of speakers. It seems hypocritical and boils my blood for them to say that the Stake President sends us his love. If he really loved us he wouldn’t torture us with such poor speakers.

    Second, would be better music. We have quite a number of talented musicians in the ward including one of my kids. They are so seldom asked to share their talents and they are constantly insulted; by those who say they shan’t play anything not in the hymnal, or they shan’t play anything elaborate that might make other kids feel inferior, or a thousand other lame excuses for mediocracy in music.

    Finally, the sacrament ordinance is held at the beginning of the meeting before a struggling soul such as mine has scarcely had time to catch their breath. I recall many years ago that the Sacrament used to be passed at the end of the service and the point of the service was to prepare the congregation spiritually to receive it. Now we have it within the first 15 minutes, before op to 30% of the ward has even been properly seated and is out milling about in the foyer. But I guess, aside from me (and the 90% of the ward that doesn’t even show up), the general membership of the church is always in such a high state of spiritual readiness that they can rush into Sacrament meeting and immediately renew their covenants and just bask in the Spirit for another 80 minutes of …of what I just plane don’t get.

  34. p
    August 24, 2006 at 10:45 am

    A few people alluded to the works, or the “little things� to which we often refer, as sometimes being confused as being the end themselves. Rather, they are a means to an end. I think it important to remember, however, that they are, in fact, a means. Meaning, they allow us to become. They are not the essence, but they are a vital part of achieving the essence. Thus, Tyler, I think your comment about how it is certainly good to do things such as attend sacrament meeting or pay our tithing even if our reasons are not yet entirely pure is relevant.

    Rarely do I think we immediately notice the blessings of doing these things, whether by compulsion or due to guilt or because we really want to do them. I was recently telling a friend how I’ve been trying to do more things, or perhaps more sincerely do things (e.g. scripture study), that invite the Spirit into my life of late. She then questioned whether I could ever really go to bed without having read my scriptures at some point during the day. I thought for a minute, and realized that guilt would prod me into reading at least a little on any given day. Is this bad? Not necessarily. Is it the best? Clearly not. Certainly, it would be better if I either had managed to make time to read earlier on those days, or for a longer time, or in a more focused manner, or with any other number of improvements. I do not believe, however, that those opportunities to do better negate the benefit of doing at all.

    While it has certainly been good over the last while to do these things more and to feel a little bit more of the Spirit in my life, quite honestly, there has been no life-changing improvement. Or has there been? Life-altering things rarely come about as a flash of lightning. Instead, I think they are much like food storage; we may not immediately taste the benefit of our store, but when spiritual tsunamis are upon us, we’ll be grateful for our cans of faith that have been slowly accumulated.

    I very much like the idea articulated by Gomez and Tyler about grace being received through certain efforts on our part, including through ordinances. While partaking of the Sacrament several weeks ago, I was mulling over the fact that I really did desire to make a covenant with the Lord that I would remember Jesus, keep His commandments, and take His name upon me. I was acutely aware, however, that sometime within the next week (and probably much sooner than later), I would break this covenant. I knew it, and the Lord knew it. Yet, He was providing me, through His infinite mercy and grace, with this opportunity to make covenants – so that I could remember, and so that I could have His Spirit to be with me. As inextricably as baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost are, so are partaking of the sacrament and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Each week, we have the opportunity to covenant to try to do our part, while meanwhile the Lord covenants to bestow His Spirit upon us.

    Truman Madsen quotes Joseph Smith as once saying, “Stop exercising the forms without the power.� Likewise, I think it important for us to do the forms, but remember the power behind them – essentially, to remember the real meaning of the gospel. We must understand what it means to us, personally. We must ponder how the Savior’s sacrifice affects individual aspects of our lives, whether it be a missionary remembering that the Savior, too, was rejected and has taken that sorrow upon Him, or a repentant who has committed a grievous sin knowing that forgiveness is open to him, again because of Christ. It is when we use the forms, or the sacraments, to access the power and love of God that our hearts are truly and spiritually impacted.

  35. August 24, 2006 at 11:06 am

    and they are constantly insulted; by those who say they shan’t play anything not in the hymnal,

    As I understand it, this is direction from the prophet. Firesides and other such venues (which are typically poorly attended by the way) are held for more elaborate worship such as you suggest. I suspect that if the members cared as much as they expect their leaders to, our firesides would be the envy of the religious community instead they are sparsely populated.

    Now we have it within the first 15 minutes, before [up] to 30% of the ward has even been properly seated and is out milling about in the foyer.

    Whose fault is that? I know in every ward I have been to, at some point the Bishop or SP has counseled the members to arrive early to settle in and “catch their breath” this is the purpose for prelude music is it not? Ask any organist how unappreciated they feel when all their efforts are only for the same three families who show up on time.

  36. Doc
    August 24, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Mike,
    Harping and finding fault with others is definitely not the way to get more out of Sacrament meeting. It seems to me much more productive to look at what we ourselves can change rather than grow impatient that others don’t change.

    Tyler,
    Clearly the ordinances must matter. BFD make no sense if the act itself does not have some significance. Like you, I am still pondering this. The fulfilling of the covenant has always and should always do more for me that the act itself. The sacrament is nice because it gives us a chance to renew the covenant the right way each week. Also I really like the spiritual frequency idea. It leaves me wondering though, who exactly is the Holy Ghost and what exactly does this being do? Perhaps that is a subject to be brought up another time. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  37. queuno
    August 24, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Mike –

    Typically, the sacrament isn’t passed until about :15 into the meeting, after two hymns, any ward business, and at least one prayer. Those who are still out of breath from arriving (late) should probably see a doctor or show up on time.

    In my friend’s ward (he’s a bishop), the SP has asked them to hold sacrament meeting LAST, so that everyone is at Church already.

    As far as speakers go … if only “qualified” speakers spoke in Church, within a generation we’d have no qualified speakers.

  38. Adam Greenwood
    August 24, 2006 at 11:39 am

    “Who are we kidding? ”

    I’m not kidding anybody, Mr. Mike. You should hesitate before projecting your own spiritual state onto the other members of your congregation and you should really hesitate before projecting your own spiritual state onto people you know nothing about except what they post on the Bloggernacle. Its appalling arrogance for you to assume that we must be ‘kidding’ when we talk about positive sacramental experiences.

    Some of the changes you suggest might be a good idea. I don’t know. A sacrament where people have been first spiritually fed by preaching would be a good idea. A sacrament where people show up right before it and miss the preaching altogether would not. I don’t know which we’d get if we put sacrament at the end of the service and neither do you. In any case, I know that no amount of change will help someone who brings the spirit of grudge, criticism, and judgment to the service.

  39. Adam Greenwood
    August 24, 2006 at 11:41 am

    “Those who are still out of breath from arriving (late) should probably see a doctor or show up on time.”

    I think Mr. Mike meant spiritually out of breath.

  40. August 24, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    think Mr. Mike meant spiritually out of breath

    Well, if we consider going to church akin to going to see a spiritual doctor, perhaps arriving late to the spiritual doctor is the reason for feeling spiritually out of breath, you miss the obligatory lung check-up that the nurse does before the doctor arrives.

    Interestingly, church (the spiritual emergency room) is three hours long and it was a three hour wait last time we had to go to the *actual* emergency room.. all things truly do parallel the Gospel.

    [Ryan is awarded three points for bringing the conversation full-circle to Tyler’s profession]

  41. August 24, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    Moving to more moving music…
    I suspect bloggers have already talked about our slow, dirge-like hymns, but this is an opportunity to say a little more. I can’t go along with firing HC speakers (post # 33), because I believe that a lay clergy needs to accommodate bad speakers and hope for better ones, but we DON’T need to be exclusively European in our hymn selections. (And if we adopt Scottish melodies, as we did in “Praise to the Man,” we definitely need bagpipe accompaniment–preferably with some drums.) In the Genesis Group (see http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org for more information), we sing a rousing spiritual at every meeting. We have had GAs like Jeffrey Holland attempt to join us. Elder Holland came quite close to the rythmn several times, which is better than some GAs, who just smile and watch. I want to make a glad noise to the Lord. I want to sing “Seven Loaves and five little fishes” and “O Happy Day!” There is a handful of hymns in our current hymnbook which I like–and all of them are the “praise” hymns (“Praise to the Lord the Almighty”, “All Creatures of Our God and King”. etc.) I find it funny that our “rest” hymn is often something sure to put any tired/bored people right to sleep. (“And now, to give ourselves a much needed break, let us sing ‘Though Deepening Trials’–and brothers and sisters, let’s really slow it down so we can truly ponder our trials and get the full effect.”) Of course, if I were in charge of the Church, our blocks would be two hours or less (I think Sunday School lessons can be the topics of Sacrament Meeting talks), and the bishopric would include the wives of the bishop and his counselors. So those of you who were comforted by my apparent orthodoxy are now apprised.

  42. August 24, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    “…and the bishopric would include the wives of the bishop and his counselors.”

    From what I’ve seen over the years, that’s often already the case (practically speaking, if not formally).

  43. Doc
    August 24, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    Margaret,
    The picture of Jeffrey Holland attempting to join into a spiritual made my day. Awesome!!

    Thank You

  44. Adam Greenwood
    August 24, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Nothing wrong with our hymns. Sorry.

  45. August 24, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    No, there’s nothing WRONG with them; they’re just not diverse enough. Gladys Knight needs to be on the hymn selection board. In fact, I’d say that the board should include names like Moody, Elliot, Gomez, Kissi, Brownowski, Tamaguchi, and Petrov. But Gladys should have final say. In the spirit of this blog, I do believe that cultural diversity is part of our BECOMING Christ-like as a body of Saints. Our hymns show our roots, but our branches have gone far beyond those early borders.

  46. Wilfried
    August 24, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    Margaret, I tend to agree with you on the need for some careful evolution and renewal in our hymns (some to be sung more rapidly, yes!). Careful because as a convert I also see value in the uniqueness of the identity of “our” hymns (for a convert from Catholicism, these hymns are all “Mormon”). For me they are therefore also part of the Spiritual Presence Tyler talks about. But when it comes to the argument of cultural diversity, I hesitate. One, because diversity may lead to fragmentation in our expanding international Church. Two, because cultural diversity may lead to folklorization and segregation: people tend to associate skin and nationalities with “typical” features. “Whites” advocating cultural diversity may unwittingly adopt a condescending attitude – let’s see “how the natives perform”.

  47. August 24, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Ryan,

    Actually, it’s five points.

    Margaret,

    You’ll be happy to know that the Sunday before I left my SLC ward to return to Philly, a laddie of about seventeen played “Praise to the Man” on the bagpipes in sacrament meeting. Que lindo, as my Mexican friends would say. Also, I actually wonder if the next edition of the hymn book won’t incorporate exactly what you suggest. The Church as an institution has taken on a much more pronounced international character since the last edition of the hymnal, perhaps we can look forward to more moving hymns (though, I have to admit, I really like many of our hymns, even the slow ones–“As Now We Take the Sacrament,” which, I suppose, might be classified as one of the “dirges” of which you speak, is one of my favorites).

    Mike,

    While you have been much maligned in other comments here, I suspect you are partly being more honest than some of the rest of us. There is no question some talks are hard to sit through–Elder Holland once called for us to reenthrone (sp?) great teaching in the Church and we could certainly start with sacrament meetings. I think the larger question you pose is really the heart of the original post–how DO we make everyday (or every week or whatever) occurences more meaningful, especially when we necessarily operate as Margaret Young points out in a community of imperfect saints.

    P,

    All of your comments are insightful. I especially like your observation that often the little spiritual things we do have a much more profound cumulative effect that we realize. I know I have sometimes paused in a moment of introspection and thought, “ya know, I have really been pondering the scriptures with more thought and purpose lately.” Often, soon thereafter, I notice that, in spite of myself, I am becoming more kind, or more patient, or more calm. The spiritual life, engaged in for whatever reason, brings us closer to the Savior. Somewhere in that interaction is part of the difficult-to-describe interaction between grace and works.

  48. DavidH
    August 24, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    Another aspect I like of Elder Oaks’ talk is his pointing out that much of the “becoming” we need in this life can occur outside of or before becoming part of our faith community:

    “What is important in the end is what we have become by our labors. Many who come in the eleventh hour have been refined and prepared by the Lord in ways other than formal employment in the vineyard. These workers are like the prepared dry mix to which it is only necessary to “add water”–the perfecting ordinance of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. With that addition–even in the eleventh hour–these workers are in the same state of development and qualified to receive the same reward as those who have labored long in the vineyard.”

  49. beeshnkj
    August 24, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    The questions are: (1) how can we enhance our Mormon spirituality? (2) how can we approach spirituality so it will impact us more deeply? and (3) how can we more often make Mormon sacraments a transcendental experience?

    In response, I choose the broadest possible definition of \”sacrament\”–including any of certain rites ordained by Christ or the church. \”Rites,\” by one definition, are formal practices or customs. I have tried to make my hometeaching-caregiving into something of a \”rite.\” Not because it is wooden, formal, or rote, but because I could not abide allowing needs to be unmet, sorrow to be left without comfort, or problems to be unaddressed. I am stretching Tyler\’s questions here, just a bit, but I believe we should remember our \”lay ministry church\” makes almost all adult males and females shepherds in the truest sense of that word and provides each the opportunity to rise to excellence in how we approach our service \”sacraments.\” We have a unique opportunity to \”comfort those that stand in need of comfort\”–even \”unto the least of these our brethren.\” I may not be able to change the content of a sacrament meeting sermon (although reverent participation, I believe, brings many blessings to all), but I can have much to say and do about how my hometeaching family is shown compassion and taught gospel principles. The impact of such service is profound.

    I am sad for Mike (comment 33). My experience is so different. So many of my most cherished spiritual experiences occur in our chapel during sacrament meetings. I know SPs at times request \”hymns only.\” The General Handbook of Instructions is not quite so restrictive. Our ward has been blessed with glorious music–from the hymnbook, from arrangements of hymns, and by other sacrament-meeting-appropriate sacred music (\”O, Divine Redeemer\” and \”The Holy City,\” for example, come immediately to mind). And our \”home-grown\” sermons (ward members with a few stake leaders mixed in) are really fabulous–uneven, at times, but really wonderful for the most part.

    Now, it\’ best that these meetings be planned out into the future, based on a theme for the meeting. And, it\’s best that speakers be \”coached\” a bit, about what is and isn\’t appropriate, how to measure the time they will speak, etc. And, it\’s best when the music is coordinated with the sermons (and led in as up-beat a fashion as the music allows)–all of these things working together to enhance common experience. The average ward member may have such considerations within his circle of concern, but not within his circle of control–except she can set a wonderful example when asked to speak and she can worship reverently each Sunday.

    Also, as noted, there are other \”sacraments\” where the responsibility for excellence is squarely each ward member\’s shoulders.

  50. Tyler Johnson
    August 24, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Danger,

    amen to that.

    Beeshnkj,

    I can affirm that the SMs in your ward are oftne glorious spiritual experiences, especially the music.

  51. MLU
    August 25, 2006 at 1:11 am

    Mike,

    When I was younger and knew more, I wondered why Mormon speakers were often so poor–even General Authorities. About the same time, I wondered why the Book of Mormon wasn’t as well written as an average issue of, say, the Atlantic.

    Now that I feel quite flooded by my sense of humanity’s inadequacy before what we face, I take huge comfort and considerable intellectual pleasure from the way Mormon’s speak. The emphasis is not on originality or creativity or histrionics, to be sure, but on more important things. I love the sense that I can hear in the High Coucilman’s voice the voices of Paul and Isaiah and Alma. How is it that people from different cultures separated by centuries come to the same dead earnest insights?

    There’s something quite real going on in Mormon talk, if you can hear it.

    And the last time I listened to the Book of Mormon, I quite often had the sense that angels were appearing in the room and speaking truth directly to me–a sensation I didn’t get from the Atlantic even when Michael Kelly was editing it.

  52. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 11:59 am

    Me again, Mike the Maligned.

    I guess I should have stayed at work late last night, where I have access to a computer, I would love to have responded immediately to each and every unkind little cut. And I said I like a church that kicks me in the ass once in a while. So I thank you for it. Being ignored is worse. Usually I am just happy that anyone even reads what I write at all. I thought of just slinking back into my cage, but I think I am onto something important here.

    “hear in the High Coucilman’s voice the voices of Paul and Isaiah and Alma.”

    I really wish this was true, I try to make it be true. Rarely it is what happens. I am trying to listen. Really I am. But generally it is boredom, static. I really don’t miss not going to Sacrament meeting for weeks at a time.

    I want to point something else out to y’all. I don’t attend your ward. I don’t even make it to more than 70% of my ward meetings. So I can’t speak to what is going on in your ward. Maybe I describe an isolated crappy ward.

    I also want to ask those who have pillored me if they think I after reading these comments if I am now more or less likely to go to Sacrament meeting? More importantly, am I now more or, less able to hear the voices of Alma and Paul et. al. in the talks to be given this week?

  53. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Adam wrote:

    “I’m not kidding anybody, Mr. Mike. You should hesitate before projecting your own spiritual state onto the other members of your congregation and you should really hesitate before projecting your own spiritual state onto people you know nothing about except what they post on the Bloggernacle. Its appalling arrogance for you to assume that we must be ‘kidding’ when we talk about positive sacramental experiences.”

    I did hesitate but I wrote what I thought.

    Some facts:

    1. People are moving into my ward boundaries in droves. Young couples, families, immigrants etc.

    2. More missionaries have been assigned here and to the areas where most of them have come from than in the past and baptisms are not significantly down. So, statistically my ward should be experiencing very rapid growth from people moving into the area, not to mention the dozens of baptisms that we are blesseed with each year. Decisions where to draw boundaries have been made in the past, based partly on these numbers and these expectations.

    3. I have never attended a baptism service when I didn’t think the new member wanted to change their life and become a disciple of Christ and valient member of the church. Realistically, I have noted that some had bigger obstacles to overcome than others. But all had strong hope and faith and the charity of many who attended.

    4. Our ward had nearly 1000 members a few years ago. The list has been whittled down at an enormous, really a heroic effort to about 500; mostly by finding out about those people who have moved out. We never had a lazy ward clerk who just let things go, it is a bigger problem than one person can handle.

    4. We all admit that the number of people living under our radar in our ward boundaries who are probably in the lost address file or some other lost file is much higher than it was a few years ago. It has to be. We can only speculate as to how many inactive members actually live in our ward, 1500? 2000?

    5. Sacrament meeting attendance is never over 150 or 160 even when we have events like missionary farewells that draw from other wards. It is higher than in any other ward in this Stake.

    Conclusions:
    Doing this math tells me that upwards of around 90% of the baptised members of this church living in this area don’t even come to Sacrament meeting. I wonder why.

    If our retention or attendance was 99% or 90% or even 70%, I could say that maybe things are pretty good at church, there must be something wrong with those who left.

    If the retention was say 50%, I wouldn’t know what to think.

    But retention is under 10%! We are hemorrhaging new members and we are lossing many life-long members at alarming rates.

    I could explain this massive retention and inactivity problem by putting it back on the choices of each and every individual on whatever lost list you please. That is easy for me- to wash my hands of them . Or I can say to myself: Did we as a ward (and I was one of the leaders for a time, so this is also directed back at me) do as much as we could to keep them in the fold? If, for just one example, we had Sacrament meetings that deeply moved most of the congregation every week, we wouldn’t loose hardly any of our new converts. I actually have enough faith to believe that. Call that arrogant or projection of my own spiritual state if you want.

    Now I should conduct some surveys and attempt to measure the satisfaction of the members who do come. This would be difficult. Easy targets are the youth who can be rather transparent. I have teenagers and I can tell you they do not like Sunday meetings. They are bored out of their skulls. They have an excellent Seminary teacher and more of them will get up before 6:00 am to attend seminary than will trundle into other meeting held at reasonable hours.

    I might also note that people show up on time to things they value. Tardiness might be a subconscious expression of boredom and lack of feeling the spirit.

    You might be right about me projecting my spiritual state onto others. I feel like I am wandering through a wilderness and wasteland within the LDS faith. Perhaps those thousands in my ward who have left are happily worshipping in other more inspiring churches? Or else swilling a cold beer at a lake somwhere and are actually closer to God than most of my ward? You just might be right about that.

    In fact, I find the attitude to be arrogant and in a state of spiritual degeneration of so many staunch members of what is rapidly becoming the church of the revolving door, that all is well in Zion. How can you sit there through these meetings and not wonder why so few come? How can you sit there and say to me that if you are not finding spiritual fulfilment at our meetings then there must be something wrong with you. Love it or leave it. But if you leave it, don’t be one of those who can’t leave it alone. (Not to mention that we are not ever going to leave you alone).

    Sorry, I’m not going that route. Sorry.

    Adam if you are happy at church, consider yourself lucky. Good for you. I am not and I can’t figure out why and I don’t think I am alone.

  54. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    Mike the Maligned again:

    Now to address some other pot shots about my health, being out of breath.

    I am a runner, but have competition issues. I hate it when some 80 year old lady, skin and bones beats me. Especially when I ran times faster than world records for women while I was in college 3 decades ago. So I run alone and I have not timed myself in many years. This allows me to indulge in the fantasy of of winning a Gold medal at the Olympica every time I run around my neighborhood at night. Hey, it is no worse than some of the stuff I am asked to swallow at church.

    Recently I was away from home in a decent climate and ran on a track where I could count laps accurately for 12 miles. And I couldn’t control myself, I noticed that I did it in just under 90 minutes and that included warming up, a 5 minute walk to and another 5 minute back to my room. So that would be 12 miles in less than 80 minutes. And I am going to NOT take the next step and do the division.

    Spiritually, I really do need quite a long warm -up. 15 or 30 minutes just doesn’t cut it. If I didn’t have to wrangle teenagers before church, I could try reading scriptures or hold my own service or do something else before church to prepare. It would still seem odd to have the Sacrament right at the first.

  55. Adam Greenwood
    August 25, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    “Doing this math tells me that upwards of around 90% of the baptised members of this church living in this area don’t even come to Sacrament meeting.”

    In the comment I responded to, you weren’t speculating about the people who don’t come. You were speculating about the people who do come, and you were saying that those of us who found value in sacrament meetings “must be kidding.” If you want to see arrogance, there it is.

    Now, as for the rest of your complaint. Apparently you think you are justified in calling me a liar if the church has problems with attendance, as if in denying that sacrament meetings are valueless to me, I am also denying that they are valueless to others. Not so.

    You are also incorrect to think that others having spiritual problems with church relieves you of your responsibility for your spiritual problems. Again, not so. The Christian attitude generally is to look for structural ways to help others but to look for personal ways to address one’s own failings. It may be true that the Church can improve sacrament meetings in ways that you would like better and would make it easier for you to experience revelation and communion with the Holy Ghost (though I’m skeptical that anything dramatic along these lines can be done for the population at large). But your anger and focus on what the Church can do will largely ensure that no matter what happens you yourself will not experience any spiritual fruits from it. Its on you. We are not consumers, we are members.

  56. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    Tardiness:

    I plead innocent. Our ward only has 5 Aaronic Priesthood boys and uses 8 to pass the Sacrament. They have to get 3 adult men to help every week, often more. The Bishop has declared that if the boy is not in his seat when he stands up to start the meeting then he will not pass the Sacrament. No exceptions. Since my 13 year old likes to pass the sacrament, he gets the rest of the family to church on time. His tactics can be less than gentle. They can generate much noise and might involve flying household objects, especially when there are teenage girls involved. But cut him loose and we are never late.

    My point above, is that people who are late probably are not being fed spiritually very well. Devoted fans are not late to BYU vs Utah football games. They are not late when some used car dealer gives away free prizes, etc. People figure ways to be on time to the things they value even in a city with traffic as bad as ours.

    If you are the Bishop and you notice that 30% of the ward repeatedly comes into the chapel after the Sacrament is passed, what do you do?

    You can preach to them and read articles out of magazines to them or gently chide them or even cuss them out over the pulpit. You could get off the stand and go out there and start using the gift of the laying on of hands, (like our Priesthood leaders used to do when I was a teenager). Would this kind of approach work?

    Rather you could see it as a signal that many people are not taking Sacrament meeting seriously enough. You could look at the meeting content; the speakers and the music and every other aspect. You could search for solutions to the problem, based on the assumption that most people are rational and decent and there are usually reasons for what they do. Not do something based on the assumption that tardy people are otherwise bad and will respond to lecturing, threats and manipulation.

    Now, that isn’t inconsistent is it?
    (Fowler’s Paradoxical stage of faith)

  57. Adam Greenwood
    August 25, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    You’re right, Mr. Mike. But if I’m the bishop and I’m talking to you personally, I’m telling you that your personal spiritual malaise is not something you could or should pass off onto the other members. Its your concern and its your salvation to tackle it.

  58. Tyler Johnson
    August 25, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Hey Mike–

    I obviously have no idea where you live. If, however, you happen to be in or close to Salt Lake City, I can recommend a ward that just might restore your faith in powerful sacrament meetings. Also, I do have an idea that might help brighten your Sabbaths: whenever someone starts speakigng and you can feel yourself slipping into boredom, start writing your own talk. Heck, get out a piece of paper if you have to. If they don’t know what they’re talking about, or if they know what they’re talking about but don’t know how to present it, firgure out what you would ahve done differently. Find your own scriptures, make your own outline, create your own discourse. That way, you’ll always be assured an interesting meeting and you’re likely to learn a whole heck of a lot while you’re at it.

    It’s an idea, anyway.

  59. Adam Greenwood
    August 25, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    I do what Tyler says a lot–go off on spiritual tangents in my head. Its also helpful if you can find ways to love the people in your ward, even if you don’t know them real well, which will tend to make their talks a lot more interesting. I wish I had some good advice about how to do that.

  60. Tyler Johnson
    August 25, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    By the way, Mike, I’m really quite serious: if you’re ever in the neighborhood, I’ll get you the address of a ward in SLC that has mostly wonderful meetings.

  61. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Mike the Maligned on Music:

    If the Prophet only allows the arrangements in the green hymnal, then he must be asleep during General Conference. Anyone remember that Brazilian star who sang a rather original version of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”? Classical instruments are breaking out all over the televised material the church is producing.

    What gets me are those who say some rule is from The Prophet and who assume The Prophet writes the official handbook and that he interpretes it the same way they do. The Blacks in my ward have a slang term for this kind of thinking.They call it: “Laying it on the Prophet.” Most of them have more sense than the rest of us.Perhaps because of their history of slavery, discrimination and revolt against authority, they will not generally do ridiculous things just because someone in charge told them to do it.

    Not allowing a teenager to play Bach on a violin in Sacrament meeting is obnoxious. And if you think the Prophet is being obnoxious, that is your problem. Right now I have a highly insulted teenager living at my house who has a worse problem in that she really doesn’t want to play anything at church directly due to the high handed comments of a few ward leaders and I just hope she doesn’t pull some really obnoxious stunt next time they ask her to play. (Phantom of the Opera in a low minor key?)

    I recently got a new calling and had the opportunity to read a small section of the CHI. In the first section it tells us to learn our duty (DC 107:99). Then it mentions personal revelation and following the Spirit four times, (Yes! four times!) while telling us to also study the teachings of the prophets and the scriptures. Then, (Are you all listening?) it says that these instructions are designed to fascilitate revelation on how we are to do our callings! (Also no mention of white shirts.)

    The way I read it, the official manual gives me a green light to do whatever the hell I want to, the only constraint is the Spirit. Which when you think about people like me, it is the only thing that will constrain me. Because, frankly, if President Gordon B. himself told me to do something important that I felt was wrong and he was standing right there, I wouldn’t do it. And I would make certain he knew I wouldn’t do it. I call this integrity and it seems to be in short supply at times.

  62. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Adam, you wrote:

    “You’re right, Mr. Mike. But if I’m the bishop and I’m talking to you personally, I’m telling you that your personal spiritual malaise is not something you could or should pass off onto the other members. Its your concern and its your salvation to tackle it. ”

    I thought we were in this together?

    See, I don’t have any serious spiritual problems when I’m not at church.

    I wish the church was better. Don’t you?

    And there are my kids.

  63. beeshnkj
    August 25, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    Mike: Just for the record–I respect you, your thoughts, integrity, and candor, your church service, and all you and your family represent.

    You are correct, we are all in this together.

    And I think we all hope the vast army of volunteers who serve in our lay church are constantly improving and enhancing their abilities.

    I got it!

  64. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Tyler:

    I appreciate the suggestions and the offer.

    I agree that writing my own talk or preparing my own leson is a great alternative to listening to bad talks and lessons in church. The trouble with that plan is that I can do a much better job of writing my own talks and lessons at home. So why bother going to church? Of course, unless I actually have to teach I seldom will prepare week after week. And funny thing, my kids will listen to me rehearse for an actual lesson, but wild horses won’t drag them to listen to a lesson I just made up.
    BTW, I should thank Jim F. for his fine lessons. I don’t think I have been to Sunday School yet this year and I don’t think I have missed much. I taught the Old Testament last time around and I tried to give lessons like his but I just don’t have the background and the resources and the personality.The guy this year is a nice person but he just goes over articles in the newspaper and cureent events that realate one or two verses. i can’t stand teaching from the back row when I’m not really prepared.

    I have relatives in Utah and we go out there twice a year for a few weeks and I admit their meetings seem better. My parents are house-bound and they watch Music and the Spoken Word and then a actual Sacrament meeting on TV. They say the content is better than their regular ward. I don’t doubt that it could be better. That is my point, why don’t WE do it better?

    But the Utah church also seems to be a lot less flexible. My 13 yr. old son has a foot wide blond Afro which his Black friends quite like. Doesn’t go over big in Utah. Lots of cold stares and snide comments.”That kid needs a hair cut.”

    He went up to pass the Sacrament in a blue shirt in a relative’s ward in Utah. The Bishop came over and asked him who he was and seemed satisfied. Then the other kids said: “But he isn’t wearing a white shirt, he can’t pass.” The Bishop said: “He will remember next time, once is ok.” I thought this was a good way to handle it. Yet some other YM leaders went up an hassled him, even after the meeting had started. Eventually he gave up explaining that the Bishop said he could and just got up and went out in the foyer. Big surprize, he passively resisted going to church for the next 3 weeks of the time in Utah and really didn’t bother going up to the deacons row again as a guest.

    Think about it. This kind of crap is chasing my kids and many others away from the gospel. Is it worth it?

  65. beeshnkj
    August 25, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    I vote “no” (see comment 63 above).

    I also deplore those trying to “steady the arc” after the president of the Aaronic priesthood had already spoken.

  66. Adam Greenwood
    August 25, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    “I thought we were in this together?”

    Right. That means you have to work as hard at your problem as you expect other people to do. Part of that is looking for positives as assiduously as you remember and recite the negatives.

  67. Adam Greenwood
    August 25, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    Beeshnkj,

    You can’t ask people to fix sacrament meetings and then blame them for steadying the ark.

  68. Adam Greenwood
    August 25, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    Mr. Mike,

    One more thought before I sign off. It’s on us to take your complaints about your kids seriously and think about what can be done about it under our own circumstances. But you have got to take responsibility to. Kids sometimes reflect the attitudes they get from their parents. Does your own attitude towards church-going affect how sensitive your children are to slights and inconveniences there? I suggest that it does. Your attitude in this thread (and in others) towards church-going is unrelentingly negative and passive. Working on that will do far more to help your children than being bitter in internet fora will.

  69. beeshnkj
    August 25, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    Brother Greenwood: I guess I have simple views here–but, maybe I am missing something.

    I think my thoughts are consistent because they suggest people should do that lies within the circles of their control to improve sacrament meetings–reverently participating as ward members in all sacrament meetings, providing wonderful sermons when called upon as speakers, as leaders, plan well, coach well, and otherwise help ward members be their best, and, I would add here, focus all on the renewal of sacramental covenants.

    At the same time, when the Bishop has “OK’d” a visiting Aaronic priesthood holder to pass the sacrament and Young Men leaders thereafter “hassle” that Deacon, as Brother Mike describes, the Young Men leaders attempt to “steady the arc” because it is not within the circles of their control to over-ride the Bishop’s decision–or, at least, it should not be in my opinion.

  70. Mike
    August 25, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    I was going to stop but Adam #68, this needs to be addressed. What you say entirely makes sense as a snap-shot of my predictament today, but it neither historically accurate nor fair.

    Several years ago I felt less critical and unhappy at church and although bored, I was not nearly as negative. I don’t know how it started but a few ward leaders made some poor choices for teachers and YM/YW leaders for my kids; leaders who in my view acted like they had the Iron Rod up their ass. This was long before I ever had what you think is a negative attitude. I was rather more practical than ethereal and interested in church history and that sort of stuff. Things got very toxic at church for my children. They were extremely well-behaved at home, school, sports, music, etc. But at church they were treated badly and they responded like little hellions.

    One thing lead to another. And if you have never been there, you can not know how hard it is to fix problems or even survive them when they spin out of control. Especially in a authoritarian hierachial organization like this church, where some opinions carry much weight and others none, based on church position with few checks and balances. I became the subject of gossip by church leaders (some of whom asked forgiveness years later when the damage was done) which was entirely false; nasty things like wife beating, sexual abuse of children, drug use. I was eventually black-listed behind my back. Lies have been told to my children at church in a effort to turn them against me. And a couple times I wish I had called the police for the physically abusive treatment my children received at church. So Adam, historically, my negative attitude is the result of poor treatment of my children at church, not the other way around. I think, alone, I could have better weathered this. But it is the way they treat my children that really gets me.

    I devoted the best years of my life to this church. When I really needed it during these difficult days of raising teenagers, it isn’t there for me. Rather, it became our biggest obstacle.

    I have made mistakes and done things that I regret. But it was not until I began to take a more aggressive, in-your-face, I-am-not-going-inactive, I-oughta-kick-your-ass-if-this-happens-again attitude that the worst of the abuses seemed to lessen. The Proclamation on the Family says a Father is suppose to protect his family and that goes for problems at church. It was a fight for survival and continues to a lesser degree. Conflict is seldom neat and on a high moral ground.

    Now the results. First, one member of my family left, saying: “I don’t have to put up with this poison and found a better church to attend. For now everyone seems better off. I hate to say that, but it is the truth. So now even though I would never have chosen this path, I find myself at the head of an inter-denominational family. And suddenly some of the LDS doctrines that can be so comforting, families are forever etc., become bitter paradoxes without resolution this side of the grave. {I hesitated to say this for fear that it will jeopardize the credibility of any further comments I may make here .Do y’all realize how judgemental you can be when someone’s family leaves the fold?}

    And the other result is described by some philospher I can not recall: “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” You think I have an attitude. One of my kids is violently loyal to all things she thinks are Mormon, but on her own terms. She is far from a modern correlated TBM. She must have been hanging out with her relatives in the pre-existance; those who lead the Mountains Meadows Massacre and Porter Rockwell and J. Golden Kimball. She has the blood of the Avenging Angels running in her veins and it is family lore that these “gifts” were hereditary.

    As a teenager you can do things that would land others in jail. So those who have sown the wind are reaping the whirlwind. I feel like I have to protect some of the members in the ward from her. She will go far in the vicious cut-throat world of modern busines or law or politics; due to the training and treatment she recieved at the hands of a little Mormon ward far from Utah.

    She is very shrewd and manipulative; I don’t exactly know how but she gets the Bishop to spank those adults at church who cross her or try to rein her in. At other times she has reduced her YW leader to tears with her cutting remarks. She can be so nicey-nice and then vicious as a tigress. And she is the ad hoc leader of the Mormon girls at her high school (she calls them her “posse”) where she does not put up with much nonsense or what we used to call persecution. If the Lord sends many more like her, these problems I describe will be self-correcting and it won’t be pretty. The battle for the souls of my family goes on. Not everyone has chosen sides. If I had taken a sunshine attitude about the LDS church, I would not be in it today. I don’t see how others in my family would be either.

    Adam, or anyone else, how could you know all of this? I haven’t really explained it very well. I really feel bad that somehow we do not seem to see things even close to the same way. I am sorry that you think this church is so good that it is incapable of some of the evil and wickedness that I have experienced. I suspect that I am not alone and I think that the church is in trouble just about any way you look at it with numbers.

    Some of these comments I really like and need to hear. I thank you all for them. For example, the idea that I should look just as hard for the positive as the negative. I see somewhere 50 50 support for me at this blog, thank you. Trouble is that when I do look at church, I see 10 negatives for each positive. So right now I will try looking 10 times as hard for positive things as negative things. I will let 10 rotten sacrament meeting talks go without comment and see if I can find the 11th good one. But if the odds are closer to 100 to one, then I don’t think I can make it.

    All I’m asking is for other people to maybe improve the odds a bit. Just enough so it isn’t as hard for those who carry heavy burdens of every sort. And stop acting so much like: All is well in Zion. Tain’t.

    One last correction. When I think about it, I do have spiritual problems outside of church. Many things torment me; injust, war, poverty, violence. The way people treat each other. But since the LDS faith is the fountain of almost all that I am, when it is polluted it really makes everything else seem irrelevant and negative. Also, realize I can be brutally honest and negative with strangers on this Blog in ways that I can not be in my ward or at home. So tangling with some of you takes the edge off of what harmful things I might say Sunday, and helps me ride herd on others who are so much like me.

    My boss is going to kill me for taking a 5 hour lunch break. Back to work for me. I promise to shut up.

  71. beeshnkj
    August 25, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    Mike: Hang in there, Brother, the Lord needs you!

  72. Adam Greenwood
    August 25, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    I see what you were saying about the causal arrow running the other way than I was suggesting.

    Two points:
    (1) I’m not saying that all is well in Zion. I’m saying that its spiritually dangerous to say my problems are due to all not being well in Zion, so Zion needs to fix itself and then they’ll go away. This is so even when, as in your case, Zion being broke has lots to do with the problems.

    (1) “Do y’all realize how judgemental you can be when someone’s family leaves the fold?”
    I’m also saying that its spiritually dangerous to view the rest of us in the church as a ‘y’all.’ Its the difference between seeing the church as family members, some of whom you can’t stand and some of whom have hurt you, and seeing the church as an other. That was my point earlier about the difference between being a customer and a member.

    God be with you. Fight the good fight.

  73. Tyler Johnson
    August 25, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    Mike,

    I don’t even know if you’ll read this, you “lunch break” being over. For what it’s worth, though, two things:

    1) The reason I would keep going to sacrament meeting even if I were writing my own talks is to take the sacrament meeting. We often lose sight of this, but that’s the whole reason we’re going anyway. There is power in the sacrament.

    2) “In the silent heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see:” I’m sorry things have been so tough, like Beehsnkj, I applaud your deovtion in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Before you judge yourself, your children, or anybody else to harshly, I might remember 2 Nephi 9:41, which reads, in part: “the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel and he employeth no servant there.” In other words, the Lord knows all about the rumors, the hurt, the bad experiences, the unrecognized effort, and all the rest and will remember all this when time comes for an appraisal of our lives.

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