We had an excellent discussion of reverence in our combined Priesthood-Relief Society meeting yesterday. At the end of the meeting, I made a comment which provoked mixed reactions after the meeting, and now I am wondering about that comment.

First a little background. We have a very loud ward. Lots of small children. Most of the parents are pretty responsible about tending their children, but such tending produces its own commotion (admonishing in whispers, walking out of the meeting, etc.). It can be pretty distracting.

My children are now old enough that they are beyond the stage where we walk out of the meeting with them. We signal them to be quiet on occasion, but my impression is that they do not cause any more ruckus than most adults. Nevertheless, my memories of those noisier days are pretty fresh, and I am happy to cut parents a lot of slack.

Ok, now back to the Priesthood-Relief Society meeting. When we were asked why we attend Church (by which I mean Sacrament meeting), the first comment was, “To feel the Spirit.” The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like a bad answer. When I make a mental list of my most spiritual experiences, none of them occurred in a Sacrament meeting. Indeed, with the possible exception of the few minutes that comprise the administration of the Sacrament (when most people make a special effort to be quiet), I have no expectation of having a spiritual experience at Church.

So I suggested to our class that those of us who are coming to Church with the expectation of having a personal spiritual experience should reassess their expectations. Communal worship isn’t so much about feeling the Spirit of the Lord as it is about feeling of each other’s spirits. It is about making connections between people. So don’t fret about having your time for pondering during the prelude music; if you want to listen to music and ponder, go to your room at home and put on a CD. Or go to the temple.

Unfortunately, the class ended without time for a rebuttal. I probably could have supplied it myself, but I am curious to hear what others think about this.

13 comments for “Reverence

  1. Keith
    November 1, 2004 at 3:46 am

    Here’s my thought on this:

    I agree that there is something more “communal” about what happens at Church (but for that matter, so is the Temple). It is at the same time very personal and the connection with God should give personal help to the individual _and_ tie him closer to the Saints who are collectively the Temple of God, the body of Christ. So maybe we should just expand what we mean by “spiritual experience.” I don’t want to just feel the spirit of my neighbors or have them simply feel my spirit. If this is all Church is then what we have, as Chauncey Riddle used to say, are desperate and inept people trying to help each other. That may be an admirable in many circumstances, but not here because we can’t save each other. And a mutual support society without God’s Spirit is not what the Church ought to be–that isn’t what priesthood and the authority of the Church is for. We come to partake of the emblems of the atonement, something we do individually but also together. We come praying for the gifts of the Spirit, so all may be benefited–gifts that Moroni says are essential to doing good. We should come hoping for God’s Spirit–for me and for us.

  2. John Mansfield
    November 1, 2004 at 9:53 am

    Maybe a return of speaking in tongues is what is needed to feel the spirit in sacrament meetings. And don’t forget the interpretation of tongues; wouldn’t do any good without that. Then we would experience one of those essential spiritual gifts Moroni listed of the sort that can only be experienced as a group.

  3. November 1, 2004 at 10:14 am

    I have a 16-month-old son, which means I am rarely able to sit in the chapel past the administration of the Sacrament. Yesterday, however, I was one of the speakers, which guaranteed my ability to remain in the chapel. Our ward was having a missionary farewell. The program involved a special musical number, a talk from the outgoing missionary, and then a musical number from the choir. When it came time for me to speak, I told the congregation that I would prefer to sit down than ruin the spirit with my talk. Thankfully, the spirit remained strong, even through my talk. In my opinion, I think we can always have the spirit with us in Sacrament meeting. We must, however, invite the spirit to be with us and maintain a spirit of reverence throughout the meeting.

    Of course, I think we have all sat through a talk where the speaker is so far out in spiritual left field that the spirit can’t help but flee from the chapel. I would share an experience with you, but I can’t find the notes from my last talk. :-)

  4. November 1, 2004 at 11:13 am

    …with the possible exception of the few minutes the comprise the administration of the Sacrament (when most people make a special effort to be quiet), I have no expectation of having a spiritual experience at Church.


    One might interpret your comments to suggest that feeling the Spirit is a function of “lack of distraction.” The Spirit is not an effect of ambiance that we create, it is an actual spirit being who is either present or not. I would suggest that the reason why you feel the Spirit more during the sacrament is because he is sent to testify of the truth of the oath you are making by participating in the ordinance and the atonement that is represented, and not because the members are taking extra care to be quiet.

    When I was a missionary, I was knocking doors and a woman let us in. She said that she was busy making dinner, but that if we were willing to talk while she cooked, she would listen. During the whole discussion she was chopping vegetables, and her three children were running around screaming and fighting (she made to attempt to quiet them). I thought at the time it was the worst discussion I had ever taught. We asked her if she would accept and read a Book of Mormon and would let us come again for another discussion. I was very surprised when she accepted.

    About five weeks later she was baptized. Before her baptism we asked her when she first felt the Spirit telling her that it was true. She said that she received a very strong witness during that first chaotic discussion, and then again upon entering through the church doors.

    Reverence is not an action, it is a feeling of awe toward God. We often talk about “showing reverence” as if the demonstration of reverence were equal to possessing a feeling of reverence toward God. Quietness as strict behaviorism does not equal reverence, and cannot create it. Reverence comes from an understanding and appreciation of what we worship, why we worship, and how we worship. We may show reverence (the outward actions of reverence) when we do not actually feel reverence toward God.

    The actions should emanate from the feeling, and the feeling from our understanding of what we are doing and why; from our testimony; not the other way around. The disquiet of others may be distracting, but should have nothing to do with the actual reverence we feel, and therefore our ability to be nourished by the Spirit, who will testify of truth, and sanctify our souls, even without a quiet ambiance.

    Removing distractions is a good way of creating a learning atmosphere, but the Spirit is not created by the atmosphere, it is invited by the doctrine being presented and the reverence already present in those teaching the truths.

    We try to keep our children quiet because of the reverence we feel, and out of a respect for others, not in order to feel reverence.

    While it is important to teach our children to show reverence, it is more important to teach them the gospel and help them gain their own testimonies so that they will feel true reverence and not just go through the motions of reverence.

    I think that we ought to avoid trying to manufacture “spiritual experiences� and the appearance of reverence instead of inviting the Spirit and feel true reverence.

    We go to church because that is the only place where we can renew our oath of allegiance to God and his organization, and receive in exchange a dispensation of His grace and renewed worthiness to feel the spirit.

  5. November 1, 2004 at 11:19 am

    I know the main reason I go to sacrament meeting is for the sacrament itself. The blessing and administration of the sacrament helps to invite the spirit and helps me to refocus on some of the things I may have otherwise forgotten during the week.

    The talks are helpful in reminding us of instruction given by our leaders, but the spirit itself comes from the reverence given by the congregation. I completely understand those with young children and I’m not pointing this to any of you. My concern are those people who attend then spend most of their time whispering or chatting with eachother during hymns and talks. I know I’ve been guilty of this before. But there have been times that couples or families would hold complete conversations, even tapping me or my wife on the shoulder to say something.

    I know that when I am able to fight off these urges I have a more personal time at church and enjoy sacrament even more. I think we each create our own spiritual experience at sacrament but if we choose to share that experience and reverence, then much like sharing our testimoy, we can bolster the spirits of those around us. These are some of the personal reasons I find myself wanting to go to sacrament, even if I’m on vacation in another city.

  6. Jack
    November 1, 2004 at 11:19 am

    For me, going to church is an edifying experience most of the time. I don’t always have a “spiritual experience” in that I receive a specific answer to a question or problem that I may be struggling with, but I do come away feeling refreshed and strengthened in spiritual resolve.

    I’ve had to work hard at learning how to discern the Spirit. I find that church meetings overall are fairly consistent as to the quality of Spirit that seems to be present most of the time – and being familiar with that quality of spirit becomes part of the standard by which one may measure personal revelation, thereby aiding the individual in his/her powers of discernment. Thus, one is benefited by the collective faith of the group in ways that are not as easy to come by on one’s own.

  7. a random John
    November 1, 2004 at 11:58 am

    Yesterday, despite the extra hour of sleep, we didn’t have the strength to even enter the chapel. We sat in the hall on a comfy couch for all of sacrament meeting, occasionally taking turns getting up to bring our son back to the couch. It was great. It reduced our “monkey wrestling” time by over an hour. I can’t wait until 5 more months are up and nursery is an option. Then I will be able to justify an hour of monkey wrestling for sacrament meeting, but neither of us can do three hours of it.

  8. Mardell
    November 1, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    I agree with Ebenezer, you do not need to be still and reverent to hear the spirit.

    My husband thinks I am weird, but my favorite way to listen to General conference is to turn it up really loud so I can hear it all over the house. Then I complete things I need to do and listen to Conference. Then when I am done listening to Conference I still feel uplifted and my house is not a wreck. I find I feel the same spirit whether I am busy or not. Sometimes if it a really good talk I will sit for a few minutes of it, but what is the point there is really nothing to see.

    Sacrament meeting is not always a good place for spiritual experiences it does happen sometimes. The real place that you teach kids to feel the spirit is at home. I think that sacrament meeting is a good place for them to practice being reverent but the subject matter in is way to advanced for them. I usually just have activities or books for them to read.

  9. Rosalynde Welch
    November 1, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    I’m sensitive to this, since I have two children under age three (including the most active 14-mo-old in the galaxy), am alone with the children virtually every Sunday, and am the ward organist and thus must sit in the front of the chapel and regularly disrupt and infuriate my children by leaving them with some well-meaning but inept ward member to go play the organ. So that may color my perspective.

    But I agree with Ebenezer and Mardell–quiet and stillness are not prerequisites to discern the witness of the Spirit. I think we misread by literalizing the figure of the Spirit as a “still, small voice” that can only be detected in environmental silence. Last week at Stake Conference I was (alone again) with my children in the “family room” (read ghetto for young parents), and even in the midst of relative pandemonium I witnessed one of the most spiritually powerful talks I’ve heard in a long time, given by Elder Terry Smith.

    For those not accustomed to the experience of young children, they may be distracting, I grant.

  10. Lisa
    November 1, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    I think crazy wild kids can be be a distraction from the spirit, especially if we worry too much about their effect on those around us and get all uptight and tense. Which is mostly what happens for me. But I also agree that this isn’t always the case, that “the spirit” isn’t dependent on a peacful quiet atmosphere, more on a state of mind or spirit. But the physical and mental and spiritual are interconnected, but how they effect each other will vary widely.

  11. November 1, 2004 at 2:44 pm


    That was terrific. Thanks for taking the time to share that.

    I agree with (almost) everything you wrote about reverence. You and others rightly called me on the carpet for overstating my case on feeling the Spirit in church. When I made my comment, I was reacting to those who reflexively criticize the atmosphere in the chapel. My argument was, “Get over it! You aren’t here to have a spiritual experience anyway!” Your argument seems more like, “Get over it! You can have a spiritual experience despite the ruckus!” I am not completely won over to that view, but I feel close to Mardell’s position: “Sacrament meeting is not always a good place for spiritual experiences it does happen sometimes.”

    Now, on what seems like a different topic, what is with that last sentence? “We go to church because that is the only place where we can renew our oath of allegiance to God and his organization, and receive in exchange a dispensation of His grace and renewed worthiness to feel the spirit.” It seems to me that we could save a lot of money on buildings if this were the only reason for Church. Why not just send Priests around to provide the sacrament in homes? I think we go to church because the community matters. You cannot create a Zion of one.

  12. diogenes
    November 1, 2004 at 3:37 pm

    The principle of reverence, like all the law and the prophets, depends from the two great principles: love of God and love of neighbor.

    The primary reason we should be concerned about reverence is to show our respect for Diety. We owe it to our children to help them, so far as they are able, feel and express that respect. There may be times and places where we show respect through noise and commotion — of a certain kind, anyway — but that is unusual, even before earthly rulers, let alone the heavenly, and generally not the case in a meeting where sacred ordinances are being administered.

    We also owe it to our neighbors in a sacrament meeting — or any other meeting — the opportunity to commune with Diety. There may well be those who can detect the presence of the Holy Ghost even amid absolute pandemonium, but that capability is rare, and we ought not assume that all of our neighbors have it. I, for one, do not want to be responsible for suppressing or impedeing the experience that others — perhaps not Gordon — hope to take away from the meeting.

  13. November 1, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    You are right Gordon. Community does matter. I should probably revise my final statement to say that in Church we can renew our covenants with God in the company of others who are willing to make the same oath and receive strength and encouragement from those engaged in the same cause.

    I think that there is an additional, more important reason for community worship, however. There is a quote from Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton, from his book “Heretics,” that I think expresses it especially well. He tends to be a bit rambling, so I have tried to extract excerpts that represent his idea:

    …it is the whole effort of the typically modern person to escape from the street in which he lives…. He goes to the fantastic borders of the earth. He pretends to shoot tigers. He almost rides on a camel. And in all this he is still essentially fleeing from the street in which he was born…. He can visit Venice because to him the Venetians are only Venetians; the people in his own street are men. He can stare at the Chinese because for him the Chinese are a passive thing to be stared at; if he stares at the old lady in the next garden, she becomes active. He is forced to flee, in short, from the too stimulating society
    of his equals–of free men, perverse, personal, deliberately different from himself….

    The complaint we commonly have to make of our neighbours is that they will not, as we express it, mind their own business. We do not really mean that they will not mind their own business. If our neighbours did not mind their own business they would be asked abruptly for their rent, and would rapidly cease to be our neighbours. What we really mean when we say that they cannot mind their own business is something much deeper. We do not dislike them because they have so little force and fire that they cannot be interested in themselves. We dislike them because they have so much force and fire that they can be interested in us as well. What we dread about our neighbours, in short, is not the narrowness of their horizon, but their superb tendency to broaden it. And all aversions to ordinary humanity have this general character. They are not aversions to its feebleness (as is pretended), but to its energy. The misanthropes pretend that they despise humanity for its weakness. As a matter of fact, they hate it for its strength….

    We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour. Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless terrors of nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as the rain. He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts. That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one’s duty towards humanity, but one’s duty towards one’s neighbour. The duty towards humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable. That duty may be a hobby; it may even be a dissipation…. But we have to love our neighbour because he is there– a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us. Precisely because he may be anybody he is everybody. He is a symbol because he is an accident.

    Going to church, especially a participatory church like ours, places us into a position where we must, on a regular basis, confront, work with, and learn to love those terrible creatures: our neighbors. “Loving” orphans in Mexico is significantly easier than loving the blowhard Republican in your Elder’s Quorum presidency. There is something refining about our week to week struggle to learn to truly love our neighbors.

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