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, enlighteningâ€”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 â€œstuff I gotta do;â€? 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 cafÃ© rio frequent dining card, is it really worth going?
Importantly, the answer to both those questions is â€œyes.â€? 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.”
Emersonâ€™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 â€œhowâ€? than â€œwhat.â€? How can we approach spirituality so it will impact us more deeply? How can we more often make Mormon sacraments a transcendental experience?